Jan 31, 2015

Fall 1991: Looking for Beefcake on MTV

In the fall of 1991, for some ill-advised reason, I moved to Nashville for a graduate program in Religious Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Nashville had a large but rather closeted gay community (same-sex acts were still illegal), and no specific gay neighborhood.  So I was lonely and homesick a lot.

I listened to a lot of music, searching for gay subtext songs, just as I had done in college a decade before.  Except this time I watched the music videos on MTV, and added beefcake to the search.

I came up with 8 gay subtext songs:

1. Good Vibrations (Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch).

The lyrics weren't much, mostly "Such a good vibration," but Marky Mark performed shirtless, and dropped his pants for no apparent reason except to display his basket.

2. Cream (Prince and the New Power Generation)

The gay-vague Prince of "When Doves Cry" returned with a song explicitly about having an orgasm (lyrics too embarrassing to reprint here).  There were no pronouns in the lyrics, although the music video showd him all over a woman.

3. Ring My Bell (Jazzy Boomer and the Fresh Prince)

A few "girls!" in this rap number by future superstar Will Smith and his bff Jazzy Boomer, but mostly it's about using the telephone to reconnect with a lost love.

Besides, they looked like a couple to me.

4. Hole Hearted (Extreme)

There's a hole in my heart that can only be filled by you.

The buffed Gary Chereone and the androgynous Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme also seemed like a couple, and "Hole Hearted" drops pronouns altogether.

5. It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday (Boyz to Men)

Most of the boy band's songs were loaded down with girl! girl! girl! refrains, but this one wasn't.  The lost love had no pronouns.  I interpreted it to mean not a person, but the gay world I'd left behind:

I thought we'd get to see forever 
But forever's gone away 
It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday. 

6. Black or White (Michael Jackson)

Some "girl!" here, too, but it was mostly about diversity, if you're thinking about being my baby, it don't matter if you're black or white.  Plus the music video had a cool CGI morphing of various faces and races, including a gay prettyboy.

7. Finally (CeCe Peniston)

Finally it has happened to me right in front of my face, and I just can't describe it
Finally it has happened to me right in front of my face, and I just can not hide it

The future drag queen classic not only omitted pronouns, its music video showed a muscular, shirtless guy dancing in psychedelic light.

8. Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)

Apparently the title comes from an old Southern phrase meaning "losing my temper," but I thought they were really losing their religion, their purpose in the universe, away from West Hollywood where things made sense:

That's me in the corner -- that's me in the spot light, losing my religion
Oh no, I've said too much, I haven't said enough.
That was just a dream, that was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream.

Ok, it was December, and I was still depressed.  Time to go home.

See also: outing a Medieval Knight; dating a Country-Western Star; and helping Larry find his fetish.

Jan 30, 2015

Yokai: The Gay Goblins of Japan

Japanese movies and tv series often depict the hero fighting off a weird gibbering monster called a yokai.

The humans of Japan share their islands with hundreds of species of yokai, paranormal beings variously described as goblins, demons, and monsters.

Most yokai are indifferent to humans.

Like the gigantic terai oni, who stands upside down to wash his hands in rivers, and is only dangerous if he happens to step on you, or if you're caught in the stream when he takes out his giant penis to urinate.

But a few yokai hunt humans with nefarious, often erotic intent.

Multiple-tentacled yokai are eager to invade every orifice of any woman or man who falls into their grasp.

Every orifice.

There's a whole genre of pornography, shokushu goukan, dedicated to depicting the disgust, pain, and pleasure of the victim.

Turtle-shelled kappa lurk by the riverside to grab swimmers and invade orifices of their own, in the process pulling their victims to their deaths.

They probably believe that humans can breathe underwater.

Shiri me look like people bent over, except for the gigantic eye in their buttocks.  You think they're running away, but they're actually running toward you.

Some Japanese authors even make up their own yokai.  GeGeGe no Kitaro, a manga and anime series by Shigeru Mizuki, stars Kitaro, a yokai boy, son of a living eyeball, who is working for peace between the yokai and human tribes.

A 2007 film adaptation starred Eiji Wentz, who is the subject of gay rumors.

See also: Gay Manga of Japan; Japanese Tentacle Porn

Jan 29, 2015

Dude Looks Like a Lady: Not as Homophobic as You Think

The hard-rock band Aerosmith, consisting of the extraordinarily ugly but extremely bulgeworthy Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Tom Hamilton, and Joey Kramer, had a string of hits when I was in high school and college.  Mostly about heterosexual sex,  with slang, innuendo,  double-entendres, and obfuscation to keep the censors away:

She just loves my big 10 inch...record of her favorite blues.

Goin' downtown, goin' down, goin' down, neath the city, eatin' ground round

Their most famous song, "Walk This Way" (1975) is surprisingly explicit, to those familiar with 1970s slang:

You ain't seen nothin' till you're down on a muffin, then you're sure to be a-changin' your ways

"Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" (1987)  is often cited as the epitome of hard rock homophobia, a viciously anti-gay diatribe.

Except when I heard the song and watched the music video, it wasn't anti-gay or anti-transgender at all.  Steven Tyler meets a woman, goes into an alley to have sex with her, and is surprised when: "She whipped out her gun and tried to blow me away."  

But after his initial surprise, he doesn't attack, lash into a diatribe, or run away screaming.  He decides to go through with it anyway: "Baby, let me follow you down  -- do me, do me, do me, do me.  What a foxy lady!"

Even with the "gun," the lady turned out to be "foxy."

I would not be so accommodating to a Lady who Looks Like a Dude.

Songwriter Desmond Child describes working on the song with Aerosmith.  Joe Perry was worried that gay people would find it offensive, but Child said "I'm gay, and I'm not offended."

In fact, it was very accepting, especially during the conservative retrenchment of the 1980s:

Don't judge a book by its cover, or who you're going to love by your lover. 

See also: My Girl Bill; and Subtext Songs of the 1980s.

Jan 28, 2015

Guys Who Didn't Need to Come Out 1: Joel Grey

In this week's People magazine, Broadway, movie, and tv legend Joel Grey has come out (with the proviso that he disapproves of labels, but if you must, call him "gay").

Why now, at the age of 82?

He began his Broadway career in 1951, with Borscht Capades.  A string of stage successes followed, notably the decadent, epicene Master of Ceremonies in the original Broadway version of Cabaret (1966-1969) and its revival (1987-88), but also George M. Cohan in George M., Amos Hart in Chicago, the Wizard in Wicked, and Moonface Martin in Anything Goes.  A string of characters with no or minimal heterosexual interests.

Plus he starred in the AIDS drama The Normal Heart, and directed the Broadway version.

His  tv career has been even more prolific, spanning 62 years form December Bride to CSI, and on the way Maverick, Ironside, Dallas, Matlock, Oz, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey's Anatomy, More Tales of the City, The Muppet Show, and Phineas and Ferb.

Again, a string of characters with no or minimal heterosexual interests.

His movies: Man on a Swing, The Seven Percent Solution, Marilyn and Me, Kafka, Dancer in the Dark, and of course the 1972 film version of Cabaret.

And again....

When I lived in West Hollywood, he was a staunch gay ally, a fixture at AIDS Walks and benefits.

He has released 9 albums, including show tunes and covers of the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, and Donovan.  On the cover of  Black Sheep Boy (1969), he is presented as a 1960s flower child (who happens to be in the process of ripping his sweater off, to give nature boys a glimpse of his rather slim, androgynous physique.

So, after such a long, illustrious, and gay-friendly career, who was mistaking him for straight?

See also: Gomer Pyle, Out at 82.

Jan 26, 2015

Man-Mountains of the 1980s

The sensitive, androgynous New Man fell into disfavor during the conservative 1980s.  Instead we got man-mountains, masses of post-bodybuilder pecs and abs with steely eyes and gritted teeth who grunted when they spoke at all, and strutted through the plot with their shirts off (no shirt were big enough, anyway), carrying an Uzi in one hand and a hand grenade in the other, usually with a naked lady clinging to their leg like Conan in the 1970s, or Steve Reeves in the 1950s.

At first they weren't terribly popular at the box office.  The #1 movie of 1986 in the United States was Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  Big Then, after slogging through Hoosiers, Pretty in Pink, The Hitcher, and Jean de Florette, you finally hit Cobra (with man-mountain Sylvester Stallone) at #63 and  Delta Force (Chuck Norris) #77.

But by 1988, Die Hard (with man-mountain Bruce Willis), was #1, and then there was Bloodsport (Jean Claude Van Damme, left), Red Heat (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Above the Law (Stephen Seagal), Missing in Action 3 (Chuck Norris), Mercenary Fighters (Reb Brown), World Gone Wild (Michael Pare), and Rambo III (Sylvester Stallone).

The titles were all about the same, two words suggesting hand-to-hand combat: Instant Justice, Hard Knox, Strike Commando, American Ninja (1,2,3,4,5), Kickboxer (1,2,3,4,), Bloodsport, Death Warrant, Forced Vengeance.  

The plots were all about the same:  the man-mountain, a good, patriotic white guy, travels deep into a jungle country occupied by amoral, barbaric Asians or Hispanics to:  a) rescue a prisoner of war, former boss, buddy, or brother; b) keep drugs from hurting kids; c) get revenge on a warlord who killed his wife or girlfriend.

He gets captured and tortured by a female or gay-coded male villain (the humiliation!), and escapes.  He then uses his martial arts training to take out the entire enemy army with his bare hands. (Left: Michael Pare in Deadly Heroes).

Oh, and he meets with a woman from the enemy country, usually a freedom fighter. They have sex -- usually after he's been beaten or tortured.  She's always naked, and always on top.  They fall in love.

Racist, imperialist, sexist, heterosexist, homophobic, horribly violent.  The list of negatives goes on and on.  So why would gay teenagers watch? (Or actually fast-forward the VHS tape to the good scenes).  (Left: Tom Skerritt in Opposing Force)

1. The beefcake.  The man-mountains were shirtless throughout the movie. (Left: Michael Dudikoff)

2. The bonding.  The man-mountain often traveled with a less-muscular buddy, who would be captured and require rescue.  Or they were captured together, as in David Bradley and Dwayne Alexandre in American Ninja 4.  Or rescuing the buddy was the motive for the entire adventure. In spite of the fade-out kiss and the overt homophobia, the plots often emphasized same-sex love.

See also: Gary Daniels; Stan Brock; Reb Brown.

Jan 25, 2015

Franco Columbu: Arnold's Other Half

Sardinian-born Franco Columbu is a long-time work-out buddy and friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In 1968, they came to American together.  Joe Weider, my first boss in L.A., paid for their shared apartment while they were struggling.

But soon Arnold commenced a movie career, and he introduced Franco into some of the first movies to bring bodybuilding to a mainstream audience: Stay Hungry (1976), Pumping Iron (1977), and The Hustler of Muscle Beach (1980), which wasn't about that kind of hustler.

Their closeness elicited the usual gay rumors, which neither seemed to mind.

When Arnold became a star, he continued to help out his pal, giving him screen time in Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Terminator (1984), and Running Man (1987).

In the 1990s Franco, still in top shape, produced a series of man-mountain actioners set in Sardinia: Desperate Crimes (1993), Taken Alive (1995), Doublecross on Costa's Island (1997).

Like most movies in the man-mountain genre, there was usually a girl, but the buddy-bonding took precedence.  Beretta's Island (1994) was about a retired Interpol agent trying to find out who murdered his friend.

Ancient Warriors (2003) paired Franco with Daniel Baldwin as special agent buddies eliciting supernatural assistance to defeat a crime lord in Sardinia.

In 2011 Franco starred in the Italian movie  La terra dei sogni (Dreamland), about boxer Frank Graziani (Franco), who mentors the young James De Cristoforo (Ivano De Cristoforo).  I haven't seen it, but according to the Italian synopsis, there are "stunning scenes" in which the relationship between the two becomes "vivid and full of emotions."

Sounds good.
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