Sep 26, 2015

Tiny Toon Adventures

Everyone misunderstands the Tiny Toons.  They weren't kid versions of classic Warner Brothers characters -- Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and so on.  They weren't the offspring of the classic Warner Brothers characters.  And they weren't tiny -- they were adolescents, aged 13-15.  They lived with their parents while attending  Acme Looniversity, where the classic characters taught them the art of being toons.

After years of decline -- no new cartoons, old ones chopped to bits to eliminate the violence  -- Warner Brothers was trying to modernize for a new generation of fans.  So the Tiny Toons began appearing in after-school time slots, first in syndication (1990-1992), and then on the Fox network (1992-1995).

  They drew on the personalities of the classic characters, but their adventures were strictly modern, involving video games, cell phones, and lots of sly references to 1990s pop culture, from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to Roseanne Barr.

There were no domestic partnerships, as in the Hanna Barbara cartoons of a generation before. Instead, the characters displayed the heterosexism of the major teen sitcoms of the era (Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Boy Meets World, California Dreams), with lots of dating and romance. But there were plenty of subtexts.

Plucky, an egotistical duck, and Hamton, a shy, sensible pig, are partnered for a number of adventures, including parodies of Batman and Star Trekand sometimes are shown living together.  They break up, seek out other "best friends," realize how much they care for each other, and reconcile.

The human character Elmyra usually lacks heterosexual interest -- she is busy hugging and squeezing "cute little animals" to death.  But in one episode, she falls in love with a new girl named Rhonda Queen, and goes to absurd lengths to try to win her affection.

The character of Gogo Dodo also lacks heterosexual interest, and brings a vacuum cleaner to the school dance.

The gay kids in the audience had a lot to identify with.  A lot more than Animaniacs, which replaced Tiny Toon Adventures in 1993.  Even more than in the contemporary Looney Tunes Show.

See also: Animaniacs

Why You Shouldn't Boycott "Stonewall"

Every LGBT person knows, or should know, that on the night of June 28th, 1969, patrons of a Greenwich Village dive bar called the Stonewall Inn fought back against police harassment, starting a rebellion that would result in the decriminalization and depathologization of gay people, hundreds of gay-positive churches, thousands of gay elected officials, gay studies courses and majors at hundreds of colleges, and positive media images, including the new Stonewall movie.

Stonewall wasn't sacralized until the late 1970s, when gay historians such as John D'Emilio and Jonathan Katz seized upon it as The Moment That Changed Everything.  That contention has been  been disputed -- Stonewall got no media attention at the time, so no one outside of New York City knew that it happened.  There had already been many rebellions against harassment, and lots of gay organizations were already in operation.

It's a little simplistic to talk about "Gay Life Before/After Stonewall."

Still, it sounds more substantive, more definitive, than "Gay Life Before/After the Black Cat" or "Gay Life Before/After Compton's Cafeteria."

In the 40 years since, Stonewall has undeniably united us as a people with a history and a destiny.

I haven't seen the 2015 Stonewall movie, directed by Roland Emmerich -- it's not playing here -- but it's apparently about a young, white, clean-cut, heart-throb type guy in a 2015 haircut named Danny Winters (Troy Irvine, who has muscles and a bulge to draw in the gay male audience).

He arrives in New York from, I mean Indiana, meets a group of nonwhite, transgender, and colorfully-dressed gay hippies, and helps them overthrow the Wicked Witch of the, I mean Ed Murphy, the Big Bad who runs, I mean the Stonewall Inn.

It's not just the plot of The Wizard of Oz -- it's the plot of every colonialist movie every made, from Tarzan on down.

We now know who threw the first brick at Stonewall -- not any of the real people, who were really there, and claim the honor -- but the young, white, clean-cut, heart-throb leader of the natives, Danny Winters.

And apparently the 1960s gay people have a distinctly 2015 mentality, responding to their exploitation (with Danny's help) as if it were happening today.  No 1960s closets for them!

And apparently the heavy-handed "We Must Fight Oppression!" dialogue sounds like it comes from a movie musical, not a serious historical drama.  In this shot, one does expect them to break out to song.

But this isn't a review -- I can't review a movie I haven't seen.  It's a reflection.

Stonewall has been released.

A positive movie about LGBT people, with a gay director and some gay actors in the cast, has been written, directed, produced, and released.  

Isn't that, in itself, a cause for celebration?

See also: The Stonewall Veteran and the Bodybuilder in the Park.

Sep 23, 2015

The Beefcake is Back: Axl in Underwear on "The Middle"

Beefcake alert -- I just saw the season premiere of The Middle.  The episode itself wasn't great -- about Sue going off to college.  But Axl (Charlie McDermott) spent the entire first two acts in his underwear.

He was fully clothed most of last season.

It's nice to see the beefcake back.

I've been watching The Middle since it premiered in 2009.  It's a striking contrast to Modern Family, which comes on ABC shortly afterwards: two "family sitcoms," but the families are rich/poor, big city/small town, West Coast/Middle America, and inclusive/not-inclusive

White -- all white all the time.  Christian.  And heterosexual.  I was holding out for quirky youngest kid Brick (Atticus Shaffer) to be gay, but nope, he "discovered" girls, and now he's as hetero-horny as his brother Axl.

The flamboyantly feminine Brad, one of high schooler Sue's friends, appears occasionally.  But the joke is that no one thinks that he's gay except Sue's parents.  Not even him.

Other than that, nothing.  Not a word or a scene suggesting that same-sex desire, behavior, or identity exists.  This is a complete, utter heterosexist wasteland.

To what can we attribute this void?

Maybe the producers, Eileen Heisler and Deanne Heline believe that all gay people live in L.A. or Manhattan, so Orson, Indiana must obviously be gay-free.

Or the suits at ABC

Or the cast.  Most are not exactly gay allies:

1. Patricia Heaton (Mom Frankie), formerly the wife on the heterosexist Everybody Loves Raymond, is openly conservative, although she states that she has gay friends.  She complains that the kids of The Middle would never display themselves as sexual objects, like the kids of Glee.  Um...Axl and his friends are displayed semi-nude in nearly every episode because....?

2. Neil Flynn (Dad Mike), formerly the sardonic janitor on Scrubs, doesn't have any gay roles on his resume and hasn't made any pro-gay statements.

3. Charlie McDermott (the shirtless Axl) has played in several movies with "aren't gay people ridiculous?" jokes, such as Sex Drive (2008) and Hot Tub Time Machine (2010).

4. Eden Sher (the over-enthusiastic Sue) has a gay best friend.

5. Atticus Shaffer (Brick) had a role in the homophobic Year One (2009), but he was only 11 years old at the time, so you can't really blame him.  He hasn't made any pro- or anti-gay statements.

I guess we'll have to make do with subtexts.

See also: Raising Hope/The Middle and Brock Ciarlelli: The Uncle Tom of The Middle

Watching the Muppet Show

I didn't watch the premiere of The Muppets last night.  I was worried that it would remind me too much of my college days, when I watched the original Muppet Show.  

Or that it wouldn't.

In college I spent most of my free time in a little bookstore off the Student Union lobby that looked and felt like an old-fashioned living room, with a writing-desk for a checkout counter, low mahogany-stained bookcases, two armchairs, and a green couch by the western window. It stocked some bestsellers and miscellaneous nonfiction, including The Little Prince and Dag Hammarskjold's Markings but mostly science fiction and fantasy, with some underground comics under the counter.

It provided a bright belonging place for "head cases," boy who were majoring in English or philosophy or music, who wanted something greater and nobler from life than carrying briefcases into skyscrapers.  We called ourselves the Bookstore Gang.

During any hour of the afternoon and early evening, half a dozen members of the Bookstore Gang could be found standing by the counter, or sitting on it, or browsing through the shelves, or reading in the armchairs or green couch that blazed with western sunlight.  We discussed classes, comic books, movies, ghosts, and politics, but for some reason never girls.  When the bookstore closed, we adjourned to the Rathskeller or to the TV Lounge, to argue and advise and review, discussing The Wizard of Id or Saturday Night Live, yelling "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" while stuck-up Business Majors stared.

Everything we watched or listened to or read was hip, anarchic, iconoclastic, but my favorite was The Muppet Show (1976-81), with Kermit the Frog from Sesame Street hosting a comedy-variety show, juxtaposing parodies of medical dramas or Star Trek (" space")  with musical numbers, while the elderly gay couple Statler and Waldorf heckled everything (except for the famous guest stars, of course).

And what a cast of guest stars!  Everybody who was anybody stopped by:
Joan Baez
Milton Berle
Bert and Ernie
Joel Grey
Arlo Guthrie
Vincent Price
Tony Randall
Sylvester Stallone

Other hip, anarchic, iconoclastic tv programs and movies -- Monte Python, Mary Hartman, Saturday Night Live, WKRP in Cincinnati, Blazing Saddles, The Cheap Detective, Silent Movie -- were loaded down with fag jokes and hetero-horniness, but The Muppet Show had neither.

Only Miss Piggy regularly displayed heterosexual interest -- at Kermit and various male guest stars -- and she was always rejected. And instead of constantly ridiculing gender transgressions, same-sex contact, and "fags," like most venues in the 1970s, The Muppet Show offered a pleasant nonchalance about diversity in size, shape, affect, and affection (who knew what Gonzo the Great was into?).

Muppet creator Jim Henson was a gay ally, as is his daughter Lisa, now CEO of Jim Henson Enterprises. In 2012, the company severed ties with Chick-Fil-A due to its homophobic bias, and donated existing proceeds to GLAAD.

I always knew that the Muppets were gay-friendly.

Sep 21, 2015

Jack Larson and other TV Jimmy Olsens

In an April 1940 episode of the radio Adventures of Superman, the Man of Steel helped a young boy named Jimmy Olsen protect his mother's shop from racketeers.  Sensing audience identification, the producers soon gave Jimmy a part-time job at the Daily Planet so he could follow leads on his own, snoop around abandoned warehouses, get into trouble, and require lots of nick-of-time rescues.

Jimmy arrived in Superman comics in November 1941, somewhat older, perhaps seventeen.  He was a redhead, like the cliche sidekick in boys' adventure novels of the period, and his v-shaped torso suggested muscleman potential.  But he was never a sidekick, like Robin to Batman, or Bucky to Captain America.  Jimmy never lived with Superman, he never learned Superman's secret identity, he only participated in the adventures by accident.  Was he homoromantic partner, or merely a coworker and pal?  

In Jimmy Olsen's comic book series, which began in 1954, it doesn't take a lot to find the romantic subtext beneath the boy pal text.  But in the tv and movie versions of the mythos, things are a little different.

TV first:

1. In The Adventures of Superman (1952-58), Jimmy Olsen (former teen idol Jack Larson, top photo ) seems mostly a coworker to Superman (George Reeves). We rarely see the two together, except on the job, and even then, Lois (Noel Neill) usually forms the third.  Jimmy requires rescue alone (without Lois or Perry present) just once, when he is kidnapped by a transvestite in "Double Trouble" (1953).  He bonds with editor Perry White (John Hamilton) more often.

 Jack Larson is gay, and even states that he was out on the set during the period; maybe that explains why he kept Jimmy carefully free of any romantic feelings for Superman.

2. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-97) starred Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher as the famous couple (yes, now a couple), with the standard antipathy turning into romance ("He's so...arrogant!").

Jimmy was played by Justin Whalin, a former child star (the child of lesbian parents in a 1993 School Break special). Given the hetero-romantic story arc, it would seem that Jimmy would be a third wheel, but he actually has an unrequited crush on the hunky Clark. And there are a few Jimmy-rescues.

3. Smallville (2001-2011) was about Superboy, the teenage Clark Kent, so Jimmy (Aaron Ashmore, left, with an unidentified hunk) was not introduced until Season Six, when Clark arrived in Metropolis.

Jimmy had at least two girlfriends during his three years on the program, and expressed any romantic interest in Clark or Superman.

Clark Kent (Tom Welling) did have a homoerotic bond with a young Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), but not with Jimmy.

Not a very good record.  Where there is a gay subtext at all, it is between Clark Kent and someone else. Why has one of the most substantial and overt homoromances in all of comics failed to make it on the small screen?


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