Known as the Sons of the Desert, the official Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy appreciation society is unique in that its very structures lampoon the rank-and-file maleness promoted by “legitimate” fraternal orders such as the Freemasons. To understand the comedy duo's lasting cultural implications, this article contextualizes the Laurel and Hardy relationship as a queered unit on-screen, proving truly relevant through a fuller understanding of the myths of fraternal brotherhood that flourished during the nineteenth century and the early twentieth. The fraternal lodge as an aggressively masculine performance space was challenged both by the development of a clearer heterosexual/homosexual cultural binary and by the instability of patriarchal structures during the first half of the twentieth century. As such, a queering of fraternity materializes in many Laurel and Hardy films and their spoofing of male institutions. This comedic attack especially appears in the motion picture that gives the appreciation society its name—Sons of the Desert, which targets fraternal lodges. By analyzing this film and its lasting cultural implications, we can understand what the appreciation society seems to have known all long: Laurel and Hardy prove relevant as long as fraternal myths define a US male identity.
Research Article| May 01 2010
Scott Balcerzak; Laurel and Hardy Queer the Fraternity: The Comedy Duo and Heterosexual Brotherhood in Sons of the Desert. Camera Obscura 1 May 2010; 25 (1 (73)): 97–129. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2009-016
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