The term disco often brings to mind, images of polyester suits, coordinated choreography and flashy disco balls. John Badham’s 1977 cinematic classic Saturday Night Fever capitalized on those images to help mainstream society relate to this growing subculture. John Travolta’s portrayal of Tony Manero, a down on his luck heterosexual male, who uses disco as a means of escape from his everyday life, helps to demonstrate Hollywood’s encroachment on this growing cultural phenomenon. What Badham’s film fails to explore is the history of disco; the influence that it had on underground society in the United States. The story of Tony Manero lacks the colourful history of this musical tradition. For example, the film does not explore the homosexual institutions from which disco arose.
From the beginning, disco found a strong audience with the gay community. Gay-oriented bathhouses like New York’s Continental Baths were some of the first venues where disco tracks were spun. With this growing popularity, disco became more than a genre; it generated its own lifestyle. While disco music manifested itself in the heart of this growing lifestyle, it can be explored through “kinds of dancing, club, fashion, film-in a word, a certain sensibility, manifest in music, clubs and so forth, historically and culturally specific, economically, technologically, ideologically, and aesthetically determined.” This essay intends to prove that disco, both as a form of music and as a lifestyle, brought homosexuality “out of the closet” and helped to establish a visible gay subculture in the United States during the 1970’s by exploring how disco gave the gay community a place where they could unite as a people and how it presented them with an opportunity to express themselves.
Firstly, disco helped create a visible gay subculture in the United States in the 1970’s by presenting the community with a place where they could come together. After the Stonewall Riots in 1969, gay Americans began to develop a new collective persona and disco offered them a foundation on which they could build that identity upon.
This collective identity was most commonly shared in the discothèques themselves. The gay community quickly realized the importance of establishments that serviced gay cliental and while organizations like the Gay Activist Alliance existed to fight for gay equality on a political level, discothèques helped them fight for cultural equality. As the decade progressed, the sophistication of the gay club scene grew tremendously. Disco soon became “the most effective tool in the struggle for gay liberation”. Soon, the gay community began to move away from brothel style clubs and started to develop a discothèque culture. With this shift, came a change in the way the gay community approached disco music and its lifestyle. By shifting the focus of clubs away from sex to music and dancing, the gay community began to develop a more diverse form of culture. ...