Sep 19, 2014

The Gay Werewolf of Steppenwolf

When I was an undergraduate at Augustana College in the early 1980s, I took three German classes with tall, gray-haired, constantly-scowling Professor Weber, who was obsessed with demonstrating that homosexualitat did not exist in modern Germany.

Stefan George, Thomas Mann, the Physical Culture Movement, Robert Musil, Magnus Hirschfield, the Kit-Kat Club of Berlin between the Wars?

"Posh!  Nonsense!  About friendship and the nationalist ideal, not homosexualitat!"

He would allow no discussion of current campus favorite Steppenwolf  by Herman Hesse: "Posh!  Nonsense!  A book of monsters!  Fit only for the Late-Late Show!"

So of course, I had to read it.

The cover illustration of two nearly-naked women nearly turned me away.

As did the clueless school librarian who kept trying to point me to the music section, insisting that the book was about the rock band Steppenwolf.

But finally I managed to get a copy.

I saw immediately why Dr. Weber forbade the class from discussing it.

The protagonist, Henry Haller, feels depressed, friendless, and alienated from the world he no longer understands -- what adolescent hasn't felt like that?  Especially gay adolescents.

The source of his alienation: he is a werewolf, a man with two natures, one civilized and stable and heterosexual, the other wild.

Wild, savage, untamed, homoerotic.

While wandering aimlessly through the city, he sees an advertisement for "Magic Theater -- not for everybody." (Or, in this Spanish sign, "for lunatics only.").

 Maybe in the Magic Theater he will find a way to reconcile his two natures.  Or maybe it will lead him to oblivion.  He resolves to seek it out.

En route, he meets two people.  Hermine nurtures his "civilized" side, introducing him to the pleasures and constraints of heterosexual normalcy, including sex with women.

Seductive saxophonist Pablo offers him a "walk on the wild side."

(In the 1974 film version, Henry is played by Max von Sydow, and Pablo by Pierre Clementi).

Eventually Henry kills his "civilized side," and Pablo announces that he is ready for the Magic Theater. He walks inside, through a narrow corridor into the future.

For the gay men of my generation, it sounds precisely like your first visit to a gay bar.  You circle the block a few times, then park, and walk slowly, terrified, to that door marked "Magic Theater: Not for Everybody."  Your future lies behind it.

Hesse envisioned several other close male "walks on the wild side," in Narcissus and Goldmund (1930) and Magister Ludi (1943).  

See also: Death in Venice; and Male Nudity in German Class;

Sep 18, 2014

Bring on the Spider-Men

I'm not a big fan of superheroes in general, and Spider-Man is at the bottom of my list.  I walked out on the first movie (2002) starring Tobey Maguire, and I've never seen The Ultimate Spider-Man, in spite of its 10 Ultimate Hunks.

So the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Night (2011-2014) was not high on my must-see list.

It was one of the most expensive musicals in history, riddled with production accidents (Spidey has a lot of web-swinging to do).

It was panned by critics, who complained that it combined the worst set-pieces of the 2002  with pretentious Greek-chorus stuff, and ignores Spidey's comic book origins.

It was certainly heterosexist, with Mary Jane being captured and melting into Spidey's arms every five minutes.

But it has something that the comic book never had:  multiple Spider-Men.

You need a lot for all the stunts, and because they keep getting injured.

Spider-Men include man-mountains like Matthew Wilkas (top photo), Reed Kelly (left), Adam Ray Dyer (below).

Jake Odmark, Justin Matthew Sargent, Matthew James Thomas, Marcus Bellamy, and on and on and on....

And the Spider-Men's costumes seem particularly bulge-worthy.  Apparently being bitten by a radioactive spider adds considerable bulk beneath the belt.  How many can you count in this curtain call of four Spidermen sans mask?

How about now, with nine Spidermen strutting their stuff on Times Square?

New productions are being planned for major cities in America and Europe, so you may yet have a chance to gawk at your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Men.

Sep 15, 2014

Henry Danger: A New Nickelodeon Gay-Subtext Classic?

The Disney Channel loves teencoms about kids who are training to become singers.

Nickelodeon puts them into bizarre, unexpected situations.

Which would you rather watch?

In Henry Danger, the new Nickelodeon teencom, average kid Henry (13-year old Jace Norman) lands his dream job: Danger Boy, teen sidekick to superhero Captain Man (Cooper Barnes).

He gets to wear a superhero costume, hang out in a cool futuristic hideout, and fight colorful Batman-like villains.

Did I mention that the job pays $9 per hour?

Of course, Henry can't tell anyone, but that's part of the fun.  What kid doesn't want to live a secret life?

Especially a gay kid.

Jace Norman is exceptionally androgynous -- with a change of outfit, he could easily be a girl -- so the gay symbolism seems almost deliberate.

He has two best friends, the sarcastic, sassy Charlotte (Riele Downs) and the rather dimwitted Jasper (Sean Ryan Fox).  No doubt a heterosexual romance is in the offing with one, and a gay-subtext romance with the other.

Captain Man (Cooper Barnes) was heterosexualized in the first episode with a set-piece of his alter ego romancing a woman, but he's probably going to be up for some gay symbolism, too.

Cooper Barnes, seen here as Hawkman, is no stranger to gay subtexts.  He starred in a short video about football fans engaging in unconscious homoerotic behavior,

And Nickelodeon seems dedicated to filling supporting roles with musclemen.

Like Ben Giroux, seen here flexing in a commercial, as the villainous Toddler.

It's still too soon to know if Henry Danger will become a gay-subtext classic, like Drake and Josh and Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide. But it's off to a good start.

See also: Henry Danger Grows Up

Sep 14, 2014

Manga: Gay Japanese Comics

When I visited Japan in 1986, I saw manga everywhere: thick, heavy books of sequential art, similar to Western comic books but with a different history, a distinctive style, and a much larger audience.  Everybody was reading manga, not just fanboys, and they came in many different genres, from comedy to drama to the hardest of hard-core porn.

In the absence of Western hysteria concerning gay people, same-sex desire and relationships are commonly portrayed as unremarkable facts of life, even in manga aimed at juveniles.

Yaoi are manga involving romances between teenage boys, both drawn as ultra-feminine and girlish, aimed at an audience of teenage girls.  They seem to be the Japanese equivalent of Western teen idols, who are commonly presented as androgynous.

(Yuri are the female equivalent, involving romances between teenage girls.)

If you prefer more masculine men, try bara, manga involving hirsute man-mountains in love.

Here are some of the more popular (but non-pornographic) gay-themed manga available in English translation.  Many have also been turned into anime (Japanese cartoons).

But be careful...they are convoluted, multi-volume, so once you start, you'll have to read a dozen or more to get the whole story.

1. Close the Last Door! Nagai is a salaryman who is secretly in love with his coworker, Saito, who is about to marry a woman.....

2.Silver Diamond. High school student Sawa teams up with the intergalactic outlaw Chigusa, to try to save Chigusa's planet from evil plant creatures.

3. Punch Up. Sophisticated young architect Motoharu has lost his pet cat.  Rough, husky factory worker Kouta has found it.  The two mistrust each other at first, but....

4. Three Wolves Mountain. Kaya runs a cafe in a small, isolated town.  One night he meets two werewolf brothers (fox spirits in the original Japanese).  He falls in love with the younger brother, but the full moon is coming....

5. Antique Bakery. Famous baker Ono is accustomed to getting any guy he wants, using both his superlative physique and his baking skills.  But his boss, Tachibana, seems oblivious.  Until....

6. One Thousand and One Nights.  The sultan keeps marrying women and killing them, and Sehara's sister Shahrazad is next in line!  He is willing to do anything to save her, including....

7. Loveless. Ritsuka is a "catboy," who will lose his cat-like qualities when he loses his virginity.  He and an older man named Soubi team up to find his brother's killer, and encounter a mysterious organization called The Seventh Moon....

8. Hetalia Axis Powers. World War II is recreated by characters named after the countries involved: Italy, Germany, Japan, America, England, France.  Except now they can form hidden alliances and fall in love...

9. Crimson Spell. Prince Vaid suffers under a curse: he turns into a demon every night!  He seeks out the assistance of the powerful sorcerer Halvi, who is afraid to tell him about the one act that can break the curse....

10. G-Defend. Ishikawa is an instructor for the Japanese Security and Anti-Terrorist Squad. His assistant, Iwase, has a secret crush on him....

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