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  Tawdry glitter

British Reporter Frightened By ‘Topless Men’ Spending Independence Day in Provincetown

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Philip Hoare, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 5th July 2010 12.59 UTC

Independence Day, Cape Cod style. I sit on the steps of the Albert Merola gallery on Commercial Street, Provincetown, to watch the passing parade in the blazing heat. Fire engines stuck over with ribbons and rosettes and the legend “Proud to be an American!” Drag queens perched on children’s trikes. A marching pipe-and-drum band of girls and boys in colonial frockcoats and tricornes. The local congress representative glad-hands the crowd.

And from an orange convertible, an Edna Everage impersonator (impersonating a female impersonator) waves her gladioli. Add to this to a shower of candy chucked to the applauding crowd. John Waters – writer and director and summertime resident of the town – happens to be standing next to me, and quips: “They’re throwing it offensively.”

Like Waters’s films, there’s barely an ounce of good taste to be seen. Tawdry glitter and cross-dressing is the order of the day. It’s virtually mandatory, legally enforced by the cops on bikes who patrol the outer edges of this decorative, contained madness.

Later, out on the beach, families play while the thud-thud-thud of the gay tea dance disco drifts across the bay at four o’clock in the afternoon. Over there, topless men are gyrating and, doubtless, taking drugs. Over here, children are digging for sandcastles. A beach volleyball match is in progress, fuelled by margaritas and bouncing, well-filled bikinis. In the distance, the hoot of a big boat announces the departure of another whale watch, out into the distant Atlantic, where humpback whales cavort and breach.

This is not the America we assume, but another America; just as, a couple of days before, I sat on a village green in Truro, down the cape from Provincetown, to hear a fiddler band surrounded by liberal families and dancing children in the evening sun under willow trees – a reminder of American utopia, rather heartening in its inclusive way. One could have a conversation with each of them and hear the kind of views it is rare to hear in England, which considers itself so advanced.

This is small-town America, with all its good and bad. And this tawdriness, which old Europe may sneer at, is in fact extraordinarily reassuring. Even in its instability and campness and outre quality, it seems to refer a paradoxical permanence. An anarchic sense of theatre – just as everyone riding a New York subway is a performer.

People may be sleeping in their cars, their houses foreclosed like their businesses, standing in line for handouts. When I found myself counting out loose change in the local garage the other day, the Catholic priest, who happened to be behind me, offered to “help out”. These days, you don’t have to look down-and-out to be so, it seems. Amazingly, the proprietor just asked me to bring the two dollars I owed him next time I was passing.

This is a country of communities. It cares about itself and its people, as sentimental as that may sound to world-weary English ears. It’s that quality that founded this brave republic. And here in Cape Cod – a sandy spit where Thoreau boasted that “a man may stand and put all America behind him”, yet in whose harbour the Mayflower Compact, the real founding document of America, was signed – here, as much as anywhere else, that sensibility speaks of a tantalising yet tangible stability.

Politics and politicians come and go, thousands of gallons of oil may pump out into the Gulf of Mexico, and the front page of the New York Times may feature the first surviving quadruple amputee from Afghanistan, but this place, like thousands of others in America, will remain American, no matter what happens to the rest of the world. Or, indeed, to itself.

In the evening, fireworks lit up the sky. Some people got drunk. There may have been an incident or two downtown, where incomers without foreknowledge of the liberality of this little, open and inclusive town might take offence at one too many same-sex couples strolling hand-in-hand down the street. But generally, here America is at peace with itself. It’s only the rest of the world, it seems, with which it has issues.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

[photo via, via]

By:           editor editor
On:           Jul 5, 2010
Tagged: , , , ,

  • 21 Comments
    • Eddie
      Eddie

      I don’t get it. Your headline is completely wrong. I would advise that you read articles in their entirety before inaccurately labeling them. This is quite pro-America and pro-gay.

      Jul 5, 2010 at 11:59 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • El Brucio
      El Brucio

      @Eddie: I cynically suspect more people will read it if it has a misleading headline. “British Reporter Likes Small Town America” isn’t nearly as exciting.

      Jul 5, 2010 at 12:17 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ForeverGay
      ForeverGay

      I felt the article was judgemental. The writer looked down at the “tawdry” and bold atmosphere of (gay) Provincetown and then compared it to a “liberal” (heterosexual) town south of it with an outwardly serene atmosphere.

      Jul 5, 2010 at 1:41 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • merkin
      merkin

      I get the sense that the writer was more concerned with showing off his literary flourishes than saying anything of substance. I mean, whats the point of this piece? That we should be glad there’s still tacky gay parades? I suppose I am, but it doesnt take 1,000 words to say it.

      If he’s writing this for a British audience that doesnt know what P-Town is, or how unique it is, he’s painting a VERY misleading picture.

      Also, why is Queerty running all this copy from the Guardian? I hope its just because of the holiday vacation and not a permanent trend.

      Jul 5, 2010 at 1:48 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • TampaZeke
      TampaZeke

      “Over there, topless men are gyrating and, doubtless, taking drugs.”

      “…might take offence at one too many same-sex couples strolling hand-in-hand down the street…”

      Yeah, I just feel all warm and fuzzy with all the gay positivity.

      Jul 5, 2010 at 1:54 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • GEW
      GEW

      THIs is journalism? Boy,talk aboutcher fluff piece. I learned so much and was motivated to dig deeper… maybe… after a nap.

      Jul 5, 2010 at 2:21 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • sixfeetunder
      sixfeetunder

      In case Queerty didn’t know it, Philip Hoare is gay and wrote an amazing biography of gay style icon Stephen tTennant.

      Jul 5, 2010 at 3:33 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • tofer david
      tofer david

      im in ptown now.

      Jul 5, 2010 at 4:34 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Timothy
      Timothy

      what a charming little piece.

      Jul 5, 2010 at 4:41 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • jason
      jason

      Is it possible that the writer had a bit too much too drink?

      Jul 5, 2010 at 5:58 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • cape codder
      cape codder

      This is spot on, to a point. Ptown and Truro are wonderful towns with old timey lefty slants. BUT, and this is a big but, they are very self selecting, seasonally affluent communities. I wonder if he would feel the same way about the Cape if he came back in the winter, when the local working class struggles to keep the heat on and Fox News blares from TVs.

      It is much more complicated than this.

      Jul 5, 2010 at 6:21 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • cape codder
      cape codder

      also, it should be said that both towns are nearly entirely without people of color. If it seems harmonious in the summer, that’s not accidental. Barriers to communal access have been carefully constructed over the years.

      Jul 5, 2010 at 6:23 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • slobone
      slobone

      Yeah, it sounds like he didn’t dare venture any further into the interior than — Cape Cod? Wonderful place, but maybe not totally typical of American small towns. Next year go to Mississippi and count how many drag queens there are in the 4th of July parade…

      As for the topless thing, keep in mind that in England guys don’t take their shirts off much because, what would be the point?

      Jul 5, 2010 at 10:07 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Justin
      Justin

      Eh, it’s the Guardian. Like any other British rag, it’s more for show than for any substance.

      Jul 6, 2010 at 1:36 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • William
      William

      Rather fanciful piece. Thoreau was hardly boasting about the greatness of America as a republic in the closing sentences to “Cape Cod.” His message was attuned to the notion of the seashore being a great place to get back to nature. Noting Philip Hoare is a Brit, I’ll give him a pass for not understanding an American author.

      Jul 6, 2010 at 4:47 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • RomanHans
      RomanHans

      > When I found myself counting out loose change in the
      > local garage the other day, the Catholic priest, who
      > happened to be behind me, offered to “help out”.

      Not by giving you money, actually. He wanted to fish around in your pants.

      Jul 6, 2010 at 12:34 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • TommyOC
      TommyOC

      I think what this writer was getting at was that, unlike many areas in the world, there still exists in America the sense of community – a community that’s forged not by your identity by your location. A sort of kinship that sprang forth from the frontiersman spirit we still carry in us today, when your stranger may be your future savior, and vice-versa. It’s basically a “we’re all in this together”-sort of mentality that many other areas of the world never possessed and many more still never will.

      Despite all of the rhetoric you see on television, despite all of the big-city jadedness that many of us posters have grown accustomed to, there are parts of this country where there exists a feeling that there is ample space for everyone to live their life – together – and pursue their own individual happinesses… even if that space might be a cramped little corner of even more cramped cape. Places like that exist in America… and they’re rare enough here…

      …Making them even more rare everywhere else. And that’s what this British writer was admitting in his piece. That piece of Americana is something others don’t have.

      And we Americans should be proud of that.

      Jul 6, 2010 at 5:36 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • paul
      paul

      Slobone
      i think you might need to go to London and see for yourself that quite a large number of men take their shirts off now. That tired old thing yanks say about British men not working out simply isn’t true anymore. Vauxhall Saturday night. Any number of superclubs rammed with worked out will prove you very wrong !

      Teeth on the other hand….

      Jul 6, 2010 at 6:57 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • paul
      paul

      Slobone
      i think you might need to go to London and see for yourself that quite a large number of men take their shirts off now. That tired old thing yanks say about British men not working out simply isn’t true anymore. Vauxhall Saturday night. Any number of superclubs rammed with worked out men will prove you very wrong !

      Teeth on the other hand….

      Jul 6, 2010 at 6:57 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Moo
      Moo

      I get the impression that the piece was written for a British audience rather than an American one. In Britain we’re suffering from a lack of community and I think the author was attempting to point this out by contrasting it with America where – despite the impression that all the cop shows give – you still have a sense of community. Perhaps when you’re on the inside looking out, you don’t see what you have.

      Also, the Guardian isn’t a rag, though there are a fair amount of British newspapers that could be described as such.

      Jul 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Joe Corbett
      Joe Corbett

      What a load of bollocks

      Jul 8, 2010 at 2:08 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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