Dec 24, 2016

The Surprising Gay Origin of Pogo's "Deck Us All"

Every Christmas from 1949 to 1975, and then again in the 1980s and 1990s, the comic strip Pogo had the hayseed denizens of Okefenokee Swamp singing a mangled version of "Deck the Halls":

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., and Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower Alleygaroo!

Don't we know archaic barrel,
 Lullaby, Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou.
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola Boola Pensacoola Hullabaloo!

Cartoonist Walt Kelly said that he chose that particular song because it was easily recognizable but not religious.  His Pogo version became extremely popular, with a life outside the comic strip, broadcast on the radio, recorded by pop artists during the Golden Age of Novelty Songs.

But what about the lyrics?  Fans clamored to know what they meant.

At first Kelly claimed that they were pure nonsense.  But fans persevered, and in 1963 Kelly published a book listing several possible explanations.

None of them the right one.

Ten years after his death, his close friend, CIA Agent Wilbur Crane Eveland, was interviewed in a Pogo-phile fan magazine, and revealed the secret:

Prison slang.

Deck us all with Boston Charlie
Hang the prison guards up on the wall, so they won't bother us.

Walla Walla, Wash, and Kalamazoo
Names of prisons

Nora's freezin' on the trolley
Nora, the subordinate partner in a same-sex prison romance, is "freezin'", in solitary confinement, according to "the trolley," the prison grapevine.

Swaller dollar cauliflower, Alleygaroo!

Don't we know archaic barrel
Homemade prison booze

Lullaby Lilla Boy, Louisville Lou.
Has facilitated the romance between Lilla Boy (another subordinate partner) and Louisville Lou.

Trolley Molly don't love Harold
But not Molly, according to the prison grapevine.

Boola, Boola, Pensacola, Hullaballoo!

I wonder how mild-mannered cartoonist Walt Kelly, who was never even arrested, knew all of this prison slang.  He was a language aficionado, so maybe he had reference books.

But why load-up his mangled Christmas carol with prison slang, including references to three same-sex prison romance?

In the 1940s, many prisoners were "prisoners of conscience," war objectors, political dissidents, gay men.  According to Eveland, this was the liberal, gay-positive Kelly's shout-out to them.

Kelly included same-sex desire all the time in Pogo.  Since his players were animals, it always slipped below the censorship radar.

In a long 1955 continuity, a male flea falls in love with Beauregard Hound Dog, and proposes marriage.  Five years later, in a commentary, Kelly wrote "I guess it would have to be a female flea.  That never occurred to me until now."

Way to cover your tracks!  But Kelly kept making the same "mistake" over and over until the day he died.

See also: Pogo, the Gay Possum of Okefenokee Swamp

Dec 21, 2016

The Real Bulges of "The Real O'Neals"

Last night I watched the December 6th episode of The Real O'Neals: Kenny, the gay kid (Noah Galvin), goes out for wrestling, and turns out to be good at it, due to his expertise in the dance numbers from West Side Story.

He wins the adulation of his conservative Catholic high school, receiving cheers, gifts, and an invitation to sit at the jock table, but infringes upon the territory of his brother, Jimmy (Matt Shively).

At first I found it only mildly entertaining.  I was waiting for some beefcake shots of Matt Shively and his teammates.

But I never expected to see anything like this on a prime time comedy.

He's an extra; I don't have his name.  I wish I did.

Ok, time for Kenny's match.  He drops his gym trunks, revealing a singlet of his own.

Doesn't he notice that his singlet is a  Doesn't the director notice?

Noah Galvin is 22 years old, by the way, so it's ok to look.

It's impossible not to look.

It gets better.

And better.

Suddenly I'm a real fan of The Real O'Neals.

See also: The Real Gay Characters of "The Real O'Neals"

Dec 20, 2016

The Eagle: When Gay Subtexts Aren't Enough

The Eagle (2011) is a gay-subtext romance set in Roman Britain in 140 AD.

The plot is rather convoluted, but it seems to be about a young Roman soldier, Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), whose father disappeared on an expedition north of Hadrian's Wall many years ago, along with his entire Legion, plus the bronze eagle that represents "the honor of Rome."

Marcus hears a rumor that the Eagle has survived, so he sets out in search of it.  He brings along his slave Esca (Jamie Bell), who is from northern Britain and can speak the Pictish language (Gaelic is used as a stand-in).

After many scenes of the two riding through desolate wilderness, they are captured by the Seal People, the most barbaric of the Pictish tribes.  Esca buddy-bonds with their Prince (Tahar Rahim) and settles among them, explaining that Marcus is his slave.

Marcus believes that he has been tricked.

But at the proper moment, Esca reveals that he has tricked the Sea People.  They retrieve the Eagle and head back to Roman territory.  They even find the lost Ninth Legion in the process.

All of the classic gay-subtext elements are here:
1. Minimal or no heterosexual interest.
2. Men who rescue each other from danger.
3. And who walk off into the final fade-out side by side.

I still didn't like it.  It was dull and plodding, with scenes of gore juxtaposed with scenes of...well, talking.  And no attempt to provide a standard English to stand in for Latin.  Hearing Roman soldiers speark colloquial American really grates on the ears, particularly after hearing the superbly done Latinate English of Spartacus.

Plus there's no chemistry between Marcus and Esca.  They're supposed to be in love with each other.  There should be glances, gestures.  But I don't even see much of a friendship.  Esca accompanies Marcus to the north because he has no choice, he's a slave; and Marcus uses Esca for his language skills.

At the end of the movie, as they're walking off together, Esca asks "What now?"  Marcus says "You decide."

It's a cute line, but it doesn't seem deserved.  Based on what we've seen, we expect them to say "Well, thanks for your help" and part.

There's actually more chemistry between Esca and the Seal People prince (Tahur Rahim).

The director and actors insist that the movie has no gay subtexts.  Channing Tatum states that there's love in the relationship, like in any relationship, but that doesn't mean that Marcus and Esca are a couple (even though, he jokes, he and Jamie Bell have been having sex for years).

Except in 2011, writers and directors usually take pains to ensure that their characters must be read as heterosexual by adding hetero-romance or at least some longing glances here and there.  If they weren't intending gay subtexts, why not add hetero-romance?

Maybe because the movie is based on a children's novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, published by Rosemary Sutclif in 1954, the glory era of gay subtexts, where men without women was an accepted literary convention, especially in juvenile fiction.

Sutclif wrote over 100 children's novels, many about two boys or two men together.

Dec 18, 2016

The Kid from "A Christmas Story"

Even  though 30 years have passed, Peter Billingsley is still know as the kid from A Christmas Story (1983).  You know -- the bespectacled 9-year old whose only Christmas wish is "a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass and this thing that tells time."  Hardly anyone saw it in theaters in 1983, but it has become a TV tradition -- TBS usually mounts a 24-hour marathon -- so you've probably seen A Christmas Story as often as the much gayer White Christmas or It's a Wonderful Life.

I don't like it.  There's a creepy lamp shaped like a lady's leg (that turns Ralphie on), a nasty bully, a borderline-abusive Dad, a gun as a major plot point, and no cute guys or discernible homoerotic subplots (although some of the cast has gay connections).

And Peter Billingsley has made up for it since.

In The Dirt Bike Kid (1985), a modern retelling of "Jack and the Beanstalk," the 14-year old Jack (Peter) is sent to buy groceries, but gets a magic dirtbike instead.  He uses it to clean up the corrupt town, save a struggling hot dog stand, and become a town hero. He expresses no heterosexual interest; his main emotional bond is with Mike (Patrick Collins), the owner of the hot dog stand, though it falls short of homoromance.

 In Russkies (1987), it's the heart of the Cold War, Danny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his friends Adam (Peter) and Jason (Stefan DeSalle) find a a Russian sailor, Mischa (Whip Hubley), washed up on the shore. Adam  is obviously entranced by the beefy, bulge-laden Mischa, especially after he takes off his shirt at the doctor's office.

 But it is Danny who acts as his friend and protector.  He hatches a scheme to smuggle Mischa to Cuba, whence he could get back home.  When the baddies shoot Danny down over the water, Mischa rushes to the rescue. Later, Danny rescues Mischa.  Though the movie ends with Mischa going  home, the experience changes Danny forever; it is his Summer of '42.

An anti-gay slur (this was the 1980s, after all), but no girls thought of or spoken of.

In Beverly Hills Brats (1989), Scooter (18-year old Peter) is ignored by his rich father (Martin Sheen) and bullied by his siblings, so he fakes his own kidnapping, hiring the bumbling thugs Clive (Burt Young) and Elmo (George Kirby).  The thugs are hostile at first, but soon come to feel sympathy for the lonely Scooter.  Again, an anti-gay slur, but no expressed interest in girls.  Instead, Scooter tries to reach out to the thugs for emotional support.

By this point, Peter was starting to muscle up; in fact, he later played a high school athlete abusing steroids on an Afterschool Special.
Peter's characters didn't start ogling girls until Arcade (1993).  By that time, his acting roles were becoming scarcer as he moved into production.  He hasn't been involved in many gay-friendly projects, but he received a special thanks in the credits of the gay-angst Mysterious Skin (2004). For what, I don't know.
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