May 4, 2013

Jack Griffo: Don't Say Gay

Speaking of Nickelodeon teen hunks, Jack Griffo (left) has been tearing up both Nickelodeon and the Disney channel during the last year or so, with a guest spot on Jessie and a starring role in The Thundermans.

Born in December 1996, Jack got his first commercial contract at age 2, and soon began modeling and acting in community theater in his hometown of Orlando, Florida.  A talent agent spotted him, and convinced him and his family to relocate to Los Angeles in 2010.








In 2011, he appeared in the movie Sound of My Voice, and on the Disney channel teencom Kickin' It (as a dancer) and Nickelodeon's Bucket and Skinner's Epic Adventures.

In 2012, in the short What I Did Last Summer: First Kiss and the music video American Hero.

In 2013, in Nickelodeon's See Dad Run with Scott Baio and Marvin Marvin with Lucas Cruikshank.

He is currently starring as a gay supervillain in training in the Nickelodeon teencom The Thundermans. 





Not to mention live theater and a youtube page, where Jack posts covers of popular songs by Justin Bieber and One Direction.

And lots of shirtless, bicep-flexing, and swimming pool shots.  Even an emergency appendectomy resulted in a shirtless photo upload.



His gay connection is minimal to date:

 In his onscreen roles that I've seen, he doesn't display any heterosexual interest.

His homophobic connection:

He attends the fundamentalist Ecclesia Church in Hollywood.

Could go either way:

On his facebook page, Jack reposted a youtube video entitled "Don't Say Gay," about a little boy convincing his big brother that "gay" is a bad word.  I agree with discouraging kids from the all-purpose insult "that's so gay,"  but not with the idea that it's a bad word that must never be spoken.  I've been there.

Yolngu Boy: Ancestral Homoeroticism


Many traditional cultures of aboriginal Australia recognized and even institutionalized same-sex practice, making it a rite of passage into manhood.  But homophobic Western religious and psychiatric discourses suppressed the exuberance of same-sex practice, leaving only a contempt of Western gay identity. And maybe some subtexts.

In Yolngu Boy (2001), Lorrpu (Sebbe Pilakui, left), Milika (Nathan Daniels), and Botj (Sean Mununggur) are growing up in Arnhem Land.  Although they have all adopted white-Christian civilization, listening to rap music and playing soccer, Lorrpu and Milika still revere the traditions of their ancestors, and at age 15 they have been chosen by tribal leader Dawu to be initiated into manhood.

Botj, whose rage against white civilization causes him to commit petty crimes, is excluded from the secret rituals.  He returns after three months in prison, and talks the others  into breaking into a community store for cigarettes.  Then, while high on gasoline fumes, he commits an act of arson.





Determined to save him, Lorrpu talks him into crossing Arnhem Land to Darwin, 300 miles away, to argue his case with Dawu. Milika refuses to go, but Lorrpu evokes their llifelong friendship and convinces him.

Most of the movie involves their perilous trek across the wilderness, where they must draw upon traditional skills and modern resourcefulness.  Their friendship strengthens.  There are hugs and glistening muscles, and the spirit of the crocodile binds them together.

But when they arrive in Darwin, Dawu is not convinced.  Botj has sex with a girl -- emblematic of his fall from grace?  Then the three boys share a hotel room (with sex implied), but when Lorrpu awakens, Botj has run off.  He commits suicide by jumping off a bridge.  His friends could not save him.

Actors Sean and Nathan have heterosexist bios on the official Yolngu Boy website, something on the line of: "he likes movies, music, and girls -- but not in that order." But Sebbe Pilakui's bio doesn't mention girls, noting only that he felt a "strong kinship" with Nathan from the beginning.  Maybe there's some ancestral homoeroticism left.

The movie is available online at youtube.


May 3, 2013

Lab Rats: Bionic Brothers

Of the three major children's networks, The Disney Channel wins the prize for the most beefcake and for the most explicit gay subtexts.  Kids in the 1990s and 2000s could watch same-sex couples and references to same-sex romance on Even Stevens,  The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Hannah Montana, and The Wizards of Waverly Place, and today they have A.N.T. Farm, Kickin' It, and Lab Rats.

Lab Rats stars Tyrel Jackson Williams as Leo, an average, rather nerdish kid whose new stepfather, billionaire inventor Big D (Hal Sparks of Queer as Folk), has created three bionic teens: Adam (Spencer Boldman, left, one of the Top 10 Hunks of Disney Summer Movies), super-strength; Chase (Billy Unger), super-intelligence; and Bree (Kelli Berglund), super-speed.  Marcus Davenport is their main antagonist.

While they test their superpowers and try to keep their secret safe, Leo tries to introduce them to the "normal" world. 



The gay subtext comes between Adam and Chase, inseparable bionic "brothers" who display little heterosexual interest (Leo gets all the crushes), but often compete with each other or rescue each other.

Spencer Boldman has several previous acting credits, including a heartthrob in I'm in the Band (2011) and the guy who plays Peter Pan in the school play on 21 Jump Street (2012). 

But Billy Unger's acting career extends all the way back to 2007, when he was 12 (and a modeling career that began long before that).  His gay-subtext or gay-friendly projects include:




Troy on No Ordinary Family (2011), who buddy-bonds with J.J. (Jimmy Bennett).

Brody on Kickin' It (2012) asks a girl to the big dance as part of a martial arts initiation. 












Neville on ANT Farm (2012) is an Australian outback-adventure specialist who actually knows nothing about the wilderness, but has to rescue Fletcher anyway.

Sammy's Great Escape (2012) is an animated movie about two male turtles, Sammy (Billy) and Ray (Carlos McCullers II), who apparently are raising a family together.  They must rescue their hatchlings from evil poachers.

An anti-bullying PSA (2012).

The Last Wave

Gay actor Richard Chamberlain was well known in the 1960s for playing Dr. Kildare on tv, but the first time I saw him was in college, in  the Australian paranormal thriller The Last Wave (1977), which the Film Club showed us on the same evening as Picnic at Hanging Rock.

He stars as David Burton, a Sidney lawyer who conforms to every aspect of staid heteronormativity: wife, job, house.

The "queer" moment comes when he is assigned to the case of Chris Lee (David Gulpilil), one of five Aboriginals accused of murder.










David becomes obsessed with the case, and with Chris.  The Aboriginal may or may not be a friend, but David is drawn to his energy, his hard firm muscles, his raw sensuality.  He desires Chris as a Sabu or a Hadji, someone dark and mysterious and passionate and frightening.  As someone from beyond civilization, who could provide either salvation or damnation.



David Gulpilil is no stranger to roles as a dark, mysterious, passionate object of desire. In Walkabout (1971), the guide to two white kids lost in the bush, the 15-year old appeared fully nude.  Later he would buddy-bond with John Jarratt (of Picnic at Hanging Rock) in Dark Age (1987) and with Nigel Havers in Naked Under Capricorn (1989).  He became a famous spokesperson for Aboriginal culture.

Back to The Last Wave: as weird weather phenomena begin to threaten the modern technological world, David dreams of Chris appearing to him in the night.  He delves deeply into Chris's aboriginal world, into the Dreamtime.  His old life doesn't make sense anymore.  His marriage falls apart, and he loses his job.  But what does Chris offer in their place?  Love?  Freedom?  Belonging?



David finds himself unable to fully embrace the Dreamtime.  He seeks answers elsewhere, in the church, in his wife's arms, in the logic of the legal system.  By the time he allows Chris to reveal to him the truth about himself, it is too late:a tidal wave is about to wipe out the entire continent.  His world is ending.

May 2, 2013

Herman's Hermits: Noone Likes Girls

Sometime in the fall of 1968, when I was in the third grade, we had a talent show at Denkmann Elementary School, and a shaggy-haired sixth grader named Mark played the guitar and sang "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter."

I thought Mark was cute, but as the words flowed about girls and girls and girls, a  lot of the boys became bored and fidgety, until my friend Bill got the idea of sailing a paper airplane into his guitar.  It landed a little short, but the idea spread, until a dozen paper airplanes were soaring across the auditorium.  Some hit Mark's guitar, but he kept playing doggedly, insisting that the meaning of life lay in girls and girls and girls.


We weren't impressed by heterosexist lyrics, not even from Herman's Hermits, a British invasion group named obliquely after the Mr. Peabody and Sherman cartoon.  There was no Herman, just Peter Noone (on top), who was 15 when he became the lead singer (that's his real name). Their single "I'm into Something Good" (1964) hit the top of the British charts, propelling Herman and his Hermits to fame.  They appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1965 with the logo: "Rock and roll: Everybody's turned on."

Their biggest hit in the U.S. was "Mrs. Brown" (1965) " but there were others.
"I'm Henry the Eighth" (1965)
"Listen People" (1966)
"Leaning on the Lamp Post" (1966)
"Dandy " (1966)
"There's a Kind of Hush" (1967)

Not a one about friendship, or home and country, or social injustice (they hated hippies).  Every single one of them was about getting or losing a girl.

Even "Henry the Eight" is not about the Tudor king, but a boast about the fecundity of the widow next door, who has married seven blokes named Henry before.



"Listen, People" is not about fighting racism or protesting the Vietnam war, but about how to avoid getting burned by a bad heterosexual relationship.

Besides, they weren't dreamy, like Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones of the Monkees (top photo), and there weren't any shirtless pictures in teen magazines.

By the time Bill and I started listening to his older sister's teen idol records, their star had faded, replaced by the more hippie-oriented Beatles, Cream, and Boomererson Airplane.

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (1969-72) put an image in my mind of Australia as a "good place," where "boys could hug and kiss," where same-sex desire was strong, same-sex romance open and passionate.  Ten years later, in college, I saw Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and The Last Wave (1977). They only added to the mystique.

Picnic is set at a prim-and-proper girls' school in wild Victoria, Australia in 1900.  It's Valentine's Day, the heart of summer, and you can practically feel the oppressive heat.  And the repressed desire.  The landscape aches with it.  The girls sit around gazing moon-eyed at each other and reading love poetry before heading out in a carriage for a jolly picnic at Hanging Rock, a interesting geological formation.  They are chaperoned by two teachers.  Since it's a hot day, they are permitted to take off their gloves.

They pass young, handsome, gjfted-beneath-the-belt, but rather fey Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard, who played a gay preteen in The Go-Between) picnicking with his uncle and aunt. He looks surprised and disconcerted at the sight of the feminine invading his domain.













19-year old Dominic Guard was known primarily for The Go-Between (1970), about a teenager who facilitates an illicit romance between the older sister of his buddy (Richard Gibson, left) and the cad-next-door.  Later he had a substantial career on British tv, and became a child psychotherapist.






Back to the girls ambling toward Hanging Rock.  Michael's valet, Albert (John Jarratt), a rough, macho sort, leers at them from not far off.  In those days, upper-class men often paired with working-class men, making them secretaries or valets as a screen (think of Maurice, or Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings), so I implicitly thought of the two as lovers.





This was the second screen appearance of Australian actor John Jarratt (born 1951), but he was busy afterwards, starring in We of the Never Never (1982), Crime of the Decade (1984), Midnight Dancer (1988), and many other movies and tv series.  Most recently he appeared as a grungy slave trader in Django Unchained.  He also starred in the stage comedy The Sum of Us, about a man and his grown-up son, both looking for love (the son is gay).


Back to Hanging Rock: The girls picnic on the grass, but something isn't right.  They feel uneasy. The air is thick and heavy, alive. Time seems to stand still. Suddenly four girls and a teacher stand up in unison, as if on cue, and climb the face of the Rock.  An outcast girl follows. She calls to them, but they don't answer.  They climb higher, move out of sight.  And vanish forever.


Michael becomes obsessed with finding the girls, and he and Albert return to the Rock to search.  Then Michael disappears.  In a touching scene, Albert finds him, delirious, and carries him down the face of the Rock in his arms.  He doesn't remember what happened.

Were the girls kidnapped?  Did they fall into a crevass?  Were they engulfed in the Dreamtime?  There is evidence for all three, and all three are disconfirmed.  Their fate remains a mystery (the original novel tells us what happened). We are left with the image of girls reading each other love poetry, and Albert carrying Michael in his arms.

May 1, 2013

Die Hard: The Gay Connection

New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) is having a very bad day.  He flies to L.A. to visit his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), during her company's Christmas party in the ritzy Nakatomi Tower.  But then a band of terrorists armed with heavy artillery take the partygoers hostage.  McClane, hiding, contacts the LAPD, but at first they don't believe him, and when they finally investigate, they think he's the bad guy.  It is up to McClane to single-handedly take out the terrorists (who are actually burglars with a very convoluted scheme).

McClane is in radio contact with the portly African-American sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), the only LAPD officer who believes his story.  They chat, joke, and rather openly flirt with each other, and when the crisis is resolved, McClane leaves his wife to rush into Powell's arms.  A homoromantic hug capstones the movie.  The primary emotional bond in Die Hard (1988) is not between McClane and Holly, estranged or not, but between McClane and Powell.

But that's not all.


In the sequel, Die Hard 2 (1990), it's another Christmas Eve, and McClane goes to Washington's Dulles Airport to pick up Holly.  But terrorists take over the airport and forbid any planes from landing.  McClane must take them out before the plane carrying Holly runs out of fuel and crashes.  He commandeers the mousy African-American communications specialist  Leslie Barnes (Art Evans) for the adventure.  Buddy-bonding and some gender-role transgressions occur.  In spite of the obligatory "I love you so much" hug with the wife, the primary emotional bond comes between McClane and Barnes.



In the next installment, Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), a terrorist has planted explosives around New York to coerce McClane into participating in risky nursery-rhyme "games."  Black-separatist shopkeeper Zeus Carver (Samuel L. Jackson) is accidentally involved, and the two go off on a wild ride full of love-hate buddy-bonding and "I'm not leaving without you!" speeches.

When the crisis is resolved, Carver continues to stick around.  In spite of the obligatory reconciliation with the again-estranged Holly (this time in the form of a telephone call), the primary emotional bond is between McClane and Carver.



Live Free or Die Hard (2007), about cyber-terrorists who have taken the entire country hostage, gives McClane a white partner: a young hacker named Matt Farrell (Justin Long).  This one ups the physicality of the bond, and makes Matt (along with McClane's daughter) the object of rescue.  Plus there's a promise of continuing relationship that the other installments lack.

4 installments, four homoromantic buddy-bonds, 3 with African-Americans.

Why?  Bruce Willis is no gay ally, and directors John McTiernan, Renny Harlan, and Len Wiseman are not known for their gay-positive filmmaking.

 But many recent buddy movies, aware of the possibility of gay subtext, pair a white man-mountain with a soft African-American comic relief character, hoping that because the relationship is interracial, no one will "read" it as romantic.  And Matt Farrell?  Maybe they thought that the 23-year age difference between Justin Long and Bruce Willis would make people "read" them as father-son figures, not older-younger boyfriends.

It didn't work.

Ronnie Scribner: Generation X Teen Idol

Many Boomers kids began having kids of their own during the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in a second baby boom, Generation X, and a sharp increase in the number of kid-friendly tv shows and movies.  And child actors to star in them: Shane Sinutko, Moosie Drier, Lance Kerwin, Scott Baio, Chris and Patrick Petersen -- and Ronnie Scribner, who specialized in roles as boys who form emotional bonds with teenagers or older men.

Born in 1966, Ronnie broke into the child actor biz with an Afterschool Special, A Home Run for Love (1978).  He continued in the Afterschool-Weekend-Schoolbreak Special circuit with The Contest Kid (1978) and The Contest Kid Strikes Again (1979), plus roles as boys who bond with older men on Fantasy Island, Dallas, Chips, and Code Red, another boy on The Love Boat, and a girl on Little House on the Prairie.


But Generation X kids remember him best for three movies:

1. The Castaways on Gilligan's Island (1979), in which Gilligan and company turn their island into a Fantasy Island style resort and solve people's problems.  Ronnie plays a boy who runs away from his parents due to their pressuring him to excel in sports (a problem that many children of Boomer overachievers faced), and ends up bonding with Gilligan.



2. Salem's Lot (1979), the vampire drama starring David Soul and Lance Kerwin.  As Ralphie Glick, the first preteen vampire in the movies, he floats outside the bedroom window of his brother Danny (Brad Savage), trying to lure him into "letting him in" to be bitten.  It was a new, fresh, and chilling entry into the threatening kid genre.

3. The Long Days of Summer (1980), about Danny Cooper (Ronnie), a boy in the 1930s who takes up boxing to challenge a bully (David Baron), while his parents face antisemitism after taking in a Jewish family.

All of them have same-sex plotlines and minimal heterosexual interest.

By 1980, Ronnie was a full-fledged teen idol, with semi-nude and shirtless pictures in the teen magazines and gushing articles about his dreaminess. He also showed his acting talent with "problem" roles as deaf or mute boys.  But he didn't want an acting career. After a minor role in Split Image (1982), as the brother of a young man lured into a cult, he retired, studied business in college, and works today as a financial analyst.

Apr 30, 2013

The Boys of Grachi

Grachi (2011-) is a teen fantasy series that currently airs on Nickelodeon in Italy and Latin America, about the Escolarium, a school for witches (Grachi is the nickname of the protagonist, Graciela Alonso, and coincidentally the word for "witches" in Italian).







Part Harry Potter, part Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and all telenovela, Grachi emphasizes the heterosexual love interests of the various witches. However, since the boys are all on the swim teem, there are countless swimsuit and semi-nude beefcake shots, and substantial gay subtexts.

1. Daniel (Andres Mercado, left) is dating Grachi, but also buddy-bonding with Chema (Lance Dos Rios).

2. Leo (Willy Martin, top photo) has a love-hate crush on Daniel.



3. Guillermo (Guilhermo Apollonio, left) is dating Rosa, but also buddy-bonding with Diego (Rafael de la Fuentes).

4. Tony (Mauricio Henao) is a gay-vague oddball outsider.
















5. Manu (Jesus Neyra), who attends the evil wizard's academy, is a gay-vague villain with designs on Daniel.  Jesus Neyra, who is heterosexual in real life, has played several gay characters.

You have to speak Spanish to watch, but rumor has it that an English-dubbed version will be airing this summer.












Apr 28, 2013

Robbie and Pua Magasiva: Pro-Gay Kiwi Superstuds

The Samoan-born brothers Robbie and Pua Magasiva have been making a splash in New Zealand, due to their spectacular physiques and comedic talent.  They belonged to the Naked Samoans comedy team, and they have starred together in Power Rangers: Ninja Storm, Auckland Daze, the soap Shortland Street.  

Their most famous movie role is the buddy comedy Sione's Wedding, aka Samoan Wedding (2006).  Pua (left) plays Sione, who is getting married, and Robbie one of his bffs, all barred from attending until they "man up" by getting girlfriends.





Robbie, the eldest (born in 1970), has played several buddy-bonding roles, including Stickmen (2001), about an underground pool tournament,

Not to mention several gay positive roles, such as head stripper Adam Lima in the tv series The Strip (2002-03), which included gay and drag queen characters.














He had a homophobic moment when he complained that his "least memorable role" was Air Force Two Down, aka In Her Line of Fire (2006), because it was for "gay audiences."  It wasn't, although there were lesbian characters.

And a joke in Sione's 2: Unfinished Business (2012) had gay viewers upset:

One of the character's girlfriends has hired a personal trainer, but it's ok because he's gay.  Michael (Robbie) replies, “All girls tell their guys their personal trainers are gay”. Apprised that the trainer’s name is Marcel, Michael says, “Okay, that does sound pretty gay.”

Not nearly as homophobic as standard American buddy-humor.

But younger brother Pua (born in 1980) is aggressively gay-friendly.  He participated in the anti-bullying "Stop the Hate" campaign sponsored by the Rotorua Daily Post, and he played a gay character on stage in Tarell McCraney's The Brothers Size, about two Louisiana brothers, the younger, Oshoosi (Pua), just released from prison along with his male lover.









He also appeared in an Auckland stage production of Robert Lord's comedy Well Hung. 

In addition to his ongoing role as a male nurse who takes off his shirt incessantly on Shortland Street.

Que Pasa, USA: Bilingual Beefcake

I took Spanish every year from fifth grade through high school, but it might as well have been Klingon.  We never met a native speaker except for a teacher, we never heard it spoken on the street, we never saw it written on signs or posters.

So when PBS began to air Que Pasa, U.S.A.? in 1977, we watched eagerly, and even wrote reports on it to present to the class.





It was a sitcom about a family of Cuban immigrants in Miami.  The grandparents, Abuela Adela and Abuelo Antonio, spoke only Spanish.  The parents, Pepe and Juana Pena, spoke some English.  And the teenagers, Joe and Carmen, were native English speakers.

To accommodate both English and Spanish-speaking viewers, characters translated for each other, repeated statements twice, or made their meaning clear through context.






The plots mostly involved culture clash between traditional Cuban and "modern" American mores.  The grandparents are aghast when Carmen dates a black man.










 Joe does a report on gay people for his school newspaper (including a night in a gay club for research), and everyone assumes that he is gay.

In addition to the gay plotline, Rocky Echevarria, who played Joe, provided ample beefcake.  He usually wore an open shirt and extremely tight jeans, and there were occasional bathrobe or swimsuit shots.








Renamed Stephen Bauer, he went on to a long career as action heroes, gangsters, and streetwise cops, including the homoerotic best buddy of Al Pacino's Scarface (1983).  His penchant for very tight pants continued.

He also originated the gay character of Martin in  Bent on Broadway (1980), and starred in the gay-themed Versace Murder (1998).

In the 1980s, we began to get Telemundo, which opened up a whole world of Spanish-language programs, including Papa soltero


Spring 1978: Husbands, Wives, and Lovers

The spring of 1978, my senior year in high school.  I devised a clever scheme to avoid having to date girls: I would ask out a supermodel-cheerleader laughably out of my league.  Then, when she slammed the phone down, or had to wash her hair that night, my parents would "console" me by letting me borrow the car anyway.  So on Friday nights I went out with boys, to movies, to get pizza, to Leonard Bernstein's Mass at Augustana College, to the spring musical.

We would get back to my place or his place about 9:00 and turn on the tv set just in time to hear the jazzy, risque theme song to Husbands, Wives, and Lovers ("and luuv-errrrs"), produced by gay-friendly comedian Joan Rivers.

 It was the first time any man and woman on tv had lived together without being married, and hearing about it made us feel grown-up and sophisticated and sexy. Besides, gay people always called their partners lovers.

We also liked the beefcake-heavy opening credits,  in which five couples are seen in bed together, none of them in the least amorous (I don't know the names of any of the characters).

1. Cynthia Harris tries to get the elderly Stephen Pearlman interested, but he's listening to his own heartbeat with a stethoscope.

2. Lynne Marie Stewart tries to get  hunky, open-shirted Eddie Barth (left) interested, but he's busy eating a sandwich.

3. Ron Rifkin argues with Jessie Welles, takes a pillow, and storms off to sleep elsewhere.  A familiar face on tv, Rifkin later played a middle-aged gay man on Brothers and Sisters.

4. The vain Charles Siebert (seen here on Trapper John MD with Gary Frank) wrests a mirror from Claudette Nevins' hand and uses it to admire himself.

5. Mark Lonow (top photo) waits in anticipation while Randee Heller strips, but he doesn't like the results, and rejects her.

Apparently none of the men were particularly attracted to women.

We didn't continue watching; we changed the channel to Monty Python's Flying Circus on PBS.

Apparently lots of people were changing the channel: Husbands, Wives, and Lovers ended after only nine episodes.  Maybe because nobody wanted to see an hour long comedy?  Or because it aired right after a two-hour block of kid-friendly superhero adventure shows? Or because the elderly people home at 9:00 pm on Saturday nights took offense at lovers?

 But it's surprising how many Boomers remember it.  Or at least the opening credits.