In 1969, a film called Don't Drink the Water was released. It was based on a play by Woody Allen, and Woody remade it in 1994. In the 1969 version, an American family called the Hollanders is touring Europe and, while in a communist country there, makes a film recording that leads the authorities to accuse them of espionage. The Hollanders first take asylum in the US embassy and then plan an escape. Somehow, as part of this escape, their daughter wears men's' clothing as a disguise. At one point, she kisses her boyfriend, who understands the real facts correctly. But an onlooker sees the kiss and remarks "Well, that's the State Department for you."

I understand this remark to mean that the onlooker is fooled by the disguise into believing that he has seen two men kissing. But beyond that point, I'm trying to understand why his remark makes sense. It seems like the joke means that nobody should be surprised by homosexuality in the State Department. Can you point me to signs that this association was widely shared in America? Or why is that "the State Department for you"?

I found a few articles on the internet -- like this and like this -- about the efforts of the State Department to remove any employees involved in homosexuality. But despite the importance that these articles seek to attach to the subject, the matter seems to be a fairly small operation involving few people and little publicity, long before the film was released in 1969. Was there any highly visible event, attracting a lot of national attention, close to the film's release? What did the joke mean, and did anybody get it?

  • 1
    Its possible you are looking a couple of years too late, as the original play ran 1966 to 1968. If this material was also in that play, then it might be based on events prior to 1966. (It may have no context relating to the State Department at all, however. Someone may have said a similar line in a completely unrelated situation and the writer remembered it and inserted it into the story.)
    – justCal
    Jan 11 at 2:39
  • This is a stretch, and I can't say for certain, but this may go back to the 1950's "Red Scare" with Senator McCarthy's crazy accusations of "Communists in the State Department". Although the idea (and the Senator himself) were ultimately discredited, there may have been a lingering tinge on the department's reputation (especially by those who wanted to believe The Crazy in the first place) as a place with low standards who would let anyone in.
    – Spencer
    Jan 11 at 15:43
  • In 1960s and 70s, homosexuality was widely considered as something degenerate in US mainstream. As for State Department, it was then (and now) considered as hotbed of left leaning liberals, that would approve and promote homosexuality and homosexualism as an political movement. You put these two together and you get the remark.
    – rs.29
    Jan 11 at 20:11
  • @justCal I see what you mean, but if jokes from the play lost their currency, it seems that the filmmakers would have changed those lines.
    – Chaim
    Jan 11 at 21:49


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