May 8, 2015

The Carpenters: A Brother and Sister Pretend to be in Love

Nazarenes disapproved of rock music, which they defined as basically any music performed by a group with guitars.

They disapproved of songs that mentioned alcohol, tobacco, extramarital sex, or divorce.  That let out all of country-western music.

They disapproved of songs that mentioned premarital sex or dancing.  That let out disco.

In the 1970s, there weren't a lot of songs left.

For instance, let's look at the Top 40 for the week of  August 25th, 1975, when I was starting high school.   Only one was permitted:

1. "Get Down Tonight" (KC and the Sunshine Band): dancing and sex.
2. "Falling in Love" (Hamilton and Reynolds): sex.
3. "Rhinestone Cowboy" (Glen Campbell): alcohol.
4. "One of these Nights" (Eagles): sex.
5. "How Sweet It Is" (James Taylor): sex.
6. "Jive Talkin'" (The Bee Gees): dancing and sex.
7. "At Seventeen" (Janis Ian): dancing
8. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" (Elton John): ok.  (They didn't know he was gay)
9. "Why Can't We Be Friends" (War): alcohol.
10. "Fight the Power" (Isley Brothers): dancing.

Now how about the week of November 13, 1977, when I celebrated my 17th birthday. Two were ok:

1. "You Light Up My Life" (Debby Boone): sex.
2. "Boogie Nights" (Heatwave): sex and dancing.
3. "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" (Crystal Gayle): ok
4. "It's Ecstasy" (Barry White): sex
5. "Baby, What a Big Surprise" (Chicago): sex
6. "How Deep is Your Love" (The Bee Gees): sex and dancing.
7. "Heaven on the 7th Floor" (Paul Nicholas): sex.
8. "Blue Bayou" (Linda Rondstadt): ok.
9. "We're All Alone" (Rita Coolidge): sex
10. "Nobody Does It Better" (Carly Simon): sex

That means at Nazarene parties and Afterglows, we spent a lot of time listening to the Carpenters.

During the early 1970s, everywhere you'd go, you'd hear the warbling treacle of Karen Carpenter, accompanied by Richard.  No sex, no dancing, no booze, just love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love....

"I think I'm gonna be sad, I think it's today."
"Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?"
 "We've only just begun to live, white lace and promises.."

"Love, look at the two of us, strangers in so many ways."
"Rainy days and Mondays always get me down."
"Long ago, and oh so far away, I fell in love with you before the second show."

Well, you get the idea.

They were past their prime by the time I hit high school, but we played them at every party and Afterglow anyway.

We all assumed that Karen and Richard Carpenter were husband and wife.  Not until Karen's tragic death from anorexia in 1983 did I find out that they were actually brother and sister.

Singing all those gushy love songs to her brother?  Photographs in super-romantic heterosexual boy-girl modes?  Shockingly incestuous!

But then, they weren't really involved in a romantic relationship.  They were just pretending.  Sort of demolishes the heteronormative myth, doesn't it?

Besides, Richard had a nice smile, a slim hippie physique, and obvious beneath-the-belt gifts (check out this photo).  If you could just look at him without having to listen his sister singing "Love, look at the two of us."

In the 1970s, Karen and Richard were both icons among gay men and lesbians of a certain age, and widely assumed gay.  Karen may have been; Richard, probably not.

You're probably wondering why an article on the Carpenters has a photo of Tom Daly, the gay Olympic swimmer.

Because when you google "Richard Carpenter" and "shirtless," he pops up.

See also: Donny Osmond.

May 6, 2015

David Faustino: Deliberate Gay Subtexts

David Faustino is best known for the acerbic Married..with Children (1987-1997), which skewered the Reagan-Bush Era obsession with "family values" by presenting a heterosexual nuclear family in the most unflattering light possible.  He played sarcastic son Bud, who, in later seasons, developed an amazingly muscular physique.

After Married, David played gay characters in Get Your Stuff (2000) and in Killer Bud (2001), and in Ten Attitudes (2001), he played "himself," not gay but on the gay dating circuit (for a sleazy reason).

In 2008 he was cast as the lead in The Gay Robot, a pilot for a tv series, a gay robot.  The project was never filmed, but the script might have been tweaked into the movie Robodoc (2009)

David hasn't played any specifically-identified gay characters since, but he often introduces gay subtexts deliberately into his work:

In his web series Star-Ving (2009), he plays"himself" as a has-been, starving actor whose only source of income is a sleazy porn shop.  There is a deliberate gay subtext in his relationship with his best buddy, Corin Nemic (another "has-been" actor from Parker Lewis Can't Lose), plus a lot of nudity (mostly in a failed attempt to demonstrate how "ugly" the extremely attractive Faustino is).

The web series Bad Samaritans (2013) is about some minor criminals assigned community service.  David plays Dax Wendell, their deliberately gay-vague parole officer, who had delusions of grandeur and often got into dangerous situations.

According to his tweets, David is heterosexual but a strong gay ally.

May 4, 2015

Who is Gay in "Get Fuzzy"?

Stephen Pastis (born 1967) and Darby Conley (born 1970) both belong to the new generation of comic strip artists who create "edgy" material rather than endlessly repeating gags about husbands asleep on couches and pot roasts in the oven. Their strips, Pearls Before Swine and Get Fuzzy, began at the same time (1999 and 2001, respectively).  They both feature a grumpy, bigoted animal and his goodnatured sidekick.

But they could not be more different.

Get Fuzzy (the title means something like "think outside the box") is set in a naturalistic world, with recognizably normal streets and houses, people who have jobs, buy groceries, and get back injuries.  Cats and dogs can talk, read books, and use money, but they are still dependent on humans; they are less house pets than adopted children.

The central character, Rob Wilco, is a 20-something advertising executive living in Boston, a nerd who reads Harry Potter and follows New Zealand rugby, a liberal who supports Greenpeace and animal rights. Occasionally his friends and members of his family show up, but most strips involve interactions with his pets/children:
1. Satchel, a gentle, dopey, and somewhat feminine dog
2. Bucky, an angry, bigoted cat.

The first years of the strip were the best, with plot arcs involving Bucky's feud with the ferret next door that eventually ends up on Judge Judy; a trip to Canada, where Satchel reconciles with his long-lost father; and an extended visit by the Manchester-accented Mac Manc McMax.  More recently, the strips have been gag-a-day jokes about Bucky saying something idiotic about liberals, Canadians, vegetarians, women, or humans in general, and Rob shutting him down.

Gay references -- without using the term -- are scattered throughout the strips.  Mac misunderstands the term "drag racing."  Rob suggests a domestic partnership between male dogs.  Satchel, who has been hiding in the closet, announces that he's "coming out," and Bucky says "I've been waiting three years for you to say that."

Although Satchel often falls in love with female dogs and humans, he has many feminine traits, which Bucky uses as evidence that he's gay. In one strip, he asks Rob, "Why are you hiding it from me?  There's nothing wrong with it?"  Rob says that "He's not...", whereupon Satchel rushes into the room to announce that his new Barbra Streisand album is "Fabulous!'  Bucky points and stares.

Perhaps more interesting is the fan speculation that Rob himself is gay.  He's a single parent with two adopted "children."  He is young, attractive, and well-off financially, certainly able to attract partners, but he is never shown dating women.  When relatives comment on his lack of female dates, he angrily tells them to drop the subject.

Of course, Rob is never shown dating men, either.  In early strips he was sometimes shown hanging out with a male friend named Joe, but in 2007 Joe was definitively dropped from the strip -- he got a job in France and moved away.

To alleviate suspicion that Rob is gay?

See also: Pearls Before Swine.

May 3, 2015

Bamm-Bamm's Muscles: Gay Promise on "The Flintstones"

Quick, name a cartoon character who came from outer space, was adopted by a human family, and has superpowers?

Right, Bamm-Bamm Rubble.

In an October 3rd, 1963 episode of The Flintstones, about "a modern prehistoric family," Betty and Barney Rubble are upset because they can't have children -- apparently Barney's sperm count is a little low.  They wish on a falling star, and the next morning a baby appears on their doorstep, asleep in a turtle shell, holding a club.

He can only say "Bamm-Bamm," so that becomes his name. He turns out to have superhuman strength, easily carrying furniture and tossing his adopted father around.

As a kid in the 1960s, I was intrigued by Bamm-Bamm's mysterious origin.  Could he be an alien -- a falling star could mean a UFO!  His white hair certainly looked alien.  And the superhuman strength surely meant super muscles!

I didn't see The Flintstones often, so I didn't notice that the writers failed to make much use of Bamm-Bamm's potential.  His supernatural origins were rarely mentioned, and his super-strength became little more than a comic nuisance.

No gay symbolism: in fact, he began expressing toddler heterosexual interest, mooning over toddler-next-door Pebbles, romancing her in baby-talk.  Eventually they were closing episodes by singing the treacly Sunday-school song "Open Up Your Heart (and Let the Sun Shine In)."

In 1971, a highly publicized spin-off appeared, The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show (1971-72, and rerun long after).  With the characters as teenagers!  I watched the first episode instead of the beefcake-heavy live-action Barrier Reef, to see if Bamm-Bamm had transformed into Superboy.

Nope.  No mysterous origin.  No superstrength.  Bamm-Bamm wasn't even built -- he had skinny arms and legs and a shapeless lump of a body.  He and Pebbles went to high school and belonged to a rock band, like everyone on Saturday morning in the 1970s.

I didn't bother with the three tv movies in the 1990s that aged Bamm-Bamm into adulthood.  Apparently he and Pebbles marry and move to Hollyrock, where he becomes a screen writer.  They have two children, Roxy and Chip.

A heterosexist conclusion to a story loaded with gay promise.

At least the Bamm-Bamm costume allows for some interesting cosplay.

See also: The Flintstones and Saturday Morning Muscle.


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