Jul 7, 2018

Ansel Elgort: The Post-Gay Carrie Hunk

You may remember Ansel Elgort from the 2013 revision of Stephen King's Carrie: he played Tommy Ross, who takes the repressed schoolgirl with psychic powers to the prom, and gets doused with pig blood.   The 2013 version emphasizes the bullying and the gay symbolism of Carrie's "difference."

The young actor also starred in Divergent (2014) is about a dystopian society that hunts down people who don't fit in to one of the five social categories: "what makes you different, makes you dangerous."  Let the gay symbolism begin! 

The Fault in Our Stars (2014) is a heterosexual romance about two teens who fall in love in a cancer support group.  After the replicated the romantic poster with co-star Nat Wolff, he had to specify: "I like girls.  A lot.  But if I was gay, I wouldn't hide it."

The son of photographer Arthur Elgort, Ansel has naturally gravitated toward modeling, appearing Teen Vogue, American Vogue, and elsewhere.

Also the son of an opera director, he has naturally gravitated toward music.  He has Facebook and Soundcloud pages where you can check out his tunes.

Ansel belongs to the laid-back "post-gay" world.  When he took off his shirt for a spread in the spring 2013 issue of Flaunt magazine, he stated that he had a girlfriend, but "would go gay for Tom Hardy."

Jul 6, 2018

Scott Grimes: a Band of Brothers

For a few years in the mid-1980s, Scott Grimes was as famous as Scott Baio or Matthew Broderick.

His red hair and boyish smile drew the interest of teen magazines, and his muscles and penchant for nudity made him a fave rave for many gay teens.

Not to mention his cool fashion sense and hard-to-miss bulges.

His body of work is comparatively small, but wide-ranging, from the pedestrian to the masterful to the ridiculous.

The pedestrian: guest spots on all of the standard tv programs of the 1980s, including Charles in Charge, Who's the Boss, My Two Dads, Wings, and 21 Jump Street.  Starring roles in several series, including Goode Behavior, Party of Five, E.R., and American Dad (his current gig, voicing the teenage son Steve Smith).

The masterful:  the miniseries Band of Brothers (2001), about an infantry division during World War II who learn heroism, courage, devotion, and love.  Scott played Technical Sergeant Donald Malarkey, who is deeply affected by the bloodshed around him, and is always looking for someone to love.

In Dreamkeeper (2003), the Lakota Sioux elder Peter Chasing Horse tells his sullen, "modern" grandson, Shane (Eddie Spears), stories about their culture as they travel to a pow wow in Albuquerque.  A Red-Headed Stranger (Scott) joins them.  As the Stranger and Shane grapple with their unstated but strongly articulated homoerotic desire, Grandfather tells them the store of Tehan, a white man who joined the Kiowa. He, too, felt an unstated homoerotic desire.

Even Scott's ridiculous projects have some gay content.

 In the Gremlins clone Critters (1986), an an army of small, round, squish monsters, sort of like tribbles with teeth, eat their way through a small town.  Brad (Scott) combats them, along with two intergalactic bounty hunters. One morphs into an androgynous glam-rocker named Johnny Steele (Terence Mann), who draws the interest of both Scott and town drunk Charlie (Don Opper).  At the end of the movie, Charlie asks for and receives an intergalactic bounty-hunting job, and the three zap off into space together.

In Critters 2 (1988), Brad is still at work stamping out critters, and the three bounty hunters return to Earth. His coworker dies in combat, and Johnny, grief-stricken, "destabilizes" (has an alien nervous breakdown).  Charlie keeps his arm around him, comforting him, saying “I can’t go on without you."  They embrace.  The music swells.  They have found true love.

Scott is also a talented singer, with three albums to his credit: Scott Grimes (1989), Livin' on the Run (2005), and Drive (2010).  His songs are moody and dark, mostly about lost loves and growing old, but most do not specify the gender of his love, making them resonate with both heterosexual and gay audiences.
He is a gay ally, and often contributes to pro-gay causes.

The Only Penis Drawn by Willy Pogany

My first exposure to mythology came from some older books in the Denkmann library: The Adventures of Odysseus, The Children of Odin, and The King of Ireland's Son, all written by Padraic Colum and illustrated by the Hungarian-American artist Willy Pogany (1882-1955).

He liked his models big.

Later I found some other books illustrated by Pogany.  This is my first exposure to the Faust legend.  The diabolical figure Mephistophiles is rather muscular, and naked, but I was disappointed to see that he had no penis.

Ok, for some reason  the Devil never has a penis in Western art.

But there's no excuse for Pogany's depiction of  Amfortas in the German epic Parsifal without a penis.

One might expect the advertising layout for Mohawk Rugs to feature Native Americans, but no, it's a harem of Middle Eastern boys.

Pogany was also interested in the female form. His art instruction books all have naked women on the covers, and he illustrated Pierre Louys' Songs of Bilitis (1926), poems in praise of the lesbian poetess Sapho.  Del Martin borrowed its title for the first lesbian organization in the U.S., The Daughters of Bilitis.

Also some heterosexual erotic art -- but even there, his men lack penises.

In fact, I was able to find only one penis depicted in all of his oeuvre.  Sort of:

Jul 5, 2018

Mark Lester after Oliver

Every kid I knew was forced to see Oliver! in 1968.  Our parents had the impression that musicals were somehow educational, and besides, it was Dickens.

Most of the kids I knew disliked it.  After all, it was a musical. About child abuse, domestic violence, and other fun stuff.   I found the heterosexist "true love" plot boring, but I liked the buddy-bonding between the streetwise Artful Dodger (15-year old Jack Wild) and the cherubic innocent Oliver (10-year old Mark Lester, left).

I followed Jack Wild onto H. R. Pufnstuf, but I heard nothing more about Mark Lester for many years. During the early 2000s, I was writing an article on demonic children in the movies, and I found that the cherub spent his pubescence playing violent or creepy, or both.  His characters seemed uncomfortable with their bodies, ravaged by uncontrollable desires, and obsessively heterosexual.

In Eyewitness (1970), also released as Sudden Terror, 12-year old Ziggy (Mark) witnesses a murder on the Mediterranean island of Malta,  and is pursued by the killer.  He goes on the lam, along with his girlfriend.

In Melody (1971), 10-year old Daniel (Mark) falls in love with a girl and decides to marry her. The adults disapprove of a 10-year old getting married, but it's the heart of the counterculture, and "true love" is always right.

In What the Peeper Saw (1972), also released as Night Hair Child and Diabolica malicia, 14-year old Marcus (Mark) is sexually attracted to his father's new wife (Britt Eklund).  She shares his interest, and they have sex. They conspire to kill Dad so they can be together. But is she really conspiring to kill Marcus? 

In Who Slew Auntie Roo (1972), 14-year old Christopher (Mark)  tries to rescue his sister from the demented Mrs. Forrest (Shelley Winters), who is holding her prisoner in the attic. 

Love Under the Elms (1975) was originally titled La prima volta sull' erba, "the first time on the grass." While visiting Italy, Mark meets a girl, and they have sex a lot. It ends badly, but if you want to see frontal nudity, this is the one.

Not many gay kids saw these movies -- they were all rated R for violence and sex

Mark strips down to a swimsuit or his underwear, or is accosted in the bathtub, in all of his violent/creepy movies, but with all the heterosexual longing going on, there's not much time for homoerotic subtexts. After Oliver!, I found one only in Senza ragione (1973), also known as Redneck. 

Lennox (Mark)  is kidnapped by two crooks, the evil Memphis (Telly Savalas) and the hunky Mosquito (Franco Nero, left).   Lennox bonds with Mosquito and they run away together, and spend the night, with rear nudity and a strong implication of sex between them.  But does Lennox really like the gangster, or is he plotting?  It ends badly.

Mark Lester also starred in some costume dramas that didn't require creepy sexuality.  He retired from acting in 1977, studied osteopathy, and opened an acupuncture clinic in England.  

Journey to the Beginning of Time

During the late 1960s, our local afternoon kid's show, Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat, played a serial called Journey to the Beginning of Time, about four boys on a field trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York who find a secret passage leading to a mysterious river. They paddle down the river through different geological eras, rescuing each other from mastodons and dinosaurs, learning to survive in the prehistoric wilderness.  

Finally they pass the Precambrian Era and see the dazzling psychedelic fireworks of the Earth's creation.

The serial made no sense.  The boys' costumes and hair styles changed; they got taller and shorter; the voice-over narration didn't match the action; no one wonders how they're going to get back home again; and where did boys visiting a museum get a boat, anyway?

Still, it became one of the iconic images of my childhood, maybe because it made no sense.  It was a puzzle, a mystery to be unraveled, and that puzzle involved boys facing the world together.

  In a pivotal scene, Doc (Josef Lukas) loses the diary with his scientific notes of the journey, and Jo-Jo (Victor Betral) fights off a dinosaur to retrieve it.  Their subsequent moment of emotional intimacy reverberated through my childhood.

Turns out that in 1966, producer William Cayton took the river sequences from a Czech movie, Cesta do Praveku (1955), then filmed new opening and closing segments in the United States with different boys, figuring that the dumb kids in his target audience would never notice.  

 I noticed, but I didn't care. I was busy watching the boys bonding with each other through science fiction adventure.

Jul 3, 2018

The Golden Girls: Homophobic Gay Favorite

When I was livingin West Hollywood,  Saturday night meant picking up tangerine chicken to eat on tv trays while watching Throb, Mama's Family and The Golden Girls, then heading out to the bars.

The Golden Girls' theme song "Thank You for Being a Friend" still brings back memories of those Saturday nights of lights and music, checking out the musclemen, searching for Mr. Right (or Mr. Right Now), and schmoozing with friends.

It featured four senior citizens who live together in a Miami:

1.Former Southern Belle Blanche (Rue McClanihan), the sexually promiscuous one.

2. Dimwitted Rose (Betty White), who is from St. Olaf, Minnesota.

3. Sensible Dorothy (Bea Arthur).

4. Her mother, the sarcastic Sophia (Estelle Getty).

The real Miami is 70% Hispanic, but not on The Golden Girls:  it was exclusively white, exclusively affluent, and a small town where everybody knows everybody.

The Girls were all played by gay-friendly actresses; Bea Arthur often spoke out against homophobia, and Betty White is a tireless supporter of gay marriage.

But the show itself could be quite homophobic:

1. Blanche is shocked to discover that her brother is "a homo."

2. Blanche cannot restrain her disgust at a feminine caterer: "you're about to fly right out of here, aren't you?" she asks, alluding to the stereotype of gay men as "fairies."

3. A female visitor develops a crush on Rose, who has no idea what lesbians are.  When she finds out, she is shocked and horrified.

There was little beefcake.  Though the Girls were sexually voracious -- jokes mostly involved sex -- the men they slept with were older, and fully clothed.

Occasionally there was a hot guest star for the gay teens, such as as Mario Lopez (later photo) as one of Dorothy's students, Scott Jacoby as Dorothy's son, or Billy Jacoby (below) as Blanche's grandson.

Why, then, was this homophobic, beefcake-free show a gay favorite?

The recurring scene where the Girls sit around their kitchen table, eating cheesecake and schmoozing.

The men in their lives came and went, but their same-sex friendship was eternal.

Like the subtext songs of the 1980s, an image of connection, of the families you build for yourself.

Jul 2, 2018

The 7 Most Horrible DMVs

The DMV is the Department of Motor Vehicles, the most horrifying, soul-destroying institution every invented in the board rooms of hell.  Its sole function is to cause you as much pain and torment as possible.

Every time you move to a new state, you must devote at least one full day, probably more, to being tortured at the DMV.

And I've moved to new states 10 times.

I don't remember my first few experiences, in Illinois, Nebraska, and Indiana, but after that it's all downhill.  Here are the worst DMVs, in order:

1. Ohio.  There are two places to go, one to get your new license and the other for your registration, on opposite sides of town, neither with titles that sound like what they are ("Assistant County Examiner" or something).  The registration one is only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but not if it is raining: "The license examiners will not examine your car in the rain."  Which make sense, I suppose, but if you have only one month from the date you move to the state, finding a free Tuesday or Thursday when it's not raining is difficult.  And finding several (they always send you back for more documents) is almost impossible.

2. Tennessee.  First they said "this driver's license photo doesn't look like you. Do you have anything else?"  I showed them my student id.  "Sorry, we need a driver's license."  Finally I had them call the dean of my college to verify my identity.

3. Texas.  When I moved to Texas for my horrible year in Hell-fer-Sartain, everybody was brand new at their jobs, having just moved down from the Rust Belt (80% of the population of Hell-fer-Sartain was from Michigan, Ohio, or Indiana. So the clerk filled out the form wrong, and six weeks later my driver's license arrived at a house down the block, with the address wrong and my name spelled wrong.  Six more weeks later, a "replacement" driver's license appeared.

4. Florida.  You have to memorize a book of driving rules and then pass a test with 100%.  Anything less than 100% is a failure, and you have to take it over again.  Some of the rules were for trucks and motorcycles.  I was trying to register a car, so I skipped over those.  But the test was mostly about "what speed should motorcycles go in a passing zone when it's raining?" and "What type of hitch should your semi be attached to your cab with?"

Now I know all of the rules of the road for trucks and motorcycles in Florida.

5. Pennsylvania.  At the entrance, there are two lines, with signs stating "With a picture id" and "Without a picture id."  I don't know why I thought they would be telling the truth, after my experiences in California and Ohio, but like a idiot I pulled out my picture id card and waited.  An hour later, I got to the front of the line, and was told "This line is for people who are getting their driver's license for the first time.  That line over there is for people who want to transfer from a new state."  Go wait over there for an hour and a half.

Did I mention that Pennsylvania requires two exhaust emission tests?  From different places on the other side of town from each other.

6. California. Make an appointment in advance, but even then, you are going to be waiting for six hours, until they close and tell everyone to go home and come back in the morning.  Where they say they will take those with appointments yesterday first.  Maybe they do, but it still takes four hours to go through the various lines.  Ten hours altogether.  I hope you packed a lunch.

7. New York.  Don't even think about moving to New York.  The DMV is a nightmare of epic proportions.

Every time I stood in one of the interminable lines, the clerk would invent some other document I needed.

Birth certificate.

The title (it's a leased car, so I don't have the title).

A form sent by the person sitting at a desk in an archive in Vermont who actually has physical access to the title.

My proof of insurance.

No, not proof of insurance coverage that began three months ago; it has to be insurance coverage that begins today.

I went back day after day, talked to different clerks every time, and got different and contradictory information about what forms I would need to fill out.  Finally, after jumping through hoop after hoop,  I was waiting for one last form for Grace from my insurance company to fax the fifth insurance form that they wanted directly to Debbie at the DMV.

"When this one comes in, we'll be done, right?" I asked.  "You'll allow me to register my car in this state?"

"Yes, that's the last document we'll need," Debbie said.  Then: "Well, I'm going home for the day.  Someone else will help you."

"No!  No!" I yelled.  "Someone else will just invent more documents that I need, and I'll have to start all over again."

"Well, my shift is over.  I'm going home."

"Could I come back tomorrow and see you then?  Every DMV clerk has different requirements, so someone else will make me do different things."

"You'd have to step to the back of the line and wait for another hour. Just go to the next person when your form comes in."

I waited.  20 minutes later, Grace faxed over the fifth insurance form .  I wanted in line for the next clerk.

"Oh, you have everything you need, except for the afidavits that you don't have any DUI convictions at any of the previous states that you have lived in.  Just call the local police department at each of the cities you lived in, and have them send you the forms...."

I just noticed that there's no specifically gay content in this post.  So here's a cute guy to tide you over.

The Sonic Drive-In Guys Are Saving a Gay Kid's Life

These are the Two Guys (their internet name) who have been starring in commercials for Sonic Drive-Ins since 2002 (with a few breaks).

They are depicted sitting in their car at various times of the day and night, various months of the year, discussing hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, corn dogs, tater tots, or ice cream concoctions. Occasionally they get out of the car.

Their patter, mostly improv, is reminiscent of the classic comedy duos such as Abott and Costello and Martin and Lewis:  the clown, played by T. J. Jadodowski (left), says something ridiculous or wears an outrageous costume, and straight man Peter Grosz (right) reacts with grumpy dismissal.

And now I'm going to say something.  Listen carefully:

They are a gay couple.

They always eat out together.  They apparently live together.  They share finances.  They mention that they've been together for many years.  They don't refer to any other relationships, or display any interest in women.

Let the screaming begin.

Screamer #1:  Why can't they be friends?  Every time two guys appear together, they aren't gay!  Straight guys go to restaurants together!

Translation:  If there is any possibility, however unlikely, that a fictional character can be read as straight, he MUST be read as straight.  We will accept characters as gay only if there is no other choice, only if our desperate attempts to read them as straight have failed.

But you can do it the other way, too.  It's how gay people survived growing up in a world that denied their existence a hundred times a day, watching tv and going to movies that shouted, over and over, that "boy meets girl is universal human experience!"  They found a fictional character and looked for evidence that would support a gay reading. 

Two guys who go to a restaurant together could be gay.

Screamer #2:  What about when they settle a disagreement with a game of Horse (basketball)? They like sports!  They can't be gay!

Translation: Gay characters must be swishy stereotypes.  The slightest reference to a masculine-coded activity requires us to read them as straight.

But gay guys play basketball.

Screamer #3: What about when T. J. mentions his ex-girlfriend Janine?  He dated a girl!  He's straight.

Translation: The slightest reference to heterosexual behavior requires us to read the character as straight.

But lots of gay men date women before they come out.  They're bowing to societal pressure, the constant "what girl do you like?" litany of high school and college.  Remember this exchange:

T. J.: The last time we ate this good, we were in college.

Peter: No, I was in college, you were in denial.

He's not in denial anymore, he's come out.

Screamer #4: What about the commercial where Jane Krakowski and Ellie Kemper, the stars of The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt (not in character) wave at them, and they wave back.  They wave at women!  They must be straight!  

Translation:  Women are invisible to gay men, so any man who displays the slightest recognition of a woman, who says hello to a woman, who steps out of the way to avoid being plowed into by a woman, must be heterosexual.

But gay men are perfectly capable of seeing women, and of waving at famous tv stars, without being romantically interested in them.

Screamer #5:  Ok, now I've got you.  Peter Grosz is married to a woman, Debra Downing, and has a son!  Talk you way out of that one!

Translation: Heterosexuals are incapable of playing gay characters, so if the actor is straight, the character is straight.

But heterosexuals are perfectly capable of playing all sorts of characters, including gay people.

Besides, T. J. Jadodowski never mentions a wife or girlfriend in any interview.  But he does mention going on a trip to Italy with a male friend.

Screamer #6: What about when T. J. is pretending to be a car, and says "I'm going to go talk to her -- the little red coupe with the nice taillights."  He's going to flirt with a female car.  No gay guy would do that!

Translation: Gay men are incapable of playing heterosexuals, so if your character is straight, you must be straight.

But gay actors are perfectly capable of playing all sorts of characters, including straight people.  And straight cars.

There is no piece of evidence that will unequivocally "prove" that a character is gay or straight.  He doesn't actually exist.here is no single correct reading of fictional characters.  The signs are incomplete, open to interpretation.  All we know about these guys is what they say and do for a few moments in their car at a Sonic Drive-In.  We have to fill in the rest of their lives.

And it's ok to fill it in with a same-sex romance.

Many gay kids are still growing up in a society that denies their existence.  A Sonic Drive-In commercial starring the Two Guys may be trivial to us, but to them it could make all the difference.  It might be the one moment that gives them hope.

Jul 1, 2018

Bizaardvark: Bizaare Beefcake

I find it interesting that many of the teencoms broadcast on television today are about post-television media: streaming series, web-based series, video games, various techno-devices that the older generation finds disconcerting (in my day, you stared at a box and liked it!).

The Disney Channel's Bizaardvark is about two teen girls, Frankie and Paige (Madison Hu, Olivia Rodrigo) who upload funny videos to their vlog (video blog).  Sounds like ICarly so far.

But they get so many subscribers that they are invited to join Vuuugle Studios, where they can upload professionally-made videos to their internet channel, Bizaardvark.

So it's more of a workplace comedy, with lots of crazy coworkers (other internet video uploaders).

 1. During the first two seasons, internet celebrity Jake Paul (top photo) played Dirk Mann, host of Dare Me Bro, where he takes dares from subscribers.  But Paul's on-screen controversies got him fired, so he was replaced by Kirk Mann (Logan Paul).

There are nude photos of Jake Paul on Tales of West Hollywood.

2. Amelia Duckworth (DeVore Ledridge) hosts Perfect Perfection, offering fashion tips, along with her assistant, Angelo (Jimmy Fowlie, left).  He dropped out of medical school in order to join her team; apparently the pay is quite good.

3. Viking Guy (Adam Haas Hunter) hosts Live Like a Viking.

4. Rodney (Elie Samouhi) hosts What's in My Hair

5. Victor (Calum Worthy, left) hosts an unnamed prank show, along with his assistant, Teddy (Nick Galarza, below).

6. Horse Face Guy (Ross Kubelak) is a very muscular guy in a yellow tank top and horse mask.  He doesn't speak.  No one knows what channel he hosts.

The studio is run by Liam (Jonathan McClain), son of the owner, who appears only as a robotic tv screen.  He seems to have a crush on Horse Face Guy.

There are also real world characters:

1. Bernie (Ethan Wacker, left) is the girls' best friend and agent.  He also has a gay-subtext bromance with Dirk Mann.

2. Belissa (Maya Jade Frank) runs the fansite I Heart Vark. A website devoted to a website?  My head is spinning, but I guess kids understand it.

3. Dr. Wong (Tom Choi), Frankie's father.

No explicit gay characters, but a lot of subtexts, which is standard for Nickelodeon shows.  And a lot of beefcake.

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