Mar 22, 2014

The Goldbergs: 1980s Beefcake for a New Generation

Heterosexual adults always envision their adolescence as a Golden Age, simple, fun, and joyous, when people looked out for each other and you could walk down the street without fear.

Gay people know better.  Their adolescence was, at best, an age of turmoil and confusion, as they negotiated "what girl do you like?" or "what boy do you like?" interrogations and dealt with nameless, "impossible" desires.  More often it was a nightmare of homophobic harassment and internalized guilt.

So I don't have much sympathy for nostalgia tv like The Waltons (1930s), Happy Days (the 1950s), The Wonder Years (the 1960s), or That 70s Show.  Aside from the grating "Wasn't life great then, and isn't it awful now?" rhetoric, the Good Old Days being depicted is always gay-free.

The most recent nostalgia comedy is The Goldbergs (2014-), which revisits the childhood of creator Adam F. Goldberg in a working-class Jewish family in small-town Pennsylvania during the mid-1980s.


The family consists of: (left to right):
1. Dimwitted older brother Barry (Troy Gentile).
2 Adam, age 11 (Sean Giambrone), the focus character, with voice-over commentary from his adult self.
3. Self-absorbed sister Erica (Hayley Orratia)
4. Smothering Mom Beverly (Wendi McClendon-Ovey)
5. Loud, obnoxious Dad Murray (Boomer Garlin)
6. Raunchy, unpredictable grandpa, Pops (George Segal).

Their acting style is very big, with broad, theatrical gestures and loud voices.  They yell constantly over the minor conflicts that fuel the plots: a driving test; a new pair of shoes; sneaking into a R-rated movie; a talent show; a Halloween party.

It's not terrible, just loud and heterosexist.  Gay people do not exist. Everyone is absurdly hetero-horny, even 11-year old Adam.  There are a few glimmers of buddy-bonding between Barry and Ari Caldwell (gay-positive actor Jackson Odell), and between Adam and Chad (Jacob Hopkins), but with such a large family vying for attention, neither couple spends much time together.

But there is significant beefcake.  Murray has a solid bear physique and often hangs around in his underwear. Barry is an aspiring wrestler and martial artist, and appears shirtless regularly.



And look for beefcake of all sizes and shapes in minor roles, like hirsute bear Ben Zelevansky as "Dale"

Or heavily-muscled male model Tyler Stokes (far left) as Drew Kemp, son of the "perfect" family next door.








And for the preteen gay kids dragged into watching by parents who were young in the 1980s, there's Tanner Buchanan as Adam's friend Evan.

See also: The Beastie Boys







Mar 21, 2014

Fall 1990: Teaching Gay 101 at Juvenile Hall

Wrestling Tournament
After I quit my job at the Getty Consternation Institute in June 1990, I found a job as a youth counselor at Camp Routh, a juvenile probation camp (alternative to prison).

It was in Tujunga, CA, up by the Angeles National Forest, about 20 miles from West Hollywood.  There were about 50 juvenile boys, aged 15 to 18, living in cabins like summer camp). No violent offenders; mostly property crimes and drugs.  They took regular high school classes, played sports, and had individual and group counseling sessions. 

My job:
1. Leading recreational activities, including movie nights and a field trip to the L.A. County Museum of Art, and, since I had a background in wrestling, a wrestling tournament.

2. Taking kids out for movies or pizza as rewards for good behavior.


3. Since I had a background in human resources, teaching resume writing and job interviewing.

4. Plus "life skills," like how to open a checking account, how to sign a lease on an apartment -- and sex education!

Classroom at the Juvenile Camp
Imagine my embarrassment in being assigned to teach "where babies come from" to a class of 15-18 year old juvenile delinquents, most of whom had been sexually active for years!

And my consternation when I discovered that the curriculum was entirely heterosexist!

Physiological changes during puberty -- "discovery of girls" -- heterosexual dating and romance -- the mechanics of sexual intercourse -- pregnancy -- birth control -- sexually-transmitted diseases.

It was easy to change "discovery of girls" to "increased interest in sex" and drop the pronouns in the "dating and romance" chapter, but when we got to "the mechanics of sexual intercourse" with only men and women, I had to do something.


I never saw Denman shirtless
The director, a former bodybuilder named Denman, was rather conservative, always talking about faith-based counseling programs, so I didn't have much hope.

Sure enough, when I asked if I could include a unit on gay people, he stared at me as if I had said something dirty.  "Why would they need to know about that?  They're not gay."

"How do you know they're all heterosexual?" I asked.  "10% of the population is gay, so that means about five of them."

"No way!  They're just kids!"

Right, gayness is an adult "lifestyle choice."  I'd heard that one before.  "Well -- even if they're not gay, they're going to encounter gay people in their lives, and they should have some background."

He grinned.  "Oh...you mean like what to do if a homosexual tries to seduce you!  You're right, Davis -- that could be a useful skill for these kids. Lord knows they get a lot of that in juvie.  Go ahead and add it to your class!"



Of course, that's not what I added to my class.  During 3 class sessions, when Denman wasn't around, I taught "Gay 101."  It took 3 days because whenever anyone passed by close enough to hear, I switched to something about "how you know if a girl is into you."  But eventually we covered:
1. People can be gay, heterosexual, or bisexual.
2. It's not a choice or a preference.
3. You can be gay or straight and not sexually active.
4. Gay people don't all have AIDS.
5. All gay men aren't feminine, and all lesbians aren't masculine.
6. It's not illegal to be gay.
7. Lots of religions teach that being gay is ok
8. Gays don't go around trying to seduce kids.
9. Some kids are gay.
10. Homophobic harassment is bad.

They were surprisingly attentive, for a class of rowdy underachievers with no pictures or film strips.  Most of them had never heard anything about gay people before, except that they were bad, and this all came as a revelation.  Some of them had gay siblings, or gay friends; one had a gay Dad.  But no one in the class came out.

Chazz Chest
A few days after Gay 101 ended, a boy named Chazz approached me after class.  He was older, probably 17 or 18, but a little on the small side -- not a wrestler -- and very reserved around authority figure  He never talked or volunteered in class, although his homework assignments were fine.  Sometimes saw him laughing and roughhousing with his friends.

"Can you help me get a day pass?" he asked.

"Why, are you in disciplinary?" Denman was good at granting day passes for birthdays, religious holidays, a parent in the hospital, even a brother home on leave from the army.  Except if you were being confined for a disciplinary infraction.

"No, I'm good."

"Then just go and tell Denman what you need it for."

"Well, that's the thing," Chazz said.  "He wouldn't understand."

"He gave Noriega a day pass to go to his little brother's sixth grade graduation.  I'm sure he'll understand your situation."

"Well, see. . . "  Chazz reddened.  "It's my friend's birthday."

I was a little surprised.  In juvie, family was everything, your one safe haven, your bolster against the bad things of the world (they ignored the fact that many of the kids had horrible, abusive parents). Friends were always suspect, bad influences who would lead you astray.  It was not unusual for the kids to be told "stay away from this person" as part of their probation.

"I admit, that's an unusual situation, but I'm sure if you explain the situation, I'm sure you can get an exception."

"Well, see...the thing is, he's not really my friend.  He's my...um...well, my lover."

Next: Sneaking Chazz into his boyfriend's bedroom.

Mar 19, 2014

Dante's Inferno: Beefcake and Buddy-Bonding in Medieval Italy

The Divine Comedy gets a bad rap.  It's not incomprehensible, elitist, or heterosexist, like many other "great" works of literature (Ulysses and The Sound and the Fury spring to mind).  Granted, Purgatorio and Paradiso are a little dry, but what could be more interesting than the Inferno? 

 It's a tour of hell with the feel of a Dungeons and Dragons quest, or maybe the Wizard of Oz, with two guys, Dante and Virgil, buddy-bonding en route.

They have to find some way to get past Cerberus, the giant three-headed dog.  
They fight giant winged Furies.   
They tame a monster with scorpion-stingers to fly you down a treacherous cliff.   

Finally they reach the center, where Satan, a monster embedded in ice, is chewing on three traitors, one with each of its gigantic mouths. 


And how they you escape from Hell?  They have to climb down Satan's fur through the center of the Earth.

There actually is a Dante's Inferno video game, but it's much more heterosexist than the original.

Of course, the original isn't entirely free from heterosexism.  He journeys through Hell, then through Purgatory and Heaven, at the request of Beatrice.  He spent his life "deeply in love" with here, even though they only met twice (when he was 9, and again when he was 17), and on both occasions she merely said "hello."

She sounds more like an evocation of the divine, a sort of Blessed Virgin, than a real object of Dante's heterosexual longings.



And he's not nearly as homophobic as other Italians of the Middle Ages.  He did put the sodomites (gay people) in the Seventh Circle, farther down than the murderers, but not as far down as the fraudsters.   But when he meets his old teacher and guardian Brunetto Latini among them, Dante treats him the utmost of love and respect.

He also paints some sympathetic portraits of sodomites in the Purgatorio.  








Get a bilingual edition -- the original Italian is far superior to any translation.  And be sure it has the beefcake-heavy illustrations by Gustave Doré.  Or buy the illustrations separately.






Mar 18, 2014

Tom Hanks' Bachelor Party

During the 1980s, there was a fad of movies about the crazy maneuvers that hetero-horny guys go through en route to getting laid, usually with tons of female nudity and tons of racism and homophobia, as the guys are waylaid by predatory (but swishy) leathermen, transwomen, and giggling Japanese businessmen.

Bachelor Party (1984) has all of that and more.










The premise: Rick (Tom Hanks, when he was still doing comedy) is about to be married, so his friends, led by Jay (1980s fixture Adrian Zmed) throw him the mother of all bachelor parties, with "chicks and guns and fire trucks and hookers and drugs and booze."





He vows to remain faithful to his fiance, Debbie (Tawny Kitaen), but her father and snively ex-boyfriend Cole (Robert Prescott) disapprove of the union, and scheme to mess things up.

There are dominatrix hookers, lesbian strippers, male strippers, predatory transwomen, offensive-stereotype Japanese businessmen, panicked homophobic flights, kidnappings, car chases, and several "hilarious" failed suicide attempts.

So why is it worth a look for gay audiences:

1. Rick is pleasantly immune to the homophobia of his friends, and even makes a few comments suggesting homoerotic intent. When his friend Brad tries to slash his wrists with an electric razor, he says "At least our wrist will be smooth and kissable."

2. Buddy-bonding between Rick and Jay.

3. There's a tremendous amount of beefcake. All of Rick's friends strip down at one point or another. There are Chippendales dancers and a male stripper (played by Brett Baxter Clark)

4. Christopher Morley, who played the transwoman "She-Tim," was a well known drag performer of the era.

But be careful -- the homophobia is rather intense, even by 1980s standards.

See also director Neal Israel's Police Academy (1984), with Steve Guttenberg as an unconventional police cadet, with the same combination of borderline-bisexual shenanigans and homophobia.



The Naked Ghost Festival of Thailand

When I was in Thailand in 1988, I had a job to do: rescue Alan from his ex-gay mania.  So I didn't have time to drive 6 hours north of Bangkok to Dan Sai, near the Laotian border.

It's a small town with a folk museum and a famous pagoda, but not much else to draw tourists away from Bangkok and Pattaya.  Except for the Phi Ta Khon Festival ("Ghosts with Human Eyes"), held every year at different times depending on the spiritual conditions (in 2014, on the weekend of June 27th).





It commemorates an event in the life of the Buddha's last incarnation, Prince Vessantara.  He fell asleep, and his followers thought he was dead.  They decided to celebrate his escape from samsara, and made so much noise that he woke "from the dead."

The festival begins begins with a Buddhist ceremony that invokes guardian spirits, followed by a procession of the men in the village, nude except for rice-husk loincloths, covered with river mud, waving giant wooden phalluses of various sizes and shapes.



The male spectators wave phallic charms (paladkik) or giant phalluses of their own, inscribed with characters meaning "Big Man."  Apparently guardian spirits likes penises.







On the second day, there's another parade (Hae), with more semi-nude men, but generally more elaborate costumes of ghosts and monsters, with ornate masks.  Crossdressing is common.  As are penises so large that they're hard to carry.






There are prizes for the best costumes and dances.  Plus phallic rockets (Bangfai Ko) and partying all night.

The third day is devoted to Buddhist sermons, prayer and meditation.

See also: The Penis Shrine of Thailand.



Mar 17, 2014

Not-Gay Bullying on "One Life to Live"


During the last decade, conflicted gay teenagers have become a staple of daytime soap operas. But not the long-running One Life to Live, which I watched occasionally after Dark Shadows when I was a kid.

The most you can hope for are gay subtexts, like the bromance between Trevor St. John and Dan Gauthier, or the "non-gay" bullying plotline of 2011.







Shane Balsom (Austin Williams, left) came to Llanview in 2007, and was embroiled in plotlines involving paternity, not liking Mom Gigi's boyfriend, and being diagnosed with leukemia.


But by February 2011, he was 14 and a gay-vague high schooler, and he became the target of bully and all-around bad guy Jack Manning (Andrew Trischitta, top photo).






No anti-gay slurs were used, but the homophobic context was made obvious when Jack stole Shane's clothes and then posted naked pictures of him on Myface.  Shane was so upset that he attempted suicide, got a psychological evaluation "to cope," and dealt with the situation by dropping a barbell on Jack's foot.

Shane remained a gay-vague bullying victim through the next year, with plotlines involving Jack killing Gigi, but not really, Shane shooting Jack, but not really, and Shane hiring Jack's girlfriend to secretly record a confession. Finally he and his mother and new stepfather went to England, where they hoped he wouldn't be bullied so much.

Ever hear of punishing the bully?


Why didn't the writers explicitly identify Shane as gay?  Head writer Ron Carlivati explains his heterosexist reasoning here.  The answer: lots of heterosexual kids get bullied, too. We wanted this to be a human story, not a gay story.

I've heard that heterosexist nonsense before: everyone can relate to stories about heterosexuals -- it's universal human experience -- but no one who isn't gay could possibly relate to a story about gay people.

No word on whether either of the bully-victim duo is gay in real life.

Mar 16, 2014

The Top 10 Public Penises of Washington DC

Have you ever wondered why so much official American art is homoerotic?

Prague may win the award for the most public penises, but Washington, DC is a close second.  Here are the top 10 naked men in DC.


1. Horatio Greenough's statue of a muscular, naked George Washington (ok, a sheet is covering his private parts).  It used to be in the Capitol Rotunda, but now it's hidden away on the second floor of the Smithsonian.






2. The Von Steuben Memorial in Lafayette Park, by Albert Jaegers (1903).  He was a German officer who served in the Revolutionary War. The statue, called "Military Instruction," depicts a naked guy about to sit on the lap of his commanding officer.












3. The Arts of War (Leo Friedlander 1939) on the entrance to the Arlington Memorial Bridge in West Potomoc Park.  It shows a naked muscle god walking alongside a winged Pegasus.  There are several other Friedlander nudes in the park.











4. The Boy Scout Memorial (Donald De Luc, 1993) commemorates the contribution of the homophobic Boy Scouts to American culture with a scout being followed by a naked man (penis covered) and a woman.  They represent the Spirit of Manhood and Womanhood, respectively, but only the man is naked.











5. The Court of Neptune Fountain, outside the Library of Congress (Ronald Hinton Perry, 1898), features a muscular, bearded Neptune (visible penis) flanked by two muscular Tritons (hands covering their penises).  There are also nude women around.

More after the break.











The Innocents: In the South of France, Everybody Wants Everybody

Movies and tv programs typically permit same-sex relationships only when they are interracial.  The racial stratification "stands in" for gender stratification, male-female transposed into white-black in America, British-Indian in Britain, and in France French-Arab.

In The Innocents (1987), André Téchiné uses several French-Arab relationships to mirror the tensions between France and its former colonies.

The gay teenager Alain (stage actor Stephane Onfroy, in his only film appearance) has been living in the southern port city of Toulon with the Algerian Said (Abdel Kechiche), a thief and hustler.


Said's main client is the German musician Klotz (Jean-Claude Brialy), who has an Arab fetish.

Alain's sister Jeanne (Sandrine Bonnaire) arrives to look for a reconciliation, and moves in with Said and Alain.

She begins relationships with both Said and Klotz's son Stéphane (Simon de la Brosse), who is bisexual also, but has a mysterious antipathy to Said.  She suspects that they were formerly lovers.


Confused yet?  Don't be: just think "Everybody is interested in everybody," and concentrate on the beach scenes.

Turns out that Stéphane belongs a radical racist organization which set fire to an immigrant hostel, and was stabbed by Said in retribution.

They argue over Jeanne, and Stéphane has his organization target Said.

The only innocent is the gay teenager, Alain.

Many of the cast members have a gay connection.

Simon de la Brosse (1965-1998) was working as a waiter when he was discovered by gay talent agent Dominique Besnehard. for the heterosexual-awakening Pauline at the Beach (1983).  He was reputedly gay or bisexual in real life.



Jean-Claude Brialy (1933-2007) was gay.

Abdel Kechiche went on to direct the lesbian-themed Blue is the Warmest Color (2013).

The movie is not out on DVD, but you can see it on Full TV




The Secret Cabinet of Homoerotic Art

When I studied Greek and Roman art in school, I noticed something curious.  A beefcake paradise: thousands of male figures, massively muscled, exquisitely detailed bicep-bulges and hard-rock pecs.  We still use the phrase "like a Greek god" to mean a superlative physique.

But tiny beneath the belt.  More like infants than full-grown men.

Were the ancients so much smaller than their descendants in modern Greece and Italy?  Or was tiny sexy, so the artists "enhanced" their models with shrinkage.

The Straight Dope argues that indeed, in ancient Greece, small was better. It quotes the playwright Aristophanes, who says that the most desirable masculine features are: "a gleaming chest, broad shoulders,  strong buttocks, and a little ___."



But I think we were lied to. When the Victorians began digging up ancient artifacts, they were horrified by the gigantic penises, often aroused, appearing on statutes, friezes, columns, and even household implements like beakers and spoons.  So they hid them away in basements or locked "secret rooms," leaving only the tiny or hidden examples on display in museums and available for artistic study.

The most infamous of the secret rooms, the Gabinetto Segreto in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, contains art and artifacts excavated from the ruins of Pompeii.

For a long time it was inaccessible -- it was even walled off in the hope that people would forget about its existence -- but in 2000, it was finally opened to the general public (patrons under age 14 must be accompanied by an adult).

There are enormous phalluses used for every conceivable household object, men with penises longer than their legs, men and male gods having sex with men, boys, women, and goats.

There are also many naturalistic statues, ordinary sized, which is quite a refreshing change of pace after acres of smallness.

By the way, the museum is well worth a visit for its non-erotic artifacts, including one of the largest collections of Egyptian art in the world.