Midnight Cowboy, set in New York, depicts the journey of one young man searching for his place in the big city. New York is depicted as a city in which sex is open and liberated, and drugs and petty crime are rampant. Joe, the main character, is a young man who leaves Texas in search of a better life, utilizing what he feels he is best at, sex. Throughout the film flashbacks help the viewer contrast rural and urban spaces. In the rural spaces we see sex being repressed and punished, where as in the city it is liberated. Lastly in Mennel’s chapter, The City as a Queer Playground, she points out the homophobic undertones of the film.
In Midnight Cowboy, New York is depicted as a city in which sex is very open and plays a large part in the culture of the city. Throughout the film we see many women who take advantage of Joe. Joe is expecting to come to New York and get paid to have sex. However he is very unsuccessful in doing this, the first women he has sex with starts to cry when Joe asks for money, leaving him exploited. In addition, the first thing the viewer hears on the radio when Joe enters New York is a group of women discussing their sexual preferences. This again paints New York as a very sexualized place.
The contrast between rural and urban spaces comes in the form of flashbacks, leading viewers to draw conclusions about how each society handles sex. Throughout the film, Joe has flashbacks to his time in Texas. The flashbacks include what seems like his girlfriend being gang-raped as Joe is forced to watch, she is then sent to a mental institution. This is contrasted with Joe’s current living situation in New York in which sex is not a big deal, simply a means of pleasure for the women. This may be why Joe chooses to leave Texas, not wanting to be in a place that is so restrictive on what he feels he is best at. Joe marginalizes himself in an attempt to fit in with new lifestyle of New York. In one of the first shots of New York, Joe is walking around in a crowd. Dressed like a cowboy, surrounded by sleek looking New-Yorkers, he looks lost and out of place, this shot does a great job of contrasting an average looking rural male and the hustle and bustle of a modern day city.
In Mennel’s chapter, The City as a Queer Playground, she discusses the homophobic undertones of the film. Mennel talks about the relationship between Rizzo and Joe. Mennel discusses how many of the characters reference Rizzo and Joe as being gay together. However Rizzo constantly uses offensive and homophobic words in order to distance himself from this notion. Many of the films made at this time had similar homophobic undertones.