Nov 24, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time

When I read Madeleine L'Engel's A Wrinkle in Time (1962) in grade school, I identified with Charles Wallace Murry, a shy, intelligent boy who  sees things other kids can't.  He seems to have a crush on misunderstood high schooler Calvin (played by David Dorfman and Gregory Smith in the 2003 movie).  Charles Wallace, his older sister Meg, and Calvin are drawn into a cosmic battle against the Black Thing, which is devouring entire solar systems and transforming them into suburbs, "houses made of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same."

Just as Mr. Dark in Something Wicked This Way Comes and the tripods in The White Mountains, the Black Thing brings conventionality, constraint, and heterosexism.  I found it a powerful critique of the mind-control chants of "What girl do you like?  What girl...what girl...what girl."

I thought it was a self-contained story.  But then, in the mid-1980s, I stumbled across a sequel, Many Waters. Charles Wallace and Meg are minor characters.  Their brothers, twins Sandy and Denys, are swept away into the world of Noah just before the Flood.  They are fifteen years old in the novel, but the cover illustration pictures them as much older, with amazing bodybuilder physiques.

Here's another edition that shows them at the proper age, with feminine teen-idol faces, but with their muscles and phallic symbols still emphasized.

More digging revealed that Madeleine L'Engel wrote four science fiction-y young adult novels with Calvin and Meg falling in love as a major plot arc (Calvin and Meg were the primary couple?).  Then they marry and have 7 kids.  Their eldest daughter Polly stars in four novels of her own, mostly involving falling in love with a rich college boy named Zachary.

Meanwhile, Vicky Austin is featured in eight novels, sometimes with crossovers with the Calvin-Meg brood.  She has a troubled, on-off romance with marine biologist Adam Eddington (played by Ryan Merriman in the 2002 Ring of Endless Light).  

You get the idea: heterosexism rules.  You can be as unconventional as you want, as long as you obey the "fade out kiss" mandate.

The beefcake covers were apparently designed only for heterosexual girls.

And that's not all.  L'Engel doesn't mention gay people often, but when she does, homophobia oozes from every pore.

In A House Like a Lotus, Polly fights off a predatory lesbian.  Her parents, Calvin and Meg, are jubilant to discover that she isn't a pervert.

In A Severed Wasp, there are evil, predatory gays (not to mention casual antisemitism).

In The Small Rain, Katherine is an intelligent, sophisticated woman who has been raised in an unconventional household.  Nevertheless, when she see a lesbian:

Katherine stared at the creature again and realized that it was indeed a woman, or perhaps once had been a woman. Now it wore a man's suit, shirt,and tie; its hair was cut short; out of a dead-white face glared a pair of despairing eyes. Feeling Katherine's gaze, the creature turned and looked at her, and that look was branded into Katherine's body; it was as though it left a physical mark.


Can I still read A Wrinkle in Time as offering hope to kids who are struggling with being different?  Critiquing the iron cage of heterosexism?

Of course.  Authorial intention is irrelevant.  In the words of Alice Walker, "You are your own best hope."  Find belonging wherever you can, even in words intended to exclude you.
Find love wherever you can, even in words intended to express hate.
Find hope wherever you can, even in words intended to make you despair.

Nov 23, 2012

Harley Cross: A Threatened Childhood

 Prejudice always seems to involve accusations that the despised group wants to "get" our kids. During the Middle Ages, Jews were accused of killing Christian children to make Passover matzah.  Gypsies were accused of kidnapping kids to raise as their own.  There have been panics over Satanic ritual abuse, LSD-tainted Halloween candy, brainwashing cults, alien abductions.  And gay men.  The threat is often a sexual threat, the alien out to destroy not only life but innocence, which means heterosexual innocence, which means a heterosexist future.

Boys were threatened by a gay-vague menace quite often during the 1970s, in The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972),  Burnt Offerings (1976), and Salem's Lot (1979).  During the 1980s, Harley Cross made a career of playing them.

In 1986, at the age of eight, Harley played a boy kidnapped (along with his sister) by a gay-vague psychopath in Where are the Children?, an adaption of the Mary Higgins Clark thriller.

Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion that combines traditional West African practices with Roman Catholicism.  It is entirely gay friendly.  But in The Believers (1978), it is an evil cult that leers at half-naked little boys before killing them.

Psychiatrist Cal Jamison (Martin Sheen) goes to New York to investigate a rash of child murders and gradually comes to realize that the cult has targeted his nine-year son Chris (Harley).  Not to worry; after the requisite falling-in-love montage establishes that Cal is heterosexual, he rescues Chris and destroys the cult.  And manages it all without a single moment of buddy-bonding.

In Cohen and Tate (1988), the nine-year old Travis (Harley) is kidnapped by two mismatched thugs, the older, professional, heterosexual Cohen (Roy Scheider of Jaws) and the "queer" loose-cannon Tate (Adam Baldwin). Travis plays the two against each other, inducing Cohen to feel paternal sympathy and try to protect him from the increasingly violent Tate.  Cohen ends up killing himself to avoid having to kill the boy.

As Harley entered adolescence, the queer threat became more overtly sexual. In The Boy Who Cried Bitch (1991), a young teenager with the ironic name Dan Love (Harley) is molested by the groundskeeper.  He immediately "becomes" gay (although he likes girls), as well as manipulative, conniving, unstable, and amoral.  Two 1990s hunks, Jesse Bradford and J.D. Daniel, play his longsuffering (and heterosexual) brothers.

Harley disappears on an episode of Law and Order (1992), is sent to a brutal mental institution in Crazy for a Kiss (1995), and in Perdita Durango (1997), runs afoul of that evil Santeria cult again.  Teenage Duane and his girlfriend are kidnapped by a cultist with the ironic name Romeo Doloroso (Jauvier Bardem), and his girlfriend Perdita (Rosie Perez), who rape, torture, and hang them.

In Interstate 84 (2000), Harley got to become the queer threat, the villainous Freddy who harasses idiot savant Hap (Joel Garland).

Harley still acts on occasion; he played a young gay man interviewed by the famous sex researcher in Kinsey (2004).  But today he is primarily focused on his company, Hint Mints, an organic, vegan, socially responsible upscale breath mint brand.

What Happened to the Asian Beefcake?

On American tv, black beefcake is in short supply -- African-American actors with superb physiques are regularly censored, covered up.  But Asian beefcake is even scarcer.

During the 1960s, there were only five male performers of East or Southeast Asian ancestry in regular or recurring role on tv: the cook Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung) on Bonanza, the valet Kato (Bruce Lee) on The Green Hornet, Sulu (George Takei) on Star Trekand two assisting detectives on Hawaii Five-O.  Mostly servants and sidekicks.  Only Sulu was ever displayed shirtless, and that was to signify that he had become mentally unstable.

In spite of Bruce Lee's influence in popularizing Asian muscle, the 1970s were even worse: Keone Young (right) as a science-nerd teenager on Room 222, the dissolute, hard-gambling dtective Yemana (Jack Soo) on Barney Miller, teen hangout proprietor Arnold (Pat Morita) on Happy Days, and Sam (Robert Ito), lab assistant on Quincy, M.E.  Hawaiian singer Don Ho had a brief daytime tv show.

There weren't even any Asians in commercials.  I remember one: in 1974, a laundry guy (Calvin Jung, left) claims that he gets clothes clean with an "ancient Chinese secret."  But the joke is: he and his wife both speak colloquial American English ("My husband, some hotshot!"), and he actually uses Calgon detergent.  According to Jung, just speaking with an American accent was a breakthrough.

There were some hunks among the sidekicks and servants, but again, not a button out of place.

A breakthrough of sorts came in the late 1980s.  On 21 Jump Street (1987-91), Ioki (Dustin Nguyen) was one of the detectives assigned to go undercover in a high school.  He didn't get quite the on-screen exposure of his white costars (Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise), but lots of shirtless shots and artistic nudes appeared, and he bared it all in Playgirl. 

Dean Cain, Clark Kent in the Superman update Lois and Clark (1993-97), was a veritable sex symbol, shirtless or underwear-clad in nearly every episode, his massive pecs and shoulders a mainstay of teen magazines.

In the 2000s,  Daniel Dae Kim (left) and Ken Leung lent their sculpted physiques to Lost.  

But they were exceptions.  Today, Asian representation on tv is almost as bad as gay representation: less than 2% of regular or recurring roles, lots of servants and sidekicks, lots of humorously asexual nerds, without so much as a flexed bicep.

Nov 21, 2012

The Possession of Joel Delaney

Often horror movies frame and exorcise the most macabre of all monsters, the "homosexual," but sometimes it reveals the contrived, the oppressive, and the monstrous hidden within the myth of heteronormativity.

In The Possession of Joel Delaney (1972), Joel (23-year old Perry King) has thick wavy hair the color of cinnamon, somewhat feminine pink lips, and dark eyes that are somewhat unfocused.  He is an effervescent hippie who scrawls “Power to the People” on his apartment wall, a spontaneous man-child who sends a magic earring via balloon to the moon; yet he as smooth and milk-pale, his muscles hard and chiseled as marble.  And he is quite obviously gay.

The original novel by Ramona Stewart says only that one of Joel’s friends is a disturbingly feminine hippie, but the movie gives us many more clues.   Joel has just returned from gay mecca Tangiers; he lives in a gay mecca, the East Village.  His overbearing socialite sister Norah (Shirley Maclaine) describes her male lovers and then asks if he is seeing. . .um. . . anyone?

He is: Tonio, a young Puerto Rican man, the son of his landlord They have a remarkable intimacy; sometimes they sit up all night, “listening to music and talking.”

Norah is not happy, perhaps because she would prefer to see him with a woman, or perhaps because Tonio is not “their sort,” but nevertheless she is shocked when she spies Joel talking to a girl, Sherry (Barbara Trentham), at a party.

Some days later, Joel goes to a gay bar, evidently his usual hangout, since he sits quite at home among the interracial same-sex couples dancing to slow jazz or discussing intimacies over drinks; but inexplicably he ends taking Sherry home for a sexual encounter.  She becomes his “girlfriend.”

After this surrender to the constraints of heteronormativity, Joel’s life begins its descent, and there is more odd, out of character behavior.  He talks to someone when there’s no one around, and curses at the maid in fluent Spanish though he’s never studied the language.  He asks Norah inappropriate questions about her sex life and plays too rough with his little niece and nephew (Lisa Kohane, David Elliott).  One night he attacks his landlord.  Then his gal pal Sherry is decapitated.

The police suspect Joel’s “friend” Tonio.  Norah believes that Joel is hiding him.  She begs him to turn Tonio in, or at least end the relationship, but Joel refuses.  Only when it is too late does she realize that Tonio is dead!  He died six months ago, and as a “restless spirit” is taking possession of his lover's body.  But Tonio liked women, too; the possessed Joel grabs every woman in sight, even Norah.  

Many cultural texts insist that gay men spend their lives sewing dresses of human skin (as in The Silence of the Lambs) or arguing with their mummified mothers (as in Psycho), but even their more ordinary sexual practices are supposed to elicit disgust in "us," the human beings. But here the gay Joel is innocent and the heterosexual (or mostly-heterosexual) Tonio is evil.

When Norah finally understands the evil that has irrupted from the East Village, it is too late: Joel has become completely possessed and barricaded himself in the apartment.  Norah flees with her children to their beach house on Fire Island (another gay mecca),  but Joel-Tonio follows and terrorizes them.  He merely intimidates the girl by forcing her to eat dogfood; he forces the boy to dance naked on the coffee table (a scene so shocking that it cannot be viewed today, and has been excised from the DVD version). The police see what’s happening and shoot Joel, releasing him from his possession, but in the final-scene zinger, Tonio finds a new host body in Norah.

The Possession of Joel Delaney is about fear of the Other, the nonwhite, nonheterosexual persons who populate the edges of Norah’s consciousness.  But Joel is so overtly gay that only the refusal to use the word itself keeps him from being open; and for once the gay guy is a favorite uncle, a doting brother, perverted by a weird outside force rather than working himself to pervert others.

Perry King would go on to be featured in After Dark, the gay-vague entertainment magazine, and to play several gay characters, such as a hired killer in Andy Warhol’s Bad (1971) and a fashion designer “cured” by sex with a lesbian in A Different Story (1978).   Later he buddy-bonded with Don Stroud in Search and Destroy (1979) and shared an intimate Starsky and Hutch-type love affair with Joe Penny in the detective series Riptide (1984-86), and in 2000 he guest starred on Will and Grace as an older man who dates Jack.

Menudo: Latin American Boy Band

When I was in high school, studying French got you Tintin, Alix, and Spirou et Fantasio, but studying Spanish got you Papa Soltero, Que Pasa USA and  Menudo.  The boy band (Spanish slang for "young, untried, uncooked") was formed in 1977 by Puerto Rican promoter Edgardo Diaz.  They were a "revolving group": members retired on their sixteenth birthday, and were replaced.  To date, there have been 33 members, including future superstars Ricky Martin and Robi Rossa.

To date, Menudo has released over 40 albums, and a number of their singles have charted in Latin America.  They became popular in the United States in 1983, when they appeared on Saturday morning tv, singing and acting in brief sketches in English and Spanish.

Their cuteness was an obvious draw for gay kids and teenagers, especially when teen magazines began to display endless shirtless, swimsuit, and speedo shots.

But their music was a draw, too.  It was good, evocative, literate, and expertly arranged.  Not to mention accessible to both male and female fans.  At least in Spanish.

It's hard to make Spanish songs non-gender specific, but they often managed it.  For instance,  "Mas Que Amor" (More than Love):

Cuando estoy contigo, no se ni quien soy
no se ni como hacer, me quedo sin palabras
(When I'm with you, I don't know who I am, I don't know what to do, I'm left without words).

But in the heart of the homophobic 1980s, the English translation made sure that boys could sing only to girls::
When I'm next to her, I'm a mess.
The words just don't come out right.

Or "Perdido Sin Ti" (Lost without You):

Perdido sin ti, perdido en el mar
Como un laberinto en la oscuridad
(Lost without you, lost in the sea, like a labyrinth in the darkness.)

The English lyrics aren't nearly as evocative, and give the "ti" a gender:

I'm losing control of myself this time, she's got me losing my head.

Both Ricky Martin and Angelo Garcia (left) are publicly gay, and many other current and former members are gay-friendly.

Nov 20, 2012

Laying it Bare in Key West

I have 3 questions about CrissCross (1992), the downbeat but very brightly-lit movie starring David Arnott as a 12-year old boy whose mom works as a topless dancer.  And that's the least of his problems.  His biggest: his name is actually Criss Cross.

1. Who decided to cast decidedly homophobic Goldie Hawn as the mother of a gay kid?

Ok, maybe the producers weren't expecting a gay reading.  But it's hard to miss: as Criss (David Arnott) rides his bike down the mean streets of Key West, searching for a way to make money so Mom won't have to strip anymore (he hits on a plan to steal drugs being smuggled in on a fishing boat, with tragic results), he tries again and again to establish a same-sex bond.

First a male peer, Buggs (Damian Vantriglia); then the grizzled Emmett (James Gammon), who advises him that "The only thing worse than being lonely with yourself is being lonely with someone."

If you're trying to make gay mecca Key West gay-free, shouldn't you patrol for same-sex friendships, and give the kid a girlfriend (he does have a girl who's a friend)?

2.  Why the nudity?

I know it's hot in Florida,  and it's nice that all the male actors are barechested all the time.  It's understandable, I guess, that the kid rides around shirtless, in Daisy Duke short-shorts. But why the nude butt, when the movie is R-rated, so gay kids can't even get in to see it?

50 years ago, preteens were commonly filmed nude in movies to signify their innocence.  But this kid is anything but innocent.

3. What happened to David Arnott?

He gives a good, understated performance, reminiscent of Chris Makepeace in Meatballs (although that's a completely different genre).  He handles the gay-vague subtext with panache.  One one expects him to have a long career as a serious actor, or at least some ecstatic "fave rave" articles in Tiger Beat.  But this was his first movie -- he beat out 3,000 hopefuls in open auditions -- and his last.  Maybe he didn't like acting.

Ninja Kids of the 1990s

One of the legacies of Ralph Macchio's Karate Kid (1984), and ultimately Bruce Lee's popularization of Chinese martial arts, was a fad of ninja kids.  Unfortunately, they almost invariably limited buddy bonding to concentrate on making teenage or preteen martial artists, or both, improbably hetero-horny, contributing to the 1990s insistence that no gay kids could exist.

In 1993’s Surf Ninjas, hardbodied teenageJohnny (Ernie Reyes Jr., who also starred in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) gazes at girls and Playboy magazine.  His brother, Adam, claims lack of interest, but when Johnny’s potential bride shows up in a veil, he quips “Chick’s got a veil, dude better bail,” and when Johnny’s opening line to her is the lame “Wanna go to the mall sometime?” he says “Way to close the deal, Casanova.”  Though he expresses no interest of his own, he is aware of heterosexual desire at the age of eleven.

Born in September 1979, Ted Jan Roberts made several karate kid-type straight-to-video films before he retired to become a martial arts pro. In A Dangerous Place (1994), the fey thirteen-year old kicks, jabs, and buddy-bonds with William James Jones without glancing at girls, but in A Power Within (1995) and Tiger Heart (1996), the fourteen year old’s main goal in life is to ask a girl for a date.

3 Ninjas (1992) starred three martial arts-whiz brothers: Rocky (Michael Treanor), Colt (Max Elliot Slade), and Tum-Tum (Chad Power).  (Because they are strong, quick, and gluttonous, respectively).  Only the oldest, Rocky, is interested in girls, to the hilarious amusement of his brothers.  But none of them expresses any interest in boys, or even has a male friend.

The $29,000,000 gross ensured a sequel, The Three Ninjas Knuckle Up (1995).  This time it's the second brother, Colt, who -- on a vacation in the Southwest, flirts with – and rescues – the Native American girl Jo.  When his brothers tease him, saying “Colt’s gonna kiss Jo,” he happily agrees: “Maybe I will.”

The ninjas had remain to be kids, just on the edge of adolescence, in The Three Ninjas Kick Back (1995), only Max Elliott Slade remained of the original cast. Sean Fox now played Rocky, and J. Evan Bonifant Tum-Tum.   At fourteen Colt was obviously an adolescent, significantly taller, with a deeper voice.  Again, Colt is the one who grins at, almost-kisses, and rescues a teenage girl.

 In The Three Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain (1998), there was a new group: fourteen-year old Mathew Botuchis, teen-idol cute in a red muscle shirt, played Rocky as assiduously girl-crazy, rescuing and kissing not only his girlfriend but a  new, brainy female sidekick.   The other boys, played by Michael O'Laskey and James Paul Roeske.  remain uninterested.

What are we to make of these variations in heterosexual desire?

1. Not every kid in the movie had to pursue a hetero-romance, but at least one of them did.
2. There was no room for same-sex friendships.  Males were bullies, antagonists, enemy spies, never friends.
3. Heroic fantasy, such as the Neverending Story, had more room for buddy-bonding than movies set in our own world.
4. Beefcake was not necessary, nor even recommended, since every shirtless or swimsuit shot invites the gaze of gay boys and teenagers, and you want to pretend that there are none.

Brandon Cruz and his Best Friend

Former child stars are subjected to all sorts of weird rumors.  Jerry Mathers of Leave It to Beaver died in Vietnam.  Josh Saviano of The Wonder Years donned deaths-head makeup to become Marilyn Manson.  Brandon Cruz of The Courtship of Eddie's Father became a punk rocker.

Wait -- that last one is true.

Kids on 1950s and 1960s tv were required to be emblematic of the establishment. No rebellion, no discussion of the social problems of the era, not even a Beatles moptop.  Some, like Billy Gray, grew up to savagely critique the racism, sexism, heterosexism, and materialism of their star vehicles. Others, like Tony Dow, leaped head-first into the counterculture.

Brandon Cruz, who was only ten years old when Courtship ended, has nothing but nice things to say about his co-star Bill Bixby, "a second father,"  and shrugs off criticisms of the show's conformist content: "I was a kid. I said what they wanted me to say."

Brandon continued to act through the 1970s, with guest shots on Kung Fu, Medical Center, and Police Story, an Afterschool Special ("Mighty Moose and the Quarterback Kid"), and several well-received movies, including The Bad News Bears (1976) and The One and Only (1978).

But his main interest was music.  He became involved in the punk scene of the 1970s and 1980s, performing with the bands Dr. Know (1981-2010) and The Dead Kennedys (2001-2003).

Punk resonated with many gay teens due to its anger, its refusal to conform to the conventions of mainstream rock, and its politics -- a welcome change from the "isn't heterosexual sex great?" lyrics of mainstream rock. In "Moral Majority" (1981), for instance, the Dead Kennedys savagely criticize the homophobic Religious Right:

You call yourselves the Moral Majority
We call ourselves people in the real world
Trying to rub us out, but we're still alive
God must be dead if you're still alive

And that's just the clean part of the song.

But Brandon is not all about rage against the machine.  He often performs "Best Friend," the theme song from Courtship, which sounds extremely homoromantic when it's not about a kid:

People let me tell you 'bout my best friend,
He's a warm hearted person who'll love me till the end.
People let me tell you bout my best friend,
He's a one boy cuddly toy, my up, my down, my pride and joy.

Today, in addition to his music, Brandon is active in Paul Petersen's A Minor Consideration, dedicated to improving working conditions for child actors, and he works as a drug/alcohol rehabilitation counselor.  He is a strong gay ally, and happily acknowledges his gay fans.

Nov 19, 2012

Ralph Macchio: Up the Academy

Born in 1961, the short, skinny Ralph Macchio had huge, remarkably soulful eyes that allowed him to feign childhood innocence well into the 1990s, when his fellow teen idols had long since grown into roles as beefcake heroes or disillusioned suburbanites.   He was hired while still in high school to provide a sarcastic voice to Up the Academy (1980) a teen nerd comedy about a Chachi clone named Chooch sent to the abusive Weinberg Military Academy, where he makes friends with three "inmates."  All of them displayed a heterosexual prowess so intense that it provoked anxiety in their fathers: muscular Oliver  (Hutch Parker) got his girlfriend pregnant and ruined his dad's political career; sex-crazed Ike (Wendell Brown) slept with his televangelist-father's girlfriend; and cleptomaniac Hash (Tommy Citera) slept with one of his Arab father's spare wives.

Though the boys take a weapons class in which teacher Miss Bliss (Barbara Bach) presses guns to her breasts, otherwise they are subject to constant adult attempts at “perversion.”  A lisping, mincing “cultural affairs” teacher named Sisson, e.g., Sissy (Tom Poston), accosts them in their dorm rooms, offers erotic tuck-ins, and, explaining that he’s collecting the laundry, drools “Why don’t you slip out of your little undershorts?”  They learn ballroom dance with male partners, but when a dance with real girls is held, an off-key acapella group called “The Landmines” drives everyone away.

The primary threat of “perversion” comes from macho teacher Vervegaert, who tells Hash that he will “rip his balls off” and then corners him in the lavatory in a parody of a male rape (“You want to be my friend, don’t you?”).  Vervegaert is unable to acquire girls on his own, so blackmails the boys into acquiring Oliver’s girlfriend for him. The boys get their revenge by photographing him in ladies’ lingerie and publishing the photos during the big game, thus labeling him a "fag" and forcing him to leave town in disgrace.

However, since the “fag” is exteriorized and far away, the boys are amazingly intimate with each other.  They spend most of the film naked.  Do military cadets really do their homework in their underwear, or sit together on their bunk with their legs pressed together?  Though they drool, groan, and kvetch over girls, their relationships with each other take obvious precedence. They go to great lengths to help their friends; Ike, in fact, gives up a date with Miss Bliss to help Oliver.

The teen magazines ignored his costars, but they loved Ralph Macchio, who was soon displaying his dreamy bod in pinups next to Scott Baio and Robby Benson.  Pulled in to provide additional cuteness to the last season of Eight is Enough, he became patriarch Dick Van Patten’s pet, even invited to appear with Dick and Timothy Van Patten in a nepotistic project called High Powder (1982).  But his big break came with a homoromantic buddy-bond with Matt Dillon in the classic Outsiders (1983), which led directly to the blockbuster Karate Kid (1984)

Nov 18, 2012

Tarzan Toys

Tarzan was a stable, reliable source of beefcake throughout my childhood: a dozen old movies on tv, 3 in theaters, a tv series (1966-68), cartoons (1976-82), a comic strip, comic books, a Big-Little book, and eventually the original novels.

But that's not all.  When I was still a toddler and we were living in Racine, Wisconsin, I had a Little Golden Book of the half-naked muscleman gazing fondly at baby animals. Were my parents trying to instill a lifelong appreciation of massive biceps and six-pack abs?

Around 1966, my parents bought me this adaptation of the first Burroughs novel, with a stern, well-coiffed Tarzan wearing gold and ivory bracelets, at a local department store.  I could read most of the words, but I had to ask Mom what the sentence "Tarzan was naked" meant.

It came with an Official Ape-English Dictionary, but I never learned to speak Ape.

 I read the text and looked at the pictures so often that in a few months, the binding broke, and I needed a new one.

I collected Tarzan bubblegum cards (if you put them in order, they told a complete story).  I took a Tarzan lunchbox to school (until he was supplainted by the Wild Wild West).

For coloring, how about a 1966 Whitman coloring book with Ron Ely (from the tv series) on the cover?

I also had a Tarzan Cartoon Kit and a Viewmaster that showed mostly African animals.

And a Tarzan "Bop Bag."  The blond Adonis didn't look like any movie or tv Tarzan, but he was fun to hit.  You could also pretend he was your buddy and hug him.

The only thing missing was an action figure.  I got one, but it turned out to be a dud.  What idiot decided to give the Lord of the Apes long underwear? Did he need to keep warm as he swung through the rain forests?

And underneath, he had the same problem as my G.I. Joe:

See also: Cave Man Toys

Time Bandits

When I came home for Christmas break in 1981, my brother told me, "Go see Time Bandits! If you like Monty Python, you'll love it.  Believe me!"  I liked Monty Python, and besides, he was right about Meatballs (1979) and Popeye (1980), so I went.

It was awful.

11-year old Kevin (Craig Warnock) lives in a dreadful British suburb with abusive parents -- they watch tv  (in the movies, watching tv is a sign of weakness of character, or in parents child abuse). So he escapes through books (which apparently are ok).  His favorite subject is history.  He has plastered his bedroom walls with pictures of Medieval knights and ancient Greek warriors.

Not to mention a cut-out of a muscular Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, in red-striped bikini briefs, placed right next to the light switch so Kevin can see him every time he turns the light on and off.

Neglected, misunderstood kid who reads a lot, and likes nude men.  So far, standard gay-vague.  All he needs is a boyfriend.

Enter the Time Bandits -- six dwarfs who used to work for the Supreme Being. They have stolen a map that shows the location of holes in space-time, which they are using to steal fabulous treasures from Napoleon, Robin Hood, and so on.  They kidnap Kevin and bring him along.

We're supposed to like the dwarfs, but they're manipulative, greedy, self-serving, reprehensible.  With no buddy-bonds.  I kept trying to find special pairs among them, but they acted as a solid mass of reprehensible egoism.

Kevin finally finds the place he belongs, ancient Greece, where King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) offers to adopt him. Not a boyfriend, but at least a hunky father figure, like Jai's Tarzan.  But the moment someone starts to care for him, the dwarfs arrive and spirit him away.

Wait -- what happened to the opening, where Kevin was carefully established as gay-vague?  Nothing comes of it.

But at least ancient Greece was sunlit.  Every other time period is drab, washed-out, depressing.

Not even any beefcake to liven things up.  Agamemnon never takes off his shirt.  Michael Palin is tied up in his underwear, briefly.

Finally -- after many, many people are cheerfully killed,  the Surpreme Being catches the dwarfs, chastises them, and sends Kevin back to modern-day Britain.  Is he better, wiser for the adventure?  Has he recognized his true self?  Does he at least click his ruby slippers together and say "There's no place like home?"

No.  Not at all. His parents explode, his house burns down, and he's left homeless and orphaned on the street, much worse than before. Roll the end credits.

Roll a shot of me and my date blinking as we leave the theater, silent until one of us says "We could have seen Taps. . .or Ghost Story...or Piranha 2."

Cue to us going back to my house and chasing my brother around the room.