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‘Guy Love:’ Foucault and Queer-ing Friendship in Scrubs

My friends joke that I talk about Scrubs as if I have a writer’s credit. Really, though, I’m much more like Abed in Community, television is my reference point and Scrubs happens to be the imagery that most frequents my Rolodex. I could write the book on Scrubs; actually, I have every intention of doing so.

Scrubs is a fine television show. I’ve watched it for the last six or so years of my life, with different crowds and in different geographical locations. No matter the social situation, I can always say, “You know what this reminds me of? Scrubs…”

So what sort of joy do you think I got when I realized that Turk happens to pull a line from Foucault’s essay “Friendship as a Way of Life?” Oh, the joy!!

I’m thinking specifically of the Season 3 episode “My Journey.” It’s Season 3, so at this point, we get it: JD and Turk are heterosexual life partners who very much love each other and aside from totally diggin’ womanly parts, are hot for each other. The writers even note that they wanted to show two men in an intimate relationship, but who are not sexually attracted to one another (though JD has his moments of, uhm, appreciating Turk’s body, but this is to add to the joke of homoeroticiziation of the two men’s relationship). One of the long standing jokes is that Turk and Carla – whose relationship began in the first episode, hell it is what the episode was all about! – are the second best couple on the show. The first, of course, is Turk and JD.

This particular episode involves JD playing very much the traditional girl sensitive type role and, interestingly, Turk really rejects it. JD is moving out, or some other really important life moment, and wants to celebrate with Turk with a man-date. You know, share the moment. Relish the memories. Toast to the growth! The future! But Turk keeps dodging him and, finally, brings a friend along. JD, of course, is frank about how this hurt him, “I don’t understand. Ever since I met you it’s been like this one-way street. I mean, I-I-I-I tell you everything, and you tell me nothing. I don’t get it – what are you afraid of?”

Well, little John Dorian. Foucault happens to know.

Cut to the scene when Turk is talking to his (male) patient, Mr. Quinn. All the while, Turk has been bonding, man-joking with this patient, the sort of bedside manner that makes Turk the best surgeon (that and his sweet ass dance moves). Mr. Quinn’s fiancé Tracy has, at this point, been spoken about. But aha! Tracy is a man! They got you! You thought he was a she! Because we all have gender stereotypes about what gay should look like! And what a girl’s name is! (I’m not doing justice to this, mind you, it’s really a moot point, and not a gotcha! moment, which makes it all the sweeter…) Tracy (a black man intentionally resembling a younger, skinnier Turk) kisses Mr. Quinn (who I forgot to mention is white and has beautiful dark brown hair, just like JD).

Turk gets IMMEDIATELY uncomfortable and Mr. Quinn calls him on it: “Not so comfortable with the man on man action eh?”

Here, I get flashbacks of my incredibly-right-but-wants-to-be-left-hometown that prides itself on mere tolerance. “I’m like, totally for individuals being able to love whoever they want and all, but, like, just don’t, like, kiss in front of me. You know? I mean, I don’t want to see anyone making out on a park bench. Not a guy and a girl and not two guys.” Samesies, ergo not homophobic? Nice try, Midwestern hometown. Your cover is blown.

Foucault is making a nod to precisely this sort of imagery. Homosexuality has come to mean, “A kind of immediate pleasure, of two young men meeting in the street, seducing each other with a look, grabbing each other’s asses and getting each other off in a quarter of an hour.” He calls this the “neat image of homosexuality” which allows for the general dis-ease toward homosexual relationships to be dispelled.

So contrary to all those of my not-so-friendly past (a sentiment, though, we’re all far too familiar with I’m sure), it’s not the man-kissing. It’s not the ass-grabbing, the fleetingness of a partnership, the promiscuity we have tied to the “neat image of homosexuality.” What is more immediately threatening is the “affection, tenderness, friendship, fidelity, camaraderie, and companionship, things that our rather sanitized society can’t allow a place for…”

Foucault writes, “I think that’s what makes homosexuality ‘disturbing’ [to our rather sanitized society]: the homosexual mode of life, much more than the sexual act itself. To imagine a sexual act that doesn’t conform to law or nature is not what disturbs people. But that individuals are beginning to love one another – there’s the problem.”

Back to Scrubs: Turk takes a line right out of Foucault’s playbook – and I mean, aren’t we all really just eating out of the palm of Foucault’s hand? – “Don’t get me wrong – I don’t love the idea of kissing anyone with a mustache. That’s why I always pretend to have a cold when Carla’s aunt comes to town… What really freaks me out, though, is the thought of being that open with another guy – any guy. I don’t know what it is, I mean that’s just the way I been my whole life. Maybe… maybe it’s because I’m scared, you know?”

To which Mr. Quinn, frankly and in full awareness of his irony, says, “Dude, that’s a little gay.”

By philososaurus

Raised on the farmlands of the Midwest, this gluten-free, feminist bunny took New York City by storm earning an MA in Philosophy. She’s currently encroaching on the normative territories in Chicago, spending time jamming the Discursive machines of ‘health’ and ‘illness,' and relaxing with her animal companions: Pfeffer, Yoshi, and Mr(ish) 'Saurus, her human-animal partner.

8 replies on “‘Guy Love:’ Foucault and Queer-ing Friendship in Scrubs”

Male friendship is why my dad loves Boston Legal – in which, if you’ll remember, James Spader and William Shatner get married in the last episode for tax reasons, thereby truly striking a blow for gay equality by trampling all over the sanctity of marriage in order to protect their money. Just like straight people can do!

It’s tempting to suggest that the homophobic undertones in modern male friendship came about as a reaction to the increasing recognition of homosexuality from the 19th century forward. For centuries before that, male friendship was idealized, romanticized, and glorified (the Iliad, Arthurian tales, Romanticism, etc.). Then you have Ulrichs and a growing body of openly gay literature, and the slow march of decriminalization, and the whole Lost Generation thing … The new boundaries for how affection is shown between men who are friends could definitely be a way of marking out “safe” or “normal” relationships. This would also make sense of the present concurrence between the progress of LGBTQ rights and the appearance of the so-called “bromance” in current popular culture.

This super-pedantic comment has been brought to you by the fact that Saturday was Bloomsday and I’ve had James Joyce and his critics on the brain. :)

And please keep posting about Scrubs, especially through the lens of Foucault etc.. This piece was amazing!

OMFG. Totally. I love the history, cultural development of particular indiosyncracies and attitudes in society. I think that may be why I love TV: the hidden (and not so hidden) cultural attitudes both intentionally and unintentionally represented either on screen or in reaction to what’s on screen.

BTW, if you dig Scrubs + Foucault you’ve GOT to read the interview/essay Friendship As a Way of LIfe. Fclt doesn’t use ‘queer,’ but nods to the fact that (at the time already) the US had picked up this term to designate lifestyle (not just sexual preference). But he goes further into why homosexuality’s … uhm, I’m losing my words: goal? tendency? attitude?… is really one of discovering basic relations to one another (affection, care, camaraderie, etc), which is really the basic tenants of friendship. It’s YUMMY.

(And really, I could post on Scrubs all day. Scrubs AND Foucault actually. I work in biomedical ethics and philosophy of the body, phenomenology of illness, etc. so shows about medicine + social and political philosophers = philososaurus’s beez kneez… Thanks for the kudos; it makes me all warm inside.)

Turk! I always stop by when I zap into Scrubs.

And yes, you can keep the idea of ‘gay’ far away from you if you title it as weird because ”Yikes how do they sex!” but to admit to yourself that they love, cry, fight and cuddle just like you and other straights ..that might mean you’re too similar to ‘gay’. Yikes. Good one, I used to think that the difference was the big Yikes. But it’s the similarities.

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