Jun 18, 2016

The Man on the Flying Trapeze: William Saroyan

During my first year in college, the drama club performed The Time of Your Life (1939), William Saroyan's Pulitzer-prize winning play about the lost and wounded denizens of a seedy San Francisco bar.  Every one of them expressed some type of heterosexual interest, with one exception: Willie, a teenage pinball player.  During the 1970s, all teenagers in mass media were portrayed as churning cauldrons of heterosexual horniness, but Willie never once looked at or mentioned a girl.


I didn't usually care for the heterosexism of Modern American Literature, but I tentatively sought out the other works of William Saroyan (1908-1981), and found melancholy stories about working-class Armenian immigrants in California, mostly with crushed dreams or memories of past glory.

And endless homoromantic subtexts.

My Name is Aram (1940). Aram grows from age 9 to young adulthood without ever falling for a girl, though he is drawn to many men and boys, including his best friend Panko and his beautiful cousin Dikran.

There is even a veiled reference to gay people. In one story, his Uncle Melik, about to travel by train from Fresno to New York, receives advice from his own uncle:  "An amiable young man will offer you a cigarette.   It will be doped." On the train, Melik waits for the cigarette offer, but it never comes, so he takes the initiative and offers a young man a cigarette.  They become friends.

The Human Comedy (1943).  Teenage Homer has a job delivering telegrams during the War, mostly about soldiers who have died; but he doesn't have to deliver the telegram about his older brother Marcus, because Tobey arrives, who knew Marcus "better than anyone in the world," to tell the family.

Meanwhile, though Homer gazes at a "beautiful girl," he finds solace in the eyes of men.

In the 1943 movie version, the actors who portrayed Marcus and Tobey, Van Johnson (left) and John Craven, were both gay.




"The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" (1935): he doesn't really fly on a trapeze.  He is dying, with no women among his dying thoughts.  Instead : he remembered the young Italian in a Brooklyn hospital, a small sick clerk named Mollica, who had said desperately, I would like to see California once before I die."

On and on, a world where coming of age does not mean "sex with an older woman," where death does not mean "letting go of the faces of women," where life is big and dangerous and sad and lived among men.

Saroyan, by the way, had some ties to the post-War gay community.  He frequented the Black Cat Bar in San Francisco, became friends with gay director Vicente Minelli (they collaborated on a musical together), and in 1955, a radio biography starred gay actor Sal Mineo.






Jun 17, 2016

The Giver: Heterosexist Conformist Dystopia

The Giver (2014) just showed up on my Netflix recommendations.   It was about a teenager who "thinks thinks" in a conformist dystopia -- pretty much the protagonist of every young adult movie -- and discovers that "the adults are lying -- only real is real," pretty much the plot of every young adult movie.

But the boy has two friends, a boy and a girl, and there's something about a younger boy who also "thinks thinks," so I figured there would be some moments of gay-subtext buddy bonding, plus the muscular Brenton Thwaites shirtless in at least one scene.

Thwaites plays Jonas, who, along with his inseparable childhood chums Asher (Cameron Monaghan) and Fiona (Odeya Rush), has just graduated to adulthood in a close-knit community with no name -- although there are others, according to the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), who appears mostly in holograms.



It's like the Village in The Prisoner tv series, with sculpted grounds and lovely architecture, and everyone always polite to each other. with everyone constantly being monitored, drugged, and lied to. For instance, Jonas' father (Alexander Skarsgaard) has the job of testing newborn babies and killing the rejects -- but because of his daily drug injection, he believes that he is "sending them to Elsewhere," a beautiful Otherworld.

People who are too old to be productive citizens are also "sent to Elsewhere." Shades of Logan's Run.

Also, everything is in black and white, no one is taught the history of what happened before, and no one is allowed to fall in love.  Shades of Brave New World.

I wonder what their high school classes are like.

After their graduation, Asher is assigned a job as a drone pilot (shades of Star Wars),  Fiona goes to work at the baby-killing facility, and Jonas becomes the apprentice to the Giver (Jeff Bridges), an old man who lives in a cabin at the edge of the world and is the only person permitted to lie, be impolite, and remember the past.  He shares memories  of the past with Jonas by touching him.

The memories are of everyday events from "back and back and back":  a gypsy wedding; a Jewish Shabat; some kind of Hindu festival; someone riding a sled to a cabin with a Christmas tree; and lots of people laughing and hugging and kissing.

The past was great!  Jonas concludes.  People felt things then!  They experienced love!

Trying to feel what they felt in the past, he stops taking his daily drugs, and becomes aware of the horrors of the Village.

His parents brought home a new baby, Gabe, but it failed its Maturity Test, and so must be sent "to Elsewhere."  Jonas knows what that really means, and vows to save Gabe.

He asks Asher and Fiona for help.  Guess which one helps, and which one rushes off to tattle to the Elders?

Yep -- guys always betray you, girls are true blue.

Freudians say that the goal of adolescence is to move from the "latent homosexuality," with same-sex pals, to "mature" heterosexual love.  It's complete garbage, of course, but this movie is definitely selling it.


So Jonas grabs the baby and rushes out of the Village, down the steep cliffs, and into the northern California wilderness, being pursued by a murderous Asher (who relents at the last minute and just throws him into a river to drown instead of zapping him).

He didn't bring any baby food or diapers, but Gabe doesn't complain through at least 24 hours of falling off cliffs, nearly drowning, and finally sledding through the snow.  Their fate is ambiguous; presumably they freeze to death.

BUT: Jonas' defection has somehow turned off the memory-zapping device, and now everyone remembers things that happened long before they were born.  So the world is saved.

I guess.  I don't understand it, either.  I'm still angry that EVERY young adult movie is about a Boy and a Girl falling in love, with the Male Friend, when he is present at all, turning into a betrayer.

Another contender for the worst heterosexist movie of all time!

By the way, nobody takes their shirt off.

See also: Logan's Run; 

Jun 16, 2016

Being Asexual in a Sex-Infused World

In West Hollywood, we had spent so many years hearing that same-sex desire was evil, aberrant, incomplete, faulty, sick, or non-existent that we celebrated it -- a lot.

Most conversations involved who you were having sex with and who your friends were having sex with.

Most leisure activity involved having sex, watching someone else have sex, or looking for someone to have sex with.

Sex was used to introduce new guys into your social circle, to be polite, as a party game, as a form of recreation.  You went to bed with the boyfriends of your roommates and friends, and with the roommates and friends of your boyfriend, without giving it a second thought.

Imagine, in that sex-infused world, simply not being interested.

Turns out about 1% of the population is asexual, not interested in sex with anyone.

They usually (but not always) experience aesthetic desire, finding some people hot and some not.  According to a survey conducted by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, over half have a sexual orientation: 27% are heterosexual, 26% bisexual, and 13% gay or lesbian.

They often enjoy romantic relationships (only 20% are a-romantic, interested in friendships only).

They may even engage in sexual activity, to please a partner or fit in with societal expectations: 12% are currently sexual active.

But they are not into it.  They would rather eat cake.

Asexuals face an uphill battle.  Doctors want to give them hormones, psychiatrists want to treat them for a presumed history of abuse, they're asked "if you've never tried it, how do you know you don't like it?" and told they just haven't met the right person yet.

The same things LGBT people hear from their straight "friends" all the time.




Here are some famous people who were/are probably asexual, although they are often assumed gay:
Politician Ralph Nader
Comedian Janeane Garofalo
J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan
Artist Edward Gorey
Sir Isaac Newton
Jonathan Frid, Barnabas on Dark Shadows
T. E. Lawrence, "Lawrence of Arabia"












And Jughead Jones from the Archie comics.  For years he was a "woman hater," not interested in women, so we all assumed that he was gay.  Then, in the 1980s, to assuage suspicions, he was heterosexualized, and given about as many girlfriends as the girl-crazy Archie.  But in his most recent rendition, a reboot  by Chip Zdarsky and artist Erica Henderson, Jughead is outed as asexual.

Jun 14, 2016

Cain and Abel: The Homoeroticism of the Biblical Brothers

When I was growing up, one of my favorite stories in my Children's Bible was of Cain and Abel.

They are the children of Adam and Eve, the first two brothers in the world.  They both offer food to God, Abel animal meat and Cain fruit.

God, being a carnivore, prefers Abel.  Cain gets jealous, and in a fit of rage, kills his brother.

He is then forced to wander, but he worries that everyone he meets will want to kill him (the world has filled up quickly).  So God gives him "The Mark of Cain" so he will be safe.

Rather thoughtful. I would have gone with life in prison for murder, but...

The story has a number of plot holes and inconsistencies.  But look at those sculpted abs and enormous biceps!

Throughout history, artists who wanted to depict the homoeroticism of two muscular men together, without women around, have drawn on Cain and Abel.  They struggle, strain, press together so tightly that you can almost forget that they're trying to kill each other.

And, in the modern era, you can comment on warfare, bigotry, and homophobic hate crimes.

Abel is the quiet, gentle, gay-coded shepherd.  Cain is depicted as a big bully, a rough-and-tumble farmer.

Adolph Bougereau, The First Mourning (1888), emphasizes Adam and Eve's despair over losing their boy, who is depicted as feminine, almost pre-Raphaelite.












In his 1899 depiction, Danish painter Laszlo Hegedus gives Abel (facing us) a self-righteous sneer, while Cain (the one with the bare backside) has red hair, symbolising anger.














Fellow Danish artist Svend Rathsack (1885-1941), primarily a sculptor, was interested in both male and female nudes.  His Cain (1910) emphasizes the muscles and buttocks of the brothers, as Cain strikes Abel with what looks like an animal bone.











John P. Reilly (1928-2010) was a Catholic artist who drew inspiration from the Byzantine world.  There's no nudity in his Cain (1958), but I thought it was interesting that Abel, the good guy, is tall, thin, and handsome, while Cain is a short, squat, grunting Morlock.  He's also trapped; maybe his genes have already doomed him to be a murderer.






Marc Chagal, the French-Jewish primitivist, gives us a penis in his 1960 version.












The Bible doesn't say how old Cain and Abel were, but most artists make Cain middle-aged and Abel a sallow youth.  Eric de Saussure's 1968 version makes them both boys. Oddly, Cain is dark-skinned and Abel light-skinned.







Maurice Heerdink makes them both teenage in his ultra-realistic, brightly-lit, homoerotic version (2001).



















I have to include this version by Bill Hoope (2001), if only because I want to know where they got the globe, and why they're attacking it with animal bones.


Jun 13, 2016

Zagor, the Italian Tarzan, Batman, Robin, Phantom, and Cisco Kid

Zagor is a comic book series first published in Italy in 1961, with later versions in the former Yugoslavia, Austria, Greece, Israel, and Turkey.

It is set in early 19th century Pennsylvania, a pristine wilderness where young Patrick Wilding becomes Batman: he sees his parents murdered, and grows up lusting for vengeance.

Or maybe he becomes Robin: he trains with a group of acrobats, like Dick Grayson.











Or maybe he's Tarzan: he moves into the wilderness, where the natives call him the Lord of the Darkwood.  He travels by jumping from tree branches, like Tarzan swinging from vines.  He fights monsters, poachers, desperados, and jungle beasts...um, I mean coniferous forest beasts...like bears, cougars, and alligators.

Or maybe he's the Phantom: "Zagor" is short for the Indian name Za-Gor-Te-Nah, the Ghost with the Hatchet (his preferred weapon).  Like the Phantom, the Ghost Who Walks.

Note that he always wears a red sleveless shirt with a yellow bird emblem.






Or maybe he's the Cisco Kid: he has a bumbling sidekick, Chico, who looks and acts like Pancho from the tv series.

There have been three movie versions in Turkey:

Zagor (1970), starring Cihangir Gaffari (who appeared in American films as John Gaffari and John Foster).

Zagor kara bela (Zagor and the Land of Trouble, 1971) and Zagor kara korsan'in hazineleri (Zagor and the Black Pirate's Treasure, 1971) starring Levent Çakir.

Levent Çakir is rather inadequately muscular, even though he also starred as the Turkish Superman.





There are two English-language translations: Zagor: Terror from the Sea (2015) and Zagor: The Red Sand (2016).




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