Mar 16, 2013

Roseanne: Gay Middle America

A dozen nuclear-family sitcoms sprang up during the conservative retrenchment of the 1980s, but Roseanne (1988-1997) was vastly different from the standard TGIF Family Ties and Growing Pains.

1. The usual TGIF family was affluent, but the Connors were strictly working class.  Dan (John Goodman) was a mechanic, and Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) worked in a factory and a hair salon before opening a "loose meat" restaurant.

2. The usual TGIF family was kid-dominated, with Dad to offer sage advice and Mom mostly irrelevant, but Roseanne was the undisputed head of the household.

3. The usual TGIF family was aggressively polite, at least to each other, but the Connors argued, fought, and traded insults (with the requisite undertow of affection, of course).

4. There was no teenage hunk; the Connor kids consisted of teenage girls Becky (Lecy Goranson, Sarah Chalke) and Darlene (Sarah Gilbert, left), and preteen boy DJ (Michael Fishman).  Eventually Becky married Mark (Glenn Quinn), and the Connors adopted the shy, artistic David (Johnny Galecki, right), who began dating Darlene, but neither provided many beefcake shots.

5. There were gay people.  Lots of them. And they weren't even living in Manhattan. Including one of the first bisexual characters on tv who wasn't evil or "confused": Roseanne's friend Nancy. Plus Leon Carp, Roseanne's  uptight boss, and his partner (for whom Roseanne arranges a wedding, with drag legend Milton Berle as a guest).

Roseanne goes to a gay bar, and acts the part of the "helpful heterosexual" by teaching all the gays to dance.  She negotiates an amorous kiss.  She deals with the possibility that DJ might be gay.  She plans Leon's wedding.  By the time Roseanne's mother, Bev, came out as a lesbian at age 62 -- and instantly found a girlfriend at a senior citizen gay club -- Roseanne had about as many gay-themed episodes as Will and Grace.

Although Roseanne herself has come out as quite homophobic in her old age, many of her cast members have been involved with gay-positive projects.  Glenn Quinn (right) played a gay-vague demon with a crush on the vampire detective Angel.  Johnny Galecki played a gay character (with a full-frontal nude scene) in The Little Dog Laughed.  John Goodman, who was rather homophobic as Dan, starred (briefly) as a gay man in Normal, Ohio.  Sarah Gilbert came out as a lesbian in 2010.

Michael Fishman hasn't been involved in any gay-themed projects, but he has grown up into quite a hunk.

Mar 14, 2013

Yankee Zulu: Homophobic Buddy Bonding

In 1969 South Africa, the black teenager Zulu (Bobo Seritano) has an intense homoromantic crush on the slightly older Rhino (Ruan Mandelstam), who is white.

They spend "carefree days down by the river," skinny-dipping (with screen-filling rear nudity), racing, pranking, and hugging.

 Full body hugs, with their faces pressed so close together that they look like they're about to kiss.

Then Rhino meets a girl, Rowena, who, as Zulu recalls,  "spoiled it for us" by sweet-talking him into a William Tell stunt, shooting a can from atop Zulu's head. Traumatized by the knowledge that his friend almost killed him,  "I knew my life here was over."

Mar 13, 2013

Bruce Penhall, the Last Star of CHIPS

At the end of the fifth season of CHIPS, the tv series about California Highway Patrol officers, Larry Wilcox left the series, so in the sixth season (1982-83), they needed a new cop hunk to pair with Erik Estrada's Ponch.  They hired 23-year old Tom Reilly, a former college football stat with one previous acting credit (Paper Dolls, a tv movie about fashion models),  as the brash Bobby "Hot Dog" Nelson.  But he and Erik Estrada didn't hit it off, especially after Tom was arrested for drug possession.

So 25-year old Bruce Penhall (left) came on board, with skills helpful for the stunt driving required by CHIPS: he was the World Motorcycle Speedway Champion of 1981-82, plus an accomplished auto racer. 

He played  Bobby's "younger" brother Bruce Nelson, an eager cadet who often tagged along with them, or mounted his own investigations and got into scrapes.  In some of the later episodes, Bobby was nowhere to be seen, and Ponch and Bruce had the adventure together. 

The eyes of gay boys and heterosexual girls were fixed on the tall, blond, blue-eyed man-mountain, and the teen magazines obliged with countless full-page semi-nude and swimsuit photos (while giving Tom Reilly an occasional quarter-page shot). 

 After Chips, Bruce continued his motorcycle career, but acting roles were less promising. He starred in several softcore porn actioners about female detectives with big breasts (Do or Die, Hard Hunted, Fit to Kill), and returned for the reunion Chips '99 (1998).

Mar 12, 2013

Welcome Home, Bobby: Homophobic Mess

Welcome Home, Bobby appeared on tv on February 22, 1986, shortly after I moved to West Hollywood.  It was  about a teenage boy who has sex with a male teacher.  It was just once -- apparently he was successful at fending the guy off after that -- but when his family and friends find out, all hell breaks loose.

At school, he is taunted, called names, beat up.  Constantly.  There's a petition sent around calling for his expulsion.

His father, played by Tony LoBianco, also calls him names and beats him up.  Finally despairing of reasoning with him, Bobby comes down to the dinner table in drag -- and is beat up again.

The movie implies that Bobby "turned" gay after being "recruited" by the older man -- just as Anita Bryant was claiming a few years before -- but nothing is explicitly stated.

Hating Sports

When I was a kid, I hated sports, but no one would believe me.  For birthdays and Christmas, no matter what was on my list, I kept getting baseballs, footballs, basketballs, gloves, mitts.  When I protested, I was told: "Sorry it wasn't the Joe DiMaggio model" or whatever the going fad was.

Gym teachers would force me out onto diamonds, courts, and playing fields, and when I protested, they would say "Don't get smart!"

Among my peers, I had to pretend that I saw the game last night and try to understand the dizzyingly complex seasons of favored teams: Bears, Cubs, Cardinals, Packers, Hawkeyes, Black-hawks, Fighting Illini, and so on ad nauseam, or I would be branded a fairy (our junior high term for "gay").

Swiming and wrestling didn't count.  I watched for the semi-nude beefcake, not for the "game," and I went out for wrestling in junior high only for the press of hard bodies.

I didn’t understand how boys could be ignorant of carbon molecules or the battle of Waterloo, subjects they were tested on in class, yet be mesmerized by how many touchdowns Gayle Sayers scored last year, whether Ernie Banks hit any foul balls in 1965, and who won the World Series in 1967. I tried reading the sports page, but quickly got lost in a sea of RBIs, MVPs, and NBAs. Did boys really spend countless hours memorizing statistics on every baseball, basketball, and football game ever played?  Or was it something that they just knew, a mystical awareness?

I decided to check.

I went to the library and consulted a sports almanac for the most obscure statistic imaginable. Denver and San Diego were thousands of miles away, so their football games couldn’t be broadcast on tv in Rock Island, or reported in local newspapers. And even if a boy did hunt down out-of-state newspapers, he certainly wouldn’t remember a game played many years ago!

So I approached a Viking -- one of the jocks of Washington Junior High -- and demanded, “Who won the September 7, 1962 game between the Broncos and the Chargers?”

I expected a dull stare.  But instead the Viking exclaimed “Duh! The Broncos, 30 to 21!” He moved his books aside so I could sit down. “The Broncos started off hot that year, but they got screwed up later on, so they only finished 7-7, and won third in the AFL. Do you think Faulkner’s wonky defense strategy was to blame, or Zeeman’s terrible punting?”

“Um. . .Zeeman, obviously,” I said.

Six hundred years of boring sports discussions later, I rose from the table, my head thick and heavy. I’d rather be a Fairy.

Mar 10, 2013

Chace Crawford and Gossip Girl

I never heard of Chace Crawford, the Travis Turner lookalike, until about 20 minutes ago, but apparently he's muscular enough to get hired to take off his shirt in multiple tv programs, especially aimed primarily at an audience of heterosexual ladies. And pretty enough so that every time he even glances in the direction of a guy, the gossip mongers yell "Aha!  Proof positive that he's gay!"

Born in Dallas, a graduate of the conservative Trinity Christian Academy, Chace got his start in the teen horror movie The Covenant (2006).

I remember the trailer -- he and the girl literally leap into each other's faces to kiss. I'm surprised they didn't crack their jaws.

Next came more teen horror and Twelve (2010), which may have some buddy-bonding: White Mike (Chace) sees his best friend arrested for his cousin's murder.  And What to Expect When You're Expecting  (2012) may have some buddy-bonding among the four guys who are all expectant fathers.

But his main celebrity came with Gossip Girl (2007-2012), a CW series about privileged teens who live on New York's Upper East Side.  Sort of like Beverly Hills 90210, but with skyscrapers instead of palm trees. "Gossip Girl" writes revealing exposes about them; the ongoing mystery is, "Who is she (or he)?

Chace played Nate Archibald (left, using his crotch to advertise 90210).  

He's a rich, powerful "golden boy" who dates most of the girls on the series.  But he does get to do a gay scene when Dan (Penn Badgley, left) writes a book and makes his character gay.

In the first three seasons, there was also a recurring character: Eric (Connor Paolo, left), who had a lot of confused/depressed/suicidal problems.  Big reveal: he's gay!  (The hot pink shirt should have given you a clue.)

Unfortunately, he's the only gay person in Manhattan, so he has relationship problems.  He dates the bisexual Elliott for a while, and then he makes out with Asher,  but Asher gets all homophobic and defensive.

At least when teens appear in programs aimed at adults, they are allowed to Say the Word.  Teens in programs aimed at other teens must always pretend that there are no gay people in the universe.
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