Jul 5, 2014

The Only Penis Drawn by Willy Pogany

My first exposure to mythology came from some older books in the Denkmann library: The Adventures of Odysseus, The Children of Odin, and The King of Ireland's Son, all written by Padraic Colum and illustrated by the Hungarian-American artist Willy Pogany (1882-1955).

He liked his models big.

Later I found some other books illustrated by Pogany.  This is my first exposure to the Faust legend.  The diabolical figure Mephistophiles is rather muscular, and naked, but I was disappointed to see that he had no penis.

Ok, for some reason  the Devil never has a penis in Western art.

But there's no excuse for Pogany's depiction of  Amfortas in the German epic Parsifal without a penis.

One might expect the advertising layout for Mohawk Rugs to feature Native Americans, but no, it's a harem of Middle Eastern boys.

Pogany was also interested in the female form. His art instruction books all have naked women on the covers, and he illustrated Pierre Louys' Songs of Bilitis (1926), poems in praise of the lesbian poetess Sapho.  Del Martin borrowed its title for the first lesbian organization in the U.S., The Daughters of Bilitis.

Also some heterosexual erotic art -- but even there, his men lack penises.

In fact, I was able to find only one penis depicted in all of his oeuvre.  Sort of:

Ray Mala: Eskimo Sex Symbol of the 1930s

In an era where nonwhite actors were typically portrayed as sexless sidekicks and villians, Inuit actor Mala, aka Ray Mala (1906-1952) found himself a sex symbol.

Which is a problem.

It's easy to find gay subtexts in the work of Sabu the Elephant Boy, the Indian actor spent the 1930s and 1940s playing androgynous teens in love with white male leads; or Keye Luke, the Chinese actor who spent World War II walking onto the set, waiting for the gasps of horror to subside, and explaining that he was Chinese, not Japanese; or even in Yul Brynner, who played a variety of "ethnic," that is, "asexual" types.

But Mala was somewhat different.

After working as a cinematographer in his native Alaska (then still a territory), and appearing in the ethnographic film Igloo, he came to Hollywood in 1925 and got a job as a cameraman.  In 1933 he starred in Eskimo, aka Mala the Magnificent, about an Eskimo and his wife who run afoul of treacherous Americans.

The film was a box office success and propelled Mala to stardom.  He went to the South Pacific for Last of the Pagans (1935), about a man and his wife fighting off evil Europeans and a volcano.

Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Isle (1936) was a movie serial starring Mala as an American secret agent investigating foul play in the South Pacific, and incidentally falling in love with a woman.

But at least he took off his shirt a lot, a rarity in the 1930s.

In Hawk of the Wilderness (1938) Mala finally got a gay-subtext vehicle. Herman Brix as a Tarzan clone raised on a tropical island in the Artic (don't ask). Mala plays his sidekick, who unfortunately dies at the end, so there's no "walking arm in arm into the sunset" scene.

Mala continued to act during the 1940s, playing a variety of servants and sidekicks, but none that I am aware of have the intensity, passion, or exclusivity of homoromance.  He also worked as a cinematographer.

He died of a heart attack at age 52.

According to wikipedia, his grandson, Ted Mala Jr., is also an actor.

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

Alcestis: A God and his Boyfriend in Ancient Greece

During my freshman year at Augustana, I took a course in Greek Literature.  We had to read The Iliad, The Homeric Hymns, and plays by Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Sophocles, and Euripides.

Of course, the professor tried his best to eliminate all traces of same-sex desire, presenting the ancient Greeks as rampaging heterosexuals.

He wasn't successful with Alcestis (438 BCE) by Euripides.

The plot synopsis makes it seem entirely heterosexist: Apollo offers to let King Admentus live past his allotted life span, if he can find someone to die in his place.  His devoted wife Alcestis offers to go.

But what actually happens is: Apollo offers Admentus immortality because he likes him. A lot.

In Greek mythology, Apollo lives with Admentus for several year before this story takes place. The lyric poet Callimachus says that they were lovers.  Thanatos (Death) even taunts Apollo about wasting his time on short-lived mortals.

Admentus has a human admirer in Hercules, who arrives without realizing that Alcestis is about to die.  Admentus is supposed to be in mourning, but he's so happy to see his friend that they spend the night carousing.

In the morning, apprised of the situation, Hercules rushes off and wrestles with Thanatos in order to bring Alcestis back to life (this is a rather a buffed Alcestis).

So it's not about hetero-romance spanning life and death after all.  It's about a man turning over Heaven and Hell to help his friend.

I never thought that Greek dramas could be staged well.  They're too alien to modern sentiments. But Alcestis has been staged several times recently, usually with Ted Hughes' 1999 translation that avoids the homoerotic subtext -- text, actually -- to concentrate on the romance between devoted husband and wife.

Here the Ted Hughes version is performed at Bates College in 2009.

There's also an opera version, Alceste, by  Gluck (1767).

In 2013, a Cuban-American troupe performed Alcestis Ascending in New York, with script by University of Alabama professor Seth Panitch. It's in Spanish and English.

See also: Greek Mythology.

Jul 3, 2014

The Top 10 Beefcake Murals of U.S. Post Offices

The people who deliver your Netflix envelopes and Amazon boxes were once responsible for a lot more.  They brought paper copies of your bills, magazines, and even messages from friends.  If you wanted to send messages of your own, you had to go to a building called a "post office" and buy a "stamp."

There are still post offices around -- older people still use them.  And if you happen to drop into one, you might get a surprise: naked men!

During the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal put dozens of artists to work painting murals and friezes on the walls of thousands of post offices all over the U.S..  They were very serious, naturalistic works, showing extremely muscular pioneers taking their shirts off to "tame the wilderness" and go to work in in agriculture or industry.

As in 1. The muscleman felling the forest in  Kenova, West Virginia (top photo), or 2. The boatswain in Plymouth, Pennsylvania (left).

Or 3. This rugged farmer making hay in Hammond, Indiana.

4. There are naked men, too, mostly muscular Indians who are solemnly handing over their land to the white settlers.  This one in Des Plaines, Illinois depicts Spanish conquistadors impressing the natives with...um, I guess cloth.

5. Though sometimes the Indians are memorialized as violent savages: this fully-naked dude is trying to defend his land...um, I mean attack a wagon train in Melrose Park, Illinois.

More after the break

The Victorian Lusts of "Angels and Insects"

Do you want to see Douglas Henshall, the hunk of the British sci-fi series Primeval, nude and fully aroused?

Are you sure?  The scene is in a rather disturbing movie.

Ok, then.  Let's begin.

William Adamson (Mark Rylance) has been studying insects in the Amazon.  He returns to stuffy, repressed, Victorian England, and has trouble re-adjusting.  The wealthy Sir Harald Alabaster (Jeremy Kemp) invites him to come live on his estate, catalog his insect collection, and teach his children about the wonders of nature.

The estate is full of dark, brooding people who dress like insects.  Like all Victorians, they have lots of secrets and repressed sexual desires.  But not the interesting desires that lead to gay romance.  Something else altogether.

Adamson becomes infatuated with the "stunning" Eugenia, who just lost her husband to suicide.  She returns the interest, and they have energetic sex, and finally marry.

By the way, the sex involves Eugenia completely nude, frontal and all, but only Adamson's torso, although you can see that he is aroused, standing at attention beneath the bedclothes.

That part is impressive, but otherwise Mark Rylance is scrawny, with no muscles at all.  He was only 35 years old in 1995, but he seems much older.

They have five children, whom Adamson doesn't care for.

Eventually he discovers the reason: they aren't his (see, you can only have an emotional bond with children who are your biological progeny.  Bad luck for gay adoption!).

 Eugenia has been having a long-term affair with her older brother Edgar (Douglas Henshall).

Everyone else on the estate knows, and has been trying to inform Adamson in cleverly veiled ways.  But he only discovers by breaking into the bedroom while they're having sex (Henshall was fully aroused by accident, but director Philip Haas decided to keep the scene instead of reshooting).

Adamson decides that he has had enough of human society.  He leaves his wife and kids and returns to the Amazon, accompanied by the governess Matty, who was in love with him all along.

Need a shower yet?

The movie, by the way, is Angels and Insects (1995).  The original story was written by A.S. Byatt, who also wrote the homophobic Possession (1990), about closeted lesbians in Victorian England. No homophobia here, just the vagaries of heterosexual lust.

Jul 1, 2014

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg and His Male Models

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853) grew up in southern Denmark, and at the age of 19 enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art.  He was schooled in the neoclassical tradition, but soon expressed an interest in more realistic-looking figures, like this beefy nude man.

In 1810 he was pushed into marriage, but a few days after his wedding, he left the country.  (His wife finally got a divorce.)

He moved to Paris, where he lived with Jens Peter Møller, and then to Rome, where he lived with renowned Danish painter Bertel Thorvaldsen.

Although he painted portraits, landscapes, historical scenes, and female nudes, his brightly-lit, naturalistic male nude figures brought him the most attention.

Here he revisits the scene from The Odyssey where Ulysses escapes from the cyclops Polyphemus, transforming it into a scene of two nude lovers in Romantic-era cave.

In another scene from The Odyssey, Ulysses returns after many years to find his wife fighting off suitors. Eckersberg made them all naked from the waiste down, and gave Ulysses a nude boyfriend, maybe Telemachus.

In 1817 Eckersberg returned to Denmark and became a member of the Academy of Art, later a professor, and then the curator.  He was commissioned to do a number of paintings for Christiansborg Palace, as well as landscapes, marine paintings, and altarpieces.

But he returned over and over to his romanticized studies of male nudes.  This one, called merely "Young Man," shows a naked young man talking to a muscular older man, his mentor, father, or boyfriend.

He often found inspiration at the Copenhagen Naval Station, where the sailors practiced swimming nude.

Eckersberg was married twice more, and fathered 10 children.  No one can deny his heterosexual interests.  But no one can deny that the Father of Danish painting found inspiration in the male form.

When he was 54 years old, he painted Carl Frørup, Standing Male Model (1837).  It was unusual for artists to include the names of their models in their titles.  I wonder if Carl Frørup was something more.

Jun 30, 2014

Summer 2005: I Escape to the Gay Haven of Slovakia

I'm not very patriotic.  I grew up in an era where gay people were never, ever mentioned, but by the time I was in college, they were mentioned a lot.  Every time I turned on the tv or picked up a newspaper, I heard an elected official screaming that I was an abomination, a cesspool of disease, a depraved psychopath who wanted to destroy society.

Voting was easy: I simply picked the least homophobic candidate.  Unfortunately, in presidential elections, the other guy usually won.

In 2000, the staggeringly homophobic George W. Bush beat Al Gore.   Everyone watched in horror as gay rights legislation came to a screeching halt, and state legislatures began issuing homophobic proclamations.

In the 2004 election, it didn't really matter who else was on the ballot.  We would have voted for Count Dracula.  But George W. Bush and his platform of homophobic hatred won again!

A lot of gay people were seriously worried.  Not just about being deprived of civil rights -- about round-ups and concentration camps.

We closeted our resumes, stopped going to gay venues, and researched escape routes for when the knock on the door came.  Barney moved to Costa Rica. Yuri moved to London.  I emailed contacts everywhere in the world to see if they could hook me up with a job.  France, Germany, Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands, Turkey....

Even working in a bar in Friesland seemed like a good idea.

Finally in the late spring of 2005,  an internet friend named Doc (top photo), who lived in Vienna, told me that they needed someone at the gymnasium (high school) where he worked.  I could get a work visa for the summer, and then apply for a permanent position in the fall.

Vienna!  That sounded great!

"It's not exactly in Vienna.  It's my summer job at a gymnasium in Levoča, Slovakia."

I looked it up in an atlas. A small town of 14,000 near the Polish border.  Sort of isolated.  But within a six-hour drive of Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Warsaw, and even, if you were so inclined, Zagreb.  We would go on a lot of weekend trips.

"What would I be teaching?  English"

"Well, maybe English.  Sure."

He sent the papers a few days later.

Only after I signed the contract did I realize that it was a vocational school.  Students took 2- or 3-year courses in auto shop, cooking, and clothing design, plus the usual history, science, and foreign languages.  I would be teaching food service management.  Maybe I could ask for an English assignment in the fall, Doc said.

Why food service?

Apparently I told him about working at the Carousel Snack Bar and the Augustana Student Union Snack Bar, for 6 years, but he didn't realize that those were part-time jobs while I was in high school and college, twenty years ago.

Also I may have mentioned that I was taking a cooking class.

Teaching food service management doesn't sound difficult: scheduling, menu preparation, hiring, food safety practices, no big deal.  But the students didn't have the academic skills for a regular high school.  The boys were loud and obnoxious.  The girls were worse.  And none of them understood English or German well.

I had a small apartment provided by the school, but for meals I had to eat in the cafeteria with the students -- mostly potatoes.

And I had to use their gym -- there was nothing good in town.

And I had to be strictly closeted.

Levoča was in a conservative region of a highly conservative country -- Bratislava didn't even have a gay pride festival until 2011.  

There were no gay venues in Levoča, not even cruising grounds, no bookstores with English or German sections, no Chinese restaurants, no museums, nothing to do except watch tv and go to Catholic masses.

At least there was some beefcake at the public pool.

Doc didn't have a car.  We had to take the train to the station at Spišská Nová Ves‎, and catch another train to get anywhere.  During my 10 weeks in Slovakia, we went to a race in Kosice and to the Tatralandia Water Park and took the train into Vienna and Budapest several times.  After the summer session ended, we rented a car and drove to Prague, Frankfurt,  Munich, and Vienna.  But other than that, we were stuck in Levoča.

In July, one of the colleges I applied to last spring came through with a job offer.  In Dayton, Ohio.

Dayton had three gay bars, weekly "bear parties," lots of Chinese restaurants, an art museum, and a Barnes and Noble.

No contest.  At the end of August I flew back to the U.S.

Even with a homophobe in the White House, there's no place like home.

See also: Shock-Headed Peter, and Jozin z Bazin, The Czech Swamp Monster

Jun 29, 2014

Lost in Space

I don't remember the first season of Lost in Space (1965-68), when the family of colonists -- waylaid en route to Alpha Centauri was having realistic science fiction adventures.  I only remember the last two seasons, where they were mostly crashed on a studio backlot, wandering around in bright pink and lavender jumpsuits, and encountering:

A lonely boy from the other side of the looking-glass (played by Michael J. Pollard).
An intergalactic zookeeper who wants them as specimens
The contestants in a Miss Galaxy pageant
A giant talking carrot

It wasn't exactly Star Trek -- well, the Star Trek episode with the space hippies was almost as bad -- but it was fun. What kid in the 1960s didn't want to be lost in space with the Robinsons?

Whatever you were interested in, there was someone for you on Lost in Space. Kids liked Billy Mumy, a busy child star with previous roles on The Twilight Zone and Village of the Giants (and later on Bless the Beasts and Children). Not only because he was cute, and knew it, getting teen idol attention at the age of twelve -- but because his character, Will Robinson, was bright and resourceful, a respected crew member, never told "you're just a kid" or "wait here where it's safe."

And Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris), an accidental stowaway who provided comic relief.  He was a big kid, an unrestrained id, gluttonous, lazy, cowardly,  incompetent -- and flamboyantly feminine.  The unabashed friendship between a young boy and an older man assumed to be gay was quite progressive in an era where gay men were often accused of being pedophiles.      

Adults liked John Robinson, the patriarch of the family (Guy Williams), who also didn't seem much interested in girls.  He had a wife, Maureen (June Lockhart), but they behaved like colleagues, with few moments of tenderness and none of intimacy.  Guy Williams had previously starred in several buddy-bonding projects, including Zorro (1957-59) and Damon and Pythias (1962).

Teens liked Don West (Mark Goddard), the resolute, non-nonsense pilot (previously seen in The Monkey's Uncle with Tommy Kirk).  Since the spaceship was crashed through most of the series, he didn't have a lot to do, and we didn't find out much about him except that he was dreamy, and not interested in girls. In early episodes, he had a romantic involvement with the older Robinson daughter, Judy (Marta Kristen), but soon it was dropped and forgotten about.

Unfortunately, the female crewmembers had even less to do than Don West.  Maureen was a respected biochemist, but she was relegated to cooking and saying "Be careful."  Judy helped her mother cook.  The youngest daughter, Penny (Angela Cartwright, previously of Make Room for Daddy), had a few adventures, mostly involving adopting weird alien animals.

There was a bit of buddy-bonding, as in the episode "The Challenge" (1966), when Kurt Russell guest stars as an alien warrior.  There was an occasional shot of a muscular alien.  But the main draw for gay kids was the boy adventurer and his flamboyant pal.

Mr. Young: Boy Genius and Buffed Best Friend Take on High School

Many teencoms involve kids doing adult things, such as running a fashion company (True Jackson, VP) or a toy company (Some Assembly Required).   Mr. Young (2011-2013), a Canadian series which sometimes appeared on Disney XD, has a kid becoming a high school teacher.

Adam Young (Brendan Meyer) is a boy genius who graduated from high school at age 9, completed college (and presumably graduate school) by age 15, and instead of taking a tenure-track position at a research university, became a science teacher at Finnegan High.  Go figure.

He's also an inventor, so there are some fantasy elements as he accidentally pumps a truth-serum gas into the school, or switches bodies with his students, or travels back in time.

His students include:
1. His goofy but surprisingly buffed childhood chum Derby (Gig Morton).
2. His crush Echo (Matreya Fedor).  Isn't there a rule about teacher-student romances?
3. The bully Slab (Kurt Ostlund), who becomes an ally.
4. His older sister Ivy

Rounding out the cast are various clueless teachers and parents, a crazy janitor reminiscent of Arvid on The Suite Life (Raugi Yu), a persnickety principal reminiscent of Moseby on The Suite Life (Milo Shandel), and some Disney Channel guest stars, including Ryan Ochoa, Nathan Kress, Brian Stepanek, and Peter Benson.

After three seasons, everyone graduates and goes on to Great Northern University, where Adam, coincidentally, has taken a professorship.  Were they expecting a spin-off?

The program was created by Dan Signer, who also inflicted A.N.T. Farm on us, so you know what it's about: sex.  Specifically heterosexual sex.  Adam and Derby wander around in tongue-lolling hetero-horny hysteria, and the plots are often about them trying to get with this or that girl.

Slab, however, expresses heterosexual interest only once, and he has some gender atypical-traits, like an interest in ballet and the ability to cry.

And there's a gay subtext bromance between Adam and Derby that often becomes physical.

No doubt unintentional.  But authorial intent is never necessary for a gay subtext.

It's not out on DVD, but episodes are available on youtube.

See also: The Suite Life of Zack and Cody  and A.N.T. Farm.