Yuri’s Welcome to the Madness v. the 90s
One of the major themes of Yuri on Ice as a show is the great potential that lies in figure skating as a means of self expression. Yuri’s Welcome to the Madness program is a wonderful example of the theme, serving as a furious and brash contrast to Yuuri and Victor’s more sedate and gracious Stammi Vicino that shows the truly large range of expression possible through figure skating.
However, I watched the whole thing with my jaw open because on a meta-textual level Welcome to the Madness is also a hilarious lampoon of the hyper-masculinity movement within figure skating of the late 80s and 90s.
Context: For reasons too complicated to get into: post-World War II, figure skating would be largely perceived as a feminine sport, women athletes were and still are more widely celebrated than their male counterparts in terms of recognition. In the past half a century figure skating has tried a number of time to “re-brand” itself in order that male figure skaters would not be emasculated for participating in the sport.
All this to say, that in the late 80s and 90s, male figure skating would make a particularly memorable push to disassociate itself with its feminine reputation, a strategy of emphasizing the masculinity and ‘macho-ness’ of individual skaters almost cartoonishly in commentary and promotional material. The most prominent examples would probably be Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko.
Kurt Browning is four time World Champion and first skater ever to complete a quadruple jump in competition. He also came from rural Canada and was the son of a cowboy, a fact that has little to do with skating yet is impossible to escape from if you research him at all because it gets mentioned constantly. You can tell he’s a masculine heart throb because even his wikipedia picture has him wearing tight leather pants and looking slightly uncomfortable about it.
Elvis Stojko is a three time World Champion and two time silver Olympic medalist he is also the first skater to land a quad jump combination. He’s also a total dork who skated to the soundtrack of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story during the Olympics because he’s a martial artist too! (it’s delightful, the commentators salivating how ‘epic’ the soundtrack to a Bruce Lee biopic is also wonderful)
It’s really apparent when listening to commentators or reading the promotional material surrounding these skaters that their identities as ATHLETES and STRAIGHT were basically shoved into your face as much as possible.
So, the distinction between ‘effeminate’ or ‘masculine’ skating had little to do with the skating itself and everything to do with arbitrary codifiers like an interest in more stereotypically masculine recreation activities or music choices leading to a radically different perception and marketing of the athletes within the media. Just listen to the commentators, like this skate where the commentator felt the need to start mooning about how Elvis is “so tough, physically and mentally.”
It’s worth remembering that the AIDs epidemic was going on at the same time and that the figure skating community’s reaction to the tragedy was mixed and complicated, especially when some were pushing for recognition for the fact that this disease was hitting the figure skater world particularly hard and others were doing everything they were to deny the idea that figure skating community was suffering from the impact of AIDs more than other sports.
I bring this all up in relation to Yuri and Welcome to the Madness because rock music and wearing tight leather pants was basically the epitome of what was pushed as the masculine ideal during the 90s in male figure skating.
(This is Elvis Stojko from an ice show recently because I couldn’t find any earlier pictures of him being a leather wearing bad boy, but it was a thing)
So here we have Yuri wearing everything that superficially would mark him as one of those skaters, and then he lowers his sunglasses and is actually wearing eye makeup and proceeds to tear the entire dichotomy down.
This is actually kind of a culmination of Yuri’s journey as an artist, since here he’s performing what on the surface is the anti-thesis of what traditional artistic skating is, there’s no ballerina here! He’s wearing LEATHER PANTS and SUNGLASSES and skating to ROCK MUSIC, yet as he skates he uses movements that are sexy in ways that alternate between traditionally masculine and feminine ideas of sexiness.
For example Stojko in his Van Halen routine also includes a dramatic slide at the end, but Yuri’s slide is pure Johnny Weir, whose own career suffered because his skating didn’t fit the mold of how a male figure skater should present and move their body.
I know that someone on the Yuri on Ice staff mentioned that they were inspired to have Yuri put together his own gala in a night because they heard of Misha Ge doing so, but many of the skates seem so carefully designed to transgress what it traditionally thought of as acceptable for male skaters in search of more fuller self expression through their sport and art that Yuri adhering to all the superficial codifiers of the 90s NO HOMO male figure skating while simultaneously getting his glove removed by the teeth of his male best friend strikes me as not entirely coincidental.