Dec 1, 2017

Star Trek Beyond Homophobia

I don't usually post reviews of single episodes of tv series, but I'm being forced to work my way through Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005), the classic Trek prequel about smug, simpering Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and his best buddy Trip (Connor Trineer) leading the Earth's first baby-step exploratory mission into deep space.

It's awful.  No continuity at all.  Sometimes they're hundreds of light years from home, sometimes close enough so friends can visit.  Sometimes space is empty, and sometimes it's crowded with dozens of species.

Every species looks, dresses, acts, and eats exactly like us, with a few very minor differences.  The universe is depressingly monotonous.

And they all speak perfect colloquial English.  In the first season they at least tried to introduce some translation problems, but by Season 2, there was no question: aliens (or should I say humans with things on their foreheads) don't need a translator.  English is the universal language of the galaxy.

Oh, well, at least Connor Trinneer's physique is on display a lot.  He is  jaw-droppingly huge beneath the belt.

They should call the show "Star Trek: Trip in His Underwear."

But last night's episode was bad.  Really bad.

In "Cogenitor" (April 30, 2003), the Enterprise encounters the Vissians, exactly like us in every way except for some forehead bulges and the fact that they need three sexes to reproduce.

Members of the third sex are treated as slaves, or the handmaidens in Margaret Atwood's novel -- no, worse.  At least slaves have names.  At least the handmaidens got to do the shopping  Cogenitors, referred to only as "it," are passed around from couple to couple like shared property, not allowed to do anything but eat, sleep, and make babies.

After Trip overcomes his homophobic horror over the thought of sex between beings other than a man and a woman, he takes an interest in the Vissian cogenitor, teaching it -- "her" -- to read, giving her a tour of his ship, showing her some movies, encouraging her to rebel against her oppression.  The Vissians are furious.  So is Captain Archer!  Trip has no right to interfere with the "customs" of another species!

When the cogenitor realizes that her condition will not change, she asks for asylum aboard the Enterprise.  Archer refuses -- oppressing the "third sex" is part of their culture!  She is returned to the Vissian ship, where she promptly commits suicide.

Archer calls Trip into his office and chews him out.  This is your fault!  You introduced subversive ideas into her head, made her think that she wasn't inferior to the Vissians, encouraged her to rebel!   Now somebody is dead, just because you were stupid enough to promote social equality.  We should never lift a hand against oppression if it's part of their culture!

Trip, contrite, agrees.  He should never have interfered.

The episode was probably meant as a homophobic rant against gay rights: LGBT people should not try for social equality, because it's part of our culture to treat them like scum.

But it goes far beyond that, to condemn the abolitionist movement -- enslaving black people was part of their culture!  And women's suffrage -- denying women the right to vote was part of their culture.  And the Holocaust -- if genocide was part of Nazi culture, we have no right to criticize it.


The episode was written by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga.  I'm not going to do any research to determine how prejudiced they are.  It's rather obvious.

I don't think that a picture of Trip's chest is going to be able to fix this one. 

Nov 28, 2017

Bobby Sherman: Here Come the Brides

Here Come the Brides (1968-70) was a quasi-Western that delivered lots of bare chested bravado and created two teen idols. In the back story, the idyllic frontier Seattle of the 19th century is inhabited by hundreds of tall, broad-shouldered men in tight jeans, but no women except the matronly Lottie (Joan Blondell), who runs the local saloon. So far it sounds like a homoerotic Eden, but then the three Bolt brothers, Jason (Robert Brown), Joshua (David Soul), and Jeremy (Bobby Sherman)  get the idea that some of the men might be interested in women, so they arrange for some to be transported from Boston. These aren’t mail order brides, however; they live in a dormitory with chaperones, waiting to be courted nice and proper.

Few courtships and fewer marriages actually occurred during the show’s two-year run. Instead, plots mostly involved the brothers facing shady lumber dealers, crotchety prospectors, decadent Shakespearean actors, wannabe Mormons, snake-oil hucksters, and miscellaneous scalawags. Bobby Sherman played youngest brother Jeremy, a shy outsider and a stutterer, as cuddly as a teddy bear, yet muscular enough to wander around Seattle with his shirt off. Although he was sweet on one of the brides, his plotlines were never heterosexist. He rescued boys from marauders and evildoers, or else got carried off by the marauders and evildoers himself, tied in a back room while his older brothers mounted daring rescue. And sometimes he sang.

Born in 1943, Bobby Sherman had been performing since the mid-1960’s, but his career didn’t take off until he became Jeremy Bolt. Within a year he had four charting singles, and his anthem, “Julie, Do Ya Love Me?,” hit #2 in September 1970. His first two albums were boring: most songs had “girl” as every other word and even a titular protestation of Bobby’s heterosexuality, such as “Little Woman” or “She’s a Lady.”

The only gay content was in “Hey, Mr. Sun": the lonely singer notes that “I've been running all my life / In search of something I can't find,” but then he looks up and realizes that “Mr. Sun” will always be beside him. It is only a small step from the sun to a human boy who will “tap me on the shoulder and whisper to me from behind / Remind me of the yesterdays I tried alone.”

With Love, Bobby (1970) and Portrait of Bobby (1970) were more interesting, with gender-neutral songs like “Spend Some Time Loving Me” and “Message to My Brother,” as well as the strangely seductive “Sweet Gingerbread Man,” originally sung in the gay-friendly Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart, starring Don Johnson (1970).  Pop music aimed at preteens often associates sexual desire with food, as in Archies’ "Sugar Sugar" (“You are my candy girl”) and the 1910 Fruit Gum Company’s "Yummy" (“I’ve got love in my tummy”). And in this case the object of Bobby's desire is “all tasty and tan, sweet gingerbread man.”

In 1971-72 Bobby starred with Wes Stern in the gay-subtext Getting Together.   When his teen idol star faded, he became a EMT.

Married and divorced twice, Bobby is reputedly bisexual.  According to a 2011 biography, he and gay actor Sal Mineo became lovers during the 1970s, before Sal settled down with his long-term partner. 

Nov 26, 2017

Integrating the Public Pool

When I was a kid in the 1960s, Rock Island was segregated.  Almost all African-Americans lived on the West End.  There was only one in my junior high.  If I wanted to get a glimpse of black beefcake, I had to go to Longview Park Pool, where swimsuit-clad bodies of black and white men glistened in the afternoon son.

But for fifty years, public swimming pools were almost universally off-limits to African-Americans.

It's the hottest day of the year, there's no such thing as air conditioning, and you are forbidden from seeking relief in a swimming pool.

Segregation began in the 1920s, when pools began to admit men and women together.  Concerned about...well, I don't know what, and I doubt that they did officials decided to admit white people only.

After World War II, when federal mandates began, requiring states and cities to demolish the "separate but equal" policies, many cities shut down their pools rather than integrate them.  Others instituted separate white and black hours, and shut down the pool to drain and clean it in between.

In 1949, St. Louis opened the Fairground Swimming Pool to black swimmers, in response to pressure from the federal government.  30 black youth showed up to swim, but a crowd of angry white people began yelling and threatening them through the fence.  The police had to be called to escort them home.

On June 8, 1958, David Isom took a stand at a segregated pool in Florida.  City officials closed the pool.  Notice the shocked looks of the white people.

You couldn't even swim in the ocean.  In 1963, some civil rights activists resisted the "white-only ocean" policy of St. Augustine, Florida, and were assaulted by white beachgoers.

The racism wasn't universal.  Here a black lifeguard happily teaches a white kid how to swim in a Pittsburgh pool in 1951.

But notice the white kids keeping their distance on the second day of pool integration in Omaha in 1963.

As the 2016 election and its aftermath has shown, racism is alive and well in the contemporary U.S.  But at least you can still see black and white beefcake together in a public pool.
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