Apr 9, 2016

Bob Hoffman, York Barbells, and Muscletown U.S.A.

If you're going to do any serious muscle building, sooner or later you'll have to leave behind the Nautilus machines, go into the weight room, and pick up a barbell or a dumbbell.

Barbells are on a bar, so you use both arms at once.

Dumbbells are separate, one for each arm (called "dumb bells" because they're silent).

Athletes have been lifting weights to gain strength and muscle mass since ancient times, but the classic modern barbell, with round weights attached to either side of an iron bar, appeared in 1902, when physical culture pioneer Alvin Calvert founded the Milo Barbell Company in Philadelphia.  At first he sold globe-shaped barbells that had weight increments 2 1/2 pounds, but customers complained that it was too difficult to take apart the apparatus to increase the weight.  By 1910, he was also selling plate-loaded barbells that could be adjusted easily with a twist of a bearing.

In 1935, Bob Hoffman bought the Milo Barbell Company from Calvert, renamed it the York Barbell Company, and set about publicizing the benefits of weight-lifting.  He sponsored thousands of bodybuilding competitions, published dozens of books and magazines, and made sure York Barbells could be found in nearly every gym in the world.

The problem with the barbells was, they didn't wear out.  Once you bought a set, you were fixed for life.  So in order to stay solvent, an ever-increasing customer base was necessary.  During the 1980s, as weight training machines became popular, that customer base started to diminish.  Bob Hoffman's death in 1985 almost brought about the company's demise.

Today York Barbell is marketing itself to general consumers, young people interested in a healthy lifestyle, not just power-lifters.

Still, every bodybuilding enthusiast has made a pilgrimage to York, Pennsylvania, where a giant image of a bodybuilder revolves atop the company headquarters.  Inside, the Weightlifting Hall of Fame has some interesting artifacts and exhibits.

While you're in town, check out the York Murals, murals of important local events and celebrities that adorn local buildings.  Bob Hoffman's Muscletown U.S.A. is at 37 West Philadelphia Street.

February 2005: Hooking Up on a Job Interview

Xenia, Ohio, February 2005

I've been on the academic job market four times, after getting my Ph.D. (2001), when trying to leave Florida (2005), and at the end of my temporary positions in Dayton (2008) and Philadelphia (2013).  About 10 interviews each time, 50 in all.

So I know all the routines.

1. I will be asked about the last game of whatever sports team is popular in my area.

2. I will be told about the hotness of local girls.

3. I will usually be assumed heterosexual, in spite of my resume-full of gay-themed research, although some people will wonder, and ask sneaky questions in an attempt to find out.

4. Others will conclude that I am gay, and hide in their offices when I'm around, lest they be forced to shake hands with a queer.

5. Sometimes they have just invited me to interview so they can congratulate themselves on how liberal they are; I have no chance at an offer.

Those interviews can actually be pleasant: since I have no chance, I can relax, not be "on" all the time, pay more attention to my surroundings.  And it's fun seeing them stumble around the gay issue.

In the spring of 2005, when I was invited to Wilberforce University, near Xenia, Ohio, it was obvious even before I arrived that I had no chance of a offer.  It's a historically black college. 500 students, 98% black.   And affiliated with the homophobic African Methodist Episcopal Church.  No gay student organizations.

No way they're hiring a gay white guy.

So I relaxed, played it cool, and settled in for my free trip.

The full story, with nude photos and sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Hank Williams: A Dynasty of Homophobia

Hank Williams (1923-1953) was an Alabama boy who suffered from poverty, heartbreak, physical injury, alcoholism, all of the woes that fuel the ballads, meanwhile writing mournful songs that formed the genre.  Some are recognizable even to people who hate country-western music:

"Lovesick Blues"
"Why Don't You Love Me Anymore"
"Lonesome Whistle"
"Hey, Goodlookin'"
"Honky-Tonk Blues"
"I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive"

He was a lifelong Republican who proclaimed it an "honor" to support President Eisenhower.  We don't know about his attitude toward gay people, but one can probably assume that he didn't cotton to them much.

Here's a photo that seems to show him nude.

He died of a heart attack on January 1, 1953, at the age of 29, leaving a son.

Hank Williams Jr. (born 1949) began his career by covering his dad's songs, but soon struck out on his own, blending country with blues and rock.  More experimental, he has not had quite the impact of Hank Sr., but he has won some accolades for songs like:

"Born to Boogie"
"My Name is Bocephus"
"Ain't Misbehavin'"
"All My Rowdy Friends are Coming Over Tonight"

A lifelong Republican, his extremist views have caused controversy.  He has called President Obama "the Enemy," compared him to Hitler, and claimed that he's "a Muslim who hates America and loves gays."

Naturally he hates "queer guitar pickers," proclaiming homophobia as an American tradition.

Hank Williams III (born 1972) does country-western, capitalizing on his uncanny resemblance to his grandfather, but he is primarily interested in punk and heavy metal.  He is principal vocalist for the punk band Assjack, and he has also performed with the punk-metal groups Arson Anthem and Superjoint Ritual.

His albums have won some acclaim, too:
Straight to Hell
Thrown Out of the Bar
Rebel Within

As crazy...um, I mean conservative...as his dad, he disapproves of liberal actor Tom Hiddleston (top photo) playing the original Hank Williams in a biopic, and includes the line that he "don't want no faggot looking at him" in his anthem "Dick in Dixie."

Well, here he is.  Take a look.

But at least his sister Holly, Hank Jr's daughter, is a gay ally who loves her lesbian following.

 "Growing up, my best friend was gay," she tells Nashville Pride.  "He was invited to all of my slumber parties."

Hear that, Hanks?  There was one of them in your house!

The uncensored photo of Hank Sr. is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Apr 7, 2016

Inclusivity Alert: Gay References on "The Middle"!

In a jaw-dropping development, The Middle,  the most aggressively heterosexist tv program since Fringe, featured not one but two gay references in Wednesday night's episode.

In case you haven't noticed, the long-running series is about a dysfunctional working-class family in "The Middle," a small town in Indiana: dour dad Mike, perpetually-frazzled mom Frankie, college-aged Axl, over-exuberant high schooler Sue, and weird junior high schooler Brick.

In six seasons, there have been no references to gay people or same-sex desire or relationships, not one, except for an running gag about the swishy stereotype Brad, who doesn't realize that he's gay -- no one does except Mike and Frankie.

Wednesday night's episode, "Flirting with Disaster," had three plotlines.

1. Sue and Brick go to a science fiction convention.  No gay content, but you do get to see the muscular Michael Foster, who has variously played Conan, a bouncer, a Muscle-Bound Writer, and a Gay Protester.

2. Mike's father-in-law Tag asks for help with his upcoming driver's test.

Mike: "When you see someone carrying a white cane, what does it mean?"
Tag:    "That he's gay."
(Mike glares at him.)
Tag:    "What? What do they want to be called now?"
Mike:  "No, it means that he's blind!"
Tag:    "Blind and gay?  That's going to be tough!"

Ok, not bad. The elderly Tag comes across as slightly homophobic, but Mike doesn't.

3. Axl (Charlie McDermott, top photo), who I haven't been following much since he stopped hanging around in his underwear, comes home from college with a hot friend we've never heard of before, Finn (Matthew Atkinson, left).

Frankie flirts with Finn.  He responds.  She relishes her ability to still attract Cute Young Things, but then Axl tells her that Finn is "granny bait": He often uses his attractiveness to get special favors from elderly women.

Ok, it's not what you're thinking -- Axl means extra helpings of tater tots from the lunch lady.

Horrified at being labeled a "granny," Frankie decides that she'll go back to flirting with the elderly security guard at the bank: "At least she thinks I'm hot."

A throwaway line playing on our sexist presumption that security guards are always male.  But it also reveals that there are indeed gay people in Orson, Indiana, that Frankie is aware of them, and that she is completely comfortable being the object of same-sex desire.

None of the kids were around during either of the scenes; they remain unaware of the existence of gay people.  But two references in a single episode of a series that has thus far being utterly silent?  Cause for celebration.

See also: Brock Ciarlelli, the Uncle Tom of The Middle; Axl in Underwear: The Middle.

Apr 5, 2016

Frank O'Hara: Gay Poet and Lover of the 1950s

When you think of gay artists of the 20th century, the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the Violet Quill of the 1980s spring to mind.

But in between there was the New York School, a group  mostly gay, ultra-elite Harvard graduates based in New York in the late 1950s and 1960s:

Poets John Ashbery, John Schuyler,  Tom Savage, and Frank O'Hara.

Composer John Cage

Dancers Robert Dunn, Martha Graham, and David Gordon.

Artists Larry Rivers, Ernest Briggs, Albert Kotin, and William Scharf

Not as renegade as the Beats, not as openly gay as the Violet Quill, they occupied a middle ground, producing avant-garde, surreal but decidedly mainstream works, with the gay content visible to those in the know.

Frank O'Hara (1926-1966) was probably the most visible of the group -- literally.  He was photographed and painted nude several times during his life.

His poetry was personal, confessional, with gay friends and lovers mentioned obliquely:

Favorites: going to parties with you, being in corners at parties with you,
being in gloomy pubs with you smiling, poking you at parties when
you're "down," coming on like South Pacific with you at them
shrimping with you into the Russian dressing, leaving parties with
you alone to go and eat a piece of cloud.

According to his friend and former lover Joe Lesueur, he was determined to get with as many people as he could: "big guys, little guys, macho straight men, flagrantly gay men, rough trade, gay trade, friends, friends of friends, offspring of his friends, blonds, blacks, Jews, and—women."

Among his many lovers were Larry Rivers Vincent Warren (1938-), the renowned dancer Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal.

On July 24, 1966, O'Hara was struck by a car on the beach at Fire Island.  He died a few hours later, leaving an army of stunned friends, lovers, and fans.

See also: The Violet Quill

Apr 3, 2016

Mr. Muscles

We all know that superhero comics were just an excuse to gawk at bodybuilders  in tight underwear, but the Mr. Muscles title was rather blatant.

It was created for the low-budget Charlton Comics company by none other than Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman.  The first issue, in 1956, was numbered #22 (talk about wishful thinking).

Former wrestler Brett Carson, the "world's most perfect man," was a blond Aryan demi-god in white shorts and a lavender vest, perfect not only in body but in soul:  "A healthy physique breeds a healthy mind," he exclaims.

The school system in the 1950s would agree.  Kids were being forced to do push-ups and sit-ups every morning before class, in the belief that exercise bred morality.

The villains had less than ample physiques.  There was rogue wrestler Jake Armbuster, the Abominable Snowman, a zookeeper with a pet tiger, and

And they hated him, not because he worked for the forces of good, but because he was in shape.

Mr. Muscles only lasted for two issues, but he still had time to acquire a teenage sidekick, Kid Muscles, who dressed in a yellow singlet.  All the time.  Presumably at school, certainly while tooling around in his 1950s convertible.

There was also a Miss Muscles, but she ony appeared in one story.

The second and last issue was devoted to a new superhero named Steeplejack.

I guess it got too hard to pretend that Mr. Muscles was there for any other reason than to let kids gawk at his muscles.

See also: Charlton Comics.

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