As someone who has seen way too many Marvel films and TV series I thought The Boys would be a nice antidote to the predictable three-act structure with the dubious final fight scene and limited morality. The superhero world needs some cynicism and not just Batman’s grumpy malaise but something with wit. The Boys has been praised for doing just this – making fun of and deconstructing the genre while offering bloody violence and intrigue. A lot of its satire is very funny with some stellar performances from the likeably unlikeable super “heroes”. But four episodes in and I was becoming uncomfortably aware that the violence of the series also included a morbid and violent fascination with and disgust for the anus and anal sex.
Take episode 2, the superhero Translucent has been captured by the show’s group of unpowerful vigilantes. His skin is made of a carbon metamaterial which makes him both bulletproof and able to turn invisible. For the life of them the boys cannot figure out a way to kill him. Cut to Frenchie, one of the vigilantes who is…French, spotting a tortoise on TV. He watches as it retracts its head into its shell. I knew exactly what was going to happen next. Yup, they drug Translucent and insert a bomb up his anus. Hilarious, right. They want to use it to keep him under control but it’s not long before he gets blown to pieces. Like a lot of graphic violence this is played for laughs and the fact that Translucent has something forcibly inserted into his anus when he’s drugged is part of the joke. Cut to another scene in which the superpowerful Popclaw, high on drugs, is straddling a man’s face. “Eat my ass,” she screams but it’s not long before she crushes the guy’s skull with her bum. Hilarious, right. Come episode four, Frenchie and another of the vigilantes, Mother’s Milk, are having a row about a superpowerful and violent women they had tried to capture but who got away.
Mother’s Milk: So where’s the girl, Frenchie? Since you’re the psycho chick whisperer all of a sudden.
Frenchie: Maybe subway. Maybe she wants to find a train, no?
Mother’s Milk: Oh, yeah? How deep up your ass did you pull that out?
Frenchie: Well, it depends. How deep does your tongue go?
Witty dialogue, right? I mean the thought of Frenchie having a subway train up his bum, lol. And the thought of Mother’s Milk rimming Frenchie with a really long tongue, gross! A few moments later and Frenchie says, “I understand it’s hard for someone who’s anally OCD to understand.” Another anal joke mixed with a mental health one. Hilarious!
Nope. Anal sex is not gross and is often amazingly pleasurable for the people involved. Yet The Boys treats the anus as a site of ridicule, disgust, and violence. Anilingus between guys is referenced as something gross, thereby ensuring the series is mega-homophobic. Meanwhile, a guy getting a bomb forced up his anus and a woman crushing a guy with her buttocks are played for laughs, while the sexual violence, homophobia and sexism of these jokes are completely ignored. Add to this that the protagonists’ of The Boys are pretty much all male. The heroes we’re meant to root for are the guys cracking jokes about anal violence, which means there’s no way the series can step back from the homophobia and anal-phobia (for want of a better word) and critique them. They’re treated as normal. Of course, what we’re really looking at is toxic masculinity within patriarchy predicated on, amongst other things, homophobia, sexism and an utter fear and disgust of the anus. These are what make boys men and we’re supposed to laugh along with the joke. I don’t think it’s funny.
But what if one of the male protagonists enjoyed anal sex and it wasn’t treated as a joke or something to be ashamed of? Perhaps he uses a dildo, perhaps his girlfriend rides him with a strap on, or perhaps he just uses his finger. Or what if there is a male character who sleeps with other men and enjoys it and we can understand the pleasure and empowerment he gains from it? The only male character I saw in the show who gets with other guys was a total creep #herewegoagain. A show like The Boys is totally ill-equipped to present male liberation, leaving its characters to no-homo each other and make anal sex/rape jokes instead. Not for me, thanks.