YES PLEASE! I could talk about this stuff foreverrrrrr so I am absolutely game for this discussion :)
[[OKAY SO. I MEANT TO JUST TALK ABOUT CUANTO. BUT THIS KIND OF TURNED INTO A MANIFESTO ON CHARLIE AND QUEER SUBTEXT. I do a close reading of the instances in Cuanto that you’re asking about, and then fit it into the larger context of the show and what conclusions I draw as a result]]
Those are interesting points, but I don’t agree. I don’t think writers are putting queer subtexts regarding Charlie. There are explanations about the sexuality-related insults, and I’ll try to explain them now (and it’s gonna be tough; god I hate to explain things not in my first language ;___;).
You first have to consider that all of the times, the insults and jokes toward Charlie about sexuality come from other Italians. Masseria’s men call him “frocio”, then in the last episode we have Al calling him pillow-biter. And this is not, in my opinion, something that you have to analize like those men are actually stating that Charlie is homosexual. They are insulting him. And in the Italian Mafia culture, that is the most offensive thing that there can be; it’s worse than call someone “son of a bitch” (even if I wouldn’t recommend to do that either ^^” Italian Mafia is particularly attached to the mother figure; there are no other women that are or are going to be more important in a man’s life: no wives or daughters or sisters can replace a mother in their ideal of “perfect woman”), it’s worse than any other insults. So when they call Charlie all those names is just a cultural thing: they are referring to him as someone who is weak, “like a woman” because in their context being gay is always connected to the idea of “taking it up the ass”, and so a man playing the part of the woman (and we know that women had no value then, expecially in a culture like the south-Italian one); they are referring to him like someone who has no masculinity, and that means having no strenght, no pride, no honor, no value, as a man and as a human being (I’m just interpretating what those insults meant then and in the Italian culture, those are NOT my thoughts ^^”“”“).
So, those Masseria guys calling Charlie “frocio” (he wasn’t even there, and they knew Meyer couldn’t and wouldn’t react)? That was like saying “that useless and weak partner of yours”).
Al calling Charlie “pillow-biter”? That was his way to dismiss the threatening presence of Luciano in his house. In the world of Boardwalk Empire, we see in the very first episode a very jealous Al who see Charlie way ahead of him. So, that “pillow-biter” thing, it’s just one of the worst insults that comes to his mind to say to himself and the others “he’s no threat, he’s not a man”. The jokes around the tables are just jokes, that’s a thing that still exist here in Italy (not in that homophobic way perhaps, but sometime yes, there still is in our culture. And in the one of everybody else, I suppose. Who has never joked and jest with friends about their sexual performances?).The Italians always were (and some of them still are ^^”) very proud about their masculinity. You have to think that the ones that came to the USA were mostly from the south of Italy (and there was, and still is, the real Mafia, with their strong rules and culture); most of them if not all of them were uneducated. So one of the few things they could be proud of was to be able to have a very large family, with lots of kids. So masculinity was a very important subject: you cannot be a man of power if you are not a real man.
And for this, I bring you another example: in season 3, we see Charlie and Meyer go to Masseria to try to convince him to make a deal with them. Joe doesn’t trust them, most of all because he doesn’t want to make a deal with a jew. But the conversation between Joe and Charlie is some sort of a jest: Joe say he doesn’t trust Meyer and jews because they don’t fuck their women like real men would do. But Charlie immediately says that Meyer is different, he has sex like a man who hasn’t had sex for months (and then the eloquent sign, LOL). Well, from this conversation what can we understand? I don’t think Joe Masseria has a real interest about the way Meyer fucks his woman; what he’s saying in reality is “I don’t trust him, that man has no value, he’s a jew and not Italian”, and Charlie is saying “No, he’s different, he’s strong and smart like us”. So you see, sexuality and sex is a way Italians use to vehicular a message of strenght and honor. The fact that other Italians denigrate Charlie by using those homophobic taunts, is because they really are afraid of him and his rising. The fact that he does not react, just shows that he is smart and knows that that is the most intelligent way to deal with the thing (but those insults are mostly used behind his back. Nobody really called him “frocio” in his face, or he would have react; he’s Italian after all ^^”“).
Except this isn’t an organic thing. If this was real life people actually saying this stuff to another real person in real life, yeah, it’s just men being homophobic and emasculating and insulting to someone they don’t respect and/or are threatened by, which is basically a benchmark of Western society in general, not just Italy and not just the Mafia. But it’s not real people, it’s characters in a show where every dialogue choice is very carefully considered before it’s finalized as part of the script and where every scene is selected specifically by editors to make it into the final cut and everything has to make it past the producers and the network before it gets to air. The constant barrage of insults and comments Charlie receives regarding his sexuality is a CHOICE, made by the American writers and directors and producers, who made the conscious decision to have literally 90% of all sexuality-related insults directed towards this one character and this one character only. If the writers wanted to make this into an “Italian gangsters are homophobic” kind of thing, there are a dozen other Italians who should be on the receiving end of the same kind of comments Charlie gets. None of them ever are. It’s a narrative the writers have constructed around Charlie and Charlie only, and that’s what makes it stand out in terms of subtext.
It’s also worth noting that it ISN’T always other Italians slinging this kind of stuff at Charlie. There’s the “some things you just have to swallow” thing with AR [as well as the way the actors chose to portray their relationship, particularly in season one, but that’s a whole other topic], who is Jewish; the “what, are you broads now, we gotta walk you home?” “a kiss goodnight would be nice” thing with Waxey Gordon and Hermann Kaufmann, who are also Jewish; and Nucky, who is Irish, calls Charlie a cocksucker to his face. Like I said, men degrading other men by implying queerness is basically a staple of Western masculinity in general, so on their own, the insults flung at Charlie do not queer subtext make. When taken into consideration with the rest of the show, which is VERY CAREFUL, with EVERY OTHER CHARACTER, to steer almost COMPLETELY clear of insults regarding sexuality, it makes it impossible for me personally to see it any other way than “the writers have constructed a narrative around Charlie, and Charlie alone, in which his assumed straightness is consistently brought into question.” Everyone’s entitled to their own interpretation of the text, of course, and I 100% see where you’re coming from, but as the writers are in control of what these characters say and do, and as they’ve chosen to construct this narrative around Charlie in the way that they have, I really can’t read their decisions as anything but queer subtext.
"it’s just men being homophobic and emasculating and insulting to someone they don’t respect and/or are threatened by, which is basically a benchmark of Western society in general, not just Italy and not just the Mafia. "
Oh I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to judge anybody in their ability to understand this kind of situation about men and their masculinity. But it is real that in the Mafia this particular point is very felt. And since I didn’t read in the analysis a clear point about this fact I just said it.
”The constant barrage of insults and comments Charlie receives regarding his sexuality is a CHOICE, made by the American writers and directors and producers, who made the conscious decision to have literally 90% of all sexuality-related insults directed towards this one character and this one character only.”
Yes, and they’re are maybe trying to re-create a context as much real as possible. And we only have 2 main Italian characters in the show: Al and Charlie. Al is married with a child, which makes those kind of insults toward him less effective. Also, a lot of comments and remarks and kind of insults someone may read in the show can be subjective. If you see a pattern in there, a way for the writers to tell something about a character (I would wonder why though, there’s no historically need, the show doesn’t need it), I just see an American way to try to portrait accurate Italian interactions.
"It’s also worth noting that it ISN’T always other Italians slinging this kind of stuff at Charlie. There’s the “some things you just have to swallow” thing with AR [as well as the way the actors chose to portray their relationship, particularly in season one, but that’s a whole other topic], who is Jewish; the “what, are you broads now, we gotta walk you home?” “a kiss goodnight would be nice” thing with Waxey Gordon and Hermann Kaufmann, who are also Jewish; and Nucky, who is Irish, calls Charlie a cocksucker to his face."
That fact that you and someone else see those remarks as way for the writers to use a pattern to.. state something? Well, it’s good but I’m sorry, I don’t agree. I see those insults just as a way to undermine Charlie. What are you referring to are episodes happened in the first 2 seasons, seasons in which Charlie was painted as a much more hot-headed guy that is now. The Irish, the jews, everyone knew that the if you wanted to make an Italian angry fast you just had to insult him by belittling his masculinity. And that to me was what that was all about.
"it makes it impossible for me personally to see it any other way than “the writers have constructed a narrative around Charlie, and Charlie alone, in which his assumed straightness is consistently brought into question.” "
Well, we have to say that they also made sure to show A LOT of his “masculinity”. He is one of the few characters we saw having sex, with different women. He is the one with “sexual disease” which he caught from a woman. So the queer subtext to me just doesn’t make any sense beside the interpretation of the insults in a less literal way.
EDIT: it just came to my mind how Gyp Rosetti insulted everyone at the New Year’s Eve in season 3, and some of the insults (toward Meyer and Nucky) had sexual-homophobic references. Charlie wasn’t involved there. It was just Gyp, an stereotyped angry hot-headed Italian offending everyone with the worst insults he could come up with.