Feb 18, 2017

Death in Venice

My sophomore year in college revealed the world of Winnetou and Bravo magazine, but my junior year was oppressively heterosexist: gay-free Modern British Novel and Modern American Literature, and in German Literature, Dr. Weber assigned us the Thomas Mann novel Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice, 1912), and then spent a lot of time on a blazing hot spring day pointing out that Aschenbach was not Wearing a Sign.

What I read was obviously about a stymied same-sex courtship.  The middle-aged writer visits Venice on holiday, and becomes obsessed with the beautiful 15-year old Tadzio.  He watches the boy and follows him around Venice, but does not approach.

Aschenbach notices that there is a cholera epidemic in Venice, being covered up by the authorities, but he doesn't warn Tadzio, for fear that he will leave, and beauty will be lost to the earth.  Nor does he leave town himself; he sits, watches Tadzio, and smiles.  Finally he succumbs to cholera and dies. I couldn't help noticing the parallel with Herman Melville's Billy Budd, which we were reading in my American Renaissance class at the same time.

Why didn't Aschenbach just strike up a conversation with the boy? I wondered. Same-sex act were legal in Italy, and the age of consent was 14.  Maybe he thought the match inappropriate due the age difference?  Maybe he was just shy, or maybe same-sex desire was so alien to  his self-image that he was paralyzed?  When Tadzio smiles at him, inviting a "hello," Aschenbach runs away in terror and whispers "I love you" to an empty garden.

But Dr. Weber said: "Aschenbach's obsession for Tadzio is the desire of age for youth, for the new that will supercede the old, even of civilization for savagery.  It is a quest for ideal beauty that always kills.  When Icarus flies too close to the sun, he dies.  There is no hint of homosexuality in the novel."

As "proof" that Aschenbach and Tadzio, like all fictional characters, were straight, Dr. Weber showed us the 1971 film version, Morte a Venezia (this was the same class that showed us a beefcake version of Das Nibelungenlied).  Tadzio was played by 15-year old Swedish actor Bjorn Andresen (left).

But in the movie, Tadzio is obviously gay, engaging in homoerotic horseplay with his friends.  He even appears to have a boyfriend.  And Aschenbach, played by gay actor Dirk Bogarde, is obviously gay, too.  They are separated not by sexual orientation, but by their different worlds.

I've seen the Benjamin Britten opera three times, twice on tv (in 1981 with Robert Garde and an unnamed, non-singing performer, and in 1990 with Robert Tear and Paul Zeplichal). It gives Aschenbach a girlfriend.  But the ballet doesn't; and it transforms Tadzio from an androgynous waif to a muscular, gay-and-proud twenty-something.

So the obsession becomes that of an old-style gay man who believed that his same-sex desire was "too personal" to reveal, who pretended to be heterosexual, who married a woman, and who now longs for the freedom of modern gay youth, cavorting openly on the beach.

See also: Male Nudity in German Class; and The Gay Werewolf of Steppenwolf.

Feb 17, 2017

Spring 1983: T.S. Eliot. Oh, Swallow, Swallow!

When I was studying for my M.A. in English at Indiana University (1982-84), my professors and most of my classmates agreed that Literature consisted of:

1. Ulysses, by James Joyce
2. The Waste Land, by T.S. Elliot
3. The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass
4. The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner
5. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

And maybe a little Shakespeare.  Everything else was footnotes or hack work.

I hated all of the pretentious rot, but I loved to hate The Waste Land the most.  The only way my gay Indian English-major friend Viju and I could get through it at all was to imagine a gay theme.

It begins with a quote in Latin in which the Cumaean Sybill speaks Greek.  I knew smalle Latin and lesse Greek (see, I can be pretentious, too), but we assumed that anyone speaking Greek is talking about gay people.

Tom (T.S.'s real name) is watching the sunlight over the Starnbergersee (in Munich), saying "We're not Russian" (in German), and calling someone the Hyacinth Girl.  Hyacinth was the gay lover of the Greek god Apollo, so we assumed the Hyacinth Girl is a boy.

Then, wandering around London, Tom sees a guy he knows and asks if the dead bodies he's buried have risen yet.  Tom calls him "mon semblable,—mon frère!"  My double -- my brother!  Charles Baudelaire, who was probably bisexual, wrote it in the gay-themed Fleurs du Mal.  

After a chess game and an elitist dig at pop culture, Tom meets with Lil.  Her husband Albert keeps wanting sex, but she won't put out because she keeps getting pregnant.  Meanwhile someone keeps saying "Hurry up, it's time" (presumably time to die).  Aha!  A critique of the futility of heterosexual marriage!

Tom wanders around London, saying bad words in Elizabethan English.  Mr. Eugenides, who has a pocket full of currants (or maybe he's just happy to see Tom) invites him to a weekend at the Metropole.  Presumably that's a gay hotel, so he wants a homoerotic liaison.

Illustration to Eliot's "Animula" (1927)
Suddenly Tom turns into a man with breasts -- so he thinks that taking the passive role in sex is feminine?   He watches as a working-class man sexually assaults his girlfriend.  She says "Well, I'm glad that's over" and puts on a record.  A critique of heterosexual sex!

Then he takes a barge down the Thames and says "Highbury bore me."  It bores me, too.

A dead guy, Phlebas the Phoenician, floats by.  Tom thinks "he was once handsome and tall."  We were all for depictions of masculine beauty, even in a poem about how we're all going to die.

Then Tom goes to a dry desert where everybody is dead, and wonders if the person walking next to him is a man or a woman.  Androgynous, huh?  Or maybe a drag queen?

The young Tom Eliot
Tom and a friend reminisce about  "the awful daring of a moment’s surrender, which an age of prudence can never retract."  Sounds like you guys had a hot fling in your youth: "by this, and this only, we have existed."

So sex is the meaning of life?

Or is it surrendering to passion: "your heart would have responded  gaily, when invited, beating obedient to controlling hands."

Then everything goes crazy.  People say things in Italian, Latin, French, and Sanskrit.  Come on, Tom, you were born in St. Louis, and everybody knows it.

Somebody quotes an obscure Elizabethan playwright and a 19th century French Romantic poet.  Tom responds "oh, swallow, swallow."

At this point, Viju and I couldn't stop giggling.

This interpretation might not be orthodox, but it did get us through a late-night study session.

And it was a lot of fun to walk up to random guys and say "Oh, swallow, swallow!"

By the way, some contemporary biographers think that Tom was gay, but deeply closeted.

Growing Pains

The homophobic rants of Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron may lead you to believe that the TGIF sitcom  (1985-92) was exceptionally homophobic.  But it wasn't.

It aired next to programs I liked -- Who's the Boss or Head of the Class -- so I watched a few episodes here and there. Standard TGIF premise: affluent suburban family, psychiatrist Dad, newspaper columnist Mom, and their three kids: teen operator Mike (Kirk Cameron), feminist Carol, and practical jokester Ben.  In the last seasons they added two more kids to up the cuteness quotient: Chrissy  and Luke (a young Leonardo DiCaprio).

Like all TGIF sitcoms, Growing Pains was set in a gay-free world.  In one episode, Dad reacts in horror at the thought that Mike might be...you know, but no one ever said The Word.

But there was a strong homoromantic subtext between Mike and his best friend with the unfortunate name Boner (presumably the writers were unaware of the contemporary dirty meaning, and intended us to think of the old meaning, "mistake").  Boner was played by Andrew Koenig (son of Walter Koenig of Star Trek), who was reputedly gay in real life.

Kirk Cameron's conservative religious beliefs forbade many beefcake shots, so most of the teen idol attention fell on the stream of hunky guest stars, including K. C. Martel, Matthew Perry, and Brad Pitt, and in later seasons, on Jeremy Miller (Ben).

When Jeremy was 14, he began receiving letters from a violently obsessed fan, describing lurid fantasies of rape and murder, even giving the dates he intended to carry out his threats. Jeremy was not informed of the letters, and was astonished to discover that the heightened security on the set was for his protection.

The ensuing publicity gave Growing Pains a undeserved sordid reputation.

Today Kirk Cameron acts in fundamentalist Christian movies and makes anti-gay rants.  Jeremy Miller became a professional chef, but still acts on occasion.   No word on whether he is a gay ally or not, but he has kept silent while fellow Growing Pain stars Allan Thicke and Tracey Gold have issued condemnations of Kirk's homophobia.

See also: Alan Thicke.

Saturday Morning with Joel and the Bots

During the 1990s, when I was living in West Hollywood, we watched a show called Mystery Science Theater 3000 every Saturday morning, before gong off to buy groceries or go to the gym or do whatever errands needed doing.

I remember a thousand Saturday mornings, eternal, brightly-colored, golden like Lewis Carroll's "golden afternoons," except in my memory  it wasn't summertime.  It was always those magical few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

MST3K was about a grown-up kid lost far from home: the smiling, laconic Joel (Joel Hodgson) has been zapped into space, onto the phallic-looking "Satellite of Love,"  where two mad scientists torture him by forcing him to watch horribly inept "cheesy movies."
After five seasons (1989-1994), Joel escaped to Earth, and the mad scientists abducted the hunkier Mike  (Mike Nelson above), who stayed on for ten seasons, until the series ended in 2004.

Joel, Mike and the "bots" (their robot chums, Tom Servo and Crow) stayed sane through the worst of bad-movie torture by making fun of the artifice and ineptness -- jokes, pop culture references, and sarcastic comments came fast and furious.  There were also interstitial sketches and comedy bits, often with guest stars from the movies being riffed.

The riffs and interstitials often made homoerotic subtexts visible, and many of the movies featured extensive beefcake, but that's not enough to make my memory of the basic-cable farce "golden."

Maybe MST3K was a metaphor.  Most gay people are trapped far from home.  The overlords are constantly torturing them with heterosexist statements and scenes, proclaiming over and over again that no gay people exist, hoping that eventually their minds will fail and they will cease to exist.  The only way to stay sane is to laugh, to riff on the ineptness and artifice of the heterosexist myth.

It is no wonder that the slow, ponderous final theme, played over the ending credits, always filled me with a profound sadness.

Feb 16, 2017

The Wizards of Waverly Place

Even Stevens, Hannah Montanaand The Suite Life of Zack and Cody are not unique. American tv programs aimed at a juvenile audience are strictly forbidden from mentioning gay people or ever suggesting that heterosexual desire, practice, and identity are not universal human experience.  So the Disney Channel has become very good at hints.

For example, take Wizards of Waverly Place (2007-2012), an "I've Got a Secret" sitcom about a family of wizards living in contemporary Manhattan.  Jerry (David DeLuise, far right) and Theresa (Maria Canales Barrera) and their kids:

16-year old Justin (David Henrie, second from left), 14-year old Alex (Selena Gomez), and 12-year old Max (Jake T. Austin, far left). (The others are supporting characters.)

All of the characters have opposite-sex dates and relationships. Not one is Wearing a Sign.  Therefore they are all heterosexual, and gay people do not exist. Are you listening, network censors?  Ok, then:

1. Alex is gay.  She and Justin are constantly fighting over girls that they both want.  She's constantly telling Justin, "I like this girl. You can't have her."  During the third season, she falls in love with a butch lesbian stereotype named Stevie (Hayley Kiyoko), but drops her upon discovering that she is a leftist revolutionary. Her main squeeze is Harper (Jennifer Stone); the two eventually move into an apartment together.  No one even tries to pretend that they are platonic friends.

2. Justin is a heterosexual ally.  In one episode, Alex spreads a rumor that he is engaged to a boy, Hugh Normous (Josh Sussman).  Justin is angry, not because of the accusation, but because now he won't be able to attract the girl he likes.  Besides, he could do a lot better than Hugh Normous.

3. Hugh Normous is gay.  Alex is hit on by lots of guys at school, so she befriends Hugh, knowing that he won't have any romantic interest.  In the last season, she invites Hugh to a party at her apartment, where he hooks up with a guy.

4.  Uncle Kelso  (Jeff Garland) is gay. He is masquerading as pop star Shakira.  Alex asks if it bothers him that millions of teenage boys have his picture on their bedroom walls.  He shrugs.

5. Max is probably gay.

His crush on Alex's boyfriend, Mason (Gregg Sulkin, left, with costar Dan Benson), is so intense that when they break up, Max falls into a deep depression, and when Mason re-appears to request a reconciliation, Max thinks that Mason wants a reconciliation with him.  

At age sixteen, Max turns into a girl, and hates it because now he has to hang out with other girls; he likes to hang out with guys.

6. Just about everyone else in the cast could be gay or bisexual.  In “Saving WizTech” (2008), the evil Ronald Longcape (Chad Duell) flirts with Alex in order to steal her powers.  He admits that he wasn’t actually interested in Alex, any of the Russo wizards would do, but she seemed more gullible.  Therefore he would have been perfectly willing to flirt with Justin or Max.

And that's not even counting the constant gender-shifting and transvestism.

As stated earlier, every character expresses heterosexual interest, and not one is Wearing a Sign. Therefore they are all heterosexual.  Therefore gay people do not exist.  Is that clearly understood?

The story of my date with one of the stars is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Feb 15, 2017

Zits: A Comic Strip for Anyone Dating Twinks

He's big, awkward, clumsy, and gawky, with weird tattoos and piercings.

He sleeps till noon.

He is constantly texting, tweeting, and posting on social media, but he refuses to hold a face-to-face conversation.  When you ask "How was your day?", you get a blank stare.

He leaves his clothes scattered all over the floor, dumps wet towels all over the bathroom, and God forbid he ever washes a dish.

He is physically incapable of showing up for anything on time.

He is constantly criticizing your wardrobe, musical tastes, pop culture references, and knowledge of technology.

He has pizza and ice cream for breakfast, and never gains an ounce.

He wants sex thirty time a day.

Jim Borgman and Jerry Scott's comic strip Zits depicts 15-year old Jeremy Duncan from the parents' point of view,  depicting adolescence in all of its geeky, gawky, messy, self-obsessed glory.

But if you're dating teenagers or twinks, it will ring absolutely true.

 I can see Jeremy every time I try to get a twink date or hookup to look up from his smartphone now and then, or when I order a salad while he gets the triple-bacon cheeseburger.

Jeremy has a coterie of friends, including best bud Hector, bohemian Pierce, and girlfriend Sarah, but most of the jokes involve generation-gap squabbles with Mom and Dad.

There are also jokes about being middle-aged, balding, and clueless, to give the teenagers something to laugh at.

There are only two differences between the 21-year old still snoring in my bed at 11:30 am and Jeremy Duncan:

1. Jeremy is not attractive.  Actually, there's no beefcake in the strip at all. Sometimes the cartoonist pays attention to feminine breast and curves, but the men are all stylized and nondescript, meant to be funny-looking rather than hot.

2. Jeremy is heterosexual.  Way, way, way heterosexual, in that annoying "girl-crazy" fashion.  Heterosexism is the rule in Zits: "All boys, without exception, long for girls."

And that annoying casual homophobia: the touch of another man, even your dear friend, is repugnant, as this 2014 strip tells us in emphatic terms.

A gay character named Billy appeared in a few strips in 2006, identifying himself as gay, but expressing an interest in "hot girls."  He vanished, due to Jim Borgman's squeamishness over "seeing the 6:00 news in a comic strip."  Later, Borgman backtracked, saying that he was "proud" of the continuity.

Billy appeared again, just once, in 2012.  Jeremy advises, "Give it time, dude. They're from a different generation, so it takes them time to catch up."

Sarah asks "Are Billy's parents upset that he's gay?"  No, Jeremy says, "We're talking about phone apps."

How to Survive Gym Class

During the six years of Junior High and High School, I was in gym class every day -- that's about a thousand days.  And I still have no idea what it was for.

It was technically called "physical education, but it wasn't about how your body works, or how to stay in good physical condition.  It was about team sports.

But we never received any instruction in team sports: the various positions, how to keep score, strategies and game plans.  We were just trotted onto the field and told to divide into teams and play football (fall), basketball (winter) or baseball (spring).

The jocks who were already playing those sports liked the extra practice.  No one else did.  I have yet to meet a single non-jock who enjoyed gym class.  Some found it mind-numbingly dull; but most found it excruciating, a painful trauma that soured them on physical activity forever.

My friends and I soon discovered that getting through gym class alive required strategizing, cooperation, and a lot of luck.  Maybe that's what the class was meant to teach us.

1. How to avoid being called a "girl."

Jocks hate anything feminine; the worst possible insult is to "be a girl" or "be like a girl."

Pointing out that many girls are excellent athletes won't work.  So just turn it back on them.

 Suggest that their movements are similar to those a girl might make. They'll be so busy scrutinizing each other that they'll have no time for you.

2. How to avoid being called a "fairy."

The second worst possible insult is to "be a fairy," which in junior high meant any boy with feminine traits. So be a fairy!  Wiggle those hips, sashay out onto that field, and throw the ball with that downward limp-wrist motion.  After all that, pointing out that "You throw like a fairy" loses all of its power.

3. How to avoid a woeful ignorance of sports.

Claim expertise in a sport you'll play far in the future.  So, during football season, claim "Sure, I play football like a fairy, but wait until basketball season!"  Then, during basketball season, "Sure, I play basketball like a girl, but wait until baseball season!"

4. How to avoid being obliterated by a flying projectile

Stand far enough away so that no ball will be aimed at you, except through chance.  And if a ball does start careening toward you, run fast in the other direction.

This doesn't work with baseball, when you're supposed to actually hit the ball with your bat.

5. How to avoied being forced to play on a team.

This happened when the coach had two jocks decide who they wanted to play on their team -- your goal is not to be chosen. So your best bet is to pretend you can't tell one team from another.  If someone carrying a ball runs toward you, run fast in the other direction.  If someone hands you a ball, immediately hand it to the nearest person regardless of whether he's a shirt or a skin.

6. How to avoid being bellowed at by the coach.

Coaches like to pretend that you're a military recruits in boot camp, so they yell, bellow, humiliate, and force you to "Drop and give me twenty!"  But they are supposed to be teachers -- they have degrees in education.  They learned how to write lesson plans, lead classes, and give exams.  So remind the coach of his roots.  Ask, "Can you help me learn this move?" and "What books do you recommend on the game?"

But be careful -- he may snap "Don't get smart!  You know all about this sport, just like every other boy on Earth."

7. How to avoid the soul-destroying boredom that is sports. 

Just look around.   The beefcake will give you enough erotic fantasies to easily fill the hour.

Of course, participants in the big three sports don't dress this way on the playing field, but just wait a little while, and it will be time for the showers.  The opportunity to watch hot jocks stripping down in the locker room almost makes gym class worthwhile.

See also: What is Gym Class For?

Feb 12, 2017

Abs: A Man's Third Best Feature

Big pecs and biceps are the stars of the male physique, but abs are a close third.  They're much harder to develop, not about size but about definition, so they're the signature of the well-developed man.

There are actually four sets of muscles on the trunk:
The rectus abdominus in the front, which give you the "xylophone" effect
The serratus on the upper sides, which connect the abdomen and the pecs.
The transverse abdominus
The obliques on the lower sides, the biggest of the abdominal muscles.

Everybody tries crunches and sit-ups for their abs, but they are almost impossible to do effectively.  I suggest the plank (reverse push-up) and side twists.

And cardio: since abs are a matter of definition rather than bulk, you need to get your body fat down.

The definition is most noticeable when the abs are hairless.

But hairy abs have a charm of their own.

A thin line of hair going down the abdominal ridge is called a "glory trail," since it draws the eye to the crotch.  Charlie McDermott made the glory trail famous by displaying his in nearly every episode of The Middle.

More after the break.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...