Nov 30, 2012

Boys' Life

I lasted for about three weeks as a Cub Scout.  I didn't know about their anti-gay policies, of course, but I wasn't interested in building race cars, models of battleships, or bird houses.  It was like the agony of shop class, only with adults hovering around, insisting that I was having fun.

I didn't like the pledge, or the salute, or the song "God Bless America" that ended every session.

 But I did like the scouting magazine, Boys' Life, which offered stories, games, and comics about boys bonding with each other, usually with no girls around.  Sometimes there were interesting bodybuilding tips, and even more interesting photos of bodybuilding teens.

Or articles about scouting in exotic foreign locales.  Not as evocative as the My Village books, but still offering scattered glimpses of the "good place."

My grade school held a Scout Jamboree every spring, where you could get free copies of instructional manuals for merit badges.  There were dozens, covering everything from philately to rock-climbing, with genuinely valuable information.  And tons of beefcake photos, especially in the manuals for swimming, diving, rowing, physical fitness, and judo.

By the time I got to high school, I had three or four different editions of the lifesaving manual.  My parents found this odd, since I never took any lifesaving classes.

Goes with Salami: The Art of Being Andrew Levitas

In Psycho Beach Party (2000), Andrew Levitas plays a gay guy named Provoloney. But according to the DVD liner notes, this is impossible, since the hunky actor has been "melting female hearts" for years. Just female hearts. No gay guys exist.

Entertainment journalists seem obsessed with pretending that no gay people exist, but they picked the wrong guy with Andrew Levitas.  The apparently heterosexual New York native has played gay characters several times, in the comedy In and Out (1997), the gay slasher Hellbent (2004), and Beauty Shop (2005).

He has also been involved in writing and production, although his film The Art of Getting By (2011) was a traditional heterosexist "boy grows up through hetero-romance" story.

But his first love is art.  He specializes in avant-garde artforms such as "photographic sculptures" and "organic abstractions," which have gained him considerably acclaim in the art world.

Adam-12: Cops Bonding Before Chips

In 1975, Martin Milner (right) and Kent McCord (left), Officers Malloy and Reed on Adam-12 (1968-75) came to Rock Island to speak on the importance of staying in school. My friends and I were star-struck by the two celebrities, but we found their message somewhat square.

No wonder.  Adam-12 was the product of Jack Webb's Mark VII productions, kin to super-square Dragnet, so as the patrol cops cruised around Los Angeles, nabbing shoplifters, burglars, drug addicts, and various troubled kids, they preached a message of conformity: keeping your hair short, doing your homework, avoiding motorcycles, rock music, and the wrong crowd, and above all, finding the One.  The ongoing plot arc involved Officer Reed getting married and having a baby.

Beefcake was minimal.  This was not the L.A. of Chips; apparently there was no beach, and the cops were rarely off duty.  But Kent McCord (left) was cute, and there were a number of cute teen guest stars, including Barry Williams, Craig Hundley, Mark Harmon, and David Cassidy.

And it was always thrilling to see the closing clip of a beefy, sweating hand chiseling the Mark VII logo -- a glimpse of beefcake potential, like the opening of Mission: Impossible.

But there was ample gay-vague content. Martin Milner often imbued his characters with unstated homoerotic desire, as in the subtext-heavy (and   revealing swimsuit-heavy) Route 66.  

His Officer Malloy was the seasoned cop who, at first, wasn't entirely happy at the prospect of being saddled with the rookie Reed.  But as they patroled the well-scrubbed, semi-mean streets of L.A., he developed an affection for the young officer that can easily be read as unstated desire.

Malloy seems uncomfortable during the endless discussions of Reed's marriage, his wife's pregnancy, and various baby problems.  Is he recognizing the emptiness of his own single life?  Or is he jealous that Reed loves someone else?

Malloy gets girlfriends of his own twice during the series, but is he actually interested in them, or is he trying to follow his own rule: don't make waves, conform, obey the Tripods?

Nov 28, 2012

David Lascher

The 1990s was the decade of the teen hunk; they appeared on Saturday morning, on Saved by the Bell and its clones (California Dreams, Breaker High), on the teen-heavy nuclear family sitcoms on ABC's TGIF (Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Boy Meets World, Teen Angel), and on the material-starved kids' networks, Disney and Nickelodeon (Welcome Freshmen, Salute Your Shorts, The Adventures of Pete and Pete).

With all the teen hunks wandering around, it was easy to get lost in the crowd, even if you have a killer smile and a fantastic physique. David Lascher almost did.

Born in 1972, David hit Hollywood in a series of Burger King commercials and two failed network series before landing the role of teen operator on Hey, Dude  (1989-91), about the employees of a faltering dude ranch.  He hatched crazy schemes, competed with laconic Native American Danny Lightfoot (Joe Torres), gasped and  moaned over girls, and was nominated for a Young Artist Award.  But no one really noticed, not even when he took his shirt off.  Not that his smooth, muscular chest wasn't appealing, but if you changed he channel, you got Mark-Paul Gosselaer and Michael Cade.

 Next he was hired to play Vinnie Bonitardi on the TGIF series Blossom, as Blossom's wrong-side-of-the-tracks boyfriend.  He lasted through two seasons (1992-94), plus a special two-part call-back, but again, no one really noticed, not even in his swimsuit, shirtless, and underwear shots.  He was pleasantly muscular, but his co-star was the incredible Joey Lawrence.

In the fourth season of the TGIF "I've got a secret" comedy Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1999-2000), the teen witch went to college.  David played the manager of the coffee shop where she worked, and eventually competed with long-term boyfriend Harvey for her affection, which didn't make him popular with Sabrina-Harvey shippers.  He lasted for 3 seasons, then vanished, with viewership at an all time low.

But when he played a gay-vague or gay role, David had no trouble being noticed. His three-episode story arc as a gay high school jock on Beverly Hills 90210 was memorable, not at all shadowed by the regular cast of Beverly Hills musclemen like Jason Priestley and Ian Ziering (left).

In White Squall (1996), he has to contend with an incredible number of shirtless hunks, including Scott Wolf, Ryan Philippe, Jeremy Sisto, Ethan Embry, Balthazar Getty, and Jason Marsden -- and he doesn't even take his shirt off  -- yet his performance stands out as quiet, dignified, and touching.

Note to David Lascher: gay characters from now on.

Beefcake and Bonding in the Green Library

When I was studying French in high school,  if I ever tired of Tintin, Alix and Enak, Corentin, and Spirou and Fantasio, I could move on to the small square children's books published by the Librairie Hachette, the Bibliotheque Rose (pink) for humor and the Bibliotheque Verte (green) for action/adventure.

I preferred the green, especially Georges Bayard's Michel series, about a 15-year old and his older brother who sleuthed like the Hardy Boys (Michel a Rome, Michel en plongee, Michel et Monsieur X, etc.)  Except there were more kidnappings and last-minute rescues than the Hardy Boys faced, more stories set on boats and at the beach, and  unlike the American adventure boy series of the 1940s and 1950s  Hachette was not skimpy on the beefcake.  He was as physique-intensive as the British boys annuals.  Apparently being a teen sleuth gives you a magnificent physique.

I also liked the Italian street urchin of David Daniell's "By Jiminy" books in his French translation, Cricketto (Cricketto de Napoli, Cricketto et le petite prince, Cricketto dans la foret vierge, and so on).  He became a lean, muscular teenager, who adventured and buddy-bonded with his older friend and benefactor, Tom Trevor.  The illustrations favored black speedos for Tom and red for Cricketto.

Willis Lindquist's Haji of the Elephants is about a young Indian mahout and his Western boyfriend, in the tradition of Sabu, Jonny and Hadji, and Terry and Raji.  But in the French translation, they both became teenagers in dhotis with beautifully drawn chests and shoulders.

Rene Guillot wrote many juvenile adventure stories about massive Tarzans raised in the wilderness, such as Le Chef au masque d'or. 

And I can't even begin to count the homoerotic subtexts in Philippe Ebly's "Conquerants de l'Impossible" series, about three buffed, eternally shirtless teenagers from different time periods: Serge (modern France), Xolotl (Aztec Mexico), and Thibault (Medieval France).  They band together in a complex plot arc that decides the fate of worlds, while never so much as looking at a girl.

Ebly also wrote the "Evades du temps" series (Time Runaways), about two  teenagers, Thierry and Didier, who are hiking through a mysterious woods when they become unstuck in time, like Paul in Spellbinder.  They meet the prehistoric teenager Kouroun, who doesn't own a shirt, and band together to fight supernatural enemies and look for a way home.

They even had gay-themed novels, such as Pierre Loti's Iceland Fisherman.

I wonder if my French teacher noticed that I only borrowed the books with the beefcake covers.

In college I discovered a whole new collection, the Signe de Piste.

Nov 27, 2012

The First Teen Idols, 1956-1963

Before 1955, most teens appropriated their music from Mom and Dad, who listened mostly to silky-voiced crooners like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. Then rock and roll exploded onto the musical scene almost over night, and suddenly dozens of young rock and rollers were aimed directly at teenagers, through jukeboxes at teen hangouts, hysterical praise in teen magazines, teen-oriented radio stations, and appearances on teen-oriented tv programs: Elvis Presley and Pat Boone by 1956, Paul Anka and Ricky Nelson (1957, Ricky only after he sang on his father's tv sitcom), Frankie Avalon  (left) and James Darin (1958).

In all, 19 major teen idols appeared between 1956 and 1963, with 243 charting songs, mostly with the same pitch.   There was little word play, little metaphor, not a hint of irony or ambiguity to detract from the clarity of the pitch: if you are a boy, get a girl. If you are a girl, get a boy. That is your reason for living, period.

There was no rampant heterosexual desire in the pitch. In "Travelin' Man" (1961), Ricky Nelson has girls in every port, and in "The Wanderer" (1962), Dion insists that he'll have sex with any girl who offers. But usually sex is not on the teen idol's mind; he is looking for The One, the "mate that fate created me for" (Bobby Rydell). Paul Anka (left) cries every night for the gods to grant him The One, so that his life can have meaning.

After finding the One, the teen idol finds all other girls forever repulsive, or is simply unable to notice them.  And even more, he cannot find any joy in any other relationship, interest, or activity.  He goes to movies, drives a hot rod, surfs only to be near her.  He gets a job only to earn money to buy her gifts.  If it were possible, he would spend every moment for rest of his life literally staring into her eyes.  Nothing else matters.

The reason for the pitch is obvious: to promote a heterosexist future of marriage and family to the biggest generation of juveniles in the history of the planet.

In spite of the "teen angel" cliches, none of the 243 songs mourn dead girlfriends, but The One breaks up with the teen idol (like Fabian, left) quite often, due to a family move, parental disapproval, or simple rejection.  This loss is much more painful in the pitch than it would be in real life, since even after The One is gone, the teen idol still finds other girls repulsive, or is unable to notice them.  Thus, he is constitutionally unable to find anyone else.  He will never have another girlfriend for the rest of his life ("I'll Never Dance Again," Bobby Rydell tells us.)

But the tragedy gets even worse.  Single people can find happiness and contentment with family and friends, a career, leisure pursuits, political activism -- but The One was the teen idol's sole joy in life, his sole reason for living, so he will never find any joy in anything else, ever.  His life is over.

In the pitch, the teen idols inhabit a world that consists entirely of girls.  Only 27 of the 243 songs mention boys at all, and in 22 of them, including "Staying In" (Bobby Vee), "Johnny Will" (Pat Boone), and "Pin a Medal on Joey" (James Darin), boys are reviled competitors, lying in wait to steal The One.

Of the remaining five songs, three merely allow the teen idol a buddy to commiserate with over the loss of The One: "Poor Boy" (Elvis), "Ten Lonely Guys" (Pat Boone), and "Drip Drop" (Dion).

The other two, a pitiably small number, allude to same-sex desire or practice.

In "Jailhouse Rock" (1957), Elvis evokes a dance at the county jail, an all-male preserve, and specifices that the prisoners vie for the attention of the most attractive dance partners"  "Number 47 said to Number 3,  'You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see!'"

More homoromantic is Bobby Darin's "Nature Boy" (1961), about a "very strange enchanted boy" from far away, "a little shy and sad of eye," like the sad, shy gay boys who linger at the margins of heteronormative myth.

Nature Boy visits Bobby on "a magic day," and, during their time together, tells him "the greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."  Perhaps the song managed to pass into the pitch because the "boy" could be read as a little boy, advising Bobby to find a girl.

But the original song, written by Nat King Cole in 1948, is about an adult, one of the long-haired sandal-clad Nature Boys, forerunners of the hippies, who wandered L.A. in the 1940s.  And Nature Boy never says "get a girl!"  He wants Bobby to love him.

Threatened and Threatening Gay Kids

The early 1960s were all about children.  Two of three households in the United States contained children under age 18.  Entire neighborhoods were occupied by families with young children, with occasional elderly or childless couples (adults who lived alone were practically unheard of, and suspect).

31% of the U.S. population was under the age of fifteen, and 12% was under age five.   There were more elementary and high school students than ever before in history, and the number was increasing every year.  There were 1,393,000 teachers and 64,000 principals, the highest number ever.   Educational theory was big business.

The mental and emotional health of children was also a big business. Childhood was laden with infinite perils.  One false move -- a word said or left unsaid, a punishment too lenient or too severe, a hug or the lack of a hug, a school trip forbidden or allowed -- and the child would be sent careening into homicidal madness, or turn gay (which, in the mindset of the 1960s, was about the same thing).

Many movies and tv programs of the era involved kids with an aberrant sexuality being threatened or threatening the adults.

On a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone, Billy Mumy, soon to star on Lost in Space, plays a boy who can do anything.  What he does is  force people to obey his every whim.  Rebellion results in symbolic castration or death.  "You had him!" one of the townsfolk complains to his mother before trying to kill him. "You had to go and have him!"  

In Let’s Kill Uncle (1966), oddball outsider (that is, gay) Barnaby Harrison (Pat Cardi, who would go on to star on It's About Time) is heir to the family fortune, so his evil uncle tries to kill him.  Since no adults believe him, he fights back in the only way he can think of: he and a gal pal try to kill Uncle back.

The Gay Rights Movement didn't change the myth of the evil gay kid.  By the 1970s, threatening or threatened aberrant sexuality was everywhere. Lee H. Montgomery and Mark Lester made their careers playing sexual outsiders who plot murder or are murder victims. In Bad Ronald (1974) Scott Jacoby plays a mother-obsessed (that is, gay) sexual outsider who wants a girlfriend, but nevertheless kidnaps and fondles the hunky Duane (Teddy Eccles).

In The Kid and the Killers (1974), oddball outsider (that is, gay) Miguel (Gerry Ross) wants revenge on the men who killed his sister, so he approaches a bounty hunter named Roper (Jon Cypher). After torturing and trying to kill him, Roper agrees to help, but his disgust at Miguel's increasingly overt displays of homoerotic interest almost compels him to abandon the mission.

Spring 1981: Gay-Free Great Books: The Modern British Novel

Even after my dreary experience with Modern Literature during a freshman course in Fiction Writing, I had to take courses in Modern American Literature and The Modern British Novel.  Both assigned works that were deadly dull, all about heterosexual courtship and marriage, with same-sex relationships, even friendships, absent (the same might be said for my upper-division French, Spanish, and German classes).

Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Lawrence (1913), is about a man attempting to choose between a farm girl, a feminist, and his mother, with no men in sight.

My professor claimed that, if civilization ever ended, we could reconstruct it with nothing more than Ulysses (1918), by James Joyce.  But such a world would be gay free.  The day in the life of Stephen Dedalus includes a visit to a prostitute and lots of descriptions of ladies, but only one mention gay people once, when Buck Mulligan warns Stephen Dedalus that the guy ogling nude statues at the British Museum might be a "sodomite."

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931), sex is the chief recreation in a near-future dystopia, yet no one considers anything but straight sex.

One novel  did evoke same-sex practice, as a symbol of debauchery and moral decay, but so subtly that at the time I didn't even notice.

In I, Claudius (1934), Robert Graves assigns the decadent, insane Emperor Caligula a laundry-list of sexual practices, including bestiality and incest, but only hints at his interest in men, as if it is by far the most disgusting of the lot. (And it's not mentioned at all in the 1976 miniseries).

No wonder I stuck to the Victorians, where same-sex relationships were portrayed with depth and poignancy, if only in subtext.

Nov 26, 2012

The Karate Kid

Although Ralph Macchio's earlier movies (Up the Academy, High Powder, The Outsiders) featured significant buddy bonding, The Karate Kid (1984) based its success on a demonstration of straightness.  The first scene is a tease: New Jersey transplant Daniel (Ralph) meets boy-next-door Freddy (Israel Juarbe), who looks embarrassingly love-struck and can't stop inviting Daniel to do things, first karate lessons and then a beach party.

But just when we think this will be a teenage romance, the rich-kid bully who runs the town (William Zabka) forces Freddy to break up with Daniel, and he disappears until the final scene, where he is in the crowd of well-wishers at the big karate tournament.

The rest of the movie effectively eliminates moments that might mean something by depictng every teenage boy, without exception, as cruel, violent, vicious, and seething with unexplained anti-Daniel hate. Every word  boys say is a boast, an insult, or a threat.  They wear skeleton costumes to the Halloween party to demonstrate their evil, and their karate uniforms are black to contrast with Daniel's Luke Skywalker white.  In contrast, every girl Daniel encounters is an angel, nurturing, supportive, tolerant, and kind.  This is heterosexism run rampant, proof positive that same-sex love, friendship, or even polite co-existence is utterly impossible.  Love, friendship, and even the freedom to walk across the cafeteria without harassment can occur only in the company of girls.

Sports underdogs are always tutored by outsiders who lack jobs and wives and are therefore sexually suspect, so Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), the apartment complex janitor who teaches Daniel karate, might have added a homoerotic subtext.  The two become best friends; Miyagi gives Daniel a birthday cake, and Daniel helps Miyagi into bed after a drinking binge.

The DVD box shows them face to face, mouth to mouth, gazing at each other as if moving in for a kiss.  But Miyagi is elderly and Asian, movie code for "asexual."  And, so no one worries that a stray look might mean something, Miyagi is shown drinking to the memory of his dead wife, thus "proving" that he is heterosexual.

After The Karate Kid, Ralph's baby face and soulful puppy-dog eyes allowed him to play teenagers well past his thirtieth birthday.

Usually he was thrown into worlds so heavily polarized into vicious boys and nice girls that same-sex intimacy seemed absurd.  In Karate Kid II (1986), both Daniel and Mr. Miyagi  both fight cruel, violent boys and get girls.  

In Crossroads (1986), the guitar substitutes for karate, and an elderly black man for the elderly Asian man, but still, nothing but cruel, violent boys and kind, loving girls.

In Distant Thunder (1988), en route to a reunion with his elderly father, Ralph and a kind, loving girl are kidnapped by her cruel, violent boyfriend (Reb Brown).

Not until My Cousin Vinny (1992) did Ralph bond with a boy, a fellow college student waylaid by a murder charge in Alabama.  By that time, an entire genre of Ninja kids had evoked their own worlds of cruel, violent boys and kind, loving girls, rejecting the possibility of same-sex love over and over.

Nanny and the Professor

There are two kinds of servants on tv.
1. The world-weary, laconic observer of the lunacy (Hazel, Beulah, Geoffrey on Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Benson on Soap).
2. The "breath of fresh air" whose joie de vivre revitalizes a failing family (Mr. Belvedere, Charles on Charles in Charge, Tony on Who's the Boss, Fran on The Nanny).

Nanny and the Professor (1970-71) which became a must-see because it aired between The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, was an early example of the "breath of fresh air" type.

Phoebe Figalilly (Juliet Mills), a proper British nanny, complete with deerstalker cap and Inverness cape,  sweeps in like Mary Poppins to take control of the household of stuffy English professor Everett (Richard Long of The Big Valley, rumored to be gay, shown here working out with gay icon Rock Hudson).

His kids: intellectual teen Hal (David Doremus), athletic preteen Butch (Trent Lehman), and baby of the family Prudence (Kim Richards).

Nanny draws from the "I've got a secret" genre by teasing at having magical powers, though nothing is ever stated openly.

For instance, in "Spring, Sweet Spring," Nanny thinks a family picnic would foster togetherness, but everyone has other plans.  Then a series of humorous accidents and coincidences push them, one by one, to the park, where the picnic is set out for them.

Mostly girls liked Nanny and the Professor, drawn to Nanny's independence, courage, and penchant for deflating masculine egos.  But there were several points of interest for gay boys.

1. The opening song sounded distinctly like the two boys were attracted to the Nanny ("soft and sweet, warm and wonderful...oohh, our magical mystical Nanny!").  But heterosexual desire was at a minimum: Hal liked a girl in one episode, and Butch, never.  Professor Everett, in fact, actively fled from several girls anxious to snare him.  He could easily be read as gay.

2. Hal was a shy, intellectual, gay-vague outsider, like Peter on The Brady Bunch.

3. There was no beefcake, but my friend Dan thought that Hal was cute, and there were several dreamy guest stars, including Van Williams and Vincent Van Patten.

After Nanny, David Doremus retired from acting, and now manages a mobile electronics company.  Trent Lehman tragically committed suicide in 1982.  Juliet Mills has been very active in movies and on tv, notably as a dizzy witch on the soap Passions (1999-2008).

Nov 25, 2012

I Dream of Jeannie

When Larry Hagman died a few days ago, his obituaries praised his conniving Texas oil magnate J.R. Ewing of Dallas (1978-1991, plus a 2012 remake).  But I rarely watched Dallas.  I remembered him from one of the "I've got a secret" sitcoms of the 1960s, I Dream of Jeannie (1967-70).

I didn't watch that a lot, either.  Most gay kids preferred Bewitched.  The premise seemed too much like a Playboy fantasy: astronaut Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) finds a bottle washed up on a beach, opens it, and out pops a genie -- nameless, so he calls her Jeannie (Barbara Eden).  She calls him Master.  She wears a belly-dancing costume that leaves little to the imagination, and is willing to do anything he wants. Anything.

To his credit, Tony doesn't take advantage of the situation.  Like Darren of Bewitched, he wants to take care of himself, and he forbids Jeannie from using her magic (she, of course, disobeys him). His best friend Roger (Bill Daily) is less scrupulous -- he can think of lots of things to wish for.

Neither makes the slightest attempt to compromise the lady's virtue, but no doubt that is exactly what was on the minds of millions of straight male viewers.

Every "I've got a secret" sitcom has a Gladys Kravitz to suspect the secret, peer through windows,  and snoop around.  On Jeannie, it was base psychiatrist Dr. Bellows (Hayden Rorke), who was gay-vague: no wife, and no reason for his obsession with the strange goings-ons in the Nelson household, except for a desire to see more of the hunky astronaut.

According to Barbara Eden's autobiography, Rorke (here with gay icon Judy Garland) was "unashamedly gay" in real life, and "a prince" who often invited cast members to dinner parties at his home.

After Jeannie, Larry Hagman went on to Dallas, of course, and Barbara Eden chose roles involving gutsy, go-getting women to prove that she wasn't just a belly-dancing sex object.

 She reprised her Jeannie character twice:

I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later (1985) substituted Wayne Rogers of M*A*S*H for Larry Hagman, who was busy with Dallas.   In order to save Tony's life, Jeannie has to sacrifice her relationship with him -- and he must forget that he ever knew her.

In I Still Dream of Jeannie (1991), the events of the previous movie never occurred, but Tony was absent (Larry Hagman was still busy).  Jeannie has to find a new temporary master, and meanwhile saves her kidnapped son, Anthony Jr. (Christopher Bolton of My Secret Identity). 


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