Aug 19, 2013

Teen Beach Movie: Not Your Grandfather's Homoeroticism

Teen Beach Movie premiered with frenetic hoopla on the Disney Channel last month, and has been repeated many times since.  It reprises the premise of Pleasantville (1998), with Tobey Maguire as a teen who gets trapped in a 1950s sitcom.  Here the teenage Brady (Ross Lynch, #4 on my list of Unexpected Disney Channel Teen Hunks)  and his girlfriend McKenzie (Maia Mitchell) are trapped in the 1960s beach movie Wet Side Story.  

After becoming acclimatized to beach movie conventions, like you go in the water but never get wet, and you randomly break into choreographed song and dance routines, they draw the attention of the stars, Tanner (the bulgeworthy Garrett Clayton, Disney's Next Big Thing) and his girlfriend, thus upsetting the plot and jeopardizing their chances of getting home.

Meanwhile, there's a bitter -- yes, bitter -- conflict between the surfers and the bikers, and two villains, one flamboyantly gay-coded, build a diabolically fiendish Weather Machine to drive the teens away from the beach.

Back in the real world, McKenzie's evil aunt hatches a dastardly plot to send her to college. The horror!

Throughout, I was wondering:

1. Do we really need a parody of beach movies, a genre that ended in 1967, enjoyed by the grandparents of today's teenagers?

2. I'm all for sending girls a message of empowerment, but should that message really be "Don't go to college!  Stay on the beach and become a surf bum!"

3. In the original beach movies, Frankie Avalon, Jody McCrea, John Ashley, Tommy Kirk, Duane Hickman, and the rest of the guys wore swimsuits throughout.  Biceps and bulges were emphasized.  Why does Brady never once take his shirt off?  Tanner hangs around with his shirt unbuttoned.  The other stars remain fully clothed.

4. Why do all the songs sound like they came from the soundtrack of Grease?

5. A gay-coded villain?  Really?

6. The original beach movies were overbrimming with gay subtexts.  Frankie is torn between the wild homoerotic freedom of the surf and conventional wife-kids-house-job with Annette.  Here McKenzie is torn between the wild heterosexual freedom of the surf and college, while endless songs extol boys liking girls and encourage every boy to find a girl.

The only gay subtexts I could find were:
1. The gay villain.
2. Both of the male leads are extremely feminine.  Disney seems to have hired them explicitly because of their outrageous swishiness.
3. Butchy (John DeLuca), the leader of the bikers, doesn't express any heterosexual interest, and he has a homoerotic moment with Tanner when they decide to work together to save their friends.