American college students are ignorant of Freddie Mercury

Today in class, to commemorate my students’ completions of their first essay drafts, I played a YouTube video of Queen performing “We are the Champions.” Most of them knew the song—they hummed along as they stapled their abstracts to their papers and turned them in—but they watched Freddie Mercury’s performance of the song with interest. “Wow, that guy is super gay,” one student commented. “No he’s not,” his friend argued. “All the rockers back then looked like that.”

I had to interject. “Actually, Freddie Mercury was gay. He helped a lot with AIDS awareness, too.” One of my students persisted. “He’s not gay, though.” The first student who spoke shook my head. “He named his band Queen—super gay.” They stared at each other. “But he’s not gay, is he?”

Sometimes I forget that these people are eighteen, and that most of them come from sheltered little suburbs. My cultural sensibilities are offended that they didn’t know who Freddie Mercury was, but worse than that, there seemed to be a homophobic subtext in the words of the student who denied Mercury’s sexuality. “No, no, he’s not gay because Queen is awesome, Queen rocks. No gay guy could rock so hard.”

Of course Freddie Mercury rocks. He’s fabulous. Screw that Paul Rodgers crap. Freddie Mercury rocks so hard that the city of Montreux, Switzerland built an epic ten-foot tall statue of him.

Some say it’s ironic that “We Will Rock You,” a song written and performed by a gay man, has become a fist-pumping anthem heard at sporting events—traditionally the place of straight men. It’s not. I wonder if that student’s opinion toward Queen is going to change now. Does Freddie Mercury’s gayness somehow nullify his worth as a rock icon? Does it turn Queen’s rock anthems into Rufus Wainwright-style swishy gay-rock? Of course not. Mercury was a rock god with, in my opinion, one of the most amazing voices ever recorded. And since I really want to close this post with a resounding and corny metaphor about Queen’s timelessness, I’ll quote from one of their songs:

“The show must go on,
The show must go on
Inside my heart is breaking
My make-up may be flaking
But my smile still stays on.”



~ by Ian D. on April 19, 2008.

6 Responses to “American college students are ignorant of Freddie Mercury”

  1. I’ll admit – I had no idea who Freddie Mercury was (by name, anyway) or that he was gay. And I’m older than you. It’s a little embarrassing, but I’ll stick up for the freshmen on this one.

  2. Oh. My. God. They don’t know Freddie Mercury? I live halfway across the globe, in a country most Westerners consider backwater, but I know who he was. Haha. Time to rewrite the history curriculum.

  3. I had a similar moment with students when I suggested to them that “Fight Club” is seen by many people as a homoerotic fantasy. That remark did *not* go over well. When I told them the author of the novel, Chuck Palahniuk, is most assuredly gay…stunned silence. Followed by rejection of the very notion.

    Clearly, Freddy Mercury isn’t the only subject we need to teach our students about.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  4. Oh, good points there, but Freddie didn’t write We Will Rock You, Brian May (the guitarist) did.

  5. freddy’s not gay, man watch his interviews. sorry.

  6. Devin, he never admitted his sexual preference publicly.
    I wasn’t even alive by the time Freddie died, but I can tell you who Freddie Mercury was and how much he helped the AIDS community by telling people he had the disease. It raised AIDS awareness by EPIC proportions. Thanks for the good post. I’ve been looking for anything that isn’t bashing this rock god. Gay, bi, or straight, Freddie Mercury was the best front man of all time.
    And a note: I think he may have been bisexual, not homosexual.

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