Dec 8, 2018

Who is the Strongest Man at the Fair?

We tend to think of New Jersey as a urban-sprawl suburb of New York,but some parts are quite rural, with rolling hills, forests, and farms.  Augusta, about 60 miles northwest of New York (five hours with traffic) even hosts the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show every summer during the New Jersey State Fair.

Every year since 2011, they have held the "Strongest Man at the Fair" contest, with the prize money donated to the Domestic Abuse and Assault Intervention Services.  Contestants lift giant dumbbells, toss 30-pound kegs, and lift a car (a Buick, since a Buick dealership sponsors the event).

Women were added to the event in 2015

A cop from Clinton Township.

An aspiring bodybuilder from Green, New Jersey.

A waiter from Andover, New Jersey

A student from Hamburg, New Jersey.

Jason Dolley in the House

22-year old Jason Dolley has spent most of his career at the Disney Channel, where heterosexist boy-obsessed-with-girl is the order of the day, so he hasn't had many opportunities for gay projects.  But he's had his share of gay subtexts.  And shirtless, semi-nude and underwear shots.

Saving Shiloh (2006): Teenage Marty (Jason) and his dog Shiloh must team up to save Shiloh's evil ex-owner, Judd (Scott Wilson), when he is accused of killing a man.  They both end up befriending the reformed nogoodnik, because, "When you open your heart, anything is possible."

Minutemen (2008): Virgil (Jason) and the nerdish genius Charlie (Luke Benward) have an intense, passionate buddy-bond that leaks through in spite of the scripted girl-craziness.

Cory in the House (2007-2008).  Cory Baxter (Kyle Massey), the son of the head chef at the White House, goes to an exclusive private school, where he crushes on an ambassador's daughter and becomes best friends with Newt (Jason), son of a Supreme Court Justice. Jake Thomas played their snippy antagonist.

Though both boys were scripted as standard Disney girl-crazy, subtexts abounded.  Cory thinks that another boy is asking him out, and says "Sorry, you're not my type."  Newt sees Cory at the mall with another boy, and accuses him of "cheating.

Even Cory's Dad, Victor, gets into the act.  After a comedy of errors, he ends up in bed in the Lincoln Bedroom with the President, just as a tour group approaches.  "We can't let them see us!" Victor cries.  "They'll think we're...." Long pause while the studio audience howls at the awareness of what two men in bed signifies.  "They'll think we're. . .lazy, sleeping during the day!"

Good Luck, Charlie (2010-): A rare Disney Channel nuclear comedy sitcom. Jason plays the oldest son, PJ, who has another black best friend, the nerdish Emmett (Micah Williams).

Bradley Steven Perry (right) plays his younger brother, the preteen operator Gabe.

Lots of rumors about Jason being gay in real life, but so far in print and video interviews he's only talked about girls.

Dec 7, 2018

Steve Burton: Out of This World

During the 1960s, there was a fad of tv programs about adults who were "different" and had to keep their secret lives hidden from the world.  During the 1980s, there was a fad of tv programs about teens with secret lives that they had to keep hidden from the world: My Secret Identity, Harry and the Hendersons, The New Adventures of Beans Baxter, Alf, Small Wonder, Teen Angel.

On Out of This World (1987-91), the teenage Evie (Maureen Flannigan) discovers that she is half-alien.  She lives with her human mother, and her father, Troy from the planet Antares (voiced by Burt Reynolds), communicates with her through a cube. Aliens have all sorts of magical powers, from freezing time to controlling the weather, and disastrous misuse or accidental use of powers fuels the plots.

Along with Evie's attempts to live a "normal" life and her ongoing fear of discovery.

Gay kids could always relate to tv programs about being different and having secrets, but there was more.

A lot more.

Evie's on-off boyfriend, Chris, was played by Steve Burton, age 17 when the show began, blond, buffed, with six-pack abs and biceps that seemed to get bigger every episode.

And when the plotlines didn't call for his shirt to come off, the teen magazines obligingly plastered his shirtless and swimsuit-clad body over almost every page.

After Out of This World, Steve landed the role of mob enforcer turned body guard turned coffee importer Jason Morgan on the soap General Hospital.  But he still had time for beefcake photos, including the cover of Playgirl.

From 2013 to 2017, he played Dylan McAvoy on The Young and the Restless.  He also moved into voice work, performing the character Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy video games.

In 2018, Steve left General Hospital to work on other projects.  Hopefully involving beefcake photos.

Dec 5, 2018

Which of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was Gay?

I'll bet you never thought you'd be reading about the ancient Greek drama Alcestis and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the same blog, on the same day.  But my search for beefcake and bonding takes me everywhere.

During the late 1980s, pundits often pointed to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they needed a quick, easy example of tv being a "vast wasteland" responsible for turning kids into brain-dead zombies.  They probably never watched the cartoon series or read the comic books: the title was enough for them.

TMNT began as a comic book in 1984, and moved into cartoons and extensive marketing tie-ins by 1987.  By 1990, everyone, even pundits, had heard of the four slacker-talking, pizza-obsessed ninja turtles named after Renaissance artists (two of whom, by the way, were gay in real life).
1. Leonardo, the leader.
2. Michelangelo, the fun-loving trickster whose catchphrase is "Cowabunga!"
3. Donatello, the technological genius and computer whiz.
4. The brooding Raphael, who has a Brooklyn accident.

They live in the sewers of New York with their beset-upon sensei, the mutant rat Splinter, emerging only to pick up the pizzas they ordered and to fight crime.  They have two human allies, tv reporter April O'Neil and hockey-mask wearing vigilante Casey Jones.

The cartoon series lasted for 10 years, and new versions are in the works.  A series of films began in 1990, with sequels in 1991, 1993, and 2007.  I've seen the first two.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) gives us the turtles' origin story, and introduces them to April (Judith Hoag), Casey (Elias Koteas), and their arch-nemesis, Shredder, an evil Darth Vader clone who heads the evil Foot gang, comprised entirely of teenage boys.

April's boss happens to have a sullen teenage son, Danny (Michael Turney), who is secretly working for the Foot gang, and eventually gets big-brothered and rehabilitated by the turtles.

Surprisingly for a movie about turtles, there is significant beefcake, in the older members of the Foot gang, and in Casey Jones, who displays biceps and a prominent bulge.

Casey and April embark on a bickering "I hate you!" hetero-romance, like that of Sam and Diane on Cheers, David and Maddie on Moonlighting, and practically everybody else in the 1980s.  But otherwise hetero-romance is limited.  Of the turtles, only Michelangelo expresses heterosexual interest.  The others enjoy surprisingly open physicality, touching, hugging, grabbing each other at will, and Raphael obviously prefers the company of men: he spends most of the movie buddy-bonding with Casey.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) casts a new April, and eliminates Danny, Casey, and every hint of hetero-romance.  There is none.

Instead, the turtles face a restored Foot gang and discover the secret of their origin, with the help of a befuddled scientist (David Warner, who had a romance with Gregory Peck in The Omen).  This time Raphael buddy bonds with and rescues a new teenager, pizza delivery boy/martial arts expert Keno (Ernie Reyes Jr., who played another hardbodied martial artist in Surf Ninjas).

What are we to make of this pleasant lack of hetero-horniness?  The fact that the dudes are turtles in a human world is irrelevant; anthropomorphic animals from Bugs Bunny to Howard the Duck have often been portrayed as overwhelmed with desire for human women.
The intended audience of preteens is also irrelevant: movies during the 1990s often promoted gushing prepubescent hetero-romances.

For whatever reason, the Turtles were spared.  Cowabunga, dudes.

See also: The Omen; Surf Ninjas

White Water Summer/Stand By Me

Although panned by the critics and ignored by most heterosexuals, White Water Summer (1987) became a hit among gay kids and teenagers, maybe for the same reasons that they ignored the critically acclaimed Stand by Me the year before (1986).

 The plot of Stand: four boys (Will Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell, Corey Feldman) brave a suburban wilderness on a weird quest to see a dead body.  En route they confront their anxieties and bond with each other.

The plot of Summer: four boys (Sean Astin, Jonathan Ward, Matt Adler, K.C. Martel) brave a wilderness on a white water rafting expedition, led by the brutal, abusive Vic (Kevin Bacon).  En route the confront their anxieties and bond with each other.

The differences:

In Stand, the conflicts involve parentage, family, bullying, and heterosexual destiny.  In Summer, the conflicts involve the boys' relationships with each other and their dismay at the brutality of the adult world.

In Stand, the male body is a site of anxiety and despair; a boy is too fat, or has poor eyesight; leeches attack their crotches.  In Summer, the male body is a thing of beauty. The characters compliment each other, gaze at each other, lie prone against each other.

The boys of Stand are aggressively homophobic, throwing around the term "faggot" and challenging each others' "masculinity."  They are also aggressively heterosexual, discussing boobs, girls, having sex with girls, not having sex with girls.  The boys of Summer mention neither "faggots" nor girls.

Stand ends with the boys parting, and the adult narrator telling us what happened to them -- mostly involvng marriage and family, the "inevitable" loss of boyhood bonds.

Summer ends with the boys together, still friends, the same-sex bond intact.

Dec 2, 2018

Snakes on a Plane: Not Enough Buddy Bonding

Yes, I've seen Snakes on a Plane (2006), the heavily hyped, endlessly joked about vehicle for Samuel L. Jackson to say "I have had it with these  m___f___ snakes on this m___f___ plane!" 

Can't argue with that.

Snakes is actually not bad. It harkens back to the 1970s disaster movies like The Towering Inferno, and their parody in Airplane:  a disparate group of rich snobs, working-class stiffs, jive-talking black men, nuns, kids, dogs, and miscellaneous are trapped somewhere awful, and try to survive.

In this case, the slacker/surfer Sean (Nathan Phillips, left) is the witness to a murder that will bring down gangster Eddie Kim (Byron Lawson, below), and FBI agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) is assigned to protect him en route from Hawaii to Los Angeles to testify. 

Eddie, naturally, wants to kill him.  So comes up with the bright idea of filling the plane with hundreds of poisonous snakes, and pumping them with pheromones so they'll be extra aggressive. 

Like, how about shooting him?  Or pumping the snakes into his hotel room the night before the flight?

Enter a luxurious three-level airplane with a winding staircase. The staff consists of two 1970s-sex kitten flight attendants; a gay-male flight attendant; their supervisor on one last run before retiring (gulp); a 1970s sexist horndog pilot; and a married pilot anxious to get home to his wife and kdis.

The passengers are likewise escapees from the 1970s:
1. The pretentious "Do you know who I am?" jerk.
2. The ingenue with a dog in her purse.
3. The fat lady.
4. The guy afraid of flying.
5. The two kids flying alone for the first time.

6. Three G's (left), a famous rapper with only female fans, and his jive-talking entourage.
7. The Hispanic woman with a baby in her arms.
8. The blond prettyboy (Taylor Kitsch, below) and the blond sexpot, who want to join the mile high club.
9. The kung fu fighter who you expect to be karate chopping snakes, but he doesn't.

About halfway through the flight, the snakes come out and start picking them off, one by one.  There are lots of gross scenes and some shockers.  Both pilots get snake-bit.  The honor of landing the plane goes to Troy (Keenan Thompson), who has only flown planes in video games.

Meanwhile on land, FBI Agent Harris (Bobby Cannavale), who watches porn and talks about his wife, find a snake expert (Todd Louiso) who tries to track down antitoxins for the various snakes.

I rather liked the horror aspects, the self-referential jokes, and the 1970s feel.  All you needed were Hare Krishnas chanting in the airport.   I rather wish that Sean the slacker/ surfer had done something heroic to redeem himself, but he was mostly stuck with "stay back here where it's safe).

But what I couldn't abide was the intense, endless heterosexism. 

1. Every establishing shot shows a pulchritudinous woman or two walking by.
2. There are tons of sleazy hetero-sex jokes.
3. Both Sean and Neville hook up with stewardesses and smooch.
4. The flight attendant who everyone thought was gay smooches his girlfriend.

At least there's no dead wife in Neville's background.  Or maybe there is, and I missed that part.

Beefcake:  Sean takes off his shirt once or twice, the prettyboy is nearly naked before getting eaten, and a guy is bitten on the penis.

Gay References:  The flight attendant who everyone thinks is gay is not particularly swishy,but he's awfully interested in men, and he offers to suck the venom out of a guy who was bitten on the butt.  Is that a gay reference?

The movie ends with Sean taking Neville on a surfing vacation in Tahiti, but there was practically no buddy-bonding before, so the "fade into the sunset together" seems tacked-on and unbelievable.

My verdict:
Character development: 3
The gay subtext: 3
Beefcake: 2
Heterosexism: 8
The snakes: 10

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