Jul 19, 2012

Spaceship Under the Apple Tree

Other than The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, my favorite early-childhood book was The Space Ship under the Apple Tree (1952), by Louis Slobodkin.  Like The Wonderful Flight, it involves a passionate same-sex friendship.

A boy scout named Eddie Blow meets Marty, an alien boy his own age, and exclaims "Let's be friends."  Marty doesn't know what "friend" means, so Eddie shows him.

 They become involved in the search for Secret Power Z, which will allow Marty to return to his home planet.

There were four sequels, but I never encountered them.




That's all I knew about Louis Slobodkin until I stumbled upon his  Sculpture: Principles & Practices (1973).  The attention to the male form was striking.

Born in 1903, Louis Slobodkin wrote over 50 books, mostly children's books, including One is Good, But Two Are Better (1956), Melvin the Moose Child (1957), and Luigi and the Long-Nosed Soldier (1963).  They sound like male friendship is emphasized, making them part of the repertoire of gay kids.

He was also an illustrator, and of course a sculptor who specialized in the male form.






His most famous piece was a plaster statue of "Young Lincoln," which was displayed at the 1939 World's Fair.  It was destroyed, but there's a replica in Lincoln, Nebraska, and a bronze copy at the Department of the Interior Building.

Could he have been gay?  Maybe, maybe not.  Same-sex friendships were commonplace in children's fiction before the 1980s heterosexualization of childhood, and he was married to children's book writer Florence Gesh. But that statue of Lincoln with a massive chest and phallic hoe. . . .

Jul 18, 2012

Roots

The miniseries Roots was the biggest event of the 1976-77 television season,  and turned out to be the most watched fictional television program of all time.  Everyone saw it, everyone was talking about it.  Most teenagers knew something about slavery already, of course, but Roots put a human face on the African-American experience.

Not the gay experience, though.

Based on the the history of Alex Haley's ancestors, it was billed as "The Saga of an American Family," and it was indeed about "family," that is, men and women coming together and having children and raising children.

The only significant male bonding takes place in Africa, when a teenage Kunta Kinte (Levar Burton) roughhouses with his friends, and just after he arrives in America, when an older slave named Fiddler (Louis Gossett Jr.) takes it upon himself to teach Kunta Kinte about his new life.

(The older Kunta Kinte, renamed Toby, was played by John Amos.)







After that, for the next 100 years, men are brutal enemies or irrelevant.  The only bonds that matter are the bonds that "lead to new life," bonds between men and women: Kunta Kinte (renamed Toby) and Belle, their daughter Kizzy and Noah, her son Chicken George and Matilda, their son Tom Harvey and Irene.  In Roots: The Next Generation (1979), we discover that Tom and Irene's daughter Cynthia marries Will Palmer, Will and Cynthia's daughter Bertha marries Simon Haley, and Bertha and Simon's son Alex writes Roots.  See how life goes on when there are no gay people around?

Except Alex Haley himself never married.

Similarly, the only significant beefcake is visible in Africa and just after Kunta Kinte arrives in America. Mostly it's Kunta Kinte's body, while he's being humiliated and tortured.

After that, for the next 100 years, all men are fully clothed.

Many African cultures validate same-sex relationships.  Gay men and lesbians were an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance, the 1920s outpouring of African-American artistic, literary, and musical genius.  But their voices are missing from Roots.  It was as if Alex Haley believed that to be black is to be heterosexual.

Their voices are also missing om nearly every depiction of the African-American experience.  It is as if Hollywood believes to be gay is to be white.

See also: Beefcake and Bonding in Movies about Slavery



Jul 17, 2012

Bye, Bye, Birdie

In 1942, the U.S. government refused to draft 22-year old movie star Mickey Rooney, and asked him not to enlist, reasoning that he could help the war effort more effectively by making movies to raise morale. But by 1958, times had changed; or maybe it was because 22-year old Elvis Presley, the most famous singer in the new genre of "rock and roll," was universally despised by the older generation.  So he was drafted into the army.  He served in spite of the thousands of agonized protests by fans, and recorded no songs for two years, though he did provide a number of underwear shots from his induction.

Bye, Bye, Birdie, a Broadway musical about the experience, and about Madison Avenue, teeny boppers, and greed, followed in 1960.  I saw the 1963 film version on tv sometime in the early 1970s, and was immediately entranced by the unexpected beefcake.  


The plot, however, completely ignores Elvis' attraction to both male and female fans.  Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) sings only to girls, and only girls swoon over him. The boys sing, in unison, "We hate you, Conrad!"  The conflict comes when  teeny-bopper fan Kim (Ann-Margret) is chosen as the object of Birdie's farewell performance.  Her boyfriend Hugo (played by real-life teen idol Bobby Rydell) is jealous. 

And that's all.  Girls swooning, boys snarling.  Songs like "How Lovely to be a Woman" and "One Boy."

Even Paul Lynde, who managed to make many of his characters gay-vague even when they were middle-aged suburban husbands, fails here.  His "Kids" is a litany of complaints that parents would have against their children through the 1970s.

Disobedient, disrespectful oafs!
Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy loafers!

But that's not enough to make a dent in the heterosexism.

James Royce Edwards starred in the Broadway revival.

Magic Mike



I haven't actually seen Magic Mike (2012) starring Channing Tatum as a stripper.  But extensive internet research has revealed two important facts.

1. Director Steven Soderbergh wants you to believe that no gay men exist.  All male strippers are heterosexual, and strip for exclusively female audiences. No men are even vaguely interested in seeing them.

This is particularly amazing, since the beefcake is sure to fill the theaters with gay men.

2. No reviewer is aware that lesbians exist. The words "every woman's fantasy" appear in over 2,000 websites linked to the movie.
"Magic Mike - fulfilling every woman's fantasy."
"His goal is to fulfill every woman's fantasy."
"The movie caters to every woman's fantasy."
"This is every woman's fantasy."

This is not particularly amazing, since lesbians are erased from existence even more often than gay men.