Jun 6, 2015

Shocking the Nazarenes with C. S. Lewis

When I was growing up, the Nazarene church disapproved of reading almost anything except the Bible and some religious books.

Beliefs that Matter Most, by the Nazarene W. T. Purkiser?  Ok.

The Late Great Planet Earth, by the evangelical Hal Lindsey?  Ok, but be careful.  Some false teachings might creep in.

The Gospel According to Peanuts, by the Presbyterian Robert L. Short?  Maybe, if it doesn't try to brainwash you into believing in secular humanism and evil-lution.  Better let your Sunday school teacher review it first, to be sure.

Mere Christianity, by the Anglican C.S. Lewis?  Are you crazy?  Anglicans are like Catholics!

But the Campus Crusade for Christ crowd at Rocky High was all agog over C.S. Lewis.

Besides, I knew that he and J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, were friends, all members of a literary club called the Inklings.  I imagined intense afternoon buddy-bonding over discussions of Beowulf.

So with some trepidation, I started reading his books.

The Chronicles of Narnia was great, if a little too preachy.

Out of the Silent Planet was ok.  No hetero-romance, but not a lot of gay subtexts, and the weird alien planet that Ransom goes to sounds very allegorical.

Perelandra was awful.  Adam and Eve on Venus.

That Hideous Strength: I didn't get farther than the first few pages, when the protagonist's young wife Jane is in the hospital and requests a copy of Shakespeare's Sonnets, and mulls over an arcane passage in Love's Alchemie for her doctoral dissertation.  Yawn.

The Screwtape Letters: Letters from the senior demon Screwtape to his inexperienced nephew, Wormwood, explaining how to tempt his human subject.  Ok, if a little preachy.

The Great Divorce: I always liked the word "divorce," from when  I thought it was a loophole in the "find the right girl" litany of the adults.  But there's actually no divorce.  A guy is trapped in a weird gray city with ghosts.

Till We Have Faces: it said "a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche."  I knew that was all about hetero-romance, so I avoided it.

Overall a disappointment.  But it was still fun to say "I've been reading The Screwtape Letters" in Nazarene Young People's Society or Afterglow, and watch everyone's jaws drop, as if I said I had been reading the Satanic Bible, or the letters of Pope Paul.

See also: The Chronicles of Narnia

Jun 3, 2015

The Gay Connection of Celtic Gods

When I was a kid in the 1960s, the Celtic world was everywhere.  Mr. Bass in The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet was from Aberstywyth, Wales,  Rich and Sean exchanged a look that meant something in rural Ireland, and if you liked Kipling's Jungle Book, librarians nudged you toward Puck of Pook's Hill.  There was a Celtic Festival every year where you could see guys in kilts and play homoerotic "feat of strength" games.

Taran Noah Smith, who played Jonathan Taylor Thomas's younger brother on Home Improvement, was named after Taran, the assistant pig keeper who becomes High King in Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain.  And a dozen other fantasy novels drew from Celtic myth.

But was there any gay symbolism?  Any suggestions that the Celtic world might be a "good place"?

In Hero Tales from Many Lands (Alice Hazletine, 1964),  I read of a boy who had lost his memory.  Wandering aimlessly through the thick woods of Wales, he encounters a bard, blond with a blue robe, stunning beautiful, singing a song that brought both joy and pain.

They travel together, until finally the wanderer gives his life for the bard.  Then he remembers: he is Manawyddan, God of the Ocean, and the bard is his fellow god Pryderi in disguise.  His quest required him to sacrifice himself for a friend (and the amnesia was necessary, lest he remember that he was immortal).

The source was The Book of the Three Dragons, by Kenneth Morris (1930), which recounts many adventures of the Manawyddan and Pryderi.  Both marry women, but their love for each other is strong enough to save the world.

By the way, when the magician Gwydion and his brother Gilvaethy stole Pryderi's pigs, the High God Math turned them into various animal pairs (boars, deer, wolves).  At the end of each year, they brought him an animal sacrifice, and he turned it into a beautiful boy. A same-sex couple having children!

Finn MacCool in Irish myth was a rough, muscular boy who accidentally tasted the Salmon of Knowledge, and became super-intelligent.  He liked women -- the famous Pursuit of Diarmuid has him chasing the woman he likes and her male lover all over Ireland -- but he also led a band of warriors, the Fenians, who were devoted to him and to each other.  During the 19th and 20th centuries, several Irish nationalist groups called themselves the Fenians.

And Cuchulain, who single-handedly defeated the army of Ulster at age 17, depicted here as a muscular Conan-style barbarian: he was so beautiful that everyone who saw him desired him.  The sagas mention both male and female lovers.  For instance, Ferdia:

Fast Friend, forest companions,
we made one bed and slept one sleep
In foreign lands after the fray.
Scathach's pupils, two together.

But the most evocative of all the Celtic gods and demigods was Puck the trickster.  He appears in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream to procure a catamite for King Oberon and to mock and befuddle heterosexual loves.  Nearly every teen idol has played him at one time or another: Danny Pintauro, Will Rothhaar, Eli Marienthal, even Mickey Rooney (left).

See also: Celtic Festivals

Jun 2, 2015

Breakfast of Champions

Gay kids in the 1960s had to get their beefcake wherever they could, even at breakfast. Whenever Mom asked "What cereal do you want?", you had to decide between the cereal that tasted good or the one with the muscular guy on the box? (In this case, Bruce Jenner, now Caitlin Jenner after coming out as transgender in 2015.)

Did you ask Mom to bring home the cereal that stays crunchy even in milk, or the one with the picture of a Scotsman flexing an enormous bicep?

Although I did like both Cheerios Cereal and the Cheerios Kid, and Sugar Bear, who wore a blue turtleneck sweater and talked like Elvis Presley, was kind of cute.

 Quaker Oats even played into the conundrum with the competing ceeals Quisp and Quake.  Introduced in 1965, Quisp was an alien who looked like a Martian out of Rocky and Bullwinkle (because both were created by Jay Ward).  He sold corn "saucers."  Quake was a muscular miner with a purple cape who sold corn "boulders."  They both offered toys and premiums, and appeared in tv commercials competing over their products.

There was really no contest.  Quisp Cereal was sweet, sort of like Captain Crunch; Quake Cereal was awful.  Besides, who would pick a miner over a cool alien, muscles or not?  In 1969, Quake was transformed into a slim Australian cowboy, but it didn't help.  When Quaker Oats held an "election" to see who would be discontinued, Quake got his walking papers. Quisp was available through the 1970s .

See also: Mikey Likes It

Jun 1, 2015

Bobby Sherman Gets With Wes Stern

In the spring of 1971, Bobby Sherman was probably the #1 teen idol in the country,or maybe #2 to David Cassidy of The Partridge Family.  He had a dozen hit singles, including "Easy Come Easy Go" and "Julie Do Ya Love Me."  His shirtless photos were plastered all over the teen magazines, actually more often than David Cassidy's.  And he had displayed acting talent as the "allergic to girls" beach movie star Frankie Catalina on an episode of The Monkees, plus two seasons as Troy Bolt on Here Come the Brides (1968-70).

The minds of ABC executives started churning.  Why not give him his own tv series?  He could play "himself," and sing a different number every week.  Surefire hit, right?

They based the premise on the singer/songwriter team Boyce and Hart.  Bobby would play Bobby Conway, a struggling singer, and Wes Stern would provide the comic relief and tight jeans as his lyricist/best friend Lionel Poindexter.

23-year old Wes Stern was a cute, likeable guy, a veteran of the Groundlings comedy troupe, who specialized in self-effacing heterosexual roles.  He passed on the role of Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate to star in The First Time (1969), about three guys trying to lose their virginity.

 In Up in the Cellar (1970), he played a college student who gets even with the president by seducing his wife (Joan Collins), daughter, and mistress.

He tried to seduce Mary Richards on an episode of Mary Tyler Moore, and kissed any number of women on episodes of Love, American Style.

But Getting Together would minimize heterosexual hijinks to concentrate on the deep friendship (read: romance) between Bobby and Lionel.  They would become an alternative family, charged with raising Bobby's preteen sister Jenny.  And they would work in an antique shop while waiting for their big break.

They couldn't be more gay-coded if they plastered their bedroom with pictures of Steve Reeves.  Hey, Wes, don't be bashful, just kiss him.

Tie-in novels and comic books were ordered, gushing teen magazine articles were written, and after a trial run on an episode of The Partridge Family, Getting Together premiered. But not on ABC's Friday night block of kid-friendly programs -- on September 18, 1971, a Saturday.  Opposite the second season premiere of the blockbuster All in the Family.

I watched -- my parents didn't allow me to see All in the Family -- but no one else did, and Getting Together failed to make a dent in the juggernaut of Archie, Edith, and the Meathead.  14 episodes aired through January 1972, and then the duo disbanded.

Giving teen idols their own tv series, even when they have acting talent, is risky business, as David Cassidy discovered a few years later.
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