Sep 30, 2014

Fall 1972: How M*A*S*H Saved My Life

I hated my childhood church.  Everything was a sin: movies, comic books, rock music, books beside the Bible, games with cards, games with dice, restaurants that served alcohol, stores that sold alcohol, dancing, mixed swimming, carnivals, circuses, theaters, curse words, premarital sex, extramarital sex, nonmarital sex, thinking about sex....

Plus we had to sit through three services per week, on Wednesday evening and twice on Sunday, and they were all the same: tedious hymns from Victorian times, 45 minutes of the Preacher pacing and screaming and literally pounding his Bible, and then an endless exhortation to come down to the altar and "get raht with God."

We usually skipped the Wednesday service, and I didn't mind Sunday morning so much; the service ended at 12:00 sharp, and there was nothing good on tv anyway.  But Sunday night services had no limits -- they could go on for two hours or more, with a tv paradise back home: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, It's About Time, Flipper, Land of the Giants, The Young Rebels, Hogan's Heroes...

How to get out of going to church on Sunday night?  When I was in grade school, I tried four tactics:

1.  "I don't want to go!!!! I hate it!!!!"

That didn't work.

2. "I have a lot of homework to do."

No.  Nazarenes were forbidden from working on Sunday, including homework.

3. "I have a stomach ache."

Stomach aches were foolproof...there was no way to prove that you didn't have one, and you weren't necessarily sick. Maybe you just ate something that disagreed with you.

That worked once.  But my parents picked up pie and ice cream on the way home, and some jello for me.  Nazarenes weren't supposed to buy things on Sunday, but...

4. "Bill invited me over for a sleepover.  I can go to his church."

Nope.  Bill was a Presbyterian, and Nazarenes couldn't set foot in a "liberal so-called church."

When I started seventh grade at Washington Junior High, my parents began to watch me carefully, searching for any sign that I had "discovered" girls and thereby become a man.  Did I hang out with girls?  Did I mention any girls, even in passing?  Did I sign up for a mostly-girl club?  Did I notice an actress on tv?

Notice an actress on tv!

The biggest buzz in the 1972-73 tv season was M*A*S*H, a comedy-drama about doctors sexually harassing nurses and getting drunk during the Korean War.  TV Guide was particularly ecstatic over the sexually promiscuous Hot Lips Houlihan, played by Loretta Swit (right).

5. "I want to stay home and watch M*A*S*H.  It sounds good...."

I didn't even have to mention Hot Lips Houlihan.  My parents nudged each other, beaming with pride, and joyfully gave me permission to stay home.

Turns out that I hated M*A*S*H (except for Gary Burghoff as the cute Radar O'Reilly), and there was nothing else good on Sunday nights anymore.

But anything was better than being screamed at for 45 minutes.

And I learned a valuable lesson: my parents were so anxious for me to be heterosexual that they would give me permission to do anything, if there was even a hint of a girl involved.

See also: Slow Dancing at the Canteen

Sep 29, 2014

Fall 1987: Heterosexualizing My Childhood Hero

My friends and I at Denkmann Elementary School in the 1960s liked Disney comics -- Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge, Junior Woodchucks -- but they were hard to find.  Schneider's Drug Store didn't stock them. We had to depend on that one kid who had a subscription, or in the stacks of comics that went on sale every summer at the Denkmann School Carnival.

When we left Denkmann, no more carnival, no more Disney comics.  By the late 1970s, they weren't available anywhere, so I assumed that they were no longer being published.

But I read and reread the few adventures that I owned, with Uncle Scrooge, and his nephews and grand-nephews traveling the world to seek out lost civilizations and ancient treasures: the Philosopher's Stone; the Golden Fleece; the Seven Cities of Cibola; the Mines of King Solomon; the Treasure of Genghis Khan.

There were a few science fiction and humor stories.  Occasionally a character from Greek or Norse mythology showed up.  But mostly it was boys' adventure, like Robert Louis Stevenson, H. Rider Haggard, and the books in the Green Library.

There were no women in this macho world.  Donald Duck never mentioned that Daisy was waiting back home, Huey Dewey, and Louie treated girls as nuisances, and Uncle Scrooge?  During his many careers as cowboy, prospector, explorer, salesman, and financial tycoon, he had never even been on a date.

During college, I bought a massive tome, Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times (1981), which reprinted some of the best Uncle Scrooge stories, and found a woman mentioned: in "Back to the Klondike" (1953), Scrooge recounts how, when he was a young prospector, a devious dance hall girl named Glittering Goldie drugged him and stole his solid gold nugget.  He tracked her down, got the nugget back, and forced her to work at his claim for a month, to teach her the value of "honest work."

That's all.  No romantic entanglement suggested.

When I was living in West Hollywood in the 1980s, Gladstone began reprinting some of the old Uncle Scrooge comics, plus new stories by cartoonist Don Rosa.  He sent Scrooge back to the Klondike in "Last Sled to Dawson" (1987).  And made Glittering Goldie his old girlfriend!

Goldie appeared in several more of Don Rosa's stores during the late 1980s and 1990s, and played a major role in the faux biography of Uncle Scrooge published in 1997.  We find out what really happened during the month they spent alone in Scrooge's cabin on White Agony Creek.  There's even a dirty joke:

En route to the claim, they encounter a giant mastodon partially frozen in the ice.  "Ok, let's get a move on," Scrooge commands.  "Between the legs!"

"I beg your pardon!" Goldie stammers, thinking that he means....

Realizing his faux pas, Scrooge reddens.  " way to my cabin is between the legs of the mastodon."

What can we make of this incessant heterosexualization of one of my childhood heroes?

Don Rosa's comic book stories weren't for kids, but for adults who had grown up with the Uncle Scrooge books. Adults who were old enough for "mature" themes, like girlfriends and "between the legs" jokes.

But children's media was quick to follow suit.  The Ducktales tv series (1987-1990) cast Glittering Goldie as Scrooge's love interest in four episodes. Plus Scrooge flirted with an ongoing series of female reporters, heiresses, and gold-diggers, before, after, or during the adventure.  He was heterosexual.

See also: Donald Duck's Double Life.

What's Wrong with the Word "Homosexual"?

Some people who comment on this blog actually use the term "homosexual."  I delete their comments.

The word makes my ears hurt.  I will not permit it to be said in my classrooms.  I never use it in my writing.  I will purchase no book with that term in the title.

The English language didn’t have a word for people who are exclusively drawn to one sex or another until 1892, when the English translation of Richard Von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis appeared.  It divided human beings into two populations, the heterosexual and the homosexual, the one normal, natural, benign, the other contingent, abnormal, unnatural, purveyors of evil, victims of an insidious and destructive psychopathology.  Psychiatrists, criminologists, teachers, and journalists continued to talk about the dark, sinister “homosexual” psychopath for the next 70 years.

Meanwhile, in subcultures organized by people with exclusive same-sex desires and behaviors, the common term was “gay,” probably derived from prostitute slang of the 1890s.  We don’t know how early it was used, but at least by 1932, when Noel Coward wrote the song “Mad About the Boy”:  “He has a gay appeal that makes me feel there’s maybe something sad about the boy.”

Certainly by 1938, when, in the movie Bringing Up Baby, Cary Grant must answer the door in a lady’s nightgown, and he tells the startled caller, “I’ve just gone gay all of a sudden.”  The bisexual actor ad-libbed the line as an in-joke for his friends, assuming it would go over the  heads of the audience.

It was deliberately meant as a code term, used only by members of the subculture.  As late as the 1960s, you could say “I’m going to a gay party tonight,” and judge by the reaction of the listener if they got it or not.

Most outsiders preferred not to "name" same-sex desire at all -- it was much too sinister – but if they had no choice, they used the word “homosexual.”  The first gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society, used the word “homosexual,” reasoning that otherwise no one would know what they were talking about.

In 1969, the Gay Liberation Front, and the subsequent Gay Rights Movement, made two significant changes.  First, they believed that they were not psychotic, not abominations, not evil.   They chanted “Gay is just as good as straight."

Second, the word “homosexual” had to go.  It was old-fashioned and bigoted. It referred to a mental disorder.  Besides, it had to do with who you have sex with, and they were about so much more than that.  They were about living and working together, sharing a history and a destiny, being a community.  They were not homosexuals, skulking in the darkness, seeking out anonymous liaisons in t-rooms.  They were gay.

The term “gay” was not without detractors.  Many famous homophiles, such as Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood, and Truman Capote, said it was much too frivolous for a bona fide minority group.  Many people said that it was sexist, like using “men” to mean “all people,” ignoring the women.  It also assumed exclusive same-sex desire, behavior, and romance, whereas the community also included bisexuals and transgendered persons.  Eventually LGBT appeared an alternative, and then "queer."

Regardless, “homosexual” was gone, and would remain out of favor among gay people for the next 40 year.  In an Advocate poll in 2000, in answer to the question “What should we be called?”, 95% of respondents said gay or LGBT; 3% homosexual.

There are over 5000 gay or LGBT organizations in the United States, and no homosexual ones.

Barnes & Noble lists 3,389 books with “gay” in their titles and 305 with “homosexual,”  most written to argue that “homosexuals” are bad, evil, and psychotic after all: The Homosexual Neurosis, Hope and Healing for the Homosexual, The Homosexual Agenda.

The Gay Rights Movement had a good precedent for a society-wide name change. In 1965, the Civil Rights Movement objected to the term “Negro,” then used by government agencies, journalists, and on the streets.  Negro was old-fashioned and bigoted.  They chanted “Black is Beautiful!”  They wanted to be called Black.

Mass media changed instantly.  Within 2 years, no one was saying “Negro” except for the incredibly old-fashioned and the bigoted.  In Julia, in 1966, the titular character is on the telephone, & identifies herself as “a Negro.”  The white man she is talking to, not wanting to appear bigoted, pretends that he has no idea what she means, forcing her to use the new term “Black.”

But “homosexual” didn’t change easily. Even though gay people yelled, picketed, conducted sit-ins, and so on, it took until 1985 for the New York Times to agree to substitute gay for homosexual.  In 1976, in the Doonesbury comic strip, Joannie’s law school classmate says “I’m gay,” and she doesn’t understand.

The American Psychiatric Association removed gay people from their list of dangerous psychotics in 1973, but refused to call them “gay” until 1997.  About 20% of scholarly articles today still have “homosexual” rather than “gay” in their titles.  In newspapers and magazines, “gay” tends to win out in titles, but in the articles “homosexual” pops in as if it an exact synonym.

Every time I tell students that the word "gay" is appropriate and the word “homosexual” old-fashioned and bigoted, they are astonished.  They tell me, “But every other teacher I have ever had in my life said ‘homosexual’ was good and 'gay' was bad.”   They then trot out a gay friend who says “I have no problem with homosexual.” I ask if they are aware of the century of oppression centered on that word.  They are not.  They think of “gay” as bigoted!