Dec 24, 2012

The Gay South Pacific

I identified India and Australia as "good places" from tv, but the Pacific came from books, which imagined a vast ocean studded by islands, some uninhabited, some inhabited by cannibals and headhunters, some inhabited by muscular men who wore only loincloths and fell in love with each other.

Robinson Crusoe (1719), by Daniel Defoe, about a a man who is shipwrecked (actually off the coast of Brazil) and lives for many years with his native companion, Friday.  The subtext is obvious.

I had three or four juvenile versions.  My favorite was full of beefcake illustrations by N.C. Wyeth.  The only movie versions during my childhood were Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), which transports them into space, and Robby (1968), which makes them about ten years old.  And nude.

Call it Courage (1940), by Armstrong Sperry, about a boy named Mafatu (played by Evan Temarii in the 1973 movie), who is afraid of the sea, so he sets out on his own in an outrigger canoe, get shipwrecked, fights cannibals, and returns home a man.

No gay subtext, but the boy was bronze and hard-bodied, a perfect fantasy boyfriend for a preteen.

Kon-Tiki and The Ra Expeditions by Thor Heyerdahl.

Island Boy, by Robert R. Harry (1957), about another bronze, hard-bodied boy who grows up to be king, without falling in love with any girls along the way.

There were some tv shows and movies, too: Gilligan's Island, where Gilligan and the Skipper share hammocks; Danger Island, where Jan-Michael Vincent met his first boyfriends; Jules Verne's Mysterious Island; South Pacific where beefy men hang all over each other while ironically singing "There's nothing like a dame."

Not a lot of toys, but I did manage to find this hula boy bobbler that sat by my bedside.  He didn't look Hawaiian, but he had six-pack abs and a nice chest.

In college I read Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville (1851), about an American whaler named Ishmael who finds a bond deeper than marriage  with the gigantic, muscular  "savage" Polynesian, Queequeg.  The professor neglected to mention the gay subtext, but I found it.

And after I moved to Los Angeles, I found this edition of Cruising the South Seas (1987), a collection originally published by gay author Charles Warren Stoddard in 1905. They were remarkably open for 1905, and even for 1987, touching expressions of love between Europeans and Polynesians.