three pairs of lovers with space

SPECIAL FRIENDSHIPS: FOLLOW ME, BOYS!

 

This is the twenty-fourth chapter of Special Friendships, Steven Freeman's unpublished book about the depiction of close friendships between men and boys in film, which is introduced here.

 

Follow Me, Boys!

I would have to include the Scoutmaster in this category of “legitimate” child redeemers since, although he’s a volunteer and without the same vested authority as police or social workers, he is clearly an emissary of the state, engaged in the business of “civilising” whole shipments of boys. He’s a Catholic priest without the religious regalia, but his function is the same: to scrub boys down, make them “better citizens”. This was in fact the explicit purpose (certainly one of them) behind the founding of the Boy Scout movement, and all the more overt in kindred movements like the Hitlerjugend or communist Pioneers. As with schoolteachers, it’s rare in Scouting films to find the adult striking up a special friendship with just one boy of his troop (Disney’s “FOLLOW ME BOYS!” (66) being an obvious exception, in that Fred MacMurray formally “adopts” Kurt Russell), and such partiality or favouritism would have been regarded as inappropriate, for sensible reasons rather than sexual ones.  There is always, in that sense, a discreet emotional distance between man and boys.

Kurt Russell and Fred MacMurray in Follow Me, Boys!

It’s true, Boy Scouts have more choice in the matter of whether or not to get “civilised” than is the case with sterner agents of officialdom, but the important distinction remains that these are not spontaneous relationships entered into by free choice, an authority structure remains explicit, there’s a strong connotation of “civic duty” as the cornerstone of self-development, and so they should be excluded here. Out must go all your favourite Boy Scout titles too then — “MR SCOUTMASTER” (53), “SCOUT TOUJOURS”, “IF YOU GO DOWN IN THE WOODS TODAY”. The Scout movement has generally been the object of mild ridicule on screen, in any case, belying the movement’s popularity and longevity out there in the real world. There was something prissy and absurd about a grown man “wasting” his free time in the company of boys, who were best “seen and not heard”. Scouting, once an avowedly homosocial, or single-sex, construct, and therefore a definite milestone in the culture of boyhood itself, has now atrophied into a pointless mixed-sex “after-school club”, deeply paranoid and closely watched. The best Boy Scout films in any case all seem to have been made in the silent period, when Scouting was new and exciting, and most of those films are lost to us.

 

Continue to the next chapter: Human cats, dwarfs, imaginary friends

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