Aug 5, 2016

Katts and Dog

The Canadian kid-oriented series that aired in the U.S. during the late 1980s came in all varieties. You Can't Do That on Television was sketch-comedy, Degrassi Junior High teen angst, and Katts and Dog (1988-93) teen adventure.

Airing as Rin Tin Tin, K-9 Cop in the United States and Rin Tin Tin Junior in France, it starred the cute blond Jesse Collins as Officer Hank Katts, who worked with a German shepherd named Rudy or Rinty (Rudolph Von Holstein III).  He lived with his orphaned nephew, slim blond Stevie (12-year old Andrew Bednarski), whose job was to ignore orders like "stay here where it's safe," snoop around on his own, get captured by the bad guys, and require a nick of time rescue.

He required nick of time rescues in most episodes.  Sometimes he and Hank required rescue together.

Hank and Stevie behaved nothing like foster father and adopted son.  Instead, their relationship reflected the superhero-sidekicks of the 1940s.  The two were inseparable, and engaged in activities that elsewhere would be reserved for romantic partners: going to dinners and movies, going on vacations.  They shared an emotional intimacy and an easy physicality that was rare in the cop-kid bond.

The producers knew that the main audience consisted of preteens and young teenagers, so they obligingly gave Stevie the best lines.  And, as the actor turned 15 and 16 and began to muscle up, the lion's share of close-ups.

Not only close-ups of his face; Steve's increasingly buffed chest, arms, shoulders, and below-the-belt were subjected to detailed scrutiny.  There were no shirtless or semi-nude shots, but gay teens had almost as much to look at as in the old Bomba the Jungle boy movies.

After Katts, Jesse Collins continued to act on Canadian television.  He also does voice work, directs, and sings. 

Andrew Bednarski studied Egyptology in college, and is now the Assistant Director of the American Research Center in Cairo.  He has published a book on the image of Egypt in the 19th century and several research papers, including one on hysteria among women in ancient Egypt.

The Little Psycho...I mean the Little Prince

When I was in college, Adam's Bookstore had six copies of The Little Prince, a "beloved children's classic" on the shelf, in English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Latin (it has been translated into over 250 languages).

"It will be good for your language studies," Adam said. "Read it in English first, then in the other languages."

So I read it.

I have rarely hated a book more.

Published in 1943 by Antoine de Saint Exupery, it tells of an aviator who is trying to fix his downed plane in the Sahara, when he encounters the Little Prince.  The little blond gargoyle claims to be the prince of a planet the size of a house (um...that would be called an asteroid).

My science fiction mind rebelled against this insanity.  How does he eat?  How does he breath?  There would be no gravity on such a small asteroid, so why doesn't he float away?  Is he orbiting a star, or careening through space?

Question after question. Where are his parents?  Where are his subjects?

Finally I concluded that this kid is psychotic.  Maybe tomorrow he'll claim to be Tintin.

Back on his hallucination planet, the Little Prince grows a garden and falls in love with a rose.

A real rose.  He wants to have sex with one of those red thorny things.

But he gets jealous, dumps her, and decides to go exploring.  He visits 6 other asteroids, occupied by characters just as misbegotten and unpleasant as he is, involved in Sisyphean tasks in their own horrifying Twilight Zones: a vain man, a drunkard, a businessman (who keeps trying to count the stars), a lamplighter (who keeps lighting and extinguishing the same lamp), and a geographer (who doesn't own any maps).

The, I mean Prince...then lands on Earth, where he bonds with the Aviator and saves him from dying of thirst.

Any novel that's primarily about two men bonding in the desert has to have a gay subtext.  Since the Little Prince can travel through space without parental supervision, he must be at least eighteen.

I've always assumed that Antoine de Saint Exupery was gay.  I just discovered on wikipedia that he had a wife.

However much he likes the Aviator, the Little Prince still wants to go home to his rose.  But birds, his usual mode of transportation between asteroids, won't give him enough lift to break free of Earth's gravity: he's stuck.

A horrifying Snake offers a suggestion: let me bite you, and then you will ascend.  Oh, not your body, which is too heavy.  But trust me, you won't be here anymore.

You idiot, can't you see that the Snake wants to kill you?

The Aviator doesn't approve of this plan, but the Prince is determined to go through with it.  He just asks that the Aviator not watch, as seeing a dead body will make him sad.

Ya think?

So the Snake kills the boy!

And kids were supposed to read this paeon to suicide?  I can see it now, kids all over the world killing themselves in a hapless attempt to ascend to the Little Prince's asteroid.

If this is French literature, I'll stick with Stephen King.

If you're not traumatized enough by this horror, there have been numerous sequels by other, more sane writers (who let the Little Prince live).

Plus stage plays, ballets, and films, most recently a Netflix version with Paul Rudd as the grown-up Little Prince.

Aug 4, 2016

Where's the Beef?

This muscle photo by flickr photographer Deanna Lynne is captioned "Here's the beef."

Gay-positive bodybuilder Kai Greene uses it to sell a muscle mass-building supplement.

The phrase is so universally used for describing massive muscle  that if you aren't a Boomer, you probably don't remember that it started with hamburgers.

In the spring of 1984, a commercial for Wendy's featured three elderly ladies examining a large hamburger bun.  It was large and fluffy, but the burger inside was tiny.  Suddenly one of the ladies blurted out, in a raspy, no-nonsense voice, "Where's the beef?"

80-year old Clara Peller, who had never acted before, became an instant celebrity, and her photo or the phrase soon popped up on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs to board games.  Radio personality Coyote McCloud released a record where he sang and Clara said her catchphrase.

It became emblematic of the search for substance amid fast talk and flipperies.  During the 1984 presidential race, Democratic candidate Walter Mondale put a copy of his book in a hamburger bun and exclaimed "Here's the beef!"

The "Where's the beef" campaign ended in 1985, but Clara Peller remained a celebrity until her death in 1987.

When I moved to West Hollywood in the summer of 1985, "Here's the beef!" had taken on a new meaning.  Men were using it to brag about their size, both above and beneath the belt (the 1970s era of skin-tight jeans was over, so they needed a new advertising gimmick).

Gay men were buying each other gag gift underwear emblazoned with "Here's the beef", or else the original "Where's the beef?" and a large question mark and a magnifying glass.

See also Homoerotic Hamburger Ads of the 1970s.

Aug 2, 2016

Dustin Hoffman: The Gay Graduate

Gay subtexts usually require longing looks, physical contact, or at least a same-sex friendship, but in The Graduate (1967), there is none.  The plot centers on Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a recent college graduate, and we do see a lot of him: he is naked more often than clothed, and his hard-muscled physique would not look out of place on a Chippendales calendar.  But there is no one to notice.

Benjamin lives in a world of suburban castles with wide lawns and pools, organization-man husbands, and drunk wives, the logical culmination of the heterosexist myth, a glimpse into his future, a glimpse into the future we were all told that we should long for.

He spends most of the movie trapped, staring mutely from behind fish tanks, wet-suit visors, wide shots angled to suggest enclosed space, and Mrs. Robinson's legs shaped into a triangular dragnet.  There is no escape from his Stepford world, not even among the hippies.  When he goes to Berkeley, he finds no shaggy-haired, tie-died counterculture, just straights with textbooks.  Roger Ebert says that he is "utterly unaware of his generation."

He is a rebel without a cause, made vaguely nauseous by materialism and loveless marriages -- and by his heterosexual destiny.  He has no interest in girls until he is seduced by Mrs. Robinson.  There are no pictures of girls on his bedroom wall; he mentions no girls at school.  It seems unlikely that a handsome track team champ with a magnificent physique would be deprived of hetero-romance, if he desired it, so one must conclude that he doesn't.

The adults seem to notice, and obsessively try to prod him into heterosexual practice, always suggesting that he "call a girl."  When Mrs. Robinson first approaches him, he rushes horrified down the stairs, where Mr. Robinson sits him down and has a heart-to-heart: "You should be having fun with girls!"  Benjamin protests that he is not interested in girls.

Later Mrs. Robinson tries again.  When displaying her body doesn't work, she tries to insult him into bed, accusing him of being a "virgin" and "inadequate," not man enough, that is, gay.  Now he "wants" to be a lady-killer; he slams the door and comes toward her.  They begin an affair.

Eventually Ben finds a girl, actually the only adult his own age in the entire suburb, Elaine, spontaneous and free, the polar opposite of the cold, calculating, constrained adults.  No matter that she is the daughter of his fling Mrs. Robinson, or planning to marry a Stepford beau in a cold, square church in the suburbs.  Ben calls her name over and over until she acquieses.  "It's too late!" Mrs. Robinson snarls.  "Not for me!" Elaine responds.

She and Ben will not forget that they majored in art or married for love.  They will be deliriously happy and gloriously fulfilled.  They fight off oldsters who are literally snarling with rage, flee the church, and jump on a bus.  Fade out to freedom.  They have escaped the suburban nuclear family, husband, wife, kids, organization-man job, and house made of ticky-tacky -- the entire heterosexual trajectory -- through heterosexual love.

Then something remarkable happens.  Instead of congratulating each other on having discovered the meaning of life, Benjamin and Elaine sit somberly, staring out into space, exactly the way Benjamin looked in the first scene when his airplane began its descent into suburban doom.  Paul Simon reprises the theme: "Through restless streets I walk alone."  Why is Benjamin still restless, still alone?

Because the bus is taking them right back to the suburbs, where they'll buy a house, and Benjamin will sell plastics, and Elaine will sign up for charity drives, and in twenty years he'll be a workaholic, and she'll be an alcoholic.  "The one" inevitably becomes Mrs. Robinson.  Heterosexual love provides no escape.  They are trapped.

See also: The Graduate Revisited

Aug 1, 2016

Kaptara: Will and Grace in Space

I heard that Chip Zdarsky, who wrote the "Jughead" reboot for Archie comics with Jughead as asexual, was doing a new graphic novel series, Kaptara, about a gay space hero, so I bought the first volume.

Expecting a gay action hero cruising through the galaxy.

Instead I got Will and Grace in space.

Keith (left) is a thin, fashion-obsessed, sex-obsessed, limp-wristed, sarcastic queen, the bitchy best friend of a hundred straight women in "chick flick" comedies who somehow got selected for a mission to Mars.

He's also lazy and a major coward.

His ship goes through a space warp.  Separated from the rest of the crew, he ends up in the faux-Medieval kingdom of Endom on the planet Kaptara, where all the men dress like Conan the Barbarian and don't mind being drooled over by screaming queens.

Naturally, Keith doesn't want to leave, but there's a problem: the evil Skullthor plans to use the space warp to travel to Earth and conquer it.  The queen's son Manton, who Keith has a crush on, and Danton, an effeminate muscleman, are going to try to capture Skullthor.  Keith opts out - he doesn't care about anybody back home, so why should he help?  But after looking at a mysterious photo of a heterosexual nuclear family, he decides to join the expedition.

En route they join forces with She-La, famed tracker and hunter; Melvon the Wizard, who lives in the Unchanted Forest; and Laurette from the original crew, who has become an insect-person.

They never get around to finding Skullthor, at least not in the first volume, but they have lots of picaresque adventures on the strange alien planet.

As you can tell, it's rather tongue-in-cheek, parodying The Lord of the Rings and Masters of the Universe far more than science fiction stories. The visuals are creative.  And everyone on Kaptara being nonchalant about gay people is a step forward.

But I would prefer a gay hero who isn't a throwback to the screaming queens of yesteryear.
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