Nov 20, 2012

You Can't Do That on Television

In 1981, the new children's network Nickelodeon was filling space with anything it could find, from 1930s-era Warner Brothers cartoons to the teen soap Degrassi Junior High to the old British series Danger Mouse.  One of its happier acquisitions was You Can't Do That on Television (YCDTOT), a sketch comedy series which premiered in 1979 in Canada.  It lasted until 1990, bringing on an endless array of kids (over 100 in all) to mock the conventions, fears, and idiocies of the preteen world.

Everything from the standard (tedious homework, nonsensical school rules, horrible cafeteria food) to the edgy (racism, gender roles, divorce).

And a lot for gay boys to like.

1. The boys in the cast appeared shirtless or in their underwear constantly, in nearly every episode.  Gay preteens must have been mesmerized.

Unfortunately, cast members usually retired when they hit adolescence, but there were a few exceptions to provide beefcake for the teenagers, such as Alasdair Gillis (above and left).

And Kevin Kubusheski.

2.  Two ongoing bits reflected gay kids' anxiety over desires that the adults insisted could not and did not exist.  In one, a boy is about to be executed by firing squad, yells "Stop the execution," and cleverly talks his way out of it.  In another, a boy is in a dungeon, hands manacled over his head, being interrogated and tortured (usually by being slobbered on).

3. Gender stereotypes were frequently critiqued.  Boys dressed as ballerinas, played with dolls, disliked sports, and were bad at math. Girls worked on cars and wore leather jackets.

4. Although gay people were never mentioned, the critique of the most cherished myths and preconceptions of childhood helped gay kids recognize that the myth of universal heterosexual desire could be critiqued as well.