Top Gun delivered a high-octane injection into mid-1980s society at precisely the right historical moment. Geopolitically, the United States fought covertly against Communism's latest manifestations in Central America while its image still retained the scars of Vietnam. Recruitment, subsequently, remained stagnant through this time period as the Navy and other branches of the United States military grasped desperately for a striking image. Enter Maverick, the enigmatic embodiment of a range of desired American values.
Maverick cruises around on his motorcycle against picturesque backdrops, launching vertically in his aptly designated F-14 Tomcat, and strutting confidently into the ladies room in pursuit of sexual object Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis). The greatest example of cinematic scene succession follows a protracted briefing of the Top Gun fighter-pilot program. Immediately after an intense and, to be discussed later, homoerotic stare down between rival hot shots Maverick and Iceman (Val Kilmer), the camera flashes to an illuminated nightclub. Goose, Maverick's partner, discusses a sexual challenge wherein the winner will take a twenty dollar prize. Meanwhile, Iceman and his partner confidently down shot after shot while confronting Maverick and furthering the professional and sexual tension between them.
Masculinity is distinctly aggressive, but has its virtuous side as well. The competitive drive between Maverick and Iceman form this masculinity, yet the most important device Top Gun employs in its reinforcement of manly attributes is the montage. This cinematic masterpiece, for which Top Gun and similar films like Rocky broke the ground, will invariably incorporate stunning visual editing, slow motion photography, and appropriately gripping music. The opening scene blasts "Danger Zone" while American pilots engage the opposing Russians, reminding viewers that not only is aerial confrontation dangerous--it's cool. One important characterization development allows Tom Cruise's role to immediately capture manliness. While Cougar, a pilot on the verge of a nervous breakdown, falters with his thirty million dollar aircraft, Maverick remains collected enough to come to his aid. The semiotic significance of Cougar's profuse sweating and Maverick's calm determination is unambiguous. Cougar fails, weakness visually apparent. The hero rises to the occasion, saves his troubled companion, and looks cool as a cucumber while doing it. Further montages exploring Maverick's sexual prowess with Charlie and renegade emotional reactions reveal even deeper character strengths.
The beach volleyball montage that occurs approximately halfway through the movie is a pivotal scene reinforcing homosexual undertones concerning male relationships. Tanned, muscle-bound bodies dive aggressively toward volleyballs. Exhausted and determined men exchange pep talks, hand slaps, even hugs in the sandy atmosphere. The camera speed slows to half normal time, then freezes completely on dozens of different animal-like poses of the Top Gun recruits. The game continues to the dance mix of Kenny Loggin's "Playing with the boys." One need not look much further for the primary reason critics and moviegoers alike recognize distinct homosexual undertones in Top Gun. The imagery of half-naked men perpetuates the entire film, be it various shower scenes or the hodgepodge appearances of leading man Tom Cruise in his briefs. Maverick and Iceman rarely exchange words unless their faces dance within two inches of each other, and Mav's relationship with partner Goose is often overly congenial. Quotes with homosexual innuendo abound, as recruits in all male audiences speak about "hard-ons" and the bald, likely sexually-frustrated control tower commander declares, "I want Butts!"
The combination of interest here merges two seemingly opposite value systems, true masculinity and homosexuality, and promote camaraderie in a very distinct manner. What, if anything, can explain this apparent mismatch? Granted, the perceived homosexual undertones may be nothing beyond contemporary styles of the 80s. The partial nudity scenes involving only male characters could represent only a sexually enticing backdrop for the teenage girl demography, certainly a target of the film makers. Finally, the karaoke outburst in the bar room, while seeming to be an eerie replication of the Village People singing "In the Navy", may simply show a number of guys trying to help a brother out in his pursuit of the beautiful Charlie Blackwood. A carefully weighed consideration, however, reveals that the masculinity expressed in Top Gun in fact leaves plenty of room for this odd inclusion of homosexual suggestions. After all, the movie producers strive toward the goal of a not-too-subtle recruitment film. Therefore, it is logical to assume that the movie will employ all means at its disposal to attract and indoctrinate young men in order for them to grasp the values of the modern military.
The flashy dogfights, screaming motorcycles, and god-like status of pilots when surrounded by lustrous women in the nightclubs merely ornament the sociological theme of the United States military, specifically the Navy, in this film. Indeed, the military mindset has always been one of masculinity and comradeship. Where the homosexual undercurrents fit in to the modern organization of the armed forces relies on a historical basis few sociologists will be willing to admit. Dating back to the practice of the Greek army, homosexual relationships between men were accepted and even encouraged. The bonds made in this way, says the army train of thought, will bind these men together and make them a more cohesive unit. On the power of sexual relationships to improve bravery in the military, Phaedrus says, "...he would prefer to die many deaths: while as for leaving the one he loves in a lurch, or not succoring him in peril, no man is such a craven that the influence of Love cannot inspire him with a courage that makes him equal to the bravest born."
Even in the context of modern's society stigmatism with homosexuality, the military benefits from familiarizing young male recruits to special relationships with their partners, fellow pilots, and commanders. The Clinton-era "Don't ask, don't tell" approach to homosexual orientation provided an official blind eye to any tendencies that male soldiers may harbor, protecting them from the assumption that homosexuality opposes masculinity. In its stead, the military promotes a unique blend of masculine qualities--such as professional competition, sexual pursuit of gorgeous women, and heroic flight scenes--and homosexual values, like the pilot-partner relationships prevalent in the movie. Maverick and Goose share a quirky friendship that features a number of awkward glances and physical touching. The beach volleyball scene includes more hand slaps, half hugs, and pectoral muscles than most moviegoers see in a year. Most notably, the painful withdrawal suffered by Maverick following Goose's death exemplifies the desired emotional connection of fellow men of the armed forces. While standing half naked staring into a mirror, Maverick is consoled by head instructor Viper (Tom Skerritt) with phrases that echo an ended relationship. "There will be others," Viper swoons, "you gotta let him go." The shaken Maverick must overcome his loss, culminating in his eventual defeat of the Russian MIG fighters and a symbolic toss of Goose's dog tags overboard. Their friendship challenged Maverick to get the job done, which he did in heroic and touching fashion.
In its intended three-part strategy, the movie successfully imposes its cultural and sociological message upon unsuspecting viewers. Never once does the movie demand recruitment, declare ideological war on Russia, assert that Tom Cruise is the pinnacle of masculinity, or explain what kind of relationships form the most effective military units. The themes travel instead by thumping music, epic montage, and visual symbols of American superiority. The large American flag present in one of the aircraft hangers and the sexual implications of Maverick's "inverted" flight maneuver over the Russian MIG in the opening scene do not appear by coincidence. They, among dozens of other symbols and thematic devices, exist to share the American dominance and glorified military participation pursued in the mid to late 1980's. The inclusion and blending of masculine and homosexual values are but component parts in the film's overall theme. Total assimilation into the armed forces can--and will--make any young man into a Maverick-like hero. And thereby, be the man.