For those of you who don’t slavishly follow popular culture, Frank Ocean is to R&B what The Arcade Fire is to Rock: a small, independent act geared towards people who are too cool to like mainstream stuff. Honestly, it doesn’t matter who he is, the fact that you probably haven’t heard of him is kind of the point.
I love to talk about incentives, and how they determine pretty much everything that’s interesting in human behaviour. Take any behaviour, and you can come up with an incentives-based explanation that’s probably right, and definitely a lot more useful, than anything else going.
Incentives then. What incentive could a young black hip-hop artist, immersed in one of the most homophobic cultures in America, possibly be exposed to that would lead him to admit to being gay? What could he possibly have to gain?
Let’s start surface incentives first of all. I had never heard of the guy before. I was vaguely aware of a Kanye West song that featured him, but, whatever. Wasn’t interested. A few weeks later, gay marriage is in the news and who else hits the headlines? A guy who’s now claiming he fell in love with a man.
Commercial incentives are a powerful thing – looks like our guy has a good ear for PR. Pretend to come out at an opportune time, get introduced to new audiences, profit!
But that’s assuming that he’s just making the whole thing up. Do you really believe that this guy:
hasn’t had a gay tendency in his life? My gaydar’s not that good, but hell, I’ve always thought R&B singers were a bit fruity. And this guy looks a little fruitier than most.
Let’s say then that there’s a perfectly good, incentives / evo psych explanation for when a man loves a man. What does that look like?
Like most things in love, homosexuality can only exist if it serves to pass on genes. And let’s forget those “gay men help to take care of their brother’s kids” type explanations. If nature wanted extra child care, I doubt it would stumble upon Brüno as the solution.
If homosexuality doesn’t lead to a direct evolutionary advantage I’ll eat my hat. I’ll accept that it could be a spectrum disorder, where a bit of gayness is a good thing but too much takes you out of the gene pool entirely. But somehow, somewhere, it’s helping guys pass on their genes.
The way I see it, there are two situations where homosexuality flourishes (get it? Because flowers are gay?)
The first is men who are stuck in areas where there are a lack of women. In Afghanistan, it’s not gay if you’re underage. Partly this is an evolutionary byproduct, because there a lot of sick motherfuckers in Afghanistan, but partly this is a response to no women around. If you can’t practise sex and relationships with a real girl, at least try your luck with a boy. Getting along with other people in a romantic sense is a learned skill. In countries with no women and no internet, well, no need to finish that thought. Prison gay is a similar phenomenon.
Another instance where homosexuality is evolutionarily useful is for men who follow the “sneaky fucker” copulation strategy. Normally, men are social creatures. They have male friends. They do male stuff. Male social alliances seem pretty simple, but from a game-theory perspective they can be expected to involve some complicated strategic and information-sharing considerations.
And for what? To try to get social status so you can attract a mate? As we all know, chicks don’t fuck looks or money or jobs or achievements. They fuck social status.
Where does that leave guys who can’t compete. Guys who aren’t one of the boys, and therefore can’t get laid? That leaves them either shit out of luck, unless they can come up with another strategy (and let’s forget game for the purpose of this article).
Enter the “sneaky fucker” strategy. The sneaky fucker is that guy who’s kind of feminine, but in that “I wish I was queer so I could get chicks” kind of way. He’s into romantic music, he’s sexually harmless, and he’s probably going to eventually fuck one of his fag hags.
Bringing us back to Frank Ocean.
I’m sure he’d be offended to read this article, but the whole point of socially convenient beliefs is that people are, by design, blind to their own social strategy. At least, they’re blind when it’s convenient to them.
What kind of young black man becomes an indie R&B artist? A young black man who’s low social status, overly sensitive, and kind of a loser. He probably hangs out with overachievers and narcissists like Kanye West who are also kind of a loser underneath it all. And eventually they all work hard and become cool, but carry all sorts of baggage with them. Like subconsciously pretending to be in love with other men.
The point is, people’s baggage can affect all kinds of things about them. Political beliefs, personality, sexuality. Sure, lots of people like to talk about nurture being an important component of our upbringing, but nobody wants to talk about specifics. Turns out, nurture is just as un-PC as nature. Oh well.
Fighting The War on Pattern Recognition one day at a time.