Nov 5, 2016

Freedom from Want: Norman Rockwell's Parody of the Nuclear Family

The iconic Thanksgiving scene is Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want, originally published in the Saturday Evening Post on March 6, 1943.  It was part of a series called the Four Freedoms, based on Franklin Roosevelt's State of the Union speech in 1941: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want.

It's reprinted all the time as an example of what America was like, back in the "golden age": white, Christian, gender-polarized, and very, very, very heterosexual.

The usual interpretation: Mom and Dad serve a Thanksgiving dinner to their adult children and their husbands and wives, along with a grandchild or two, thus supporting heterosexual "family values," replicating the myth that everyone on Earth is, or will be, a heterosexual husband or wife, that no single heterosexuals or gay people exist.

But take a close look.  It makes no sense.

1. There's not nearly enough room to set that turkey down without knocking over a water glass.
2. There's no other food on the table except some gigantic stalks of celery and a weird centerpiece of pears and brown grapes.
3. Everything on the table is ghostly white.
4. There are five people on the left side, but only three place settings.
5. There's no way all of them could fit at that table.  They must be disembodied heads.
6. No one is looking at the turkey, or the elderly couple about to serve it.

I get the impression that they're not really there at all.

In fact, Rockwell took photos of his friends and associates, and painted them in, a sort of hodgepodge.

You think that the elderly couple at the head of the table are Grandma and Grandpa, but actually the woman is the Rockwell cook, and the man is a random old guy.  The nine guests include Rockwell's wife and mother, but the others are friends, most not related to each other by blood or marriage.  No attempt is made to suggest heterosexual male-female couples.

This painting actually critiques the nuclear family myth.  It's about friendship.

Maybe that's why it's been subjected to so many parodies and homages.

Joe Philips gives us a gay version, with a hunky couple serving (notice the hand on shoulder) and nine cute guys of diverse racial groups (but not ages) around the table.  The room is now a Castro Street Victorian with stained glass windows, and there's a lot of healthy food on the table, plus wine in the glasses, adding some much-needed color.

The Muppet version eliminates the background.  Kermit and Miss Piggy are serving.  There's not enough room around the table for nine muppets, so Fozzie and the Swedish Chef are standing aside.

Should that eagle be eating a turkey?

Evil Clown Comics was a series in National Lampoon written by Nick Bakay and illustrated by Alan Kupperberg.  Here there are seven people around the table, two helping to balance the carcass of Frenchy the Clown.

I have only two comments:

1. Frenchy has a very nice physique, for a clown.
2. Where did they put his legs?

ABC's Modern Family opens up the table to get everyone around it, with Jay and Gloria serving.  There still aren't enough plates for everyone, but at least they bronzed that weird pear-grape centerpiece.

Putting the girls in red adds some color, but Claire in a white wig looks strange, and why is Cam's hand pressing against the surface where his food will be soon?

Sam Spratt gives us the Redneck version, with the original characters modified slightly: tattoos, a Nascar t-shirt, Mohawks.  They're eating a canned boneless turkey.  Notice the Spam, beer cans, switchblades, and cocaine on the table.

By the way, the top photo is what popped up on Google images when I searched with the key words  "Freedom from Want", "Norman Rockwell," and "parody."  I guess the rationale is, if he's a guest at Thanksgiving dinner, you'll be free from want.

See also: Was Norman Rockwell Gay?

Nov 4, 2016

The Five Boy Wonders of Batman Comics

If you think Superboy has a confusing pedigree, wait until you hear about Robin, Batman's teen sidekick.  There have been five, not including one-shots, fantasies, clones, and Infinite Earths versions.

1. Dick Grayson

In Detective Comics 38 (1940), Batman takes in eight-year old Dick Grayson, a circus acrobat whose parents were murdered by crooks, and grooms him to become his sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder (not named after the bird, but after Robin Hood).  Comic sales doubled, as Robin mediated the grim harshness of the Caped Crusader and gave the kids someone to identify with, and soon every superhero in the business had a young boy tagging along.

Robin soon became a teenager, and fought crooks alongside Batman.  During the 1960s he founded a superhero coalition, the Teen Titans, who listened to rock music and said "groovy" a lot.

In the 1980s, all grown up, Dick Grayson decided to set off on his own as the superhero Nightwing.  Thereafter he and Batman occasionally worked together, and in at least one storyline, he returned temporarily to his Robin persona.

2. Jason Todd

After Dick Grayson moved on, Batman needed a new sidekick.  He chose Jason Todd, a troubled kid who he had been mentoring since 1983. Unfortunately, fans never took to the new Robin; after a reader poll in 1988 called for him to be dropped, the writers obligingly had him murdered by the Joker.  He later was resurrected as the superhero Red Wing.

3. Tim Drake

Never at a loss when it came to finding young boys to mentor, in 1989 Batman brought in Tim Drake, who had been a fan of the original Dynamic Duo.  But this Robin was not satisfied with merely hanging out with an old guy; he formed his own teen superhero coalitions, Young Justice and then the new Teen Titans full of millennials.

You may have noticed that all of the Robins look pretty much alike.  Batman definitely has a type.

In 2011, Tim Drake left Batman to become the superhero Red Robin, and retconned his past to insist that he had never been just plain Robin.

4. Stephanie Brown

A Girl Wonder?

Yep, Tim Drake's girlfriend (not shown) took up the mantle of Robin briefly. Then she became the Spoiler, then Batgirl.  Then she was retconned to have never been any of them.

5. Damien Wayne

The next Robin was Batman's son, raised by the murderous League of Assassins, and thus quite a handful when he came to live with Dad.  Eventually he settled down to fight crime as Robin, then Red Bird, before being murdered.  Or, in an alternate reality, becoming the new Batman.

But the thing about being a twink magnet is, there's a new crop every year.  A few hours of cruising at Gotham City Junior College, and Batman will be soon be taking the next Boy Wonder by

Nov 3, 2016

Mickey and Goofy, the Gay Couple of "Walt Disney's Comics and Stories"

Way to feel old.  In 2016, I bought the 75 Anniversary Edition of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, the flagship of the Disney comics empire.

I bought the 50th Anniversary Edition in 1991.

And I was five years old when the 25th Anniversary Edition was published in 1966 (I bought it much later).

When I was a kid, I loved the Disney Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge titles, with the ducks adventuring in exotic locales, in search of the Mines of King Solomon or the lost crown of Genghis Khan.

But I had no use for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories.

There was always a Duck cover, and the first story starred Donald Duck, but it was a slapstick comedy, not an adventure.

Then several stories involving minor Disney characters adapted from movies that came out before I was born:

1. The Little Bad Wolf, a "Casper the Friendly Ghost" who butted heads with his single father, Zeke, aka the Big Bad Wolf from The Three Little Pigs (1933).  Neither father nor son expressed any interest in girls, so that was a glimmer of gay subtext, anyway.  But also:

2. The patois-speaking Indian from Little Hiawatha (1937).  Offensive even for a 10 year old in 1970.

3. Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio (1940).  Who?

4. Scamp, the son of the two dogs who got together in Lady and the Tramp (1955).  He was rascally, adventurous, a gender-stereotyped "boy," with sisters who were gender-stereotyped sissy "girls."  Offensive even for a 10-year old in 1970.

Then a text story, unreadable, just so they could ship the comic books at book rates.

But the worst was the last feature, a serial by artist Paul Murray (1911-1989) that paired Mickey Mouse and Goofy.  They were usually detectives trying to solve a crime with science fiction elements, though there were also outer-space and historical stories.

The problem was, I never could read a serial straight through.  Buying comic books was always a gamble, based on what Schneider's stocked, what was left by the time I got there, and how much money I had.  There was never an opportunity to buy the same title several months in a row, so instead I always arrived in media res, or in time for "the ghost was really your disgruntled assistant" Scooby wrap-up.

November 1968: "The River Pirates," Part 3.
March 1969: "The Secret of Shipnabber's Cove," Part 1.
September 1970: "The Sign of the Scorpion," Part 1.
February 1971: "The Mystery of the Counterfeit Masters," Part 3
September 1971: "The Viking Stone Mystery," Part 3
July 1972:  "Message in a Nutshell," Part 3
April 1973: "The Case of the Talking Tooth," Part 3.

There weren't a lot of women in the stories, that I could see, so you could read Mickey and Goofy as a gay couple.  But I never made the leap.  Goofy was too tall, gawky, and dopey to be a fantasy romantic partner when I could get Tarzan, Johnny Quest, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., David Cassidy, Peter Brady....

The Naked Icelandic Artist in a Box

Artists often pour their souls into their art, but 23-year old MFA student Almar Atlason put his body on display.

 For a week in December 2015, Atlason sat naked in a glass box at the Iceland Academy of Art in Reykjavik, in a performance open to the public and live-streamed on youtube.

Other artists have appeared in boxes before.  Tilda Swindon hung in a box at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2013.

But this was the first performance artist to be boxed naked, and with no supplies, completely vulnerable.  "It's about total loss of control," Atlason explained.

And isolation.  Able to see other people, but not hear or touch them, for a week.

On display, a public exhibition of acts that are usually very private -- reading, sleeping, defecating -- and other things.

Completely vulnerable.

Some spectators provided him with gifts of food, books, playing cards, and toilet paper.  Others were not impressed.  He got angry confrontations, even death threats.

The Academy had to hire a 24-hour guard.

At the end of the week, Atlason emerged, smoked a cigarette, had a shower, and put his clothes back on.

Leaving us wondering if it was really art, or just an excuse to show us his willy.

I'm fine with it either way.

The uncensored photos are on Tales of West Hollywood.

Nov 2, 2016

Superboys: 70 Years of Beefcake Boys of Steel

To the non-comic book fan, it's easy.  There's Superman, the Man of Steel, disguised as Clark Kent, a reporter for the Daily Planet in Metropolis, and there's Superboy, the teenage Clark Kent, going to high school in Smallville.

But in fact there have been many incarnations of the Boy of Steel.

Superboy first appeared in New Fun comics during World War II, when every superhero in the business had a teenage sidekick to appeal to the younger readers.  He's the one who got the traditional origin story of the infant Kal-El being sent to Earth from Krypton, and being adopted by elderly farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent.

Originally around ten years old, Kal-El became a teenager for the Superboy comic title, which lasted from 1949 through 1977, with a new series through 1984.  Although his adventures should technically take place years ago, no one paid much attention to the timeline until the 1970s, when DC comics made the rule that Superboy stories should always be set about 15 years before the current date..

In 1985, as you may know, the many discontinuities in the DC universe were resolved through the "Crisis on Infinite Earths."  Turns out that the various storylines were actually about superheroes from different alternate universes, which were all destroyed.  In the new timeline, the only Superboy is Superboy-Prime, from Earth-Prime, whose "S" seems to be on his chest, not on his costume.

But that wasn't the end of the Superboys.

In 1993, a clone of Kal-El appeared, Kon-El, with the secret identity Conner Kent, Clark's cousin.   Later he was explained as a hybrid of Superman and archnemesis Lex Luther.  Clones, of course, must grow up at a normal rate, and this one promptly became a teenager, dubbed Superboy again.

He and Superman occasionally interacted for adventures, but generally he hung out with his teenage superhero teams, Young Justice and the Teen Titans.

He died after a fight with Superboy-Prime in 2005, was resurrected in the 31st century, returned to the present, and settled down to civilian life in Smallville.

Next, Jon Lane Kent, Superman and Lois Lane's son from another timeline, takes over the role.

Then Jonathan Samuel Kent, their son from yet another timeline.

But, according to Wikipedia, "Kon El's consciousness is pulled into a pocket universe (dimension) when Jon Lane Kent touches his Psycho Future Self with all other Kons and Jons of the multiverse."

Um....maybe we should just look at the pictures.

Nov 1, 2016

The Icelandic Museum of the Penis

After visiting the Penis Park of Oslo and the many public penises in Helsinki,  why not visit a museum dedicated solely and exclusively to the wonders of the penis?

Iceland may be off the beaten path for most tourists, but it's not as difficult to get to from the West as, say, Bhutan. the land of the penis), and there are lots of reasons to go: glaciers, hot springs, Old Norse heritage, gay-friendly people.

And the Museum of the Penis, AKA the Icelandic Phallological Museum.

The project of history professor Sigurthur Hjartarson, who spent his life collecting exotic penises, it was housed first in Rejkavik, then in the small fishing village of Husavik, and in 2012 back to Rejkavik, under the administration of Hjartarson's son.

There are 293 specimens from 93 species, every mammal in Iceland -- bears, seals, reindeer, dogs, moose, seals, rats, bulls.  Also a few non-native mammals, like lions and elephants.

The smallest (from a hamster) is less than 1/10th of an inch long, and the largest 5 feet (part of a great blue whale's penis; the whole thing would extend 15 feet).

Only three human penises -- it's hard to get donors, and to preserve them properly -- but lots from mythological creatures like mermen, 'beach murmurers," ghosts, trolls (left), and Christmas lads.

Trolls turn to stone in daylight, so of course the troll penis is stone.

The elf penis is very long, but since elves cannot be seen, it is invisible.

And there's a sizeable collection of (human) phallic art, penises in all sizes and shapes, from lamps to pacifiers, and penis paintings, like the circumcision of Christ (by the way, in the Middle Ages, Christ's foreskin was sold as a holy relic all across Europe).

It's located on Laugavegur 116, a block from the mixed  bar Kjallarinn.

If you can't make it to Iceland, visit their online store, where you can buy phallic mugs, baseball caps, bottle openers, designer condoms, and "ball scratchers."

See also: Halloween Surprise: Tricking and Treating with Yuri's Student

Oct 31, 2016

Glitch: Resurrection and Gay Subtexts in the Outback

Another tv series with a gay character showed up in my Netflix recommendations. Glitch (2015-) is set in the small outback town of Yoorana, Australia, where six people inexplicably crawl their way out of their graves in the local cemetery.

It's a lot more "realistic" than the suddenly reappearing dead people of Les Revenants and The Returned:  They're naked (rear nudity, no frontal) and covered in dirt and grime.  And at first no one realizes that they've come back from the dead.

They have amnesia, but gradually they remember some details of their lives, including how they died -- usually by violence.

1. Paddy (Ned Dennehy), the town's first mayor, a hard-drinking, scrappy pioneer who was murdered in 1860.

2. Charlie (Sean Keenan, left), a gay soldier who died in World War I.

3. Carlo (James Monarski), who speaks only Italian, and saw his brother murdered.

4. Maria (Daniela Farinacci).

5. Sarah (Emily Barclay), the deceased wife of the town constable, James Hayes (Patrick Brammell).

6. John Doe (Rodger Corser), who never remembers his past, and may be the key to everything.

The main plots involve James and town doctor Elishia (Genevieve O'Reilly) trying to keep the Risen safe from various threats, especially Vic (Andrew McFarlane), who wants them back in the ground "where they belong."

Meanwhile alliances form, romances blossom, and unfinished business from the lives of the Risen get squared away.

Charlie doesn't get a boyfriend; instead, he buddy-bonds with a lady.  His gayness appears only in a subtle confession about a man he loved before he died.

But there's a gay subtext buddy-bond between Paddy and the aboriginal teenager Beau (Aaron L. McGrath).  I can't see why -- Paddy is exceptionally ugly.

But they exchange smoldering looks, and have conversations dripping with innuendo.

Paddy: You're so skinny!  You're all dick and bone.

Beau:  What do you want?

Paddy:  What do you think I want?

Unfortunately, there's never any explanation for why these people rose from the dead.  Lots of clues, including supernatural intervention and secret experiments, but no resolution.

But there's ample beefcake, and Aaron L. McGrath definitely gives off a gay vibe.

As does Sean Keenan.


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