Aug 9, 2019

"Vida": Queer Characters, Female Empowerment. What's Not to Like?

In Vida (2019-), two estranged Mexican-American sisters, party girl Lynn and responsible Emma, reunite at their estranged mother's funeral in Boyle Heights (a Hispanic neighborhood just east of downtown Los Angeles).

 They discover that Mom has willed them each a third of her financially unsuccessful bar and apartment building, so they have no choice but to drop whatever they were doing and move to Boyle Heights to become bartenders and apartment managers.  They rename the bar Vida, after Mom (and, of course, it's also Spanish for "this is life, the one you get, so go and have a ball").

The other third of the bar and apartment building goes to Mom's extremely butch roommate, who has the extremely butch name Eddy.  Are we surprised to discover that Mom was a lesbian, and Eddy her wife?  The girls are.

Are we surprised to discover that Emma was estranged from her Mom because she is bisexual?  Turns out that Vida was gay and homophobic at the same time.  It happens.

After the initial sexual identities are established, Eddy, Lynn, and Emma, along with their friend Mari, settle down to their various crises: keeping the bar afloat, cleansing the apartment building of evil spirits, suffering from homophobic and anti-Hispanic discrimination, and especially fighting gentrification: they want to keep Boyle Heights the way they remember from their childhoods.

Meanwhile, they start telenovela-style romances, with lots of sex, lies, and videotape.

1. Mari has a troubled on-off romance with  Tlaloc (Ramses Jiminez).

2, Lynn has a troubled on-off romance with Johnny, Mari's brother (Carlos Miranda; this might not be the right one, but who cares?).

3. Later she moves on to city councilman Rudy (Adrian Gonzalez).

4. Emma has a troubled on-off romance with Cruz, a woke lesbian bartender, but she also hooks up with Baco (Raul Castillo) the building's handyman.

5. Eddy hooks up with Nico (a woman, of course).  Do all Hispanic lesbians have masculine names?

Two of the four central characters are queer, which is groundbreaking, and the Hispanic culture is pleasant (they even speak Spanglish, switching back and forth between English and Spanish as the mood strikes).

But this is definitely a woman-oriented, women-centric series, with men definitely in the background.  Not that there's anything wrong with that -- Goddess knows there are plenty of series with women in background roles.  But it makes the beefcake options sorely limited.  And would it kill them to have a few gay men wandering around?

Dino Boy and Ugh

Did we actually watch Dino Boy in the Lost Valley in the 1960s?

Ok, we watched -- but we didn't watch very closely.  "Watching TV" meant talking, reading, or playing with the TV set on, a flickering series of background images.

It was a supporting feature to the Space Ghost series, about a boy named Todd who parachutes from a crashing plane into the The Land of the Lost, an isolated valley with cave men and dinosaurs.

He befriends a cave man named Ugh, who somehow learned to speak a "me-Tarzan" English patois, and they set about looking for a way home.

7 episodes have Dino Boy captured (by Worm People, Moss Men, Tree Men, Sabretooth People, Giant Ants, Vampire Men, a Pteradon), so Ugh can rush to the rescue, and they can hug.

Three episodes have Ugh captured (by Wolf People, Ant Warriors, Sun People) and Dino Boy must rush to the rescue.

Two episodes have Bronty, their pet brontosaurus, captured (by Wolf People and Giants).

Four episodes have strangers captured (by Snow Monsters, Rock Pygmies, Birdmen, and Moss Men).

You get the idea -- a lot of attempted human sacrifices and cannibalism going on.

What made it worth watching -- or at least looking up at one of the flickering images from time to time -- was the cute boy our own age, the uber-muscular Ugh, and the buddy bonding rescues.

And a comparison with other constantly-rescued boys of the 1960s, like Jonny Quest and Tarzan's Boy Johnny Sheffield (from 1930s movies that played constantly on 1960s tv).

This isn't, it's an actual screen shot.  Surely they're about to kiss.

The episodes were rebroadcast on the Cartoon Network in the 1990s, but haven't appeared in any other medium.

Dino Boy was voiced by John David Carson, who went on to a long career in movies and television.  He may be best known for The Savage is Loose (1974), a take on Oedipus set on a desert island, with lots of beefcake.

Ugh was voiced by Mike Road, best known as the voice of Race Bannon on Jonny Quest

Aug 7, 2019

Was Dr. Smith Gay?

Millions of Baby Boomers know exactly who Dr. Smith was: the foil/ pain in the neck/ comic relief on the iconic sci-fi series Lost in Space (1965-68).

A nuclear family (Mom, Dad, teenage girl, preteen boy and girl), blasts off into space to colonize Alpha Centauri (how are they planning to increase the population?)

Enemy spy Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) tries to sabotage the ship, so it won't reach its destination -- instead it will be Lost in Space.  But he is accidentally  trapped aboard.

How on Earth is he going to be redeemed after that?

Easy -- the writers just forget about it, transforming him from evil to a pain in the neck, occasionally helpful ("I'll negotiate with the aliens"), occasionally devious ("I'll sell you the boy in exchange for passage home"), but usually just annoying ("I'm much too fragile to do any work!").   A vain, prissy, glutonous, lazy, self-centered uncontrolled id. 

Also the most interesting character amid the squeaky-clean Robinsons (quick -- name two character traits of the teenage daughter).

Dr. Smith spends a lot of time with preteen Will Robinson (Billy Mumy), whom he hugs, grabs theshoulder of, and calls "my boy."  Thus leading to speculation that he was gay.

Maybe, but he certainly wasn't in a gay-subtext relationship with Will.

An adult and a child can't have a gay subtext relationship, because the tropes of the parental relationship would overpower it.  Imagine man and boy walking off into the sunset together at the end of the adventure -- the man is going to adopt the boy, not marry him. 

 For a gay subtext, the two need to be in the same age category: both kids, adolescents, or adults.  Maybe an adult and a late adolescent, like the superhero and his teen sidekick. 

Well, did he have another sort of interest in Will?  Was he a pedophile?

Obviously not intentionally, but did some sort of pedophile subtext arise from the actors' interactions? 

Nope.  No way.  Dr. Smith never expresses any erotic or romantic interest in Will (or in anyone else except an occasional middle-aged alien lady, and then only when he is trying to get something, like dilithium crystals or whatever they use to propel the ship). 

He puts his hands on Will for protection, not affection.  He calls him "my boy" to signify pretentiousness, not possession.

By the way, Will expresses no romantic or erotic interest in anyone during the course of the series.  He's a little boy looking for a playmate, and Dr. Smith is the only member of the crew who isn't a girl (girls!  gross!) or busy with important scientific duties. Who else is he going to befriend?

You'll have to look elsewhere for a sexual theme on Lost in Space.  Let's talk about John Robinson (Guy Williams) and Don West (Mark Goddard).  Which was gay in real life?  I'm not telling.

Aug 5, 2019

"A Whiter Shade of Pale": Existential Angst or Hetero Sex?

I usually hate the expression "It ruined my childhood."  It's usually used by homophobes who discover that someone they admired in childhood is gay.

But a little piece of my childhood died when I discovered the true meaning of "A Whiter Shade of Pale," the iconic 1960s song by Procul Harum.

The band, formed in 1967, has nothing to do with "protocols" or "harems"; it was named after a member's cat.  "A Whiter Shade of Pale," their first recorded song, was written by 20-year old Keith Reid.   In high school, heavy laden with existential angst, I found the mysterious, symbolic lyrics and melancholy organ music resonated with the human condition.  It was about the meaninglessness of life.

But I recently read an interview with Keith Reid  He says it was about a man trying to convince a woman to have sex with him.

Huh?  This evocative, iconic, symbolic, deep song is not about the magic and mystery of life?  It's really just about a stupid hetero hookup?

Next you'll be claiming that there is no Santa Claus.

Ok, how on Earth are these lyrics about sex:

We skipped the light fandango, turning cartwheels around the floor.
I was feeling kind of seasick, but the crowd called out for more.

A fandango is some sort of dance. Obviously a performance going on.

The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away

We're no longer in ordinary time.  The ceiling flies away, displaying the night sky and secrets of the universe.

And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale

Me: Her face is turning pale.  She is a sybil, preparing to prophesy.

Keith:  Her face is turning pale because the Miller's tale is about sex, and she's embarrassed.

She said, 'There is no reason'
And the truth is plain to see

Me: There is no reason.  There is no greater purpose. We live, and then we die, and that's the end.

Keith:  She denies that she is embarrased by the depiction of sex.  Her face didn't turn pale for any particular reason.

One of sixteen vestal virgins
Leaving for the coast.

Me: A vestal virgin is dedicated to the service of a god.  "Leaving for the coast" means that you are giving up.  There are no gods to serve, so there can be no vestal virgins.

Keith: She's part of a tour group.

Although my eyes were open, they might just as well been closed.

Me: He refuses to acknowledge the meaninglessness of life.

Keith:  He refuses to acknowledge that she's not interested, and keeps trying.

That's as far as it usually goes on the radio, but the album contain an additional verse;

She said, "I'm home on shore leave," though in truth we were at sea, so I took her by the looking glass, and forced her to agree.

Me: She's been lying the whole time.  The looking glass is a gateway to another world.  By holding the glass up to her face, he plans to force her to acknowledge that there is a spiritual reality after all.

Keith: He forces her to agree that she is interested in sex.

"You must be the mermaid who took Neptune for a ride."

Me: You are a goddess.  Therefore spiritual reality exists.

Keith: You are a tease.  

But I wandered through my playing cards
And would not let her be

Me: He uses Tarot cards to try to demonstrate the existence of a spiritual realm.

Keith:  They're playing a card game, and he's trying to get with her.

In the rarely played fourth verse, they seal the deal, and go crashing down upon the ocean bed.

Way to ruin my childhood, guys.

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