My Beautiful Laundrette vs. gay representation in Polish film

Watching My Beautiful Laundrette and reading Rahul K. Gairola’s essay I thought about how often political leaders artificially connect sexuality to a particular social and/or economic class in order to propagate certain political objectives. Gairola points out how Margaret Thatcher conflated traditional family values with her particular ideology of capitalism. She maintained the heteronormative/patriarchal family system as the ideal environment for consumption to flourish. At the same time, she allowed for tacit exploitation of the non-British as cheap labor force. Gairola argues that because the Pakistani diaspora, as depicted in Laundrette, upholds traditional notions of the familial home and gender, its members can successfully inscribe themselves in “Thatcher’s brand of capitalism” (44). On the other hand, in Thatcher’s ideology poverty is tied to queerness and vice versa. In Laundrette the queer characters are also the poorest ones. Johnny is a working class squatter, Omar performs menial jobs for his family until the success with the laundrette and Tania is similarly dependent on her family. However, Laundrette gives agency to these characters and allows them to ‘queer’ the traditional notions of home and family by crossing over sexuality, race and class.

The depiction of sexuality in terms of a social and economic class in contemporary Poland works as a good contrast to the political climate and ideology depicted in Laundrette. The party in office right now is flagrantly Christian, nationalistic and conservative. It also paints itself as the protector of the lower working class, although its members are themselves not entirely anti-capitalist. Their doctrine conflates liberal values with dangerous non-heteronormativity. For them the LGBTQ community exists solely in the “liberal elite,” while the lower class is an exemplar of traditional family (and thereby national) values. What’s interesting is that when gays and lesbians are portrayed in contemporary Polish films (queer representation is a fairly recent phenomenon) they tend to be of the middle or upper urban social class (I know of only one counter-example), thereby unwittingly subscribing to the false notion that heterosexuality is some sort of privilege or corruption brought on by excess. The antagonism between the lower and classes is thereby heightened, alienating them based on sexual difference. Of course, the absence of queer characters in poor and rural settings is partly the result of the fact that gays and lesbians in these real-life settings tend to be closeted because of the threat homophobia. However, it would be interesting to see Polish filmmakers push queer characters into poor/rural environments where people are especially prone to nationalist propaganda hinged on patriarchal values, so that they can ‘queer’ these seemingly unbridgeable spaces like Johnny, Omar and Tania do in My Beautiful Laundrette.

Works cited:
Gairola, Rahul K. “Capitalist Houses, Queer Homes: National Belonging and Transgressive Erotics In My Beautiful Laundrette.” South Asian Popular Culture 7.1 (2009): 37-54.  

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