Jul 1, 2016

Endymion: The Eternal Sleeper

When I was in grad school in English, we had to read the poem "Endymion" by John Keats (1818).  Four thousand dreary lines about the ancient Greek shepherd Endymion, who is in love with Diana, the goddess of the moon, but also with an Indian maiden, but it turns out that they're both the same person, because all women are really one woman, the Eternal Feminine who is the goal of "all" men's lives.

As Snoopy would say, "Bleah!"

At least the first lines are praising male beauty:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness.

In the original Greek myths, it was Selena, Goddess of the Moon, not Diana (who didn't care for men), who fell in love with Endymion and asked Zeus to make him immortal, so his beauty would last forever.  Zeus consented, but -- psych! -- he also put Endymion into an eternal sleep, so Selena couldn't act on her desires.

But she found a way to make it with Endymion while he was asleep.  Eventually they had 50 children.

Another myth says that it was Hypnos, the God of Sleep, who fell in love with the sleeping Endymion and decided to keep him that way.

Endymion is a favorite of artists interested in depicting muscular men who aren't being killed or trying to kill someone.  Usually Selena or Diana is hanging around, but it's pretty obvious that she's not getting anywhere with him, as in this painting by Francesco Trevisani (1656-1746).

Or this one by George Frederic Watts (1817-1904), where Selena looks more like the crescent moon than a real woman.

Other artists just skip the moon goddess altogether, as in the Endymions of Nicolas Guy Brenet (1728-1792), and Anne-Louis Girodet (1767-1824) .  Girodet was male, by the way.

This Endymion by Girolamo Troppa (1637-1733) has him sleeping sitting up.

There are lots of sculptures, too.  Endymion was a mainstay on ancient sarcophagi, since he represented the "eternal sleep" of death.

This supine statue is by Antonio Corradini (1668-1752).

You may have noticed that Endymion was a favorite of the Baroque Era.  He doesn't show up much in the 19th and 20th century,, although this naturalistic (and very well hung) sleeper by contemporary American painter Kendric Tonn is called "Nocturne in Blue (Endymion)."

Willie Wonka and the Torture Factory

Name a movie that about a lavender-coated, gay-vague monster who lures five children into his lair with the promise of candy, then tortures and terrorizes them, killing three, before inviting the one he deems "good" to become his apprentice.

No, it's not Nightmare on Elm Street.  But you were close.

It's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a early entry in the torture-porn genre that parents inflicted on Boomer kids in the summer of 1971, causing not a few of them to be traumatized for life.  I still can't hear the song "Candy Man" without cringing.

The plot: Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), the ultimate capitalist, produces candy for the town.  He offers a free tour of his factory to five kids who win a "golden ticket." Once they arrive, he terrorizes them.

He pretends to be disabled, and once they become adequately solicitious, does a somersault: "See, you were all sympathetic for nothing!  I'm really not disabled!"

What a nasty thing to do!

Even a boat trip down a chocolate river provides an excuse for Willie to toy with their emotions.  He starts shrieking:

Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing
Are the fires of Hell a-glowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing?

Oh, please -- they're just going to another part of the factory!

But then, he is always extremely volatile, level-head one moment, screaming the next.

Willy arranges for the children to be killed or transformed into something monstrous in retribution for some minor fault, like Billy Mumy's godlike demon in "It's a Good Life."

1. The tv-obsessed Mike Teevee (Paris Themmen) is shrunk to the size of a tv image.
2. The bratty Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole) falls down a garbage chute  into the furnace, where she is burned to death.
3.  The gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Denise Nickerson) is transformed into a giant blueberry, whereupon she explodes.
4. The gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Michael Bollner) drowns in a river of chocolate.

 After they are murdered, Willy's slaves, the Oompa-Loompas, sing moralizing songs: if you refrain from chewing gum, over eating, being bratty, and watching tv, you'll "go far," like survive to the end of the torture factory tour.

Charlie (Peter Ostrum) is one of the irrepressibly good, blond waifs who populate adult fantasies about childhood innocence (others include Mark Lester, Jeremy Sumpter, Macaulay Culkin, and Ricky Schroeder).  He has an extremely creepy home life, living with four grandparents who are all bedridden -- and share the same bed.  Gross!

Charlie's fault is larceny -- he and one of his grandfathers sneak into a secret lab and steal an experimental soft drink.  But Willy just yells at Charlie instead of torturing him -- maybe he has a thing for blonds -- and the end offers to make him his apprentice torturer.

I guess even Freddy Krueger needed an assistant.

This was supposed to be fun?  No wonder most of the child stars never acted on film again.
Peter Ostrum is now a veterinarian in New York.
Michael Bollner is a tax accountant in his native Germany.
Julie Dawn Cole limits herself to television.
Paris Themmen works in live theater and film. production.
Even Peter Stewart, who played one of Charlie's friends in town, never acted again.

Would you?

Jun 30, 2016

Jimmy McNichol and the Gay Coach

Many gay teenagers in the late 1970s and early 1980s were more familiar with Jimmy McNichol's body than the bodies of their real-life friends.  They saw it more often, tanned and pleasantly muscular, splashed over dozens of pin-ups and photo spreads in teen magazines, and during his dozens of tv and movie appearances.

Born in 1961, Jimmy began acting as a child along with his sister Kristy.  But he didn't hit teen idol mania until the Eight is Enough clone The Fitzpatricks (1977-78).  It only lasted for 13 episodes, but teen magazines were ecstatic about his taciturn Irish Catholic teenager and his buddy bonds with Clark Brandon.  They got even more ecstatic over California Fever (1979), which lasted for only 10 episodes, but showed Jimmy and costar Lorenzo Lamas in swimsuits.

Jimmy may have had bad luck on tv series, but he gave well-received performances in Champions: A Love Story (1979), in which he falls in love with a girl and figure-skates in a revealing leotard, and in Blinded by the Light (1980), in which he is brainwashed by an evil cult and rescued by his sister.

In Night Warning (1982), he plays a shy, sensitive heterosexual teenager who is subjected to homophobic harassment by the evil sheriff  (in addition to being nearly smothered to death by his crazy aunt). And there is a positive portrayal of a gay person, the high school gym coach who is trying to help (and gets killed by the crazy aunt).

Then there was Escape from El Diablo (1983), also released as California Cowboys, which gave Jimmy a buddy-bond with Vincent Van Patten and a truckload of hot male friends, including John Wayne's son Ethan, trying to break him out of a Mexican prison. An added attraction for gay fans: Patricia Quinn, Magenta of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, has a small role as Rosa.

Jimmy's teen idol star faded by the mid-1980s, in spite of his friendships with Hollywood hunks like Michael Damian and Byron Cherry.  I haven't been able to discover much about what he's doing today, except that he lives in Colorado and is involved with environmental activism.

See also: Peter MacNicol

Lorenzo Lamas: from Gay-Vague Prettyboy to Straight Kickboxer

The son of Hollywood royalty, Fernando Lamas and Arlene Dahl, Lorenzo Lamas had a delicate, prettyboy face, big hair, a slim, hairy chest, and a penchant for semi-nudity that made him perfect for gay-vague roles.

 Gay teens first noticed him in Take Down (1979), as a high school wrestler who finds inspiration in his unconventional English teacher (Edward Herrman).

And in  the short-lived California Fever (1979), hanging out on the beach with Jimmy McNichol and Marc McClure.

And in a photo spread in the gay-vague magazine After Dark (1979).

They were expecting a lot from the gay-coded young hunk.  But it didn't happen.

Instead he got married -- twice by 1983, four times altogether.

And he landed the nighttime soap opera Falcon Crest (1981-1990), as Lance Cumson, the lazy playboy grandson of matriarch Angela Channing (Jane Wyman).  His character was married four times during the course of 227 episodes.

Meanwhile Lorenzo started bulking up, to take advantage of the 1980s fad for man-mountains, and he branched out into martial-arts actioners.  Except instead of saving a buddy, he distancesdhimself from his earlier gay-vague roles by saving girls: his sister in Snake Eater (1989), his girlfriend in Night of the Warrior (1991), a female archaeologist in The Swordsman (1992).

There were a few minor buddy-bonding roles, such as the kickboxing movie Final Impact (1992), but nothing like the promise of the 1980s.  At least he took off his shirt a lot.

During the 1990s and 2000s, Lamas could be seen mostly in low-budget actioners.  He also starred in the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful (2004-2007) and parodied himself in the tv series Leave it to Lamas (2009) and Love Sex God (2012).

Not a lot of gay content in his work, but he has performed in The King and I and A Chorus Line at the Ogunquit Playhouse in the gay resort town.

Jun 29, 2016

Bodybuilding, Weightlifting, or Powerlifting?

Although many people use the terms interchangeably, bodybuilding and weight lifting are quite different sports.

Bodybuilding is about the definition, symmetry, and proportion of the muscle groups.  Weights are used only for training.  Competition involves measurement and display.

Weightlifting is about getting as much weight into the air as possible.  It requires exceptional body strength but not necessarily definition or symmetry -- you can even have a belly.    Sajad Gharabi, the "Incredible Hulk" of Iran, has quite a bit of body fat.

Weightlifting predates bodybuilding by centuries.  "Strong men" once performed in circuses and carnivals, and had vaudeville routines.

Strong Man Contests are still popular.  Competitors lift everyday objects like rocks and tires.

And giant balls.

As an Olympic sport, weightlifting has two segments:

1. The snatch: lifting the barbell over your head in one continuous motion.

2. The clean and jerk: lifting the barbell to your shoulders, and then over your head.

The world record for the snatch goes to Behdad Salimi (471 pounds), and for the clean and jerk, Aleksey Lovchev (582 pounds).

Powerlifting is an amateur weightlifting sport involving 3 segments:

1. The squat: bend your knees with the barbell on your shoulders.

2. The bench press: push the barbell up from a supine position.

3. The deadlift: lift the barbell from the ground to hip level and back.

The world record for a raw squat (without wraps) goes to Eric Lilliebridge (960 pounds), and raw deadlift goes to Benedict Magnusson (1014 pounds).

Since there is less risk of injury than in Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting is popular in high schools and colleges.

Many gay men prefer bodybuilding, since there's more definition and more body on display -- weightlifters typically don't even take their shirts off -- and you're supposed to be appreciating the aesthetic beauty of the human form.

But there's a beauty about raw strength, too.  Weightlifting has its moments.

Jun 28, 2016

The Mysterious Disappearance of Richard Colvin Cox

Richard Colvin Cox from Mansfield, Ohio, was conforming to the expectations of Cold War culture, to the letter.  In high school he was an accomplished athlete and well-liked by both adults and other teens.  After graduation he was stationed in Germany for two years, and then was admitted to the prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he planned to graduate as a commissioned officer.

He spent Christmas 1949 back home in Mansfield, visiting his parents and hometown girlfriend.  He returned just after the New Year, ready to begin classes again.

On January 7th, a gruff, demanding man called the barracks and asked to speak with "Dick Cox."  Peter Hains, the cadet who answered the phone remembered him as gruff and impolite: "He'll know who I am.  We knew each other in Germany."  Hains was "fairly certain" that he gave his name as George.

That evening "George" stopped by, and he and Richard left together.  Instead of going to the Hotel Thayer, the only place cadets could bring visitors, they sat in "George's" car and drank whiskey.

Richard returned to the barracks drunk, and fell asleep.  When he heard the final bugle call, he jumped up and ran out into the hallway, screaming something incoherent.  Some of the cadets heard "Allus kaput!" (It's all over) in German, and others, "Is Alice down there?"

During the next few days, Richard met with "George" several more times.  He told his bunkmates that he was disagreeable, a "morbid guy" who liked to castrate the German soldiers he killed.  But he didn't seem afraid of "George," just annoyed.

On January 14th, Richard announced some distaste that he was going to have dinner with "that guy" again.  He left his room at 6:00 pm, and was never seen again.

Over the next weeks, the local police, the army, and the FBI mounted one of the largest manhunts in history.

What they discovered was perplexing:

Richard -- or his body -- was nowhere on the base.

He couldn't have driven off the base.  He would have had to sign out.

He couldn't have walked off, since his footprints would be found in the newfallen snow.

That means he had to have left in someone's truck, willingly or not.

He probably wasn't intending to go anywhere, since he left a large sum of money back in his room.

UNLESS he wanted to implicate this "George" as his murderer, the better to disappear off the face of the Earth.

Painstaking research never revealed the identity of "George."  No one like him served in Germany with Richard.  Maybe it was all a carefully planned con to allow Richard to disappear.

What would cause a well-liked, successful cadet to want to vanish during his second year at West Point?

Hundreds of calls came in over the next decade, stating that Richard had been sighted in various distant locales.  They all turned out to be false leads.  In spite of the concerted effort of the U.S. Military and the FBI, the mystery was never solved.

In Oblivion: The Mystery of West Point Cadet Richard Cox, Harry J. Maihafer uncovers a reason.  He was gay. In 1950, being discovered would cause him to get booted from the military, arrested, disowned by his family, and probably placed in an insane asylum, where he would be subject to castration and electroshock therapy.  Better to just vanish, leaving behind a mysterious story and the suggestion that he had been murdered

Jun 27, 2016

Why I Read "Pearls before Swine," Homophobia and All

As social media makes everyone's life a fishbowl, an ongoing issue becomes: should I read this book or comic strip or see this movie after the author or director has made a homophobic comment?

There are really 3 questions:
1. Should my money go to help support someone who is homophobic?
2. Will other people think I'm homophobic, too?
3. Will the product contain homophobic scenes, situations, or comments?

I don't care about #1 and #2. After all, there are dozens or hundreds of people involved with every movie, tv show, and novel.   Some are homophobic, some are not.  My money is going to support all of them.

But I draw the line when they let homophobic scenes, situations, or comments leak into their products.

So why do I read  Pearls Before Swine (2001-)?

It's an acerbic newspaper comic drawn by Stephan Pastis (top photo), who grew up in the Bay Area in the 1970s, went to UCLA, and worked as a lawyer in San Francisco before breaking into cartooning.

Not the background you'd expect in someone who is homophobic.

The characters are crudely drawn stick figures:
1. The misanthropic Rat
2. The goodnatured Pig
3. The pompous Goat

4. Larry the Crocodile
5. Zebra, who is surrounded by predators ineptly trying to eat him.

There are frequent gay subtexts in the relationship between Rat and Pig, who live together and behave like romantic partners.

And between Zebra and his predators.  Their lame attempts to eat him can easily be read as attempts at seduction.

But universal heterosexual desire and behavior is assumed throughout.  "How about a man hug?" the lion asks, suggesting a hug between two heterosexual men with nothing homoerotic involved.

Rat claims that is impossible for men and women to be platonic friends, since the man will always want to have sex with the woman.  Pastis later explained that he wanted to specify "straight men," but the syndicate nixed it, because "kids read the strip" and might ask their parents what "straight" meant,.

Traditional gender roles are promoted throughout.  When Zebra is found with a People magazine, his lion friend tells him that the female lions (who do the hunting) will think he's "weak, effeminate.  An easy mark."

Wait -- aren't those female lions strong and powerful?

When Pastis wants to identify a character as gay, he throws in antiquated stereotypes about fashion and show tunes.  Once he congratulated himself over including an up-to-date reference to the movie Brokeback Mountain (but he was careful to specify that he would absolutely never, ever, ever see it himself) 

Ok, Stephan, you don't like gay people.  I get it.

There have been occasional "pansy" and "fairy" slurs, plus a pun on gay men as "queens."

And when Goat discovered Rat and Pig in bed together, and concludes that they are...you know, Rat screams in a homophobic agony that has to be seen to be believed.

So, after all that, why do I continue to read the strip, and buy the collections, including the big treasuries with Stephan Pastis' comments?

1.  I like the idea of Pastis learning that gay people read his strip. They actually put their hands on the treasuries!  Even worse, the treasuries are on a bookshelf in the room where they engage in their sickening, disgusting sexual acts!

2. There are plenty of unintentional gay subtexts.

3. I love the Croc accent.

4. There are a surprising number of muscular guys with their shirts off hanging around the strip.  Pastis loves drawing hunks.

5.  Bottom line: it's funny.

See also: R. Crumb, from Fritz the Cat to Gay Marriage.; and Get Fuzzy.
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