Feb 21, 2015

Gods' Man: Lynd Ward

In Glimpses of the Devil (2005), psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, who wrote the excellent Road Less Traveled, goes crazy.  Peering into closets and under beds for evidence of demons, he latches onto the "the darkest, ugliest book" in the world, Gods' Man, by Lynd Ward.

The author was certainly possessed by demons, Peck yells, and anyone foolish enough to read it is in grave spiritual danger!

So, naturally, I had to dig up a copy.

Turns out that Lynd Ward (1905-1985) was not at all obscure. He illustrated over 100 books, including Frankenstein, Beowulf, stories of O. Henry and Ambrose Bierce, modern bestsellers, and children's classics.

And he was not a Satanist.  The son of a Methodist minister, he was a conservative Christian.  His six wordless "novels in woodcuts," forerunners of the modern graphic novel, all excoriate the decadence and decay of a modern civilization that has turned its back on God.

Gods' Man (1929): a man sells his soul to a Mysterious Stranger in exchange for artistic fame, but hates the decadence, decay, and sexual licentiousness of the art world.  He tries to find happiness in the woods with a wife and kids, but it's too late: the Stranger comes for him.

Madman's Drum (1930): a demonic drum from Africa destroys a man's life. His wife and two daughters succumb to sexual licentiousness and die, and then, driven insane, he consorts with his wife's lover.

Wild Pilgrimage (1932): a factory worker escapes from the decadence and sexual licentiousness of the modern world by fleeing to the woods, but sexual licentiousness follows him there.

And so on...

Grotesquely over-moralizing contempt for modern society, and especially for sexual desire.  An over-idealized heterosexual nuclear family provides the only salvation from the horrors of sex.

Both men and women stand at the gate of Hell.

And the woordcuts show them.  In detail.

Stylized art deco muscles. Men shirtless and nude. Bulges. Backsides. Penises.

The physiques mostly belong to monsters, or to men who are doomed by their sexual licentiousness.  But still....Lynd Ward liked drawing men.

He also drew nude women, symbols of the sexual licentiousness that leads men to destruction.

He was an equal opportunity Puritan.

Maybe his temptations...and his passions...extended to both men and women.

By the way Ward's protege, Don Rico (1912-1985), published many novels about gay men and lesbians: The Man from Pansy, The Odd World, Brand of Shame, Women Like Me, School of Lesbos, The Gay and the Savage.

Feb 20, 2015

Geography Club: Gay and Straight High Schoolers

Juvenile lit with gay characters almost invariably is about straight juveniles coming to terms with the gay adults in their lives.  So I was intrigued by the premise of Brent Harlinger's Geography Club (2003), which was made into a play in 2004, and is now a movie (2013), making the gay film festival circuit.  It really should be seen by high school students, not the film festival crowd.  It's  rated PG-13 due to the existence of gay people.

Two gay high schoolers, the nerd Russell Middlebrook (Cameron Stewart, left, of Pitch Perfect) and the jock Kevin Land (Justin Deeley, below, of 90210), want to form a gay club, but they are strictly closeted, and besides, the homophobic backlash would be life-threatening.  So they get faculty permission to start a "geography club," presuming that no one but their LGBT friends would come anywhere near it.

I don't know; geography was my favorite subject in school.  Who wouldn't want to know about far-off, exotic countries?

A heterosexual girl who actually is interested in geography shows up.  After some harrowing moments when they believe that their secret will be revealed, she argues that she should be allowed to stay in the club, because she has an alcoholic mother: "The whole world has to tell me how normal they are and how different they are from me." The gay kids can certainly relate, so she's in.

I'm not happy with the extreme closetedness, which seems a little anachronistic for 2003.

Meanwhile Russell is pressured into dating and trying to have sex with girls by the jock Gunnar (Andrew Caldwell).  When he has difficulty performing, Gunnar retaliates by submitting an application for a "Gay-Straight Alliance" under Russell's name.  Homophobic reprisals result, with Kevin participating to keep his cover.  Gunnar later apologizes.

In a noble act of self-sacrifice, the oddball outsider Brian (Teo Olivares, the gay-vague Crony on Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide) submits a new application under his name, thus relieving Russell from suspicion.

In the end they form a Gay-Straight Alliance after all.

It's all very depressing, but thinking about the horrors of high school for gay kids is always depressing.  Heterosexism reigns supreme, more intense and demanding than at any time before or after, augmented by incessant homophobic slurs, jokes, and "accusations."

And only about 10% of LGBT adolescents know that there's a gay culture and community out there, in spite of adult assurances that "it gets better."  (30% are aware that gay bars exist, and the other 60% think that there's nothing out there but homophobia and silence).

Home and Away: Gay Subtext Soap Opera

When I was working on my doctorate at USC, I spent the summer in France, and I watched a soap called Summer Bay (original title Home and Away), an Australian soap opera (1989-) centered on a group of foster children, their parents, and the residents of a nearby trailer park. I'm not much for soap operas, but this one seemed to feature a lot of buddy-bonding.  No gay characters, but enough gay subtexts to fill a book  (and a lot more swimsuit and semi-nude scenes than One Life to Live).

Blake Dean (Les Hill) moves to town, clashes with adult authority figures, and can't find a true friend until the hunky Simon (Richard Norton) moves to town.

Nick Smith (Chris Egan), a foster kid on the run from a drug lord, buddy-bonds with Duncan Stewart (Brendan McKesey), until Duncan's bad behavior forces a breakup.

The foster child relationships themselves provided moments of homoromantic buddy-bonding, as with school principal Donald (Norman Coburn), who opens his house to a surprisingly number of hunky teens, including Sam Marshall (Ryan Clark).

Even when there was no subtext, there were lots of hunky actors, such as Geoff Campbell (Lincoln Lewis). Nearly every hunky actor in Australia started his career with a season or two as a troubled teen on the beach: Heath Ledger, Julian McMahon, Guy Pearce, Ryan Kwanten....

Feb 19, 2015

Marat Sade: We Want a Revolution

Want to see a man sitting naked in a bathtub for 2 hours?

I thought so.

You'll have to see Marat/Sade, a 1964 play by Peter Weiss set in the Charenton Asylum in France in 1808, where the inmates, led by the Marquis de Sade, are putting on a play about the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat.

Marat was a radical journalist, a vocal supporter of the Revolution.  He was assassinated on July 13, 1793 while taking a medicinal bath for a mysterious skin condition.  Since then, he has become an icon for revolutionaries.

He's the subject of the famous painting The Death of Marat, by Jacques-Louis David.

Back to the play: in 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte has become the Emperor of France.  The asylum director, Coulmier, supports the new administration, but the inmates, led by the Marquis de Sade, believe that no political regime effects real change.

We've got new generals our leaders are new
They sit and they argue and all that they do
Is sell their own colleagues and ride upon their backs
And jail them and break them and give them all the axe

It all sounds hyper-political, and in fact Marat/Sade was understood as an indictment of the Vietnam War, Communism, and all sorts of local politics. And for gay liberation:

We want our rights and we don't care how
We want our revolution now

The film version (1967) features Patrick Magee as the Marquis de Sade and Ian Richardson as Marat.

Sade, by the way, wrote the 100 Days of Sodom, about libertines trying all of the sexual acts they could think of.

Feb 17, 2015

Mitch Gaylord: Hunk of the Month

In a December 1984 episode of Diff'rent Strokes, Willis (Todd Bridges) inspires his paralyzed friend by introducing him to. . .Mitch  Gaylord!!!  The studio audience gasps in awe.  Mitch Gaylord on the set, only a few feet away!!!  Much more exciting than Arnold saying "What you talkin' about, Willis" for the 800th time!

Ok, the guy was extremely muscular, and I liked the sound of his last name, but why the awe?  Was he, like, famous or something?

I started noticing him in ads for Diet Coke, Levis, Nike, and Vidal Sassoon Shampoo, and, when I moved to Los Angeles in 1985, sundry posters in gay bookstores.

After the hasty (and perhaps homophobic) firing of Scott Madsen, he became the new spokesman for Soloflex exercise equipment, flexing while lady fingers caressed his shoulder, with the risque tagline "A hard man is good to find."

In March 1985 he appeared with Lucille Ball, Scott Baio, Douglas Barr, and practically every other celebrity I had ever heard of on Night of 100 Stars.  


I asked around, and discovered that Mitch Gaylord was a gymnast in the 1984 Summer Olympics.  He won a gold medal, a silver medal, and two bronze medals.

I don't follow sports.  Who knew?

Mitch Gaylord wasn't in the spotlight for long. He starred in American Anthem (1986), about two gymnasts, male and female, who fall in love while training for the U.S. Olympic team.  He was nominated for a Razzi award for the Worst New Actor.

And in the Italian movie American riscio (1990), about an American college student framed for the murder of a televangelist's son, who teams up with a stripper and a witch to find the real killer (I'm not kidding).

And in a couple of softcore porn movies.

And as a contestant on American Gladiators (1994-95).

He hasn't made any public acknowledgement of his gay fans, but I guess that's better than Scott Madsen's homophobia.

Besides, he was the Hunk of the Month.

Feb 16, 2015

Here at the New Yorker: Homophobia, Elitism, and a Scary 18th Century Dandy

I've spent 28 years on college campuses, as student, grad student, and professor, but still, I often feel out of place.

When I'm not out, there's constant heterosexism:
"Will your wife be coming with you?"
"There will be a lot of single women at the party."
"There's not a man alive who wouldn't want to be with her!"

When I'm out, it changes to homophobia:
"How do you know you're gay if you've never tried it with a woman?"
"Why do gay men act so feminine all the time?"
"Are you the boy or the girl in your relationship?"

And the elitism is constant:
"How could you stand growing up in Illinois?  Nothing to do but ride tractors and milk cows!"
"How could you stand growing up with parents who didn't go to college?  They must have been so ignorant!"
"Why did you go to Augustana?  It's such a third-rate clown college!"

Elitism and homophobia come together in The New Yorker, a weekly magazine for people who think that Manhattan is the center of the universe, regardless of where they happen to live.

I lived in Manhattan for three years, and none of the gay people I knew read it.  But all heterosexual college professors did.  And quite a few outside of New York, in California, Florida, and Ohio.

Why is it required reading for elite heterosexuals but anathema for gay people, regardless of their elitism?

1. It's the height of insularity.  Manhattan is the center of the universe, California is full of wannabes, the rest of the U.S. is a "flyover" full of cows and rednecks, and the rest of the world doesn't exist.

Gay people know that West Hollywood is the center of the universe.

2. It's the height of heterosexism.  Endless stories about elite heterosexuals agonizing over failed marriages and dying relatives.

Endless cartoons about heterosexuals saying things that make sense to them, but not to gay people.  This guy tells his date, "I want Chardonnay, but I like saying 'Pinot Grigio."  She is shocked.  What's going on?

3. Gay people appear only as subjects of heterosexual discomfort.  In a similar restaurant, perhaps the same one, two feminine stereotypes are arguing (notice the limp wrist).  One says: "I wouldn't marry you if you were the last gay person on Earth."

Why is this funny?  Because he specifies "last gay person?"

Because it's rather disquieting for a heterosexual to think about gay people discussing marriage?

4. An 18th century Dandy and an owl form the masthead "The Talk of the Town", a section of brief stories that elite heterosexuals in Manhattan find amusing.  I find it disturbing.  I don't even like to look at it.

Apparently the Dandy's name is Eustace Tilley, and he was featured on the first cover, drawn by Rea Irwin in 1925.

Occasionally The New Yorker gets something right.  It rejected a homophobic "gay marriage" cover by Robert Crumb, and when the Supreme Court rejected DOMA, it printed a cover of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie cuddling on a couch.

But those glimmers of "gay is ok" don't make up for that 18th Century Dandy and his owl.  Shudder.

See also: Robert Crumb: From Fritz the Cat to Gay Marriage.; and Pearls Before Swine.

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