Nov 17, 2012

Boyfriends Down Under: Skippy the Bush Kangaroo

Since I couldn't see many movies, video games hadn't been invented, and I didn't like sports, you might think that I spent the first 20 years of my life staring goggle-eyed at the tv set every day from 3 pm to bedtime.

Actually, I was quite busy: LOTS of church activities (choir, prayer meetings, Bible studies, youth groups), plus school clubs, orchestra, cross country, and judo.  But those were sites for indoctrination into heterosexism, not sites of freedom.  When I liked a boy, every adult, from my Sunday school teacher to my orchestra director to the sensei at the dojo, insisted that we were "pals," if they acknowledged the relationship at all, but when I befriended a girl, they could barely restrain their congratulatory shoulder-pats and misty eyed proclamations that I was "growing up."  

I could discuss dreamy boys with female friends, but only teen idols. If I mentioned the boy with dark curly hair and a nice smile who sat behind me in Social Studies, they got blank, uncomprehending looks and changed the subject.   

I could discuss muscular men with male friends, but only if they were spies or superheroes.  If I pointed out a high school hunk playing basketball shirtless on the playground, they would order me to "stop fooling around"  and probably punch me in the stomach.  Of course, no gay people existed; I was just being silly.

So I returned, again, and again, to the tv programs, movies, books, and comics that hinted at the existence of a "good place."

Like the Australian outback.

Skippy the Bush Kangaroo was syndicated in the U.S. from 1969 to 1972, but it appeared only sporadically, at weird times like Sunday morning or Saturday afternoon, so I only caught occasional glimpses.  

Enough to know that it was about a 10-year old boy named Sonny (Garry Pankhurst) who lived in some sort of national park with his dad (Ed Devereaux), a forest ranger, and his pet kangaroo.  Like Lassie, or Flipper.

Except Sonny had two hunks in his life: his older brother Mark (20-year old Ken James, left), an ever-smiling practical joker; and tanned, handsome Jerry (25-year old Tony Bonner, right), a park ranger who flew a  helicopter.  I was pretty sure that Mark and Jerry liked each other.

In most kid-pet dramas, the kid needs rescuing all the time, but in Skippy, Jerry and Mark were always getting into trouble, requiring Sonny and Skippy to save the day.  In one episode, they were being held hostage by a young juvenile delinquent.  In another, they both ate spoiled fish, so Sonny had to actually fly the helicopter to bring them to the hospital.

What could be cooler than rescuing your brother and his boyfriend in a real helicopter?

I don't remember a lot of shirtless shots, but Ken James made up for it later, on many Australian tv series (the only one airing in the U.S. was Barrier Reef).  He even had a nude shot. 

 Tony Bonner briefly pursued a teen idol career before returning to his true loves, acting and life saving.  Gerry Pankhurst has retired from acting, and manages a Lutheran senior citizens home.

Nov 16, 2012

Michael J. Fox/Alex P. Keaton

Michael J. Fox was the first celebrity I ever  met.  Shortly after I moved to Los Angeles in 1985, I met a guy who knew him from acting class, and the three of us had lunch at a place on Melrose Boulevard.  He was very nice, and completely gay-positive (and heterosexual, even though my insanely jealous boyfriend Ivo claimed to have dated him).

 Unfortunately his sitcom Family Ties (1982-89) wasn't.

It was one of the 1980s "family values" comedies, like Growing Pains, Life Goes On, and Home Improvementabout liberal ex-hippies (Meredith Baxter Birney, Michael Gross) with politically conservative kids (Scott Valentine was daughter Mallory's boyfriend). Michael played the teen Alex P. Keaton, a Young Republican whose money-grubbing provides most of the jokes.

Gay people did not exist in the world of Family Ties -- if they did, Alex's ultra-liberal parents would certainly have had gay friends.  However, sometimes Alex plays the "is he gay?"  game.  In order to impress a girl, he dons an apron to cook dinner. When Dad criticizes this gender transgression, he counters "I hope you don't mind -- I borrowed your apron.  I got quiche on mine."  The joke plays with the expression "Real men don't eat quiche."

In "Little Man on Campus," he fails his first test, and asks his sister Mallory why she fails so often:

Mallory: When I take a mind starts wandering.
Alex: What do you think about?
Mallory: Boys.
Alex: (Waits for the howls of laughter to subside). Let's hope it's different for me.

Pretending to be gay as a joke only works if you don't have any significant same-sex friendships, so Alex carefully avoids sidekicks.  Wacky next door neighbor Skippy (Marc Price) hangs around because he has a crush on Mallory; they become friends anyway, but Alex carefully polices the relationship, even rejecting the standard sitcom stage business of sitting pressed together on a couch (so they can both be in a closeup).  In one episode, they somehow fall onto the bed together.  Skippy nonchalantly continues their conversation, but Alex recoils in horror and jumps away.  Since no gay people exist, this rejection has an even greater emotional impact than the homophobia of Teen Wolf, marking even nonsexual friendships as bad, wrong, and disquieting.

A few episodes suggest -- but immediately reject -- the possibility of romantic love between Alex and a male friend. In "Best Man," Alex's friend Doug (Timothy Busfield) gets engaged.  He treats Alex and his fiancee as emotional equivalents, hugging them and squealing "You're both so cute!", but still, Alex feels threatened by the new relationship and refuses to be his best man.  When he finally understands that he will still be an essential part of Doug's life, he hugs Doug so tightly at the altar that the minister, in "jest," asks which couple is going to be married.

In the two-part episode "A, My Name is Alex," Alex's friend Greg (Brian McNamara) is killed in an auto accident, and Alex is so distraught that he requires psychiatric help.  But after digging into his subconscious, the psychiatrist fails to find any homoromantic feelings, just guilt because Alex refused to accompany Greg on the errand that killed him, and the recognition of his own mortality.

How does someone who is so gay-friendly play someone so anti-gay on tv?

It was the 1980s?

See also: My Date with Michael J. Fox.
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