Discerning cancellation connoisseurs so far have overlooked one of the most problematic boy bands of the 20th century — and it’s time to change that. The American disco group the Village People features a cast of empenised individuals donning costumes that glorify toxically masculine tropes of the time: a police officer, a cowboy, a construction worker, a sailor, a biker and, bizarrely, a Native American (more on that later).
This mono-gendered depiction of the local proletariat is laughably outdated. While some might say the only thing lesbians are actually good at is running nonprofits, today we know that Sappho’s daughters are just as good as men, probably better, at chasing down perps, roping steer and erecting skyscrapers. But let’s look at the music. Have you ever actually listened to the group’s 1979 hit ‘In the Navy’? On that track, it’s one of the band’s black members who shouts repeatedly, ‘I’m afraid of water!’
That raised my eyebrows. A constantly repeated racist stereotype is that black people can’t swim. The slur conjures up painful memories of the racial history of American swimming pools and that heated debate among the wokerati as to whether water itself is, in fact, racist.
Forget the fact that the music video was made with the help of the US Navy. The Village People, despite cashing in on military trappings, have remained silent on the struggle for trans people to serve openly in the military.
Silence is violence. And the name of the group itself is violence against trans womxn of color. Manhattan’s Greenwich Village today is emblematic of cis-het gentrification and a painful reminder of white real-estate terrorism. Take a stroll down Christopher Street on any given Friday night and see for yourself: trans womxn of color banished to basement stairwells and parked cars to perform sex acts for money in the shadows rather than high on a pedestal wearing golden knee pads.
Caitlyn Jenner, at the time operating under her slave name Bruce, starred in a 1980 biopic about the Village People that flopped, and was even voted the worst movie of that year, further proving that transphobia has always followed this group around.
So has cultural appropriation. The Village People’s original studio band was called Gypsy Lane, an offensive slang term for itinerate Romani people. They were still at it as late as 2000, when the Village People released a single called ‘Gunbalanya,’after an Australian aboriginal word they believed meant ‘in the tribe,’ but was actually just the name of an aboriginal settlement.
Then there’s the complicated issue of Felipe Ortiz Rose, a founding member of the group who played the Indian character until 2017. Usually dressed in a warbonnet and loincloth, Rose has claimed Native American ancestry, but we’ve yet to see the 23andMe results. The Brooklyn native currently says he’s of Lakota and Taino descent, yet in the past said he was Apache. Something tells me his actual tribe might be Puerto Rican. Is that racist? The professors have yet to tackle that one.
All of this probably explains why Nazis and white supremacists absolutely love the Village People. The band features a cop, after all. And the biker character is straight from the 1963 experimental film Scorpio Rising by Kenneth Anger, a softcore porn flick that glorifies old-fashioned homosexuality, Catholicism and Nazism in the context of the biker subculture. Even though the American Nazi Party objected to the film for insulting their flag, it clearly fetishized Nazism and made it look sexy.
Moreover, what does the ‘C’ stand for in the Village People’s number one hit song ‘Y.M.C.A.’? That’s right, Christian.
Last and worst, enter Donald Trump, who relentlessly played Village People songs at his rallies. The band pussyfooted around condemning Orange Man’s love of their music. In June 2020, band member Victor Willis demanded Trump stop using Village People songs at campaign events only to flipflop three months later and say he was OK with it. And if that weren’t bad enough, in 2019 the Village People performed live in Times Square for Fox’s New Year’s Eve celebration.
Macho Man? Hardly. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Elliot Page, mustaches don’t make the man. So why still look to those false idols of the boomer generation for our LGBTQQAI2S++ role models?
Today’s Alphabeteer is blessed with more enlightened sheroes and none involves cisgender men sporting getups that look like something from a plastic bag in the Halloween aisle at Ricky’s. While today’s paragons of LGBTQQAI2S++ liberation still play dress up, it’s usually as large, hairy women and we broadcast them in benevolently corporate media and in ads for Uber Eats.
The Trail of Mascara Tears since the disco era toward full gender emancipation has taught us that glorifying traditional ideals of sexiness isn’t helpful. True courage lies in presenting oneself as offputtingly as possible. A construction worker might communicate manliness and grit but fails at imparting the right amount of mental illness, fear and trepidation in others.
The uniforms of true LGBTQQAI2S++ warriors aren’t fitted and pressed but more neon and bedraggled, like some highly poisonous, jungle-dwelling amphibian broadcasting to any creature in sight, touch me and die! The struggle for rights has moved well beyond an insular celebration of one’s own community to shock, revolt and intimidate all the others.
If the Village People wish to make a comeback in the age of woke, and pay penance to all the gender non-conforming children they’ve irreparably damaged, they’ll need a radical overhaul. Let’s rename them while we’re at it: the Global Village People. First to go are those caricatures of working class, Trumpian barbarism, to be replaced with more revolutionary-minded archetypes. Imagine the curtain rising on a packed Las Vegas stadium to reveal a college professor, a clipboard-toting community organizer, an app developer, the world’s fattest man, a Syrian war refugee, and Greta Thunberg — belting their new hit songs, ‘Trans in the Navy,’ ‘Go East,’ and everyone’s favorite open-borders ballad, ‘D.A.C.A.’
If that doesn’t sweep the Grammy’s, you’re all a bunch of bigots.