I was reading up on European queer history and by chance happened on a
tid-bit on the Mattachine Society in the United States, which I of
course knew about (it was the first gay rights group from the 1950s,
back when gay people were still referred to as homophiles). What I
didn’t know about was that the group had chosen the diamond suit, the
harlequin diamond, as their emblem because this Society of Fools was
named after French secret societies of unmarried men that had taken
their name from the mattaccino, a character from commedia dell’arte. The
Mattachino, that is, was a type of harlequinn.
We’ve discussed the Harlequinade before, but I find it very interesting
that the roots of the gay liberation movement are in two societies that
drew their symbolism from commedia dell’arte. You know, in light of how
frequently Supernatural has made use of this symbolism. I feel like, for
me, this unlocks why the show has been making references to clowns and
jesters and using the harlequinn diamond so frequently.
I first got interested in the use of the harlequinn diamond in the context of queer subtext
when I saw it in the 1968 film The Detective, which I believe was the first mainstream Hollywood film to explicitly feature homosexuals, although the foray into the subculture isn’t especially positive. In the film, the diamond functioned as the entrance to queer space, the Harlequinn as a kind of threshold guardian.
L’Harlequinn, the Harlequinn, is actually the name of the gay club in the film, seen in reverse to heighten the feeling of wrongness and the otherworldliness of queer space.
I’ve actually had these two screen-shots on my computer for months, and I had been meaning to write something about it but I didn’t know quite what.I felt that there was a connection to Supernatural’s queer subtext and the show’s use of harlequinn imagery, but I didn’t know what it was until just now. I lacked the context in which it was used. The cinematography of the scene reminded me of the Jeremy Carver episode Free To Be You and Me, however, where the reversal is meant to indicate that Sam’s story is running in inverse to Dean’s story, of which we only see a selection.
The first time that the harlequinn diamond was featured on the show was, of course, in Everybody Loves a Clown, which introduced the symbolism of the Harlequinade on the show. And it’s interesting with regard to the film that in the episode, it was also featured in the context of a bar door, the gate between queer space and ‘normal’ space. We also see it in what I have argued is Dean Winchester’s third heaven in Andrew Dabb’s masterpiece, Dark Side of the Moon:
The harlequinn diamond isn’t regular bar imagery, although it can easily be interpreted as such by the heteronormative audience due to its association with casinos – it is symbolic of queer bars. And on the show we see it not only in heaven, but also in Dean Winchester’s dream, conjured up by his subconscious.
I’ve written so much on clowns in relation to the show that I won’t revisit it here, but I thought I would share this as it might be interesting to know that the use of the symbolism is rooted in the gay liberation movement. Because this show has taken Dean Winchester’s bisexuality seriously from its very inception.