Mar 29, 2019

Hiram and Ethan Escape from the Fair Folk

Preston's Station, Kentucky,  July 1800

In 1800 Kentucky was still called the Dark and Bloody Land, wild and lawless.  The state was only 8 years old; Hiram's town of Preston's Station (now Prestonsburg), only 3.  You never went into the woods at night, not because of any ghosts or will-o-the-wisps, but because of the highwaymen and renegades and savage Shawnee who might be prowling about.

But here was 16-year old Hiram (model is over 18), trudging down a road that was little more than a deer path, in the moonlight of the witching hour, tired, hungry.  And lost.

With worse waiting when he got home.

His father, 60-year old Aulse Hicks, was the preacher and schoolmaster of Prater's Station.   Well respected, a scholar -- he spoke five languages, and he had published a book proving that the Indians were descended from the lost Ten Tribes of Israel.  But he was strict, demanding, and unforgiving. He expected the son of his old age to spend his time at Greek and Hebrew lessons, and reject worldly temptations like dancing,  ninepins, and games of cards, to prefer -- or pretend to prefer -- the company of God's word to the layabouts down at the tavern

Yesterday Aulse sent Hiram to pray with two brothers from Virginia who had a homestead about five miles from town. He expected to be back before dark, but company was a rare thing in the hills, so they asked Hiram to stay for dinner, and then they sat up, gossipping  and singing and playing games. Before he knew it, the sun was down, and it was dusky twilight.

Five miles in the dark, on a road that was little more than a deer trail?  But there was no help for it, so Hiram set out.

Somehow he got lost --he should have been home in an hour, but the moon was high, the jackdaws were crying, and there was still no sign of the Preston's Station.

He decided to turn back and spend the night with the two brothers after all.  But he couldn't find the homestead again, and now it was the wee hours of the morning, and he was so tired and hungry that he thought he might faint.

Suddenly he saw a light -- not on the main trail, off through the woods.   He approached cautiously, worried that it might be a robber camp.  But it was a house, much bigger and grander than any he had seen in Kentucky.  Could he have walked all the way to Lexington?   (not likely -- Lexington is over 100 miles from Prestonsburg).

Lights and music -- a party going on! Where there was a party, there was food, and a fire.  So Hiram approached the house, and for a reason he couldn't explain later, he slipped in without knocking and made his way to a huge parlor all done up in Christmas red and green.

He couned about thirty people, men and women, all ages. Most were normal sized, but a few were so tall that they had to bow to avoid the chandeliers, and a few were so short that they could bump their heads into other guests' stomachs , Some had pale skin, others the deep purple of night, and still others bright red, like embers.  Even more surprising, some were naked.

They have queer customs in Lexington! he thought.

An elegantly dressed woman  (normal sized, ember-red skin),   approached.  "Why, Hiram Hicks, as I live and breathe! Welcome,welcome!" Before he could be surprised that someone in  Lexington knew him, she grabbed his arm and led him to one of the very tall folk, a leering, bug-eyed man.  "This is old Aulse the Preacher's boy."

"A Preacher's boy!" he exclaimed.  "How delicious!"

Hiram managed a bow. "Do you know Father?"

"Oh, delicately!"

"But you must be famished after your long walk," the ember-red woman said. "Come this way."

She led him to another room: empty except for a table heavy-laden with every delicacy Hiram could ever imagine, except for meat:  corn fritters, onion pie, leek pie, broccoli, asparagus, apple ginger, blueberry pie,  lemon cake, alma pudding, even orange marmalade.

He wondered why no one else was eating.  Perhaps it was not yet the dinner hour?

"You sit down to dinner very late in Lexington," Hiram murmured.

"Oh, we'll be eating and drinking through tomorrow,and the day after that," the ember-red lady said."Well, I'll leave you to it."

She wandered off into the main parlor. Hiram found a plate and a wooden fork, and began dishing out...then someone grabbed his arm.

 He turned to see the most beautiful boy in the world: about his age, normal height, dark brown hair, pale hairless skin, hard like a picture of David in one of his father's books.  And naked! .

"Don't eat anything," he said.  "That's how they trap you. Once you eat their food, you will be   theirs forever, forced to obey their every command."

Hiram dropped his plate in shock. It shattered onto the floor. A naked woman quickly appeared with a broom and dustpan to clean the mess.

The most beautiful boy in the world still had his hand on Hiram's arm, as if he was afraid that he would flee.  "My name is Ethan," he said.  "Or it was, once. Now I am no one at all."

"How long have you been here?"

"I don't know -- I lost count of the days and nights long ago.  Maybe years." He leaned close as if to kiss Hiram, and whispered.  "In all those years I've felt neither hunger nor thirst, nor have I slept, nor have I known a moment's peace.   I live only for their pleasure.  Go now, before you are trapped, too."

"As a Christian, I cannot leave without you,"  Hiram said.  "There must be a way for both of us to escape  this foul place."

Ethan thought for a moment.   "They keep us naked. Perhaps it is not to degrade us, but needful for the glamour of the house.  If  I were dressed...but you cannot clothe me.  You have only what you are wearing."

"Perhaps my shirt will be enough.

Hiram tore off his shirt and gave it to Ethan, and they made their way through the parlor. The odd folk ignored Ethan, but they constantly grabbed at Hiram's bare arm and chest, murmuring "But the night is young!"; "You haven't yet eaten!"; "You're just in time for a game of quist!"; and  It's so late -- you must stay the night."

They crossed the threshhold and ran to the trail, afraid to look back. No one followed. And in a few moments, they saw the steeple of the Parker's Station church in the distance.

They agreed to tell no one about the mysterious house. Instead they made up a story:  Ethan was traveling from Virginia with his parents, when they were beset-upon by Indians.  They killed his parents, stripped him naked, and held him captive for ten days, torturing him at their pleasure. Eventually he managed to escape.   He was wandering through the woods, delirious with pain and grief, when Hiram found him.

Ethan stayed with Preacher Aulse, and eventually became a preacher himself.  He and Hiram lived together happily for many years, and never told anyone about the mysterious house.

I heard this story from Uncle El during our visit to Kentucky, but added the nudity to make it more interesting.   He said he heard it from his grandfather, who heard it from his grandfather:  Hiram Hicks, son of Aulse "Preacher" Hicks, born in Russell County,Virginia in 1783, moved to Prestonburg, Kentucky (then called Preston's Station) about 1797, died there in 1840.   There is no Ethan living with him in the 1830 census.

This story with nude photos is on Tales of West Hollywood

Mar 28, 2019

"Sorry to Bother You": I'm More Bored than Bothered

In January 2018, LaKeith Stanfield, rapper and tv star (Atlanta), released a rap video  in which he ridiculed "fags" and disapproved of a clothing style as "gay shit."  A few days later, his movie Sorry to Bother You premiered.

Way to drum up audience interest!

The writer/director is Boots Riley, who has very few other film credits. He's primarily a rapper and pro-communism activist.

Communists are not usually gay-friendly, presuming that gay people are products of capitalist false consciousness.  After the Revolution, they will no longer feel the need to reject heterosexuality.

The rest of the cast doesn't seem particularly woke to the oppression of LGBT persons.

So I went in expecting an endless homophobic tirade.

Soft-spoken slacker Cassius (LaKeith) lives with his struggling-artist girlfriend Detroit in his uncle's garage. The uncle is played by Terry Crews, who has an uber-muscular physique but disapproves of gay parents.  We see him primarily yelling "Get a job" out of a second floor window.

So Cassius gets a job as a telemarketer, where he must endure inane pep talks and patronizing "we're a family" speeches from the management.  He learns to "use his white voice" and refer to squash games in order to increase his sales.  Most of his coworkers are black, but he has a meet-cute with Squeeze(Stephen Yeung),who asks him out on a date.


Soon he's going to clubs with Squeeze and introducing him to his bestie, Salvador (Jermaine  Fowler,left).


At a demonstration for workers' rights, Cassius is hit in the head   (which makes the rest of the movie seem like a fever dream).  He is somehow propelled to top management, where he telemarkets to CEOs and gains multi-million dollar sales.  He feels a bit guilty because he has to pass a picket line everyday, and his old friends think of him as a traitor, but he likes the money.

In case we don't get it, there are lots of other instances of exploitation.

Everyone watches a game show involving contestants getting beat up.

Performance artist Diana DeBauchery invites people to throw blood on her.

CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) has introduced a system of a lifelong job contract, with room and board provided at the factory (this is not slavery, Steve insists).

We're already living in a heavy-handed "Workers of the world, unite!" parable, but now things get really weird (unless this is a fever dream). 

Steve Lift is also building human-horse hybrids, equisapiens, who will be stronger and more docile than humans.

Cassius is invited to transform, and infiltrate the equisapien community as a strike-buster.  ("You'll have a horse cock!" is a major selling point.)

Ok, I get it.  The owners of the means of production treat the workers as objects.  Marxism 101.  But does any job really require horse strength anymore?

By turns boring and WTF weird, this movie reminds me of Brazil (which I also hated).

Beefcake:  LaKeith takes his shirt off.  The skinniest dude ever!

We get to see some of the equisapiens' horse-sized cocks.

Gay subtexts:  This movie takes place in an utterly gay-free San Francisco.

There are one or two inclusive comments:  "Go out to the party, find someone, and get laid!" instead of "find a woman!".

And the Cassius-Squeeze subtext romance? It falls apart almost as soon as it begins, when Squeeze starts courting Cassius' girlfriend.

I'll give it a D.

Mar 27, 2019

Alf: from Melmac to West Hollywood

Alf (1986-90) was one of the "I've got a secret" sitcoms of the late 1980s (others included Harry and the Hendersons, Out of This World, and My Secret Identity).  It aired on Monday nights, opposite the female buddy-bonding Kate and Allie and the hunkfest MacGyver, so I rarely watched.  But you couldn't miss hearing about Alf, the sarcastic, irreverent Alien Life Form who crash-lands on Earth and imposes himself upon a nuclear family: nebbish Dad Willie Tanner, Mom Kate, eye-rolling teenage daughter Lynn, lonely preteen son Brian (Benji Gregory), and outcast Cousin Jake (Josh Blake).

Like all of the "family friendly" sitcoms of the 1980s, gay people did not exist.  Gay actor Jim J. Bullock had a recurring role as Uncle Neal, but his character was heterosexual.  Actually, every character was heterosexual.  Alf had a girlfriend back home, and started dating a blind woman (who didn't realize that he was an alien). Even ten-year old Brian had his share of crushes on girls (later photo, left).

Some teen idol attention fell upon Josh Blake, with some shirtless and semi-nude photos in teen magazines. His character was heterosexual, too, but his awkward attempts to form emotional connections with Alf allow for some gay readings.

Alf ended on a cliffhanger, with the government discovering Alf and carting him away.  Five years later, the movie Project Alf (1995) continues his story.  Fans were universally livid with rage; the Tanners were absent (none of the original cast wanted to be involved) and Alf was portrayed as far more antisocial and belligerent than in the tv series.  And he gets to make a homophobic crack about the army's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Mar 26, 2019

Smalltown Boy: Subtext Songs of the 1980s

After the demise of the drag-queen ABBA and the faux-gay Village People, I started listening to popular music more aggressively, looking for "real" gay-friendly songs. Or at least songs with subtexts.  I found no depictions of same-sex romance, anywhere -- the most you could hope for was a dropped pronoun.  But a few Top 40 Hits -- one or two per year -- were about the search for a Good Place, or celebrations of male beauty (with beefcake-heavy music videos), and or just about being proud of your identity.

1. "Physical" (Olivia Newton-John, 1981).

2. "I'm Coming Out" (Diana Ross, 1981).  Ms. Ross claimed that it was about teenage girls "coming out" into high society, but gay teens knew what it was really about:
I'm coming out -- I want the world to know, got to let it show.

3. "It's Raining Men" (The Weather Girls, 1982).  The catchy beat made it easy to appropriate.  I didn't even mind the heterosexism:
God bless Mother Nature, she's a single woman too
She took off to heaven, and she did what she had to do
She taught every angel to rearrange the sky,
So that each and every woman could find a perfect guy.

4. "Self-Control" (Laura Branigan, 1982).  She goes to a mostly heterosexual orgy, screams when hands reach out to grab her, and ends up sleeping with a mysterious man in a white mask and red gloves, but in a era where gay teens had to live in masks, a celebration of the night resonated:
Oh the night is my world. City lights, painted girls.
I must believe in something, so I guess I'll just believe that this night will never go. 

5. "Holiday" (Madonna, 1983). No gay people mentioned, but coming out often required forgetting about years of pain: it's time for the good times -- forget about the bad times.

6. "So Many Men, So Little Time" (Miquel Brown, 1983).  A woman praises heterosexual one-night stands, but you could also use it to praise the joy of boy-watching.
Each new one I meet makes my heart beat faster, when I see them so strong and tall.
So many men, so little time. How can I lose?  
So many men, so little time.  How can I choose?

7. "Relax" (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, 1983).

8. "I Am What I Am" (Gloria Gaynor, 1983) could be read as a response to the bigots (and there were a lot of bigots) who kept screaming that gays were worthless, subhuman, monsters out to destroy the world.
I am good, I am strong, I am somebody, I do belong.
I am useful, I am true, I am worthy, I am as good as you.

9. "Smalltown Boy" (Bronski Beat, 1984).  I didn't realize at the time that the boy was leaving town to escape homophobic harassment --but it could easily be applied to anyone searching for a "good place." (and I liked the music video with the smalltown boy swimmer in tight speedos).

The answers you seek will never be found at home.
The love that you need will never be found at home.

10. "Let's Hear it for the Boy" (Deniece Williams, 1984).

Not much after.  AIDS, conservative retrenchment, and the re-demonization of gay people eliminated even those few songs that could be appropriated.  In 1985, Madonna was singing "Like a Virgin" (about sex, not pride), Wham started making their previously androgynous songs gender specific (I said you were the perfect girl for me), and the vigorously homophobic Eddie Murphy was inviting heterosexuals to "Party All the Time."

See also: Ocho Rios: Tracking Down a Jamaican Bodybuilder; and Culture Club
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