Jan 4, 2019

More "Boys' Life" Beefcake

When I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s, the main draw of Boys' Life magazine was the photography: cute boys my age, shirtless teenagers, muscular men in swimsuits.

But there were also a lot of comics, some drawn from regular syndication (Hi and Lois), some unique to Boys' Life (Pee Wee Harris).

Many of them offered substantial beefcake, too.

During the 1960s there was a comic adaption of John Christopher's Tripod books, about boys in the primitive world after an alien takeover fighting against their overlords.  And taking their shirts off.

I don't remember this one, but apparently there was a strip by comic great Joe Kubert about a boy trapped on a desert island with monsters.

Stories from the Bible was a regular feature, with ample depictions of muscular Bible figures.

Scouts in Action, true stories about scouts performing noble deeds, often involved boys swimming, boating, and otherwise shirtless.

Even the ads had a sizeable beefcake quotient.  Here Johnny Crewcut tells you how to rescue someone from drowning: practice taking off your clothes fast (helpful in the bedroom, too); perform the rescue; and then use hair gel to get your crewcut back in place.

See also: The Tripods; Searching for Beefcake in Boys' Life

In Search of the Gay Bacchanal of "The Phantom Tollbooth"

Sometime around sixth grade, I was recommended The Phantom Tollbooth (1961) a "fantasy" about a boy exploring a mysterious land.

Sounds great, like Middle Earth, or Narnia, or maybe Oz.  A fantasy world with languages and cultures, histories, geographies! Maybe there would be a map!

I just had to leaf through the book to realize that it wasn't a fantasy at all.  There is no alternate world with well-thought out political systems, economies, and social structures.  It's a "world" full of incongruities, artifices, and horrible puns that ruin any sense of reality.

So Milo and his dog companion (who has a clock in his stomach because he's a "Watch Dog", get it?) are on a quest to save the daughters of King Azaz (from a to z, get it?) from the Mathemagician's attempt to eliminate language in favor of numbers.  The daughters, by the way, are named Rhyme and Reason (two characteristics of language)..

Idiotic!  There's no sense of wonder here!  This is not a land of dreams, it's a land of stupidity!

But apparently some other people, those who weren't conned into expecting another Tolkien, like the book.  It inspired a 1970 movie (starring Baby Boomer icon Butch Patrick), a stage play, a musical, an opera, and another upcoming movie directed by Matt Shakman (executive producer of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia).

 While reading an article on the upcoming movie, I learned that the author of Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster, got the idea while on a holiday at Fire Island.

Fire Island?  The gay resort?  So the author of Phantom Tollboth was gay?

Time to do more research: Apparently Norton Juster was an architect  living in New York, who won a grant to write a children's book about cities.  But he was suffering from writer's block, so he went out to Fire Island to clear his head -- or get some head.

The characters of Milo and the Watch Dog came to him suddenly, and he started plotting the book. When he got home and told his housemates, Jules Feiffer (left) asked to illustrate

Housemates, huh?  Three gay men living in New York together in a pre-Stonewall Bohemian bacchanal.  Maybe they cruised at the Everard Baths, or Uncle Charlie's on Christopher Street.

More research: In the late 1950s, Juster was just out of the Navy and living in a small basement apartment in Brooklyn.  Jules Feiffer was his upstairs neighbor.  They met while taking out the garbage, and became boyfriends...um...gay bffs...and eventually got their own place.

I was unable to discover the identity of the third housemate. No doubt some trick who spent the night and never left.

So a gay man's trip to a gay resort resulted in a collaboration with another gay man on the horrible but popular Phantom Tollbooth.

Uh-oh.  More research, and my vision of a pre-Stonewall gay bacchanal began to fall apart.

Jules Feiffer published a lot of heterosexist stories and cartoons about courtship and marriage, like Boy Girl Boy Girl.  He wrote screenplays about heterosexuals, like Bernard and Huey, and he complained about "fags" in Playboy.  And he was married to women three times.

Ok, so a gay man and his straight housemate collaborated on The Phantom Tollbooth.

Nope. Norton Juster started writing while in the Navy, as a "way to pick up girls."  When he and Feiffer became friends, they "competed over girls." He married a woman named Jeanne in 1964, and they were together until her death in 2018.  They lived on a farm in rural Massachusetts, and volunteered for Amherst Family Services. Not the most common life trajectory for a gay man.

Ok, so a heterosexual man and his heterosexual house mate collaborated on one of the worst "fantasy" novels I've ever encountered.


Jan 1, 2019

"Selection Day": Ultra-Closeted Gay Cricket Players Who Don't Play Cricket

The 2016 novel Selection Day, by Aravind Andiga, traces the journey of two boys, Radhu and Manju, being groomed by their father to become cricket stars.  Well, perhaps "aggressively shoved into" is more accurate.  The elder Mr. Kumar is completely obsessed with the sport, and believes that his sons are his ticket to fame and fortune. 

Manju, the central character, has two secrets: he doesn't like cricket very much, but he's afraid to tell his father tha he wants to become a scientists; and he's gay.  But if he comes out, he will lose his cricket scholarship and his career -- cricket is even more heterosexist than American sports, and gay athletes absolutely "do not and cannot exist."

His wealthy boyfriend Javed encourages him to come out anyway, but you know, Manju is poor.  The rich have options that the poor do not.  They can choose not to marry.  They can spend most of their time in London.  They can be "eccentric" without losing their families, their social statuses, maybe their lives.  The poor have to marry or die, they can't flee to London.  They are stuck.  The novel ends with Manju stuck.

I was interested in seeing how the Netflix tv series (2018) would handle the book.  After all, Manju being gay is pretty much the entire plot.  How could they heterosexualize him? 

Turns out that they don't exactly heterosexualize him, but they gay-subtext him into oblivion.  He's angst-ridden over something that is unknown and unknowable.  He kind of glances at Javed. He hangs out with girls.

Javed (Karanvir Malhotra, above) is such a minor character that he doesn't make much of an impression at all.

I actually get more of gay vibe from Lord Subramayan (Shiv Pandit, top photo and left), Manju's touch-feely mentor. But it's a creepy-homophobic gay predator vibe.

If I didn't know Manju was gay from the book, I'd never figure it out in the series.  In an interview, Mohammad Samad (who plays Manju) states that he wasn't even aware that his character was gay until after he was cast.

I have two more questions about this boring, homophobic mess:

1. These are athletes. Shouldn't there be some locker room scenes, or at least some shirtless workouts?

2. In a tv series about cricket players, shouldn't there be some scenes with them playing cricket?

The 10 Crazy Ripped Hunks of "Crazy Rich Asians"

I don't usually watch romantic comedies, but Crazy Rich Asians (2018) was set in Singapore, it had an all-Asian cast, and it was based on a novel with a gay character.  Plus it was $2.99 on Vudu, so I figured, why not?

It is definitely bright and glittery, with lots of interesting location shots in Singapore and Malaysia.  But the premise is a bit strained:

Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), who grew up in a poor household, is now an economics professor at NYU, which I don't believe for a second.  She doesn't say anything that sounds the least bit knowledgeable about economics, or for that matter about anything else.  She's something of an airhead.

Her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding, left), a history professor at NYU (I don't believe that for a second, either), invites her home to Singapore to go to his best friend's wedding and meet his back-home crew.  Not until the flight begins does he reveal that he's crazy rich, heir to the biggest financial empire in Asia.

Rachel is introduced to various crazy-rich friends and relatives, all of whom have colorful back stories.  It's hard to keep them all straight; I had to take notes.

 Some welcome her as a potential sister in law, and others aren't aware of her poor origins and keep asking "Are you related to the Taiwan instant noodle Chus?"  But Nick's Mom snubs her as a gold digger.

Like usual soap operas, there are affairs, long-simmering feuds, sabotages, and shocking revelations.  The biggest is that Rachel actually comes from crazy rich money, too: her mother had an affair with some big wig and then fled to the U.S. to avoid the scandal.

There are some gay-subtext scenes: bff Colin (Chris Pang) tells Nick, "If I wasn't marrying Araminta, I'd ask you to marry me."

The only actual sign-wearing gay person is the super-flamboyant Cousin Oliver, who gossips, comments on fashion faux-pas, and out-twees Truman Capote.

Other than the settings, the main draw of this movie is the beefcake.  The crazy rich Asians know their way around a gym.

Here are the top 10 Crazy Rich Hunks:

1. Nick

2. Colin

3. Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang), Nick's "I'm super rich.  I can afford to buy France" friend.

4. Ronny Cheung as one of Nick's cousins.

5. Remy Hii as another cousin.

6, Pierre Png as Michael Teo, who is married to Nick's cousin Astrid.

7. Harry Shum Jr. as Charlie Wu, whose character was actually cut from the movie.  I understand that he appears during the closing credits.

8. Charles Grounds as Curtis, one of the few non-Asians in the movie.

9.Shuhei Kinoshita.

Sorry, I ran out at #9.  But here's Henry Golding again, barbecuing with his buds.

Dec 30, 2018

You: What's Worse, a Predatory Lesbian or a Hetero Stalker?

I don't usually watch romance movies, and I didn't even know that romance tv shows were a thing, but when you're visiting relatives, you watch what they watch, and what they watched was You.

A tv series with a title that makes internet searches extremely difficult.

It's a bland anxiety-stalker romance with not enough twists to keep your interested past the first episode.  Unless your relatives insist.

Manhattan used-bookstore manager Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley, who I originally confused with comedian/atheism activist Penn Gillette) falls in love at first sight with customer Beck (Elizabeth Lail), a creative writing student. Through a combination of traditional stalking and social media mining, he manages to arrange some meet-cutes and tries to push his way into becoming her boyfriend.

Beck has some problems: she's insecure about her writing, a gold-digger, and a sex addict with a penchant for authority figures.  And that's just obvious: there are dark secrets in her past.  But nobody's perfect.

Of course, there are obstacles on the way to True Love.  Joe kidnaps, and eventually kills, Beck's ex-boyfriend Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci, left), manhandles her harassing academic advisor (Reg Rogers) and the therapist she's having an affair with (John Stamos).

Rich friend Peach (Shay Mitchell), a predatory lesbian with designs on Beck, is the worst threat, suspecting Joe from the beginning.  So Joe kills her, too, both to keep his secret safe and to keep Beck out of her clutches.

Meanwhile he befriends Paco, the kid next door who is living with a druggie mom and her abusive boyfriend (Daniel Cosgrove, left).  See, he's not such a bad guy.  Besides, he has a dark back story of his own.

I expected more plot twists to maintain audience interest.  I expected Beck to turn the tables and be a stalker-murderer of her own, like on the episode of Amazing Stories where a serial killer discovers that his intended victim is another serial killer who's been targeting him!

But nothing that clever.  I only saw 4 episodes before leaving Indianapolis, but back home I watched Episode 8, and it's still still "Oh, gee, that guy's a threat, I think I'll kill him, and then go buddy-bond with Paco."

Gay characters: A predatory lesbian, but otherwise this is a gay-free Manhattan.  I expected more from Greg Berlanti, who is gay in real life.

Beefcake: A lot of chests and butts of the guys Beck screws.  A lot of hunky cops, bookstore patrons, party guests, and bohemians. And don't forget the cheery, lacking-in-dark-secrets Ethan (Zach Cherry).  Frankly, I'd rather date him than any of jerks-with-muscles on the show.
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