May 21, 2016

The Unbearable Movie about the Unbearable Lightness of Being

When hetero literature majors start gushing that a book is a masterpiece, the best thing ever written, you know you're in for heterosexist "boy meets girl as the meaning of life!" drivel.

When I was in grad school in comparative literature at USC, back in the 1980s, my classmates were all gushing over:
1. Ulysses.
2. The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass
3. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera.

All long and tedious, with endless passages of indecipherable prose that boil down to one central thesis: heterosexual sex is nice.

I never actually made it through any of them.  Life is short, and I hear that central thesis a thousand times a day anyway.  But earlier this week I was forced to watch the 3-hour long movie version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988).

The title refers to theories of mortality.  If there's an afterlife, then being is "heavy," but if death is the end, then being is "light."

I don't get it, either, but no matter: the movie is about having sex.

Tomas, a brain surgeon in 1968 Prague, is played by the extraordinarily ugly Daniel Day-Lewis (top photo), yet every woman -- literally -- looks at him like he's a dish of ice cream.  He has a brusque pick-up line -- "Take off your clothes" -- that works, every time. The woman begins to disrobe immediately.

To be fair, he always selects mousy, shy women with poor self-images and terrible fashion sense.  Maybe they disrobe because they want to try out a new wardrobe.

What follows is a long, lingering view of the woman's nude body and then an absurdly wild sex scene that shows her body some more but keeps Tomas completely covered up. She shrieks with ecstasy.  This happens about 15 times during the movie.

Sabine, one of his regular hookups, is having an affair with a married man (Derek de Lint) in a subplot I fell asleep for.

Meanwhile, Tomas falls in love with aspiring photographer Tereza (Juliette Binoche) and her dog, but continues telling women to take off their clothes a dozen times a day.  He explains that it's pure sex, unrelated to romance, and points out, as an example, his friend with benefits Sabine.

Tereza doesn't buy it.  But what can she do about Tomas's sexual compulsion?

She blames the evil, decadent city of Prague, and insists that they move to Geneva, but Tomas continues telling women to take off their clothes.

Maybe hooking up isn't so bad? Tereza tries a trick of her own, going home with an ugly, creepy engineer (Stellan Skarsgaard), but she doesn't like it.

Maybe if she can get Tomas away from the temptation?

She insists that they give up their careers and move to the country with one of Tomas's old brain surgery patients and his pet pig.

Tomas becomes a farmer, and Tereza becomes a housewife.  There are apparently no women for 20 miles around, so Tomas stops hooking up.

They are blatheringly happy.  They have finally discovered the meaning of life.

Then they die!  They are killed in an auto accident while driving drunk in the rain.

But this terrible tragedy is portrayed as something wondrous, with bright light and sentimental music.  They died together, they were in love, they had found the meaning of life, the unbearable lightness of being.

Oy vey.

There isn't even any beefcake -- all of the men stay fully clothed while naked women bounce around on top of them and shriek.

Besides, all of the men are extraordinarily ugly, with the exception of Clovis Cornillac, who has a brief scene as a boy who tries to pick up Tereza in a bar.

The Beefcake Art of Velazquez

In school, when you learned about Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), the great painter of the Spanish Golden Age, your teacher probably talked about how he introduced realism into the heavily stylized world of Renaissance art by depicting everyday people, drunks, peasants, workers, and dwarfs as well as the elite.

You probably didn't hear a word about his beefcake paintings, but Velazquez was also a master of the muscular male form.

This John the Baptist in the Wilderness (1622) developed some nice biceps on his diet of locusts and honey.

When you see reproductions of The Triumph of Bacchus (1628-29), they usually zero in on the three drunk workers, Los Borrachos, leaving off the beefy Greek gods who are providing the wine.

Apollo at the Forge of Vulcan (1630) also introduces a Greek god into a modern, realistic scene.  Are we supposed to find those blacksmiths grotesque?  They have obviously been working out!

Joseph's Tunic (1630) recounts the Biblical scene where Joseph's brothers bring his coat to his father Jacob to claim that he was killed by a wild animal.  But who is paying attention to that?  Your eye is drawn to the muscular backside of one of the brothers.

Christ Contemplated by the Christian Soul (1626-28): that kid is the soul, contemplating a rather beefy Jesus tied up for a non-Biblical bondage scene.

Maybe I would have liked Spanish class a little more if the teacher had brought up the beefcake instead of pontificating on the multivarious points of view in Las Meninas

The Florida Cowboy with the Footlong

Sebring, Florida, February, 2004

A Saturday morning.  Yuri bursts into my room at 6:00 am.

"Time to get up!" he exclaims.  "We must go soon.  Jake has many plans for us today."

"Jake...what?  Who?"  I murmur.

"You made me go with the sleazoid Jauvier last week, so now it is my turn.  I told you before, remember?  Jake, I met him on the internet?  We will visit today, and stay the night, and share."

"The whole day and night?" I complain.  "I just inflicted Jauvier and Victor on you for a couple of hours."

"Sure, but it takes three days to get the smell of his odekolon out of my room."

"Well -- can I at least see a picture of this guy in advance?"

"No.  It will be a surprise."

Gulp.  Yuri knows all of my turn-ons...and turn-offs.  Is he going to fix us up with the date from hell?

Worse...a cracker.  A Florida cowboy with an alpaca ranch.

The full story, with nude photos and sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

May 20, 2016

The Indus River Civilization of Ancient Pakistan

The Indus Valley Civilization was lost until 1912, when British archaeologists stumbled upon seals in an unknown language from the village of Harappa, now in Pakistan.

Excavations revealed two huge cities, near modern-day Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, and scores of smaller towns, a thriving civilization on the Indus River with five million people at its height.  It lasted for over a thousand years, from 3000 to about 1800 BC.

We don't know what the Harappans looked like, but they're probably the ancestors of the Dravidians of modern-day south India and Sri Lanka, so something like this.

They were very advanced for their era, with cities carefully laid out in grids, running water and sewage removal systems, bronze metallurgy, and even dentistry.  They had trade relations with ancient Sumer, 2000 miles away.

They had a writing system consisting of 400 to 600 symbols, but all we have discovered are thousands of short inscriptions, no long texts.  Their language cannot been translated, and probably won't be, unless we discover a Harappan-Sumerian Rosetta Stone.

We don't know much about their religion, of course, but we have uncovered hundreds of images of figures who may be gods, including some who are in the lotus position still used by Hindu ascetics today.

How can you not be interested in something like that, even without a gay connection?

But there is a gay connection.  Here is an artist's depiction of Harappan daily life.  Nicely muscled bodies.  It must have been a beefcake paradise.

This torso was once a complete statue of a chubby man with a penis.

Lingams (artificial phalluses) have been uncovered throughout the Harappan sites.  Archaeologists call them fertility symbols.  Or maybe the Harappans just liked to look at penises.

See also: The Naked Gods of Southern India

Jean the Violinist of the Bains d'Odessa

In the spring of 2004, I went to Europe for my usual Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam circuit, and dropped in to the Bains d'Odessa, near the Luxembourg Gardens.

There wasn't much activity going on in the late afternoon hours, but as I was dressing to leave, I saw a very cute guy in the locker room, also getting dressed: in his 20s, tall, broad shouldered, with pale, smooth skin, tight muscles, nice bulge.  We made eye contact, but didn't interact: I followed the rule that younger guys must always approach older.

He put on a white shirt and blue jeans, and then pulled a violin case out of his locker.

A violinist!  I wasn't going to let this one get away!

I walked over to him.  "I played the viola in high school."

He glared at me.  "Très fascinant."

Well, that was rather a lame pick-up line.

He headed for the door.  I followed.   " first guy I datd with played the violin."

"Vous devriez lui téléphoner."  Then you should call him.

I was sinking fast!  He paused to pick up his valuables from the lock box.  " high school music teacher was enormous.  Almost as big as me."

"Vraiment?"  He turned and smiled.  "Je m'appelle Jean."

When all else fails, go for the Sausage List.

The rest of the story, with uncensored photos,  is on Tales of West Hollywood.

May 19, 2016

Laocoon and His Sons: Beefcake Through the Ages

Laocoön was a priest who angered Apollo or Poseidon during the Trojan War, and as punishment the god sent sea serpents to kill him and his two sons.  Variations of his story, with different plots, were recorded by Sophocles, Virgil, Apollodorus, and other ancient authors, and inspired one of the most famous of all ancient sculptures, Laocoön and His Sons, now in the Vatican Museum.

After Michelangelo's David, this is probably the most famous beefcake sculpture in the world.  Interesting that one must enjoy male bodies only when they are in agonizing pain.

Similar to the boxers and wrestlers that we are "permitted" to ogle today.

The story of Laocoön has inspired many artists to try their hand at depicting bulging, straining muscles, regardless of the reason that giant snake tentacles are biting and straining at them.

Alessandro Allori (1535-1607), a painter of the Italian Renaissance, copies the pose of the ancient sculpture, but fills in the blanks a bit.

El Greco (1541-1614), one of the greats of the Spanish Golden Age, separates the sons from the father so we can see their muscles better, and has their pale forms struggling against the ruined Spanish countryside.

The older son, on the left, is Antiphas, and the younger, to the right, is Thymbraeus.  The stories make them twins, but artists usually think that it's more poignant to make one ateenager and the otehr a child.

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), the pop artist of the Andy Warhol school, gives us a stylized version in which the three bodies blend in to the troubled, multicolored background of the 1980s.

Contemporary painter Richard Wallace's version is grotesque, with three men who look more like brothers, and one penis visible.

See also: Japanese Tentacle Porn

May 18, 2016

St. Florian, the Patron Saint of Firefighters and Beefcake Fans

I'm not much for the veneration of the saints -- Nazarenes abhored such "idolatry."  But I could get behind St. Florian, usually portrayed shirtless, with a massive, sculpted chest.

Here his chest is ink on someone's chest.

The real St. Florian was Florianus (c. 250-304), a Roman legionnaire from present-day Austria who organized a fire-fighting brigade.  When the Roman authorities discovered that he was a Christian, they ordered him burnt at the stake, but then, noting his affinity for fire, thought that he probably wouldn't burn.

So they drowned him in the Ennis River instead.  After ripping off his clothes, of course.

Today St. Florian is the patron of firefighters, soap makers, and chimney sweeps, and also the patron of many cities in Central and Eastern Europe, including Krakow, Poland and Linz, Austria.

This is one of the more famous St. Florian statues, by Josef Josephu (1889-1970).  It stood at the main firehouse in Vienna, where it survived a bombing during World War II.  Now it's in the Firefighter's Museum.

His brother, Florian, was also a sculptor.

In German-speaking countries, "florians" are firefighters.

A Sausage Sighting of a Straight Elitist Professor

Plains, May 2016

8:45 am.  I go to a seminar on teaching writing, led by a philosophy professor named Taylor.  There's no space left at the conference table, so I have to sit all by myself in a little chair off to the side.

I'm already in a bad mood.

This Taylor guy is about my height, in his 30s, with rather long hair, combed back, and a beard.  He is wearing a pink button-down shirt, a sports jacket, jeans, and yellow shoes.

Who wears a sports jacket with jeans?  Who wears a pink shirt with yellow shoes?  How pretentious can you get?

When I approach the table, he is talking about Lisbon, "off the beaten path," so it's not so touristy as other European capitals.

Yeah, yeah, I've been places, too, but I don't go around place-dropping.  "Oh, Reykjavik is so off the beaten path, and have you been to Tegucigalpa?"

I hate elitists.

Then Taylor scoots back in his chair and spreads his legs.

The rest of the story, with nude photos and sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood

May 17, 2016

Dierich Bouts: Medieval Beefcake Painter

A scary monster is carrying away a naked guy.  I guess we're supposed to feel terror, but when I was a kid and saw this painting in my friend Greg's house, the only thing I could think of was "I can see his wiener!"

It was just a small painting in his father's study, so I didn't see it often, but it was memorable, probably because my reaction was so different from the one expected of me.

I just tracked it down: A segment of  La chute des damnes (The Fall of the Damned), paired with L'Ascension des élus (The Ascent of the Elect), painted between 1468 and 1470 by Dieric the Elder, now in the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, France.

But don't get excited. There are a few butts, but no more wieners.

We don't know when Dieric Bouts was born (probably between 1410 and 1420), or where he studied (his work suggests the influence of Flemish painter Rogier van den Weyden).

We know only that he became the "official painter of Leuven" (now in Belgium) in 1458 or 1459, that he was commissioned to do a lot of portraits and religious art, that he married twice and had four children, and that he died on May 6th, 1475.

And that he was interested in muscular male bodies.

Check out The Martyrdom of St. Hippolyte, the center panel of a tryptich that Dierich painted for the altar of the Sint Salvator Kathedral in Brugge about 1470 (now in the Groningen Museum).

Looks like the same guy as the one being carried away by a demon.

His beefcake model got a monk's haircut in The Martyrdom of St. Erasmus, the central panel of a tryptich in the Sint-Pieterskerk in Leuven.

Dieric definitely had a type.

His two sons, Dieric the Younger and Aelbrecht, both became painters.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is a 2012 comedy by Christopher Durang that brings Chekhov and beefcake to rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

If you need to know the plot:

Vanya and Sonia are a middle aged brother and sister, one gay and the other straight, who live together on the family farm and complain about their cherry orchard.

Their life of complacency and complaining is disrupted when their young movie star sibling Masha arrives, with her uber-muscular boy toy Spike, who is allergic to clothes.

Spike is always played by a mega hunk, who spends most of his stage time in his Calvin Kleins, thrusting his you-know-what at whoever is sitting nearby.

Everyone starts flirting with Spike and competing with each other to see who can complain the loudest.  Old rivalries surface.

After a disastrous party with a Snow White theme, Masha announces that she's going to sell the house and kick Vanya and Sonia out on their cherry orchards.

Meanwhile Sonia gets a date, Vanya gets a backer for his play, The Seagull, and Spike cheats on Masha.

Masha gives Spike the boot, decides not to sell the house, and the three siblings live happily ever after, just like in a Chekhov play.

Except for the gay character.

And the happy ending.

And the beefcake.

Did I mention the beefcake?

May 16, 2016

Grandpa Hooks Up with Witch of the Lake of the Woods

Rome City, Indiana, December 1975

My Grandma Davis died last month.  We're back in Indiana, staying with Aunt Nora while the family works on settling her estate.

My brother and I are going through a box of her husband's old stuff.  We never knew my Grandpa Davis, so it's sort of interesting: clothes, photos, a plaque from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, his high school yearbook.  And, wrapped in a linen cloth, an oval stone about the size of a baseball.

It doesn't look special.  It's like any stone you would pick up on the side of the road.  Why did he keep it?  Why did he wrap it so well?

"Oh, I remember this!" Aunt Nora exclaims.  "Mom used to bring it out and show it to us every time she told the story of the Witch of the Lake of the Woods.  Do you want to hear it?"

Ken and I glance at each other.  Grandma never told stories about ghosts or witches.  She lived in a regular house on a regular street, with a color tv and a picture window.  She drove into town to have lunch with her friends.  Everything about her was fresh and new and modern

Why this one story, buried in the depths of her past?

The full story, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

The Homophobic Small-Town Manhattan of "Friends"

Friends (1994-2004) was set in the same intimate, "small town" Manhattan as Seinfeld.  But it lacked the New York color -- it could have been set in any big city -- not to mention the witty dialogue, interesting minor characters, and intricately connected plotlines.

And while Seinfeld was mostly heterosexist, assuming that gay people did not exist (except for a few homophobic episodes), Friends knew about the existence of gay people.  And was scared stiff.

It was about six heterosexual young adults who hung out together to commiserate over their terrible jobs -- though they still managed to afford huge apartments in Manhattan -- and terrible love lives -- though the women still managed to date a never-ending stream of chiseled hunks, including Adam Baldwin, Tom Selleck, and Brad Pitt.

The friends differed in personality, class background, socioeconomic status.

Upper class:
Neurotic, easily-befuddled Chandler (Matthew Perry), who worked as a statistician.
Former spoiled rich kid Rachel (Jennifer Anniston), who lost her silver spoon and worked as a waitress.

Middle class:
Nebbish paleontologist Ross (David Schwimmer, left), who had a crush on Rachel in high school.
His sister Monica (Courtney Cox), formerly fat and unpopular, now a control freak caterer.

Lower class:
Italian-American stereotype Joey (Matt Leblanc, top photo), a muscular but dimwitted aspiring actor.
Ditsy Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), who worked as a masseuse, and had an equally ditsy brother (Giovanni Ribisi).

Eventually they paired off into Chandler-Monica and Rachel-Ross.  Joey and Phoebe stayed unattached.

Gay people intrude in a number of episodes, as problems to be solved:

Chandler is horribly embarrassed by the fact that his Dad is a drag queen.
Ross's ex-wife is "now" a lesbian, and actually intends to "marry" her girlfriend.
Ross is horrified when his male student comes on to him.

But more common, in nearly every episode, is the men's homophobia -- a literal fear of gay people.

Tijara Mamula has uploaded a remix, "Homophobic Friends," with the highlights of the homophobic and transphobic jokes that form a constant undertow to the series.

Turns out that friendship itself is problematic.

If a guy has male friends, people think "he likes guys, he's gay."
If he has female friends, people think "he's like a woman, he's gay."

Chandler, Ross, and Joey are each mistaken for gay at various points in the series.  To gales of audience laughter.  To be thought gay is second worst humiliation possible.

The worst humiliation: to really be gay.  So the guys often criticize each other, and the other male characters, for acting "too gay."  They police the slightest gender-atypical behavior, horrified that signifies some inner gayness that must be stopped before it grows like a malignant tumor and destroys them.

Ross didn't know that his wife was a lesbian!  He must be gay!

Joey and Chandler hug!  They must be gay!

While on a ride-along, Ross refers to himself as the cop's "partner."  He must be gay!

So much for the cozy, small-town Manhattan of Friends.

But it gets worse: An incredibly homophobic joke in the first season turned a million gay fans away from the series forever.

See also: Homophobia on "Friends": This Time It's Serious.; and Giovanni Ribisi