Oct 27, 2012

Motorama and the Girl of Your Dreams

In 1991, 12-year old Jordan Christopher Michael starred in Motorama, about a boy named Gus who runs away from his abusive parents and drives cross-country,  through an arid wilderness something like the Western United States.  His goal is to acquire enough coupons from Chimera Gas stations to win a fabulous prize.









Early on, Gus meets a gas station attendant, Phil (John Diehl), who is lonely and asks him to stay.















But Gus refuses and continues on through the bleak landscape, having unsavory adventures and meeting nasty people.  He is kidnapped and sexually assaulted. He loses an eye.  His arm is forcibly tattooed.  Years pass, and Gus grows old (though he is still played by the same actor).  Finally he claims his prize, but it turns out to be a chimera.  He ends up back where he started, outside the gas station where Phil works.  He decides to stay after all.  The film ends with their hug.









A father-foster son bonding moment?  Or since Gus's age is unclear, he could be a teenager or an adult -- a homoromantic conclusion?

But the video cover shows a picture of Drew Barrymore -- overwhelming Gus -- with the caption: "There's only one way to win the girl of your dreams -- floor it!"

Except Gus never wins her, never tries to win her.  She's not the girl of his dreams.  He only dreams about her because she is holding out the Chimera prize.  He wants the prize, not her.

Gus experiences no heterosexual interest, at all, ever.  And every heterosexual relationship depicted in the movie is abusive and nasty.

Leave it to Hollywood to try to sell a same-sex romance  as a heterosexual romance.

After a few more projects, including Full House, Jordan Christopher Michael retired from acting (left, recent photo).

















Across a Billion Years: Girl Crazy Teens in Space


Robert Silverberg spent the 1950s and 1960s concentrating on three genres, juvenile science fiction (Revolt on Alpha C, Lost Race of Mars),  juvenile archaeology (The Mound Builders, The Realm of Prester John),and heterosexual porn (Campus Sex Club, The Bra Peddlers).

His juvenile science fiction virtually omits heterosexual practice, either because Silverberg was tired of coming up with interesting new ways to describe breasts, or because he presumed that his intended audience of American preteens boys had no heterosexual interests. Instead, there is ample buddy bonding.

 In Revolt on Alpha C (1955), Larry Stark bonds only with male star command colleagues.  In Starman’s Quest (1956), spaceship dweller Alan Donnell bonds only with his twin brother.  Time of Great Freeze (1964), set five hundred years after glaciers have mostly destroyed civilization, eliminates heterosexual desire by the simple tactic of eliminating women altogether: none are mentioned at all, anywhere; instead, a boy from a rigidly-controlled underground city falls in love with a barbarian from the surface world.


However, heteronormativity does intrude into Silverberg’s last juvenile, Across A Billion Years (1969), about an archaeological expedition to find the Old Ones who colonized the galaxy a billion years ago.  Teenager Tom Rice is in love with Jan (“a cute figure. . .but not very bright”), but she is more interested in the stamp-collecting Saul, who is oblivious.

Jan: Saul never touched me!  He’s terrified of girls. . .whenever I started getting the least bit biological, he hid behind a stamp album!

Tom: Poor Saul!


Though Silverberg deems heterosexual desire the natural condition of humanity, the very definition of the term “biological,” he oddly fills the book with beings lacking such desire for one lame reason or another.





Kelly Watchman, an extremely beautiful android, “didn’t want to, and didn’t even want to want to, and couldn’t even begin to understand” heterosexual practice

Sheen Sheen, a hermaphrodite, falls in love only with “his/herself”.

Tom’s handicapped sister Lori “cannot” date boys or fall in love.

The only “normal” one of the bunch is the girl crazy teenager.

The Wonder Years

The powerful gay ally Fred Savage, who has performed gay characters in Crumbs and directed gay-friendly Ugly Betty, Modern Family, Wizards of Waverly Place, Even Stevensand Greek, got his start in a heterosexist "family friendly" vehicle.

Aside from Married...with Children, Roseanne, and maybe The Hogan Family, nuclear family sitcoms in the late 1989s and 1990s were dismally heterosexist, with not even a "gay friend comes out" episode to relieve the monotony of "Look, all boys are obsessed with girls!"  The Wonder Years (1988-93) was the flagship of a Wednesday-night lineup that included the awful Growing Pains and Doogie Houser, so I didn't watch often.

Its gimmick: it takes place in the 1960s, exactly twenty years before, with an adult Kevin Arnold (voiced by Daniel Stern) narrating: "I didn't know it then, but things had changed between me and my brother."  By setting the program in the past, you can ignore contemporary concerns, like gay people.  There were none.








Kevin (Fred Savage) had a bullying older brother, Wayne (Jason Hervey, left, previously of  The Monster Squad ), an obnoxious older sister, Karen (Olivia D'Abo) and -- though he was only 12 years old at the beginning of the series, a girlfriend named Winnie (Danica McKellar).










Fred Savage was already playing girl-crazy preteens in Little Monsters (1989) and The Wizard (1989), and here, he goes through the whole gamut of dating, first kiss, second kiss, breakup and reconciliation, until the whole series becomes a heterosexual rite of passage, a sitcom version of Summer of 42 ("In Every Man's Life, there is a Summer of '42").









The epilogue reveals that Kevin didn't marry Winnie, but he did marry a woman.  As the adult Kevin concludes his story, his 10-year old son approaches to ask him to "play catch" outside.  His heterosexual destiny has reached its fulfillment in reproduction, and, to boot, his son is "all boy," a masculine stereotype, as if to reiterate that no gay people exist.

Kevin does have a best friend, Paul (Josh Saviano), but he is just as hetero-horny, losing his virginity to a girl in one episode, and they are hardly devoted to each other.  They are buddies without buddy-bonding.

There are also a few dreamy guys hanging around (such as Josh Blake of Alf) for the heterosexual girls and gay boys to gaze at.











How did Fred Savage get from Wonder Years to gay friendly?  It was a long, strange trip.

Village of the Giants


Tommy Kirk's first movie after he was outed and fired by Disney was Village of the Giants (1965), which I saw at a kiddie matinee on my first date in October 1968.

A small town full of rednecks and inept police officers, the sort frequently overrun by giant ants or Commie body snatchers during the 1950s, gets a different sort of invasion: six hippies who play loud music and smart off to authority figures.  Oddly, though the group is of mixed sexes, none of them seem to be heterosexually involved, and no one displays more than a passing interest in the ogling of the other sex: it’s boys on one side, girls on the other.










Meanwhile, nice teenager Mike (Tommy Kirk) spends about ten minutes demonstrating that he is heterosexual by kissing up a girl, but then he descends to the basement nightworld of her pint-sized brother Genius (Ronnie Howard, future star of Happy Days).  Genius has invented a concoction called “goo,” which transforms dogs, birds, and people into giants.

After ridiculing the nice teens at a local hotspot, the hippies steal the goo, figuring that they can use it to create more mischief.  They eat it and shoot up to thirty feet tall, in the process shredding their clothes.

Director Bert I. Gordon previously accentuated the beefcake in several B-movies, including The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and The Boy and the Pirates (1960), and his camera lingers lovingly on the thick arms and sculpted torsos of the boys, including a young Beau Bridges.








And a very sexy Tim Rooney (Mickey Rooney’s son), while all but ignoring the girls.

The giant hippies conclude that the Revolution has come, the Establishment has been defeated, and youth are in charge of this brave new world.  They don Roman-style togas that enhance the boys’ musculature, and celebrate by dancing semi-nude  in slow motion in the town square.








So far, in spite of the beefcake, we have a heterosexist fable, like A Cold Day in the Park, in which establishment heterosexuals face off against the sexual ambiguity of the counterculture.


But when Genius develops an antidote to the goo, Mike dumps his girl to hook up with Horsey (Johnny Crawford of The Rifleman, left, looking jealous on a title card).  They administer the antidote by catapulting Horsey directly onto the bosom of one of the giant girls.

In many situations a human missile fired onto a bosom would be overbrimming with heterosexual undertones, but in this case Horsey is attacking, literally trying to destroy the symbol of monstrous femininity.  When he falls and seems stunned, Mike rushes to his aid.  The manly love of comrades  wins out over heterosexual practice, however aggressively pursued.






Oct 26, 2012

Matthew Broderick's Gay Fans

During the mid-1980s, gay teenagers had to stick with television and an occasional pop song.  Movies starring teenagers or young adults -- Stand by Me, Pretty in Pink, and St. Elmo's Fire were awful, incessantly heterosexist, and oozing with homophobia.  I walked out of Teen Wolf (1985) when Michael J. Fox assures his best friend that he's "not a fag,"  and out of The Breakfast Club (1985) when the very first scene warned "fags" to keep away from Judd Nelson's locker.

But movies starring Matthew Broderick were completely reliable, with no homophobic slurs, minimal heterosexism, ample beefcake, and even some buddy-bonding.  







Born in 1962, Matthew started his career with War Games (1982), a comedy about a boy and his girlfriend who accidentally hack into the U.S. nuclear defense system and almost start a nuclear war.  They're a heterosexual couple, but romance doesn't fuel the plot.   

Then came Ladyhawke (1985), a sword-and-sorcery adventure about a hawk that turns into a lady.  Except Matthew's character doesn't fall in love with the lady; he merely facilitates a heterosexual romance between lady-hawk and hero.

Many teen stars of the 1980s, including Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, and Michael J. Fox, played operators, boys who manipulate events from behind the scenes.  Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) was Matthew's entry:  

Ferris (Matthew) engages in incredibly complex machinations in order to skip school and spend the day downtown with his girlfriend, Sloane (Mia Sara) and male buddy, Cameron (Alan Ruck). 

Ferris and Sloane are technically involved, but again, their romance doesn't fuel the plot; they could easily be best buddies.  Cameron expresses no heterosexual interest, but a homoromantic devotion to Ferris.  It's hard to tell who is the romantic partner, and who is the buddy.






And there are many beefcake shots, revealing that the quirky operator had a well-toned physique.

Biloxi Blues (1988) works the same way, giving army recruit Eugene (Matthew) both a girlfriend and a male buddy.


In 1988, Matthew played one of the first positive gay characters in the movies, in Torch Song Trilogy: Alan, a male model who falls in love with Arnold (Harvey Fierstein) and is later killed by gay bashers. Brian Kerwin played Arnold's first boyfriend.

Always a gay ally, he ensures that his characters, although heterosexual, are never heterosexist. 



Oct 25, 2012

Harry Hamlin Making Love



Harry Hamlin hirsute, handsome, and pleasantly muscular, but not a bodybuilder -- he was kin more to Tom Selleck and  Gregory Harrison than Sylvester Stallone. But gay teenagers in the early 1980s looked beyond his muscles, for his role as the first positive gay character in a Hollywood movie.


Aspiring to be a great actor, not a hunk-of-the-week, Harry graduated from Yale with a degree in drama and then received his Master of Fine Arts degree.  He appeared in two serious adaptations of the classics: The Taming of the Shrew (1976) and Studs Lonigan (1979) before relenting and appearing in a toga, or out of a toga, in Clash of the Titans (1981), a retelling of the Perseus myth of ancient Greece.






It's heterosexist, with Perseus getting the girl at the end, and there is little or no buddy-bonding, but it was one of the few movies of the period where the hero was nude or shirtless throughout.

The next summer Harry starred in Making Love (1982), as successful writer Bart McGuire. The producers really, really wanted us to like him.  There is a long montage at the beginning that demonstrated just how good, noble, and kind he is.  Also not at all stereotypic, except he likes Gilbert and Sullivan, the precursor to show tunes.

Another long montage establishes that successful doctor Zack Elliot (Michael Ontkean), is also good, noble, and kind.  So is his wife, Claire (Kate Jackson, then famous for the babe-detective series Charlie's Angels).  


The superhuman virtue of the three main characters established, Bart and Zack become friends.  Bart tells Zack he's gay. He responds nobly. Bart offers Zack a back rub that turns into sex.

Zack tells Claire that he's gay.  She responds nobly.  They break up so Zack can move in with Bart.

Bart wasn't really looking for a romance, so they break up. But not to worry, Zack finds a new boyfriend instantly.















Everyone is affluent, tolerant, noble, and perfectly coiffed, with no anxieties, no conflict; everything works out fabulously.  It's awful.  I can't watch it today.  But in 1982, we were watching and saying: "Look, a gay character on a movie screen!  Who isn't leering and decadent, and doesn't die at the end!"










Harry Hamlin has been busy, starring in over 30 movies and 12 tv series.  Michael Ontkean, too. But Boomer kids will always remember the summer of 1982, when they were Making Love.


Oct 23, 2012

Lanigan's Rabbi

 I didn't meet anyone who was Jewish until my junior year in high school, when a rabbi's son named Aaron was in my English class.  He was lean and wiry, with thick black hair and expressive hands, with a preference for lumberjack shirts and a sky-blue yarmulke. He was always surrounded by a crowd of girls who knitted him sweaters and baked him cookies and sighed a lot, but occasionally I managed to push through the crowd to ask him a few questions about kosher laws or Hebrew School or his bar mitzvah, anything I could think of to keep his attention.

At the same time, our English teacher assigned Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev and I read on my own his gay Jewish Romeo and Juliet story, The Chosen.

So I must have been very receptive during the spring of 1977, when two tv series with homoerotic Jewish subtexts appeared, Busting Loose and Lanigan's Rabbi.


On Sunday nights, NBC had a recurring series, The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie, with an alternating series of detectives.  My friends and I weren't impressed.  We called McCloud McClod, and Colombo Clod-Dumb-Bo.  But Lanigan's Rabbi became must-see tv, "good beyond hope."

Lanigan (Art Carney, right) was police chief in a small town in California. When he investigated a murder in a synagogue, he had to collaborate with Rabbi Small (Bruce Solomon, left), whose keen mind, trained in Talmudic scholarship, figured out whodunit.  They continued to be thrown into mysteries for three more episodes, with corpses including guest of honor at a Man of the Year celebration, a miserly millionaire, and the guy who accused Lanigan of malpractice.

The stories were by-the-books stuff, not very interesting.
Bruce Solomon, who also played a cop on Mary Hartman, was very attractive, but his shirt never came off.
Art Carney was 58, too old to be of interest.
 And they both had wives.

What was the gay angle?




It was about two men from different worlds finding common ground, mutual admiration, and finally a deeply intimate bond.  Why did the Rabbi keep tagging along on Lanigan's investigations?  Was it the joy of sleuthing?  Or were they in love?







Let's Hear it for the Boy

In the early 1980s, I listened mostly to classical music.  I was too old for teen idols,  and adult music was dreadful, all about hetero-romance, hetero-sex, or large breasts.  Especially when MTV began playing music videos to illustrate the songs.

For instance, let's look at the charts for the spring of 1984, when I was working on my master's degree:

Phil Collins, "Against All Odds": a girl left him, and now he's depressed.
Lionel Richie, "Hello": a girl left him, and now he's depressed.
Ultravox, "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes": a girl left him, and now he's depressed.
Julio Inglesias, "To All the Girls I've Loved Before."
Nik Kershaw, "Dancing Girls."  'Nuff said.

But there were exceptions.  A dozen songs of the early 1980s could be appropriated, read as gay-positive regardless of what the performers intended.  Especially "Let's Hear it for the Boy," by Deniece Williams


The lyrics are standard pop hetero-romance, about the female singer's boyfriend, who is not rich, a fancy dresser, or a good singer, but nevertheless provides hetero-romance.  In the music video, however, she praises a variety of boys, starting with with a tap dancing little kid (Aaron Lohr, later photo), who of course is not her boyfriend.

Here's another recent photo of Aaron, in a stage version of  The Full Monty.

The scene shifts to a teenager who plays the piano and dances, badly, then to more teenage boys and adult men, playing chess, playing football, dancing with her, dancing with each other.  Some are athletic, some aren't, some are shirtless, some aren't, but all of them are beautiful due to their exuberance, their energy, and their fun-loving joie de vivre. Who has time to even think about muscles?




 Finally there are thirty men and one woman on stage.  The song has become a paeon to the entire male sex.














And that's not all.  It's the background music in the intensely romantic montage in Footloose (1984) where city boy Ren (Kevin Bacon) teaches redneck Willard (Chris Penn) to dance, and they end up posing, running, frolicking, hugging.










With the absence of a female focus character, it becomes a paeon to men loving men.

See also: Ocho Rios: Tracking Down a Jamaican Bodybuilder.

Oct 21, 2012

Making a Man of Mimi: Gay Jungle Boys


For every Sabu, Jonny Quest, Alix, or Maya that pairs a "savage" subaltern with a "civilized" white boy or Sabaka that pairs Indians with each other, there are a dozen Mowglis: adaptions of the 1894 Rudyard Kipling classic about a boy raised in the Indian bush who abandons his same-sex chums in search of heterosexual destiny.  During the 1990s, they appeared over and over again, forcing upon gay children and teenagers the heterosexist myth that their story, like all stories, must end with a boy-girl kiss.


The Jungle Book (1994) begins with the infant Mowgli fully involved in a heterosexual romance with the infant Kitty, who gives him a bracelet as a symbol of their troth.  After a period of anarchic buddy-bonding in the jungle, the now-teenage Mowgli (28-year old Brandon Scott Lee) is “restored” to heterosexuality through an encounter with his lost love (19-year old Lena Headley).  She is now dating the slimy, effete, and ultimately murderous Captain Boone (Cary Elwes), so most of the movie consists of a romantic triangle rather than junble adventure.

In Jungle Boy (1996), Krishna (Asif Mohammed Seth) seems closer to Tarzan than Mowgli. Muscular rather than underfed and cute, he swings on vines through the Indian jungles and interacts with a sort of drag-queen guardian angel named Deva (“God” in Hindi).  True to form, he encounters Anna (18-year old Lea Moreno Young), niece of a visiting anthropologist, as she lounges around on her terrace in a San Diego Athletic Department t-shirt.  She feeds him ice cream, dresses him, and teaches him English before being kidnapped by the evil Sultan.  After two or three rescues, Krishna decides to return to his job as Guardian of the Jungle (and a promised sequel) , but not before a kiss.  And the music swells: he is a man.








Fred Savage, who narrates The Jungle Book – Mowgli’s Story (1998), tells us that this is the story of “how a boy became a man-cub, and how that man-cub became a man.”  Mowgli (Brando Baker) becomes a man by, first, investigating an abandoned house, like Tarzan did in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original story.  He stares at a sepia-tinted picture of a girl, and the music swells.  Later, he encounters some Indian children playing.  He kicks their soccer ball across the field, and the boys run off, but the girl remains, smiling at him.  He smiles back. And the music swells again.  He is a man.





In Jungle 2 Jungle (1997), as in its precursor, Un indien dans la ville (1994), wildboy Mimi (13-year old Sam Huntington) travels from Amazonia to New York dressed only in a loincloth (the Brasilia Gap does not sell t-shirts, evidently).  His long blond hair, pretty face, and soft body only barely beginning to tighten certainly code him as feminine, as does his gender-bending name, but he transforms into heterosexual adolescence upon meeting Karen (14-year old LeeLee Sobieski):

Karen’s Dad: You’re putting the moves on my twelve-year old daughter!
Karen: That’s not true!  I was putting the moves on him!

Leonard Maltin calls it “love of the puppy variety,” but there is an extended kiss (while the music swells), a shot of the two asleep in a hammock, a tearful goodbye when Mimi returns to Amazonia, and then, when the whole cast decides to join him, a a joyous reunion, while everyone else stands around grinning (and the music swells again).  Clearly it is heterosexual congress  that made a man of Mimi.