Nov 2, 2012

The Lord of the Rings

I had a friend in high school who claimed to have read J.R.R. Tolkien's  Lord of the Rings trilogy straight through 38 times (for a fast reader, that would take 2 hours per day, every day, for 5 years). I barely made it through once, with lots of skimming, , but I returned to certain passages over and over again.  They were "good beyond hope."

A company of men.  Working together, fighting, rescuing each other, hugging, saving the world.

Heterosexual desire almost absent: Tom Bombadil is devoted to Goldberry, the Ents pine away for the Entwives, Aragorn pines for Arwen (though not as much as in the movie series), and a few poems and songs say things like "Little Princess Mee -- Lovely was she," but nobody read them anyway.

And lots of same-sex romance.

1.  Everyone today sees a romance between Frodo and Sam, especially as portrayed by Elijah Wood and Sean Astin in the movie series.  But I didn't see it.  Tolkien was highly class conscious, and Frodo and Sam are master and devoted servant.  At the end of the story, Frodo goes to the Undying Lands by himself, and Sam goes home to his wife.

But I did notice that Frodo is gay.  He surrounds himself with men and never once mentions a woman.  (He reveres Galadriel, but as a goddess to be worshipped, not as an object of desire). 

2. Merry and Pippin (played by Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd in the movie) are devoted to each other.  They go through deadly danger for each other, and when they are split up, each pines for the other.  After the War of the Ring, they go to work for Aragorn, so they can stay together forever.

3. The Elf Legolas and the Dwarf Gimli (played by Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies in the movie) are sworn enemies, working together only to fight a greater evil.  But as the novels progress, they develop a grudging admiration, then a friendship, then a romance.  Neither seeks out a wife.

After the War of the Rings, when Legolas goes to the Undying Lands, Gimli comes with him. Tolkien comments:

It is strange that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle Earth for any love, or that the Eldar (Elvish Gods) should receive him, or that the Lords of the West should permit it. . .More cannot be said about this matter.

This is a curious way to end the discussion, suggesting not that Tolkien has no more information on the subject (of course he does, he wrote the books and he could invent any information he wanted), but that he is forbidden from saying more.  What is forbidding him?  It seems that, in attempting to understand Legolas and Gimli, their love for each other, and their motive for forsaking Middle Earth together, Tolkien is drawing dangerously close to acknowledging a love that he dare not acknowledge, and he abruptly forbids himself from considering the matter further.

 Tolkien was no doubt quite as homophobic as others of his generation, or moreso, a conservative Roman Catholic who eschewed the modern era.  But his subject matter  -- Medieval epics like Beowulf and The Nibelungenlied -- traditionally minimize heterosexual exploits to concentrate on the manly love of comrades.  Tolkien couldn't help but acknowledge it, on some level, whether he wanted to or not.

Nov 1, 2012

Classics Illustrated

A decade after the Seduction of the Innocent scandal that blamed comic books for single-handedly causing the downfall of society, teachers still thought they were cesspools of corruption.  Archie, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Little Lulu -- it didn't matter.  The only comics we could read with impunity at recess or summer camp were Classics Illustrated, the long-running series of comic adaption of adventure classics: Moby Dick, The Last of the Mohicans, Around the World in 80 Days.  

The publishers quickly ran out of adventure classics and began presenting adaptions of obscure works that no one except literary scholars ever read, like Eugene Sue's Mysteries of Paris, Emile Zola's The Downfall, Jules Verne's Michael Strogoffand Charles Nordhoff & James Hall's The Hurricane. 

But regardless of the "classic," you could always depend on shirtless and semi-nude muscle shots to draw the eye to the cover art.  Who knew that Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court had such a buffed physique?

There was also a Classics Junior series, with fairy tales and mythology.  The Magic Pitcher was about the muscular Hermes of Greek mythology dishing out a cornucopia, with disastrous consequences.

Oct 29, 2012

Mark Harmon

Former footballer Mark Harmon moved into modeling and then into acting during the 1970s, with roles in the usual suspects: Emergency, Adam-12, Police Woman, Love Boat.  He starred in three tv series: Sam (1977-78), 240-Robert (1979-80), Flamingo Road (1980-82), and St. Elsewhere (1983-86).

But I didn't watch any of those programs: I knew him from Battle of the Network Stars, which shoved hunks into Speedos and paraded them around for us: he appeared in 1981, 1982, and twice in 1984.

And for Let's Get Harry (1986), a rehash of the man-mountain genre, in which a regular guy named Harry (Mark Harmon) is taken hostage in Colombia, and a group of regular guys, including his brother (Michael Schoeffling, not to be confused with John F. Kennedy Jr., left) and best friend (Gary Busey, who previously appeared in Big Wednesday) come to the rescue.  Buddy-bonding, beefcake, and minimal heterosexual interest.

And for Summer School (1987), in which a slacker substitute teacher takes his class to the beach.  There's a heterosexist boy-meets-girl plot, but a huge amount of male nudity, especially Kevin (Patrick Labyorteaux) (Matthew's brother) and Larry (Ken Olandt), who takes a summer job as a stripper.  Plus a nicely-realized crush between slackers Dave (Gary Foley) and Chainsaw (Dean Cameron), a precursor to Orange County's Arlo and Chad.

While I wasn't looking, Mark Harmon was stacking up Golden Globes, Emmies, and up lots of "most beautiful people" award;, appearing nude in Playgirl;  and playing a doctor who contracts AIDS (through unprotected sex with a woman) on St. Elsewhere.  He's currently the central character on NCIS, which has had several gay-themed episodes.


In Marion Zimmer Bradley's  Star of Danger (1965), which I first read in 1978, a sixteen year old Terran named Larry visits Darkover, a melange of feudal kingdoms where telepathy is common.   with his father.  Although cautioned not to leave the Terran sector, he does anyway, and meets the native boy Kennard. They quickly develop a Jonny Quest-Hadji sort of friendship, but their parents are suspicious and hostile, and forbid them from seeing each other.

The two are as disconsolate as any star-crossed lovers.  “I don’t like to say goodbye, Larry,” Kennard stammers. “I like you. . .I wish. . .” He takes Larry’s hand between both of his, and Bradley informs us that “Larry didn’t know for years how rare the gesture was.”

In spite of Dad’s admonition, Larry sneaks out again, and he and Kennard reunite, only to be captured by evil mercenaries.  They escape, but must cross the dangerous planet together,  facing more mercenaries, monsters, brigands, savages, and other dangers, dangers, always risking their lives for each other.  At one point they realize that they have a psychic link, and share a moment of intimacy rare in science fiction: “Kennard reached silently for Larry’s hand. . .the clasp slid up Larry’s elbow until their arms were enlaced as well as their hands.  It was a sign not alone of friendship but of affection and tenderness.”

Nevertheless, at the end of the novel Larry goes back to Earth for high school, and Kennard remains on Darkover.  Alone.

Hungry for more same-sex romance, I read all of the Marion Zimmer Bradley novels I could find.  And I found Heritage of Hastur (1975), in which Regis Hastur, attending private school on Darkover, desires his roommate, Dani: “he literally ached to slip across the brief space between their beds, slip into bed beside him, share with him this incredible dual experience of grief and tremendous joy.”   But Dani is a cristoforo, or Darkoverian Christian, so “of course” he condemns same-sex relations as evil, and Regis must keep his passion to himself.

As  Regis and Dani cross Darkover, rescuing each other from various evil fates, including the noisome pederast who seems to simper about in many science fiction novels, they recognize that they are in love.  Dani admits that he was always been in love with Regis, but was cowered by his internalized homophobia: “I was so ashamed. . .I wanted to die for  you, it would have been easier."

But when I first read the novel, I did not even realize that Regis and Dani were lovers , so squeamishly does Bradley tiptoe through the subsequent climax and denouement. The social forces of the 1970’s conspired to keep her inarticulate, me inobservant, and Regis and Danilo trapped by a heteronormativity that made their relationship trivial, expendable, and in the end shameful.  Nevertheless, there is none of the homophobia one finds in Ursula K. Leguin, and The Heritage of Hastur is the first novel I ever read in which men identify themselves, however tentatively, as “lovers of men.”

Shane Sinutko

During the late 1970s, I was way too old for Shane Sinutko (born 1965), but Brad, the kid I babysat for, was like totally in love with him.  He didn't actually say so, but every time Shane was on tv, we had to watch, and he collected Tiger Beat pinups of Shane as eagerly as I collected Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett.

And he was on tv a lot, reaching nearly the exposure of Moosie Drier.  A starring role on Code R (1977), guest shots on Quincy, Family, Baretta, The White Shadow.  A ton of movies, including The Shaggy D.A. (1976), Lassie: A New Beginning (1978), Samurai (1979).

And nearly as many after school specials, weekend specials, and schoolbreak specials.  Except Shane's tended to involve ample buddy-bonding and minimize or eliminate heterosexual interest:

Soup and Me (1978) and Soup for President (1978), an adaptation of the children's book series about the irascible Soup (Christian Berrigan), who keeps dragging his best friend Rob (Shane Sinutko) into mischief.

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1978), about two buddies (Shane Sinutko, Eric Tazlitz) who try to get rid of a mischievous ghost.

My Mom's Having a Baby (1977) and Where do Teenagers Come From? (1980), about sex education.

 During the 1980s, Shane studied martial arts and played a couple of musclemen, such as Theseus in Minotaur (1982), but then the acting roles dried up.  The transition to adulthood was difficult: Shane didn't act for over a decade.  During his late teens, he was literally stabbed in the back.  He was homeless for awhile, and had to live under a house.

But then Shane re-invented himself with stunt work (he is Matt Damon's stunt double), and has returned to acting, playing cops on The X-Files and America's Most Wanted and a jarhead on The Bourne Supremacy (2004).

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