May 2, 2015

200,000 Photos of Naked Harvard Men

From 1940 to sometime in the 1970s, all incoming freshmen at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and some of the sister schools, including future presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, were photographed.  Naked.  Three shots: front, back, and side.   No black boxes -- penis in full view.

Some were told that it was to check their posture.  Others, to check them for rickets. But actually it was the pet project of Columbia University Professor William H. Sheldon (1898-1977) and Harvard University Professor Earnest Hooten (1887-1954), who said they were interested in somatotyping.

Classifying human bodies by size and shape, and determining how those shapes influenced personality.

They had already taken nude photos of 400 undergraduate men at the University of Chicago and 200 juvenile delinquents in Boston.  Hooten died in 1954, but Sheldon continued, photographing men in the military, in hospitals, in colleges, in prisons, until by the end of his life he had accumulated 200,000 photographs of men and 2,000 of women.

During the 1970s, Harvard was embarrassed by the study, and hid the photos away in a storage bin.  Eventually most were destroyed. See, you can't go around just taking pictures of random naked guys, even with a "scientific" goal.  It's a violation of their privacy.

But you can see some samples online, and several hundred in Sheldon's book, Atlas of Men (1954), with clever little taglines comparing them to animals: "paleolithic tiger," "dugongs and manatees."

Sheldon divided male bodies into three types: endomorph (fat), mesomorph (muscular), and ectomorph (skinny), and discovered that juvenile delinquents were likely to be mesomorphs, while Ivy League freshmen were more likely to be ectomorphs.

Also, ectomorphs are bigger beneath the belt.  Or at least it shows better.

Nice to know when you're cruising.

An obsession with taking nude photographs of young men.  Were Sheldon and Hooten gay?

Neither married women, but Hooten spearheaded the famous purge of Harvard "homosexuals" in 1920, along with his friend and roommate Lester Wilcox.

Maybe he was protesting too much.

May 1, 2015

Virgil Finlay: Pictures of Naked Astronauts

When I was a kid in the 1960s, we were all revved up on space exploration -- Lost in Space, Star Trek, the juvenile novels of Robert Silverberg and Robert Heinlein.  Our games involves outer space.  Even our breakfast cereal was Quisp, starring an alien from outer space.

None of these were very good for beefcake -- astronauts kept their clothes on.

So I was pleasantly surprised, at the age of nine or ten, to find this drawing in The Complete Book of Space Travel, by Albro Gaul.(1956), in the Denkmann Elementary School Library. It illustrates the physical requirements for becoming an astronaut: normal height, blood pressure, and so on.

It was the only picture of a shirtless astronaut that I had ever seen.  I checked out the book over and over again, memorizing the thick, shining muscles of the chest and shoulders, the stalwart expression, the weirdly shaped space helmet, the bulge in his shorts.  I repeated the name the illustrator, Virgil Finlay, like an charm.

Then I moved on to Washington Junior High, which didn't have The Complete Book of Space Travel in its library, and forgot about it.

Recently I looked up this Virgil Finlay (1914-1971), who drew one of the most iconic pictures of my childhood.  He became interested in science fiction while in high school, and published cover and interior illustrations in most of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror pulps of the 1930s and 1940s, winning a Hugo Award in 1953.  As the pulp magazine market faded away, he began to illustrate astrology magazines, reprints of Shakespearean plays, and novels.

Although he drew many muscular, semi-nude male astronauts, barbarian heroes, and gods, Finlay also drew women: there have been two collections of his female illustrations (it may have been a marketing strategy: most of his intended audience wanted to see women).

He was married for most of his life, and there is no evidence of any association with the 1960s gay community, although one of his illustrations, "The Oracle of Victory" (Famous Fantastic Mysteries, 1952) was borrowed to illustrate Growing Up Gay: A Youth Liberation Pamplet (Michigan, 1976).

Still, when you look at the loving detail Finlay extended to the erotic potential of his male illustrations, you can't help but wonder.

Apr 28, 2015

Smalltown Boy: Subtext Songs of the 1980s

After the demise of the drag-queen ABBA and the faux-gay Village People, I started listening to popular music more aggressively, looking for "real" gay-friendly songs. Or at least songs with subtexts.  I found no depictions of same-sex romance, anywhere -- the most you could hope for was a dropped pronoun.  But a few Top 40 Hits -- one or two per year -- were about the search for a Good Place, or celebrations of male beauty (with beefcake-heavy music videos), and or just about being proud of your identity.

1. "Physical" (Olivia Newton-John, 1981).

2. "I'm Coming Out" (Diana Ross, 1981).  Ms. Ross claimed that it was about teenage girls "coming out" into high society, but gay teens knew what it was really about:
I'm coming out -- I want the world to know, got to let it show.

3. "It's Raining Men" (The Weather Girls, 1982).  The catchy beat made it easy to appropriate.  I didn't even mind the heterosexism:
God bless Mother Nature, she's a single woman too
She took off to heaven, and she did what she had to do
She taught every angel to rearrange the sky,
So that each and every woman could find a perfect guy.

4. "Self-Control" (Laura Branigan, 1982).  She goes to a mostly heterosexual orgy, screams when hands reach out to grab her, and ends up sleeping with a mysterious man in a white mask and red gloves, but in a era where gay teens had to live in masks, a celebration of the night resonated:
Oh the night is my world. City lights, painted girls.
I must believe in something, so I guess I'll just believe that this night will never go. 

5. "Holiday" (Madonna, 1983). No gay people mentioned, but coming out often required forgetting about years of pain: it's time for the good times -- forget about the bad times.

6. "So Many Men, So Little Time" (Miquel Brown, 1983).  A woman praises heterosexual one-night stands, but you could also use it to praise the joy of boy-watching.
Each new one I meet makes my heart beat faster, when I see them so strong and tall.
So many men, so little time. How can I lose?  
So many men, so little time.  How can I choose?

7. "Relax" (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, 1983).

8. "I Am What I Am" (Gloria Gaynor, 1983) could be read as a response to the bigots (and there were a lot of bigots) who kept screaming that gays were worthless, subhuman, monsters out to destroy the world.
I am good, I am strong, I am somebody, I do belong.
I am useful, I am true, I am worthy, I am as good as you.

9. "Smalltown Boy" (Bronski Beat, 1984).  I didn't realize at the time that the boy was leaving town to escape homophobic harassment --but it could easily be applied to anyone searching for a "good place." (and I liked the music video with the smalltown boy swimmer in tight speedos).

The answers you seek will never be found at home.
The love that you need will never be found at home.

10. "Let's Hear it for the Boy" (Deniece Williams, 1984).

Not much after.  AIDS, conservative retrenchment, and the re-demonization of gay people eliminated even those few songs that could be appropriated.  In 1985, Madonna was singing "Like a Virgin" (about sex, not pride), Wham started making their previously androgynous songs gender specific (I said you were the perfect girl for me), and the vigorously homophobic Eddie Murphy was inviting heterosexuals to "Party All the Time."

See also: Ocho Rios: Tracking Down a Jamaican Bodybuilder; and Culture Club

Apr 26, 2015

The Top 10 Hunks of "Orange is the New Black"

I've been watching Orange is the New Black, the Netflix series based on the memoirs of Piper Kerman, a spoiled rich girl whose thirst for adventure led her to drug-running, and a 15-month sentence in federal prison.

It's not Oz.  Bloody beating is rare, rape practically non-existent.  Plotlines involve catching an elusive chicken, a missing screwdriver, and a fundamentalist Christian who tries to install a gigantic cross in the chapel.  Plus the backstories and ongoing drama of a cast of quirky characters.

Lesbian relationships -- and hookups -- are commonplace.  Even Piper, who identifies as bisexual, gets involved with the ex-girlfriend who drew her into the drug trade in the first place.

Plus there's a transwoman played by an actual transwoman, Laverne Cox, who became the first transgender person to be nominated for a prime time Emmy and to appear on the cover of Time magazine.

Even though it's set in a woman's prison, there is ample beefcake: male guards, boyfriends, guys from the backstories.

1. Jason Biggs (top photo), grown up considerably since his salad days in those horrible American Pie movies, as Larry Bloom, Piper's ex-fiance, who is writing an expose of prison conditions.

2. It came as quite a shock when naive young guard John Bennett (Matt McGorry, left), who is having an affair with the inmate Daya, first took his clothes off.  He has a bodybuilder's physique!

3. Nick Stevenson plays Pete Harper, the husband (then ex-husband) of the woman Larry is having an affair with.  When he finds out, he goes on a rampage and punches Larry in the face.

4. Chubby redhead Michael Chernus as Piper's hippie brother, who lives in a van in the woods.

5. Bodybuiilder Alexander Wraith plays Vasily Reznikov, son of Red, the Russian woman who runs the prison kitchen.  He helps Red smuggle contraband.

More after the break.


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