Jul 29, 2015

Codpieces: the Renaissance Bulge

Men often try to draw attention to the size of their sex organs.  Athletic supporters -- ostensibly to keep them from flopping around, but also serving the function of creating an eye-catching bulge.

Football players' cups -- for protection, and to enhance their erotic appeal?

During the Renaissance, they wore codpieces ("cod" is the Old English word for scrotum).

Originally the codpiece was simply a triangular piece of cloth placed over the sex organs.  By the 1520s, it was getting cotton enhancments to better accentuate the basket.

During the codpiece craze of the mid-16th century, men tried to outdo each other with the biggest, boldest, most elaborate designs.

This is Don Carlos, Prince of Asturias (1545-1568), painted by Alonzo Coello.  Did he really walk around like that?

Guidobaldo II, Duke of Urbino (1514-1574), painted by Agnolo Bronzino, wears a huge ball-shaped codpiece.  I don't think his sex organs would really fit in there.

The codpiece was out of fashion by the time of Shakespeare, but fortunately, most modern directors don't know that, and push their actors into them anyway.

Today you can sometimes see codpieces at Renaissance Faires.    But not often. Modern men feel too exposed wearing them.

Jul 28, 2015

Gay Symbolism in the Tom Swift Books

Adults who knew that I liked boys' adventure stories and science fiction sometimes gave me books in the Tom Swift series.  After all, they starred a boy scientist who came up with weird inventions, and they were available in every department store.  But I didn't care for Tom Swift, in spite of the beefcake covers.

There have been four incarnations of the boy scientist.

1. Tom Swift, Senior (40 books, 1910-41) is a young adult, working for his father's construction company and inventing things (a motor-cycle, a motor-boat, an electric rifle). He adventures with a friend, Ned, but while most adventure boys of the era have no interest in girls, Tom practically shoves Ned aside the moment their gyro-copter lands at Shopton Airport in his haste to hold hands with Mary Nestor.

2. Tom Swift, Junior (33 books, 1954-71) is the son of the original Tom, a teenager who uses Dad's vast laboratories to invent things (a space solartron, a triphibian atomicar, a polar-ray dynosphere).  Mostly he uses them to fight the Communists. It's all very mechanical rather than scientific, like shop class.

Tom engages in some buddy-bonding with his friend Bud Barclay, but both have girlfriends -- with relationships much more overtly romantic than those of the Hardy Boys:

Tom grinned. "How about another dance, Phyl?"
As the music struck up again, he squeezed Phyl's hand. Phyl blushed as she returned the squeeze. "You rate with me," she confided shyly.

3. Tom Swift III (13 books, 1981-84) is probably a descendant of the original tom (though his paternity is never fully explained).  In the future,  doesn't really invent anything; he travels through space on a faster-than-light craft, along with two companions, Ben and Anita. I haven't read any of these.

4. Tom Swift IV (15 books, 1991-93) is the son of the original Tom.  He stays on 1990s Earth and invents things, and collaborates with the Hardy Boys.

This Tom has a best friend, a practical joker named Rick, but again, they both have girlfriends, with lots of hand-holding and kisses on cheeks, and discussions of feminine beauty are almost as common as discussion of science.

For whatever reason -- a desire to be "relevant," to attract female readers, to avoid the obvious gay subtexts in the Hardy Boys series -- the ghost-writers introduced an incessant girl-craziness.  There was some buddy bonding, too, but it was drowned out by Tom blushing as he held the hand of some girl.

Jul 27, 2015

Summer Beefcake at the Renaissance Faire

In 1963, Los Angeles teacher Phyllis Patterson and her husband hosted a week-long "Renaissance Pleasure Faire" in Irwindale, California, modeled after the "Living History" exhibits then popular in historic sites.  People walked around pretending to actually be living in the Renaissance, wearing the costumes, performing the crafts,  talking the lingo.

The practice gained momentum during the Medieval mania of the 1960s and 1970s, when thousands of hippies, organic food devotees, and Tolkien-philes longed for a cleaner, simpler, more colorful world.

Where gym-toned guys took their shirts off.

I'm not sure where in Renaissance Europe these dancers came from.

When I dated a guy from the Society for Creative Anachronism, they told me that their character could be anyone who could have been in Europe from 500 to 1500 AD.  So no Native Americans or Pacific Islanders, but East Asians and sub-Saharan Africans were ok.

Maybe these guys are from Renaissance India.

Renaissance Faires are not popular in Europe: when there's a castle on every hillside, and your house dates from the 16th century, you don't really need to evoke the Renaissance.  It's already there.

But there are hundreds in the United States.  Some draw as many as 500,000 visitors per year.

I studied the Renaissance.  They had lice and fleas, bathing was infrequent, dinner consisted mostly of bread, and the homicide rate was ten times what it is today.  You were likely to be burnt at the stake for being Jewish, Catholic, a gypsy, or a sodomite.

And without modern nutrition and bodybuilding techniques, there were few physiques like this around.

But the Renaissance Faires are about the Renaissance we wish existed.

They tend to be a bit on the heterosexist side, all about men and women gazing into each other's eyes (heterosexuals never believe that gay people existed in the past).  But they're worth it for the beefcake, the food, and the costumes.

See also: Codpieces

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