Fassbinder’s Deconstruction of Inherent Heteronormativity in Germany’s 70’s Gay Community

Fox & His Friends serves as Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s outlet for commenting on Germany’s current social state within the gay community, and how socioeconomic power can buy someone love, but only for as long as it is profitable. It’s narrative centers on a character study similar to that of Annie Hall, only that Annie is now played by a blue-collar Fassbinder by the name of Fox [Franz], who’s recent lottery win has led him into the exploitative arms of a posh industrialist.

Fox & His Friends

The most subtle statement that Rainer Werner Fassbinder tries to make in his film Fox & His Friends is that of inherent hetero-normative expectations that existed within the homosexual circles of Germany. The first scene that begins to establish this ideology is when Fox is driving to the home of his newly acquainted lover Eugen. During this period, the two verbally duke it out, trying to assert themselves as somewhat of an alpha male. Once the two arrive at Eugen’s home, the conversation continues. They call each other “girlfriend” and “honey”, in an attempt to establish who will be the woman in the relationship. The bizarre nature of this hetero-normative interplay is further amplified by the mise-en scene’s use of paintings of naked women, indirectly implying that this relationship can’t exist without somebody taking on this character.

Fox & His Friends

When looking at this sequence objectively from a hetero-normative perspective, Eugen appears to be the “man” in the relationship. Eugen invites Fox home, and pours Fox a drink of alcohol. He engages in small talk until Fox is willing to enter Eugen’s bedroom, at which point Fox jumps onto the bed and lures Eugen in. It’s interesting to note that the entire scene’s dialogue is a pretty much a back and forth between which of the two men will be the woman in the relationship, whilst the visual indicators end up answering this question.

The fact that the two need to come to a decision seems a bit odd at first, but it slowly begins to make sense as the story unravels. Eugen is evidently the dominant in their relationship, at least from a social (and economic) position. Fox often refers to himself as a member of the proletariat, and Eugen’s bourgeois table manners and social circle are barriers that begin to alienate Fox from the relationship.

Eugen treats Fox much like Woody Allen treats Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, indoctrinating and teaching him the ins and outs of his white-collar lifestyle. However, it is Fox that holds the (traditionally male-dominated) position of payment. In fact, this escalates to the degree where Eugen is purely using Fox for his money (a character trait more commonly associated with that of women). What’s brilliant is that Fassbinder manages to keep flip flopping gender expectations by making the audience unsure of who in the relationship is supposed to represent what gender, because at the end of the day, both characters are merely people, not MEN or WOMEN.

Annie Hall

Fox’s wealth is driven to the ground until there is nothing left. Eugen, like any cliche gold-digger, abandons his lover at this point and seeks love somewhere else. At this point, Fox enters a bar that he has returned to numerous times during the course of the film. Here he interacts with two American soldiers that he had spoken to before. The soldiers ask Fox “how much [he] pays”, which turns out to be the last straw on the camels back.

Fox has a nervous breakdown and cries “why do I always have to pay!” This is the single defining sentence of Fassbinder’s film, and elegantly formulates Fassbinder’s thesis about Germany’s inherent hetero-normative ideology within the gay community. Fox doesn’t understand why he needs to pay. Why does he need to take on the role that conservative culture has for for centuries attributed to men? Especially now that Fox has nothing left! Why can’t another man pay for once? In fact, why is it a question at all? Can’t they both simply be people and leave the money out of their love life?

Fox & His Friends

Fassbinder’s conclusion appears bleak and tragic. In a world plagued by heterosexual expectations formed by a hunter-gatherer civilization, a homosexual man can’t find proper footing.

Fox might have his friends in the bar, but regardless if his lover is a blue-collar man he met in the lavatory or a suit-wearing industrialist he met at a country club, they will never split the check.


One thought on “Fassbinder’s Deconstruction of Inherent Heteronormativity in Germany’s 70’s Gay Community

  1. This was a very well written response. I was especially thankful for the breakdown of the dynamics of the gay community in Germany; it provided a wonderful contextual frame that most American readers would not otherwise understand.

    It’s very interesting that the power dynamics between a couple (regardless of gender) is essentially dictated by money. Fassbinder blatantly depicts a gay couple in the Fox and his Friends but, as you pointed out, he uses symbols of women to imply that one of the men is taking on the woman’s role. For this reason, I feel like his film actually transcends its contextual frame. Fassbinder is not only critiquing power dynamics between those who are romantically involved, but he is essentially critiquing capitalism. After all, his romantic experiences were financially driven. Money is the source of all his heartache; it is the reason his first love is arrested, it is the reason he is used by Eugene, and it is the last thing he screams about before he commits suicide.
    Had Fox been a woman or had his lover been a woman, capitalism would have still had a hold over their relationship. Fassbinder’s choice to make Fox’s relationships between men (men of the same race) forces us to focus on their economic/class standing; these two–supposedly equal–people are unequal based on their net worth.

    Very interesting. Thank you for your blog post! I would not have recognized that commentary without your writing.


    Liked by 1 person

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