Bury Your Gaze: Doug Kenney comes out as a straight white man in 1970s America

By: Trishula Oswald

Trishula is a genderfluid philosopher and digital hospitality professional. They know a lot about beer and wine and treating others with kindness.Trishula eats ice cream with their partner in the East Bay.

Have you seen A Futile and Stupid Gesture? I watched it even though I have mixed feelings about National Lampoon. I have mixed feelings about Monty Python for similar reasons. Women were often only included if the script called for toplessness or a sex joke. The male gaze on exposed breasts -- center-framed, unobstructed -- is so consistent and matter of fact.  Their use of women’s bodies as spectacle made me feel like I was never their intended audience.

But the gags were funny, the antics were cartoonish, the debauchery was somehow subversive.

The 60’s and 70’s, when these shows were made, was a time when Americans were decrying the establishment. Women’s Liberation, Civil Rights and Gay Rights were blooming as people protested to live without oppression.

Rich, white boys wanted to be free, too.

Poor Little Rich Boy

Doug Kenney had it all. A white, rich, cis, straight man in 1960s America whose parents could afford it. Graduated from Harvard. Lived in New York City and LA. Vacationed in Martha’s Vineyard and Hawaii. Built a successful comedy brand out of a dumb idea. Financially supported his parents and cocaine habit.

And yet we’re to believe he never recognized his own success. What a tragedy. All the privilege to do whatever the fuck you wanted and none of the perspective to appreciate it. Instead, he ate glass and threw food. National Lampoon targeted the white male expectation to be publicly polite and privately debauched. Doug Kenney wanted to take debauchery out of the closet.

Rage Against Civility

Maybe the older generation was right. Civility and decorum was keeping the social hierarchy intact.

White men were ascribed honorable actions in public record and allowed behaviors that were “unseemly” or “unbecoming,” in clubrooms, boardrooms and bedrooms. They had second families with their maid. They assaulted their wives (it was legal in most states and is still legal in some). They quietly engaged in hate crimes. They sexually harassed their secretaries. They derided their sons as “fairies.” They enjoyed “black music” but keeps their white daughters from socializing with black people. These behaviors were (are?) acceptable among white men for generations. Talking about them openly was the only impropriety.

White lies allowed those in power to cover-up or disavow the daily aggressions enacted on people of color, LGBTQ and women, because that wasn’t “polite conversation.” The marginalized were told that their white abusers couldn’t possibly be that inhuman.

National Lampoon revealed the true interior life of those who held the most power in American society: unconscientious, hedonistic, selfish, disrespectful, and cruel. National Lampoon helped expose the lie that white men were anything more than bored and powerful.

Doug Kenney helped us overcome the old American society. National Lampoon gave us unflinching examples of the extent of racism, sexism and the ignorant abuse of power in America.

It was ugly.

It was honest.

It was hilarious.

Tropiest Trope

Some have said that Doug Kenney “died too soon.”

Honestly, I can’t think of a more appropriate end for a hero of his time.

In American history and fiction, there is a high mortality rate for people who are outside of the identities of cis, straight, and white. In real life, suicide, deadly assault and domestic abuse target people of color, women, queers, and the gender non-conforming. In fiction, homosexual, gender non-conforming and black characters are overwhelmingly killed off so that the surviving characters may grow.  

Doug Kenney, your sacrifice saved the rest of us. You helped white men feel comfortable being honest about their nastier drives and desires. National Lampoon gave us an opportunity to shake our head at the children they still are and demand they grow up.

Like John, the Noble Savage, unrestrained hedonism offered Doug no happily ever after.

Like Omar Epps in Scream 2, he was the first of his friends to die.

Like Venus Xtravaganza, Doug was too real, to subversive and too bold to survive 1980.