Jul 4, 2014

Which of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was Gay?

I'll bet you never thought you'd be reading about the ancient Greek drama Alcestis and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the same blog, on the same day.  But my search for beefcake and bonding takes me everywhere.

During the late 1980s, pundits often pointed to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they needed a quick, easy example of tv being a "vast wasteland" responsible for turning kids into brain-dead zombies.  They probably never watched the cartoon series or read the comic books: the title was enough for them.







TMNT began as a comic book in 1984, and moved into cartoons and extensive marketing tie-ins by 1987.  By 1990, everyone, even pundits, had heard of the four slacker-talking, pizza-obsessed ninja turtles named after Renaissance artists (two of whom, by the way, were gay in real life).
1. Leonardo, the leader.
2. Michelangelo, the fun-loving trickster whose catchphrase is "Cowabunga!"
3. Donatello, the technological genius and computer whiz.
4. The brooding Raphael, who has a Brooklyn accident.

They live in the sewers of New York with their beset-upon sensei, the mutant rat Splinter, emerging only to pick up the pizzas they ordered and to fight crime.  They have two human allies, tv reporter April O'Neil and hockey-mask wearing vigilante Casey Jones.

The cartoon series lasted for 10 years, and new versions are in the works.  A series of films began in 1990, with sequels in 1991, 1993, and 2007.  I've seen the first two.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) gives us the turtles' origin story, and introduces them to April (Judith Hoag), Casey (Elias Koteas), and their arch-nemesis, Shredder, an evil Darth Vader clone who heads the evil Foot gang, comprised entirely of teenage boys.




April's boss happens to have a sullen teenage son, Danny (Michael Turney), who is secretly working for the Foot gang, and eventually gets big-brothered and rehabilitated by the turtles.

Surprisingly for a movie about turtles, there is significant beefcake, in the older members of the Foot gang, and in Casey Jones, who displays biceps and a prominent bulge.

Casey and April embark on a bickering "I hate you!" hetero-romance, like that of Sam and Diane on Cheers, David and Maddie on Moonlighting, and practically everybody else in the 1980s.  But otherwise hetero-romance is limited.  Of the turtles, only Michelangelo expresses heterosexual interest.  The others enjoy surprisingly open physicality, touching, hugging, grabbing each other at will, and Raphael obviously prefers the company of men: he spends most of the movie buddy-bonding with Casey.



Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) casts a new April, and eliminates Danny, Casey, and every hint of hetero-romance.  There is none.

Instead, the turtles face a restored Foot gang and discover the secret of their origin, with the help of a befuddled scientist (David Warner, who had a romance with Gregory Peck in The Omen).  This time Raphael buddy bonds with and rescues a new teenager, pizza delivery boy/martial arts expert Keno (Ernie Reyes Jr., who played another hardbodied martial artist in Surf Ninjas).

What are we to make of this pleasant lack of hetero-horniness?  The fact that the dudes are turtles in a human world is irrelevant; anthropomorphic animals from Bugs Bunny to Howard the Duck have often been portrayed as overwhelmed with desire for human women.
The intended audience of preteens is also irrelevant: movies during the 1990s often promoted gushing prepubescent hetero-romances.

For whatever reason, the Turtles were spared.  Cowabunga, dudes.

See also: The Omen; Surf Ninjas