‘A straight heterosexual film’: Masculinity, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in "Saturday Night Fever"

  • Stelios Christodoulou University of Kent


Underpinning "Saturday Night Fever"’s representation of masculinity is a seeming paradox, exemplified in Pauline Kael’s disclaimer that ‘it’s a straight heterosexual film’ despite the obvious similarities to "Scorpio Rising"’s gay bikers. While Tony Manero is represented as a sexist, homophobic, and racist heterosexual man, he also indulges in the traditionally feminizing activities of disco dancing and self-grooming. This article explores the construction of Tony Manero’s masculinity by taking a closer look at these two activities and situating their cinematic representation in the American cultural context of the late 70s. In the case of disco, a distinction between disco’s gay origins and subsequent entry into mainstream culture explains "Fever"’s hetero-normative version of disco. The article subsequently turns the attention to the film’s grooming scene, which poses less easily redeemable challenges to Tony’s machismo through intertextual and contextual references to homosexuality. I extrapolate between possible explanations, drawing on Richard Dyer’s work on representation and the discourse on the 70s men’s liberation movement. In the article’s final section, I turn the attention to the connections between masculinity and ethnicity, examining how the 70s revival of ethnicity proposed a historically specific a model of the Italian-American man, unencumbered by the requirements of new masculinities. I argue that "Fever" replicates this model to infuse into the representation of Tony Manero styles and behaviours that would have otherwise signified homosexuality.
June 26, 2011
How to Cite
Christodoulou, S. (2011). ‘A straight heterosexual film’: Masculinity, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in "Saturday Night Fever". Networking Knowledge: Journal of the MeCCSA Postgraduate Network, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.31165/nk.2011.41.60