Oct 21, 2014

Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Slave as Object of Desire

In the first years of the twentieth century, everyone read Uncle Tom's Cabin, the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852) that, in Abraham Lincoln's famous joke, "started the Civil War."

Or they went to see one of the many silent film or theatrical versions.

 The characters and events were as intimately familiar as anything in today's Harry Potter or Twilight series.

You would call anyone evil a Simon Legree.

Anything with an unknown origin was compared to Topsy, who was never born; she "just growed."

Jokesters called anyone impossibly virtuous a Little Eva.
And Uncle Tom, the doddering, creaking, white-haired, who sang and danced and reveled in his slavery, proclaiming it the best of all possible worlds?

By the 1940s, his name was being applied to African-Americans who supported or abetted racist policies.  Today anyone in an oppressed group who sells out to the oppressor is called an Uncle Tom.

Like the gay writers and actors who fill our tv screens with screaming-queen stereotypes.

But in the original novel, Uncle Tom was no sell-out: he was strong-willed and principled, standing up to slave owners to obey the dictates of his conscience.

And he wasn't a doddering oldster: he was in his 40s, still strong, his muscles an object of both admiration and fear.

The comic book versions depict him as more of a sex symbol than an elderly minstrel, his overalls falling open to reveal his massive chest.

The  poster for the 1965 film version (top photo) shows the back side of a naked muscleman, and promises: "the real story of how it all happened -- the SLAVES, the MASTERS, the LOVERS!"

Although the movie contains no nudity and no lovers.

Uncle Tom has a wife in the novel, but she is of minimal importance.  What is important is the homoerotic desire that he elicits in his owners:

Simon Legree, who beats him because he refuses to harm another man.

And especially Augustine St. Clare, the gay-vague fop who opposes slavery even though his wife forces him to own slaves, and who wants to free Tom but can't bear the idea of not being able to gaze on his sleek, shimmering muscles anymore.

See also: The Uncle Tom Award #1: Todd Graff; and Brock Ciarlelli, the Uncle Tom of the Middle.

The Flash: Gay Characters and Subtexts in a DC Comics Reboot

The Flash is one of the primal characters of the Golden Age of Comics, appearing in 1940 and rebooted several times as DC consolidated universes.  Flashes include Jay Garrick, who gained super-speed after accidentally inhaling "heavy water" in 1938; Barry Allen, who got splashed with chemicals, and named himself after his childhood hero; his nephew Wally West; and his grandson Bart Allen.

The new tv series returns to Barry Allen (Grant Gustin, left), who experienced a Batman-like trauma early in life, when his mother was killed and his father was framed for the murder.

Raised by the kindly Detective West (Jesse L. Martin), he has grown up into a police investigator and paranormal specialist, a moody Fox Mulder.  Then, after being doused with chemicals and hit by lightning, he discovers that he has become a "metahuman" with special powers.

The accident created other metahumans, too, with various powers.  Some are good, some evil.  And there's an Agency with a sinister interest in them.  And Barry's dousing with chemicals wasn't really an accident.  It has something to do with who killed his mother....

Sounds like there's going to be a lot of Batman-X Files - X Men mythology included with the mutant-of-the-week.

Will there be any gay content?

Lots.  Even a couple of gay characters: Barry's boss, Captain Singh (Patrick Sabongui, left), is gay, although this fact hasn't been mentioned yet, and his boyfriend Hartley (Andy Mientus) will become a super-villain, the Pied Piper.

Barry is played by Grant Gustin, who played a gay character on Glee.  

Iris West (Candice Patton) was Barry's girlfriend, then wife, in the comics, but here the two were raised together, so a romance between the adopted brother and sister might not be on the table.

Barry has a buddy bond relationship with Eddie Thawe (Rick Cosnett), a coworker with a dark secret who will eventually become his arch-enemy, Professor Zoom.  They may have a Superman-Lex Luther thing going on.

And there will be ample beefcake.  Many superheroes and villains will be dropping by, including The Arrow (Stephen Amell), Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), and Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell).

Oct 20, 2014

The West Hollywood Halloween Carnival

Life in West Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s was cyclical.  There were no seasons -- it was warm and sunny every day -- but you were always planning on the next event.

The social calendar began in June, with Gay Pride.  Then:
Outfest (July)
Sunset Junction (August)
AIDS Walk (September)
Hollywood Film Festival, Halloween Parade (October)
Hollywood Christmas Parade, Thanksgiving (November)
The L.A. Gay Men's Chorus Christmas Concert (December)
The Tournament of Roses (January)
Valentine's Day (February)
Cinco De Mayo (May)

When I first moved to West Hollywood, Halloween was an informal affair.  All of the bars offered costume contests, and patrons would walk from the Gold Coast to the Cafe Etoille to Mickey's to the Revolver in costume, adulating in the attention from passersby.  In 1987 it became an official parade modeled on Mardi Gras in New Orleans: the West Hollywood Halloween "Carnaval."

Every year it became bigger, noisier, more crowded, and oddly, more homophobic, as heterosexual tourists came into town to stare, point, and make jokes.  Eventually everyone in West Hollywood avoided Santa Monica Boulevard that night, making do with private parties or the bars of Silverlake, on the other side of town, and letting newcomers take over.

And they did.  Today the West Hollywood Carnaval draws 500,000 people, more than any other event in Los Angeles except for the New Year's Parade.

If you can manage the crowds and the gawkers, there's beefcake to be had.  Costumes tend toward the whimsical and drag, but once and a while there's a muscleman or two.