From The Desk Of Pansy Division: “Network”

No band has waved the rainbow flag more proudly than Pansy Division. From its origins and involvement in early-’90s Bay Area punk to becoming de facto leaders of the “homocore” movement, Jon Ginoli, Chris Freeman and a rotating cast of straight and gay drummers (the band is now rounded out by drummer Luis Illades and guitarist Joel Reader) never shied away from graphic depictions of queer, bi and questioning dudes getting sweaty with each other and a variety of apparati. But as acceptance of queer culture and community has grown and the band’s members find themselves in their 40s and 50s, the topics on new album Quite Contrary have also progressed. Pansy Division will be guest editing all week. Read our new feature on them.


Ginoli: I was a junior in high school in the fall of 1976, the year the Ramones’ debut album and the Sex Pistols’ debut single were released. I bought both records that year. Hearing these records presented me with a conscious clear-cut choice—go the mainstream route, or explore an unknown universe. Face up to the alienation I was feeling, that these records spoke to, or try to bury it and fit in.

On Nov. 26, 1976, the Sex Pistols released their first single, “Anarchy In The U.K.” On Nov. 27, 1976, the film Network was released. I saw it in a theater in Peoria, Ill., sometime in January 1977, when I was 17. It seemed to fit right in with the new music I had discovered, and was a life-changing movie for me. An expose of network television, and a critique of mass media and the corporate world, it has since proven prescient about future events in ways that seemed exaggerated then; now it’s almost understated. Like punk, it was fast-paced, funny, serious, cynical, and profane. The milieu was different than punk rock, but the attitude was copacetic—the characters didn’t really give a fuck about what people thought, and tried to tell the truth as best they could. The acting was absolutely amazing—William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight, Conchata Farrell, and more. Some of the characters used big words, but they weren’t condescending or talking down to their audience; they demonstrated their intelligence and were unapologetic about it. It was a film that let me imagine life as an adult, and was informative in specific ways about how the adult world worked. It spoke to my doubts and fears about what lay ahead better than just about anything I learned in high school.

Network was a medium/large hit, not a blockbuster, but was popular and won a bunch of Academy Awards. A similar film could never be made today, at least not as a big-budget mainstream movie. Network was borne of the era of just three major networks (plus PBS), when cable TV was in its infancy; network news shows had much bigger sway over the American public then, more people watching more of the same programs. With the internet and satellite TV, we are free to delve into a wider range of cultural interests and opinions than we had in the ’70s, but leaves us with fewer shared cultural tastes and experiences. Tradeoffs: some good, some bad.

On Pansy Division’s recent tour, we listened to the audio book of Rob Lowe’s autobiography, until we got bored with it. Lowe talked about being in The Outsiders, his big break, and what a landmark film it was. I never found that movie convincing at all—it had a super glossy look at odds with its setting (sorry Francis Ford Coppola), plus actors that were way too pretty to believably inhabit those roles. Lowe accurately describes that early ‘80s moment when a new crop of teen actors suddenly appeared, with films aimed at teens featuring actors around their age, but I don’t see that as a positive development. His kind of film helped kill off the sorts of films that made the 1970s a golden age of cinema, of edgy, smart, and mature films like Network.

Video after the jump.