Jan 26, 2013

Dexter's Laboratory

Dexter's Laboratory (1996-2003), which aired on Cartoon Central, the precursor of the Cartoon Network, was often effusively heterosexist.  The boy genius/mad scientist with the Eastern European accent falls in love with female baby sitters and teachers, and program his computer to speak with an unusually sultry female voice.  His arch-nemesis, fellow boy genius Mandark, stiffens into full-body orgasms, eyes transmuting into hearts, whenever he catches a glimpse of Dexter's teenage sister Didi.

Still, there were hints of homoromance. In “Surf, Sun, and Science” (1998), Mandark enters a surfing contest and attracts the attention of a young surfer dude. Mandark looks perplexed at this obvious interest, then but suddenly he understands, brightens, and invites the boy back to his lab. The two walk off into a literal sunset, arms around each other’s waists. Is this a touching tale of love blossoming between the two boys, or is it a ludicrous parody of beach movie happy endings? Mandark is evil, after all. 
 We learn a little more of Mandark in the episode “Momdark” (2001), in which he disguises himself as Dexter’s mother to infiltrate the household, only to be overwhelmed by Dexter wanting to kiss him and Dad wanting to do something in the bedroom (revealed as not sex after extensive hinting that it is).

 In a flashback in “A Boy Named Sue” (March 29, 2002), we learn that Mandark was raised by hippies, who named him Susan. As a little boy, he tried to befriend Dexter, only to be rebuffed as too girly; thus he embraced the dark side under a macho supervillain name: Man-Dark. 


In “Oh, Brother” (2002), Dexter turns his stupid sister DeeDee into a boy, hoping that he will have more in common with a brother. The next morning, he opens his sister’s bedroom door to find a tall blond boy with an amazing physique, wearing only a towel. Joyfully, Dexter rushes up to him and hugs him – hitting his upper thigh! “Dude?” the brother says in surprise. Dexter becomes disillusioned with the brother, Doo Dee, so he changes him back. But there was a decidedly homoerotic moment.

In “Beau Tie” ( 2002), Dee-Dee brings home a boy that she likes, but Dexter likes him, too. For the rest of the episode, they compete for the boy’s attention, even trying to drag him into their respective bedrooms, before he decides that they’re both kooks and runs away.

Jan 25, 2013

Brokeback Mountain for the 1970s: Zachariah

Thirty years before Brokeback Mountain, Zachariah (1971) gave us a movie about two cowboys in love (see Laramie for 1950s cowboys in love)

  Zachariah (25-year old John Rubinstein, son of the famous concert violinist) buys a mail-order gun and heads out into a surreal, crazy-quilt Old West in search of adventure, along with his boyfriend Matthew (22-year old Don Johnson, who was busy with gay-friendly counterculture projects).

Advertised as "the first electric Western," it was a psychedelic Western comedy trip with references to the hippie classic Siddhartha and performances by contemporary acid rock bands like Country Joe and the Fish.

Zachariah and Matthew become robber-buddies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and Alias Smith and Jones on tv (1971-73).

There are some girls around, and a cathouse scene, but only to give Zachariah a chance to show us some partial nudity, revealing a slim, smooth hippie physique.  He reserves his soulful gazes and whispered "I love you" for Matthew.

But when Zachariah is seduced by robber baron Belle Starre (Patricia Quinn, who would go on to fame in the gay-friendly Rocky Horror Picture Show), Matt has had enough cathousing, and the two break up.  Their rivalry increases as they embark upon separate gunslinger careers, until in a climactic scene Matt challenges Zachariah to a duel.

They don't shoot each other, though.  At the last moment they melt into each other's arms.  Reconciled, they ride off into the sunset on a single horse.

Cute, quirky John Rubinstein, who got his start playing Pippin on Broadway, had many gay-vague roles before he moved on to play in New Sensitive Man romances and politically relevant dramas.  During the 1970s, he played a concert pianist who's losing his hearing on Matt Lincoln (1971), a hippie on Mod Squad (1971); the grown-up son of man Mary's dating on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1972); the ex-husband of the eldest daughter on Family (1976-80).

Even his starring role in Crazy like a Fox (1985-87) minimized girl-craziness.  John played Harrison Fox, a conservative, button-down attorney, with a wife and a kid, and an unconventional private eye Dad, Harry Fox (Jack Warden), who kept getting him involved in murder cases. Since Harrison was already married, there wasn't a lot of gazing at girls in the series.  In fact, their clients were usually male friends, framed for murder.

John is also active in theater.  He originated the role of Pippin on Broadway, and has starred in  Getting Away with Murder, Fools, Children of a Lesser God, M Butterfly, and Ragtime.  He played the gay role of Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman. In 2011 he performed in Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center.

In real life, he is married with children, and a strong gay ally.

Patrick Duffy

The superhero craze of mid-1970s tv spawned a few hits, like The Six Million Dollar Man and The Incredible Hulk, and a lot of misses, like Gemini Man and The Man from Atlantis.

Man from Atlantis looked great on paper --  Mark Harris, the last survivor of ancient Atlantis, would be played by hunky Patrick Duffy.  He would travel the ocean in a super-submarine, searching for clues to his heritage (tie in with The Bermuda Triangle), fighting sharks (tie in with Jaws), and taking off his clothes a lot.

Four tv movies during the 1976-77 season tested the waters, and in the fall of 1977, the series premiered in a Thursday night time slot, after Chips to draw in the kids.  Over-eager producers ordered comic book and novel tie-ins, and a boatload of toys for Christmas 1977.

But episodes quickly veered from the undersea format -- Mark goes to the Old West? To the days of Romeo and Juliet?  And Man from Atlantis couldn't beat the competition from Barney Miller and Hawaii Five-O, beefcake or not.  Nine episodes were aired during the fall of 1977, and four more during the spring and summer of 1978, and that was it.

But Patrick Duffy immediately landed the plum role of Bobby Ewing, younger brother of the evil J.R. (Larry Hagman of I Dream of Jeannie) on the nighttime soap Dallas (1978-1991).  Bobby was a good guy, J.R.'s main foil, and he provided most of the show's beefcake shots.

He is particularly well remembered for dying during the 1986 cliffhanger, only to appear in the shower at the start of the 1987-88 season, demonstrating that the whole previous year was "just a dream."  That scene was recently replayed for a promo with the entire cast of the new Dallas retread (Patrick is fifth from the left, hunky as ever).

After Dallas came Step by Step (1991-1997), a nuclear family sitcom that wasn't quite as popular, perhaps because Patrick stopped providing us with beefcake shots.

Although he's never played a gay character, Patrick has always been nonchalant about being a "sex symbol" for both men and women, and fully supportive of his gay fans.

Jan 24, 2013

Born to Fight/Devil Diamond

During the 1930s, boxing was America's sport.  Millions of people watched matches or tuned in by radio.  Champions like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and Max Baer became superstars.  In the comics, Joe Palooka was more popular than Flash Gordon or Little Orphan Annie.  And there were dozens of films about fictional boxers and the men who loved them.

Born to Fight (1936) stars Kane Richmond as boxer Tom "Bomber" Brown, who goes on the lam after clobbering a gangster and falls in love with the homeless adolescent Baby Face (19-year old Frankie Darro).  They set up housekeeping -- Bomber cooks breakfast for Baby Face, asks "How did you sleep?" in the morning.  When they determine that Baby Face could make a good living as a boxer (after all, he already has the name for it),  Bomber starts taking 12-hour shifts at the gas station to pay for his training.

The two are amazingly expressive: they walk off with their arms around each other's waists, enfold each other in full-body hugs, sit pressed together on a bench, drawing their faces so close that they seem preparing to kiss.

Several years pass, while we see the standard boxing and backstage plot of fame and hubris, and they break up.  Then they realize how much they care for each other and reconcile with teary-eyed abandon. Homoromance is triumphant.

Devil Diamond (1937) reverses the plot, giving the teenager an unrequited crush on the man.  This time gangsters offer the boxing training to the adolescent Lee (Frankie Darro).  Living at a boarding house during his “training.” Lee becomes quite taken with fellow boarder Jerry Carter (Kane Richmond), a government agent working undercover, and though Jerry is not sure at first if Lee is accomplice, pigeon, or gunsel, he soon warms up to the boy and reveals his true identity.

Now sharing a secret life, the two spend many scenes heart-to-hearting and going on long walks together.  When Jerry begins courting a girl, Lee roils with jealousy.  What does he need a “dame” for?  Why can’t it be just the two of them?  One night Jerry fails to appear at the boarding house at his usual time, and Lee stays up late waiting, along with Yvonne (Rosita Baker), the landlady’s daughter.  Finally Jerry shows up:

Lee: [Anxiously] Where you been?  I’ve been looking for you.
Jerry: Out for a walk.  Want anything special?
Lee: [Hesitates.]  No. . .I just wanted to say hello.
Jerry: Okay – hello. [Goes upstairs.]
Yvonne: [Frustrated.] Is that all you wanted to say to Jerry?  Hello?

A moment later, Lee musters up his courage and scoots up the stairs after him, but even when they are alone together, he is altogether afraid to say whatever needs to be said.  He stares and stumbles, and mutters incoherently about wanting to become a junior g-man, until Jerry gets frustrated and asks him to leave.

Lee’s inability to express his interest in Jerry is counterbalanced by his very vocal disinterest in Yvonne: he rebuffs her with snide asides, tells her in no uncertain terms to “scram,” accepts a date with her only when Jerry offers to double.

The movie ends with the bad guys subdued and Jerry in a clinch with his girl, while Lee looks on in rather obvious distress.  There has been no physical intimacy, no exclusivity, no promise of permanence; the passion has been all one-sided.  Yvonne swoops in to kiss him on the cheek, and he grimaces as we fade out to dreams deferred.

Jan 23, 2013

Marvin/Fred: Lucas Cruikshank's Secret

Having not been a teenager for a few years, I sometimes have trouble figuring out what modern teens like.  What's the attraction to Lucas Cruikshank, for instance?

Other than the obvious -- his shirt comes off a lot.

In 2008, he was a 15-year old kid in Columbus, Nebraska, posting youtube videos about an annoying 6-year old named Fred.

They "went viral."  Millions of hits.

In 2009 he appeared as himself on Nickelodeon's ICarly, about teens hosting a webshow.

Then came Fred: The Movie (2010), which kept the high-pitched voice but turned Fred into an oddball teenager.  I didn't watch due to the heterosexist plotline (Fred tries to win the girl of his dreams), but I noticed the muscular John Cena playing Fred's "real dad."

I didn't see Fred 2: Night of the Living Fred (2011), which immerses Fred into a parody of teen horror movies.

Or Camp Fred (2012), a parody of teen summer camp movies.

But I did switch channels during these movies enough to notice a lot of shirtless and semi-nude shots of Lucas, Jake Weary (the bully, left), and sundry minor characters, but not a lot of girls in bikinis.

Teenagers apparently couldn't get enough of the squeaky-voiced oddball kid, so he got his own tv show in 2012, with the same bully (Jake Weary) and girlfriend (Daniella Monet).  There were only 12 episodes.  I watched a few.

1. A refreshing lack of girl-craziness for Nickelodeon.  Ok, heterosexism required that Fred have a "girl of his dreams," but she seemed more of a buddy than someone walking in slow motion across the schoolyard.

2. Buddy-bonding. The bully, for all of his blathering, seemed to actually like Fred.

3. A frenetic, campy energy that skewered gender pretensions along with every other cliche of teen life.

Lucas's latest project, Marvin Marvin (2012-13), was a "my secret" sitcom about an alien boy living with a human family: a hunky dad (Pat Finn), mom, older sister, younger brother, and feisty grandpa (Casey Saunder).

 I watched a few episodes. No beefcake shots, but Marvin does favor rather tight jeans.  Plots involve the standard crazy powers and misunderstandings of human norms, with the gay symbolism of the outsider trying to fit in.  And this time there's no question: Marvin is not interested in girls (except for an episode where he wants to date a girl in order to fit in).

Lucas is gay in real life.  No doubt that's a big part of his character's gay symbolism, although significantly he didn't make any public announcements until after he left Nickelodeon.

Also see: Six Degrees of Separation, Lucas Cruikshank to John Cena.

Jan 22, 2013

Rescuing Boys on 24, Part 4: Josh

After rescuing the gay-vague teenager Scott (Michael Angarano) on Day Six of 24 (2007-8), terrorist chaser Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) struggles with his own “bad father,” Phillip Bauer (James Cromwell), an industrialist who has been secretly selling nuclear devices to the terrorists. Philip Bauer is the most villainous of the “bad fathers” on 24, not only capable of murdering his children, like Navi, but of murdering them purely in the interest of financial gain.

He kills his son Graem  (Paul McCrane) and then abducts his teenage grandson, Josh (nineteen-year old Evan Ellingson).  He uses Josh to set up a trap for Jack, but Jack manages to elude capture and rescue the boy, with a hug that seems more paternal than the one he bestowed upon Derek last season.  Later Josh is captured again, and again Jack rushes to the rescue. This time the hug is a little more effusive.

Finally the evil Vice President, conspiring with the elder Bauer, orchestrates a third capture.  At this point one doesn’t quite understand the strategic importance of constantly capturing and recapturing Josh, except to give Jack someone to rescue; he is a symbol of Jack and the elder Bauer’s competition, proof that one of them has “won.”  This time Josh manages to free himself and nearly kills Bauer before Jack comes storming in.  As Day Six draws to a close, Josh seems not at all traumatized, for a boy who has faced a nuclear explosion, the death of his father, and three murder attempts since breakfast.

 Like Derek, Josh seems to actually enjoy the adventure.  He rejects the idea of returning to his mother and begs Jack to take him along.  Jack promises that they will end up together, but he has something that he “needs to do” before their relationship can become permanent.  After another teary-eyed full-body hug, he grudgingly lets Josh go.

Jack’s relationship with Josh, like his relationship with the other rescued boys in the series, slips uneasily between conventions of fraternal and romantic desire.  Obviously Jack is literally the boy’s uncle (and, since he was in a relationship with Josh’s mother before she married Graem, perhaps his biological father, too).  But the gradually increasing physicality of Jack’s emotional involvement plays quite differently than the emotion he expresses toward his own daughter in Days One and Two, or the sudden intensity of his interest in Behrooz or Derek; it is as if he cares more and more about Josh with each rescue, and begins thinking of him less as a boy to be returned to his mother than as a permanent part of his life.

Josh, for his part, never treats Jack as an uncle or surrogate father, but always with a feverish sort of physicality, always with an arguably romantic passion.  Again, the bond is not deferred by heterosexual imagining: Josh never mentions a girlfriend or expresses any interest in girls.

Jan 21, 2013

Rescuing Boys on 24, Part 3: Scott

Day 6 (2007-08) of 24, the dramatic series about terrorist-hunter Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) having a Very Bad Day, begins with a covert gay relationship between peers that offers a frame for interpreting the rescuer-rescued relationships that Jack had before, in Days 4 (Behrooz) and Day 5 (Derek), and that he will have later.

High schooler Scott Wallace (Michael Angarano, left) is quite taken with his classmate Ahmed (Kal Penn, below, who is 30 years old and doesn't look anything like a teenager, thus remaining true to the older-younger dynamic of the homoromantic bonds on 24).

When his Dad is arrested as a terrorist, Ahmed has nowhere to go, so Scott invites him to move in.  Later Scott gives him a "friendship necklace."

But Ahmed's feelings for Scott are complex, obvious affection coupled with obvious scorn (“You can’t even pronounce my name correctly,” he snipes.  “It’s Ach-med, Not Ah-med”).  No wonder: He turns out to be a terrorist, like his father.

When he is shot and cannot deliver a package to the terrorist headquarters, Ahmed takes Scott and his mother hostage to force Scott's father to do it.

After the package is safely delivered, the terrorist leader orders Ahmed to kill Scott, apparently trying to get him to prove his loyalty by doing away with the person he cares for the most (the same thing happened with Behrooz in Day 4).

 As Ahmed is struggling, torn between his love for Scott and his duty to the terrorists, Jack Bauer storms in to the rescue.   Then both boys vanish from the story; the main rescue is still to come.

As usual on 24, the boy in need of rescue is played by an actor well-known for gay projects.  Michael Angarano had a recurring role as the flamboyant Jack’s son on Will and Grace (2001-2006), and starred in the overtly homoerotic Lords of Dogtown (2005); both he and Evan Ellingson (Josh, from later in the day) starred in the gay-themed Bondage.

Jan 20, 2013

Rescuing Boys on 24, Part 2: Derek

Day Five of 24 (2006-07), the tv series about fighting terrorists in real time during a very long day, begins 18 months after Jack Bauer watched the Counter-Terrorism Unit betray his teenage friend Behrooz.  He has changed his name and taken a job as a day laborer in northern California.   He is renting a room from Diane Huxley (Connie Britton) and probably dating her, though he spends more of the first hours of the day trying to bond with her teenage son Derek (eighteen-year old Brady Corbet).

When he discovers he has been framed for the assassination of the President of the United States, and that Russian terrorists are planning to release nerve gas into a shopping mall, Jack springs back into action.  Derek tails him, and they are thrown together for a morning-full of helicopter jaunts and last-minute rescues.

Jack keeps apologizing for getting Derek involved, but the boy doesn't seem to mind.  In fact, he seems to relish working side by side with Jack, like a superhero's sidekick or one of the Adventure Boys in pre-1940s boys' books.  He refuses to leave even when he gets an opportunity.

About halfway through the day, Jack rescues Derek from a hostage crisis at a regional airport, and his mother arrives to take him home.

When will I see you again?” Derek asks.  This is an odd question to ask of his mother’s boyfriend: the use of “I” suggests that he expects a more direct involvement, and “see you” seems to evoke romantic dates rather than outings to the ball park.

Misty-eyed, Jack admits that he will be staying with the CTU, that this is a permanent goodbye.  Then he envelopes Derek in an amazingly enthusiastic full-body hug, his face against Derek’s neck.  Again, he seems to have forgotten that Derek is his girlfriend’s son.  He does not  treat Diane this way; their goodbye is courteous at best.

 Jack may imagine himself a “good father,” trying to “be there,” become a “man around the house” for Derek, but through the episodes the bond does not appear at all custodial; indeed, Derek rescues Jack nearly as much as he is rescued.  And, for the first time in the series, the bond is not deferred by heterosexual imagining: Derek has no “bad father,” so there is no paternal competition, and he expresses no heterosexual interest of any sort.

I don't know why, but the boys Jack rescues are usually played by actors who have significant gay-themed roles in their backgrounds. Brady Corbet played a troubled asexual teen who buddy-bonds with a gay teen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in Mysterious Skin (2004).

Dominic Zamprogna

Dominic Zamprogna looks quite similar to fellow General Hospital star Jonathan Jackson.  But he's shorter, with straight hair, a rounder face, a much more muscular physique, and no qualms about frontal nudity.

Also Dominic is pf considerably more interest to gay fans.  Among his homoromantic subtext and gay-vague roles:

The voice of Atreyu in the Neverending Story animated series (1995).

The Boys Club (1997): Canadian boyfriends (Dominic and Devon Sawa) and their buddy Stuart Stone accidently invite a killer into their midst.

Odyssey 5 (2002), a Canadian tv series about time-traveling astronauts: his Justin Deckard develops a new drug that allows him to mind-meld with Neil (Christopher Gorman).

Stargate: Atlantis (2004):  On a planet where everyone dies at age 25, his Aries disapproves of his boyfriend Keras (Courtenay J. Stevens)'s alliance with the Earth explorers.

The vampire Beau on Supernatural (2006).

He's also played heterosexuals on several movies and tv series with gay characters, including Edgemont, The L Word, Deadly Skies, and of course General Hospital. 
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