Nov 11, 2017

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ray Bradbury’s science fiction novels were popular in my junior high, and I read all of them, even those with language somewhat too complex and florid: The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine, The Golden Apples of the Sun. My parents disapproved, thinking that any book with “Martian” or “Sun” in the title must be atheist science fiction, but actually Bradbury wrote nostalgia, evoking a Mars or future Earth identical to his own childhood in Indiana, with church steeples, moving-picture shows, ice cream socials, rummage sales, and lots of heterosexual nuclear families. he men were all strong and decent and slow-talking, the women all stoic and once-beautiful, the boys all rambunctious, the girls all timid. But there was always a sadness in his heterosexual Arcadia, as the men lay next to their wives at 3:00 am, staring out at their own mortality and desperately wishing that they were boys again, because through marrying and making families and getting their stern decent jobs, they had lost something precious and vital, a primal connection with the world and with each other. What did they lose? And how?

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) is an unrecognized gay novel.  Bradbury tells us of Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade (played by Shawn Carson and Vidal Peterson in the 1983 movie), thirteen-year old boys growing up – or, rather, being, for their lives are eternal and immutable – in a bucolic 1920’s Midwest.

 They are quite obviously in love, with an instinctive, inevitable bond, as integral to their world as the rhythms of school and home and swimming-holes and rock-strewn lanes, accepted without question by children and adults alike. But the week before Halloween, just days before they turn fourteen, the Cooger & Dark Pandemonian Shadow Show rolls by night into Green Town, Illinois, and their lives change forever.

They peer through a window and see people who “let fall clothes to the rug, stood raw and animal-crazy, naked, like shivering horses, hands out to touch each other”

They peer into a movie theater and see “a woman’s face. . .shadowed by the motion of her lips. . .the snow-pale death-shimmering illumination from her cheeks”

That is, they move from innocence to experience: they acquire knowledge which means sexual knowledge which means heterosexual knowledge, which got Adam booted out of Paradise and causes once-brave men to tremble in their beds at 3:00 am. Here heterosexual desire is purveyed by the sinister carnival owner Mr. Dark. Jim Nightshade is the oldest, so Mr. Dark eats his soul first, transforming him into a cold, dead thing with eyes that can’t see anymore and ears that can’t hear anymore.

You’d think that Will Halloway would be powerless to do anything against the elemental power of Mr. Dark, anything except hold his beloved tightly in his arms and cry. But he’s not about to give up without a fight. He and his Dad force back life into Jim’s soul like you would breath life into a drowned body: they sing “Swanee River” badly, off-key, and play leapfrog, and do the silly, inconsequential things that lovers do, cavorting and dancing “as it must have been in the first year of Creation, and Joy not yet thrown from the Garden." And gradually, painfully, Jim returns to them.

I read the novel as a metaphor for the pubescent "discovery of girls" that everyone was always talking about.  Twelve, thirteen, fourteen year olds were "destined" to be struck down by Mr. Dark, and their souls would wither, and the girls who had been mere classmates and playground buddies would become tantalizing figures in pink lace who winked and gestured and sashayed off into the darkness. And they would eagerly follow them, even if they led the boys right out of the Garden. They would take a job in the factory, watch tv and swear, and wake up sweating with night dreads over the joy they had lost. And – perhaps the most sobering thought of all – they would conclude that it was worth it, that the pursuit of girls was terrible and noble, far surpassing the trivial loves of men for men.

No wonder I analyzed movies and tv programs and comic books fervently, looking for an escape.

Nov 8, 2017

70 Years of Archie Beefcake

K. J. Apa is not the first beefcake star to portray perennial comic book teenager Archie Andrews.  Archie has been around since 1941, after all, and there have been five other tv versions.

Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again (1990) starred Christopher Rich as an adult Archie returning to Riverdale for his high school reunion.

It also featured Sam Whipple as Jughead and Gary Kroeger (left, on Saturday Night Live) as Reggie.

The Archie Situation Comedy Musical Variety Show (1978), a tv pilot based on the 1976 Saturday morning special Archie (1976), starred Dennis Bowen as Archie and Jim Boelsen as dimwitted athlete Moose.

They look like Richie and Potsie, don't they?

Here's a shirtless Dennis Bowen from Caddyshack II

A 1964 tv movie, Archie, starred John Simpson as Archie and Wayne Adams as Reggie.

Life with Archie (1962) featured Fred Bank.

And don't forget Archie on radio (1943-53) played by Bob Hastings (also known as Captain Video's teenage sidekick), and the many animated cartoons, with Archie voiced by Dal McKennon and J. Michael Roncetti.

See also: 70 More Years of Archie Beefcake

The 10 Most Gay-Positive Nickelodeon Shows

Guys my age and older are always talking about a golden age, back when things were nicer, kinder, simpler, more innocent, interesting, authentic, creative, humane.  They usually mean their childhoods, when selective memory erased the bad things, and nostalgia gave the good things a golden shimmer.  But I mean just a few years ago, when Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel, and the Cartoon Network were overbrimming with gay-positive programs.

Nickelodeon first.

1. Zooey 101 (2005-2008).  Future pop diva Brittney Spears is a student at a private boarding school, with a coterie of friends and friendly enemies.  The "clues" about gay people come fast and furious.  A computer dating service pairs two boys.  The male characters get faux crushes on other boys. Everyone, regardless of gender, has a crush on Austin Butler.

2. True Jackson, VP (2008-2011).  High school girl (left) becomes vice president of a fashion company (sounds like a Disney Channel plotline).  The receptionist is a gay-coded swishy stereotype.  He'd be retro, except that everybody knows he's gay.  Including the kids.  On a kids' show!

3. Supah Ninjas (2011-2013).  Mega gay-positive Ryan Potter and his friend become supah-ninjas.  They are scripted as absurdly girl-crazy, but they have enough gay-subtext chemistry to rival Drake and Josh.

4. Max and Shred (2014-2015).  Snowboarding champion (left) and teen nerd (right) share a bedroom.

5. Kenan and Kel (1996-2000).  Ambiguously gay duo gets into scrapes.  Kenan likes girls sometimes, but Kel likes only Kenan.

6. The Thundermans (2013-2016).  A family of superheroes, with Jack Griffo (right, with friend) as a supervillain in training, as gay-coded as you can get without wearing a sign.

7. Sam and Kat (2013-2014).  After breaking up with girlfriend Carly (ICarly), Sam Puckett rides her motorcycle to L.A., where she runs into Kat of Victorious.  The two move in together and start a babysitting service, although presumably they're still in high school.  The show couldn't be more clear in presenting them as a lesbian couple.

ICarly (2008-2012) had a lot of gay references also, but it doesn't get on the list because they were mostly homophobic.

8. Salute Your Shorts (1991-1992).  Mismatched kids in an ineptly-run summer camp. One was gay in real life, and played his character as gay as possible, given the homophobia at Nickeodeon in the 1990s.

9. Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide (2004-2007).  Golden boy Ned and his two friends, one feminine, one a girl, offer tips on how to survive junior high.  There is same-sex dating, a gay-inclusive "life skills" class, male puberty without girl-craziness, and two bullies,

10. Drake and Josh (2004-2007).   By far the most gay-positive teencom Nickelodeon has ever broadcast.   Foster brothers who knew precisely what a gay subtext is, and play it to the hilt. Plus they have two friends, Craig and Erik, who are a gay couple in all but the name.

Nov 7, 2017

Lionel Wendt, the Oscar Wilde of Colombo

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944) was a photographer, cinematographer, pianist and scholar, who had a profound impact on the development of the fine arts in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon, a British colony until 1948).

Of Ceylon-Dutch ancestry, Wendt studied law in London and practiced for awhile in Colombo, the capital of British Ceylon, but soon dedicated himself to his music.  Aside from being a concert pianist, he was a cinematographer, photographer, artist, literary critic (he imported books from London by the bushel), teacher, and patron of the arts.

He and his friends wore their hair long, wore flamboyant costumes, and delighted in scandalizing the Colombo blue-bloods.  He was big and brash and open, as one could be in Ceylon in the 1930s, the Oscar Wilde of Colombo.

His photography shows the influence of European modernism.

Yet Wendt was not just a Eurocentric flaneur; he wanted to develop a distinctly Sri Lankan vision.  He published photographs of rural Ceylon (Lionel Wendt's Ceylon, 1950), and spearheaded the documentary Song of Ceylon.  He brought two traditional dancers to England to film.

He organized the Photographic Society of Ceylon and the Colombo 43 Art Group.  There's a Lionel Wendt Art Center in Colombo, with two galleries and a theater dedicated to his memory.

He photographed many of his male lovers, creating an image of Ceylon as a homoerotic paradise that remains firmly embedded in the popular imagination today.

Yet none of the many articles and retrospectives published in Sri Lanka today mention that he was gay.  Seventy years after his death, Lionel Wendt is still closeted in his homeland.

Nov 6, 2017

Gary Kasper: Forgotten Man-Mountain of the 1980s

Born in 1958 in Los Angeles, the 6'4", 245 lb Gary Kasper was a high school football player, junior All-American coach, wrestler, and fitness expert before he hit Hollywood.

It was the era of the man-mountains, when, after the various setbacks and failures of the 1970s (the fall of Saigon, the oil embargo, Three Mile Island, the Iranian Hostage Crisis), movies displayed Americans using their fists to save the world.  All you needed was a bodybuilder's physique and a gruff voice to get cast in a movie about barbarian swordsmen, boxers, cage fighters, martial artists, or soldiers of fortune who could single-handedly take out an entire enemy army.

Gary was a man-mountain, but he never could seem to find the right vehicle for his pecs.

His first movie role was as "Ben Gay" in The Feud (1977), which he also produced.  I don't know what it was about, but it sounds homophobic.

Vision Quest (1985) is not actually science fiction: it's about a high school wrestler (Matthew Modine) who has the "eye of the tiger."  Gary played Otto, an evil wrestler.

 J.O.E. and the Colonel, aka Humanoid Defender (1985), a tv pilot later released on video, is about an android created to be a "perfect soldier", but lacking a killer instinct.  So one of his creators takes him in and tries to transform him into a human being.

Gary spent the late 1980s and 1990s playing wrestlers, soldiers, gangsters, bodyguards, cops, and "The Muscle Guy," the standard heavy types, without any big roles. Perhaps he was most famous as the Pilot in Batman Forever (1995).

He also played Extreme Sports, wrestled, played martial arts, and worked as a personal trainer.

 Then the era of the man-mountain ended, and he was a bodybuilder without a country.  He produced and starred in his own man-mountain movie, The Seventh Man (2008), about DEA agents in the Central American jungle being stalked by an unknown evil.  But it wasn't enough.

By the 2000s, he was moving into stunt work.  On screen, he mostly played monsters -- Bigfoot (2012), serial killer Ed Gein (Death Factory, 2014), a vampire (The Hunted, 2015), the alien K'Hund (on Supergirl, 2016).

80 movie and tv roles over a period of 30 years is very impressive, as is Gary's work in other fields.

Still, one wishes that he could have become another Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Nov 5, 2017

Gay Nerds of the 1980s

Many movies during the 1980s featured a teen nerd, a handsome, intelligent, likable, and wealthy high schooler who for some reason is ostracized by the other students,  except for his flamboyantly feminine best friend.  He is in love with a cheerleader, but she ignores him to hang on the arm of a jock so boorish, violent, possessive, and disagreeable that one can't imagine anyone able to stand him for more than 30 seconds.  You know how it ends: the teen wins the respect of his peers, whereupon the cheerleader melts into his arms, or he settles for the girl next door who supported him all along.  (The formula has been used many times since, notably in The Hard Times of RJ Berger).

There might be a few minor changes, but the major players were always identifiable, reenacting a 1980s morality play about dismissing the homoerotic other.

Why is the teen nerd ostracized?  His intelligence, lack of athletic prowess, or some other despicable trait signify that he is gay.  In Lucas (1986), the locker room jocks assume that Lucas (Corey Haim) is gay because he has a small penis, so he turns the tables: "I don't get semi-erect among other males like some of you fellows can tell the fags in a warm shower by who has the longest dong."

They punish him by smearing Ben Gay on his dong -- but of course, to do that they have to touch his dong.

In Three O'Clock High (1987), teen nerd Jerry (Casey Siemaszko) is assigned to interview transfer student Buddy (Richard Tyson, left) for the school paper.  He says "hello" while they're both at the urinals, and Buddy shrinks back in horror: "You're a fag!"  Jerry immediately protests that he is straight, but Tyson is not convinced, and schedules him for an after school bashing.  Jerry tries to hire school bully Bruce (Scott Tiler) to protect him, but Tiler misunderstands the proposition: "If you're a fag..."

Heterosexual desire, however ardent, cannot redeem the teen nerd's gayness.  In Sixteen Candles (1984), Ted the Geek (Anthony Michael Hall, right) asks Sam (Molly Ringwald) for a date, but she refuses because "You're totally a fag." Lucas dates a girl in full view of the jocks, but is derided as a fag anyhow.

Since the teen nerd is constantly accused of being gay, he must constantly police his arguably romantic relationship with his flamboyantly feminine best buddy.  In Better Off Dead (1985), nerd Lane (John Cusack) and buddy Charles (Curtis Armstrong) are sitting together at a dance, when a jock jokes, "You've got my vote for the cutest couple."  Charles starts laughing hysterically; in the next scene, later that night, he is still laughing.  Then he vanishes from the movie.  Clearly the jock has hit a sensitive nerve.

One Crazy Summer (1986) is a rare example of a positive gay-coded character. Visiting Nantucket for the summer, Hoops (John Cusack) meets  Ack Ack (Curtis Armstrong), a sensitive, poetic, nonviolent boy who can't abide the militaristic career his father and brothers have planned for him.  They become friends, but not best friends; instead, they form a buddy quartet with twin brothers, Egg (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Clay (gay actor Tom Villard).

Romantic potential thus defused, Ack Ack can be oblivious to girls and like boys as much as he wants.  When his father kicks him out of the house for being too sissified, he seeks comforting (and a place to stay) with Egg, who wraps an arm around him and says "I understand."  Ack Ack lays his head on Egg's shoulder.  One expects them to kiss at any moment.

See also: 12 Forgotten Beefcake Boys of the 1980s
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