Feb 29, 2020

"Star Trek: Discovery: Any Gay Characters or Bicep and Bulges?

I've seen every episode of the original Star Trek series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, over 500 hours of television, plus several of the Star Trek  movies.  I've watched the "struggling to be human" character development of Spock, Data, Odo, and Seven of Nine.  I know where Klingons go when they die, what religious holidays the Bajorans have, and how to get a Ferengi aroused.  

After all that, do I really need to watch Star Trek: Discovery?

The contemporary series, on CBS All Access and Vudu, is set about a decade before Kirk and company started exploring their strange new worlds in the Original Series, But instead of self-contained encounters with parallel Earths and omnipotent aliens, Discovery has an ongoing plot arch with a complex mythology.  I've read the plot synopsis on wikipedia, and it's clear as mud: something about a Klingon prophecy and mirror universes.

But I'll still watch a series if it has 1) gay characters or 2) beefcake.

Gay Characters: Check.  Paul Stamets (gay actor Anthony Rapp), a fungus specialist, is married to medical officer Hugh Culbert (gay actor Wilson Cruz).  Hugh succumbs to "bury your gays" in Season 1, but comes back in Season 2.


1. Jason Isaacs (top photo) as the mysterious Captain Lorca, who has an agenda of his own (who doesn't?).

2.-3. Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz aren't bad.  

4. Shazad Latif as Voq, an albino Klingon going undercover as a human.

5. The extremely gifted-beneath-the-belt Anson Mount as Christopher Pike, captain of the Enterprise before Kirk took over.  He appeared as a prisoner of omnipotent aliens in the pilot of the original series.

6. Ethan Peck as Spock, chief science officer on the Enterprise.

7. James Frain as Sarek, Spock's father.

There are a lot of characters from the original series, like comic relief flim-flam man Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson).  But will we see any biceps and bulges?

Not many: According to Entertainment Weekly, the series tries to stay away from shirtless scenes.  It's about the mythology, not about the bare chests. 

Deal breaker.  Let Discovery spin into its own complex, fully-clothed mythology.  I'll go back to the original series, with Kirk getting his shirt ripped off in every episode.

Feb 28, 2020

Spectros: Scary Japanese Ghosts, Drag Queens, and Muscle Shirts

Talk about high concept: Spectros: "A group of teens become involved in a conflict between Japanese Shinto gods and Brazilian witchcraft."

It's set in Liberdade, a neighborhood of Sao Paulo with a large Japanese population. 

Besides, maybe the group of teens consists of cute guys.

Scene 1: A scary Japanese ghost tells us that the living and the dead are obsessed with each other "like tortured lovers," but must never touch.  Then she explodes.

Scene 2: A Japanese family in 1858 runs through a cemetery and into a church.  Scary Japanese ghosts kill them all, except for a young girl, who is protected because she is carrying a porcelain doll.

Why would a ghost want to kill you?  Then you'd be a ghost, too, and able to get revenge. 

Scene 3: In the present day, hot teenager Pardal (Daniel Mesquita, who is apparently gay in real life) is being interrogated by Hot Cop and Matron about the porcelain doll, which implicates him in "Murder! And that's just the beginning!"

Crimes worse than murder?

He sneers. (Flashback to him and two girls driving their car through a flaming mass of protoplasm.)

They try the First Girl, but she is unresponsive (flashback to her listening to music).

The Second Girl, Mila, just wants her dad.

We get a close-up of Hot Cop's crotch as he bags up the evidence.

Scene 4:  The day before, Pardal in a muscle shirt is in an auto shop working a car while Boss yells at him for being lazy. Mila stops by to see if her father's car is ready, and Boss yells at her, too.   Pardal defends her, and ends up quitting.

Scene 5: Establishing shot of Liberdade and its eccentric residents: a woman with a mohawk, a man with a cat on his head, a street preacher, a drag queen.   Pardal stalks Mila as she tries to get away, and even though she makes it clear that she's not interested, he asks her out.  She yells at him to back off.

Is Pardal a sexual predator, or is this a tv-trope for "no means yes."

Meanwhile the First Girl, Carla,  rejects a party invitation from Zeca (Pedro Carvalho).  She then goes into the bathroom at school and bullies Mila.

Carla gets headaches, probably due to ghosts or psychic powers.

Scene 6: Mila is having trouble in school.

Scene 7: Pardal goes home.  He's poor: we know because there are kids and drag queens hanging out in the courtyard   His crazy kid brother likes to pretend that he's a dismembered corpse.  Their parents are dead or vanished or something, and the bills are piling up, and there's no food in the house.

Scene 8:  Mila goes to collect her dad, Celso, who is lying drunk on a bench. Some bullies steal his shoes.  Plot twist:  Pardal is working for the bullies!  Small world.

Scene 9: Back in the present, Hot Cop interrogates  Mila.  The two bullies, Li (Jimmy Wong, left) and Wong (Jui Huang), were apparently low-level Mafiosi.  Mila swears that she didn't realize that at the time.

Scene 10: Back to the low-level Mafiosi, eating dinner, discussing whether they should eat, then fuck, or fuck, then eat.  I guess they're boyfriends.

They give Pardal a job: Zenobia the Voodoo Lady has some good stuff in her apartment. Break in and steal it.  But be careful: she can make your dick fall off with her weird voodoo powers.

Scene 11: Zenobia is meditating. Cut to the police interrogation: Mila admits that she was in a stolen car.

Scene 12: Back to last night: Mila is trying to get Dad's shoes from a telephone wire (you remember, after the bullies stole them). Black Guy with Mystical Powers helps.  There are mysterious symbols on Dad's shoes, and a cop is following them.

Scene 13: At home, Mila takes off the shoes and notices the mysterious symbols. Dad says that they are the work of Zenobia the Voodoo Lady, who has given him a job. See how nicely it all fits together?

Celso heads for work at Zenobia's.  Suddenly Carla the Bully appears, needing to speak with Celso, probably about her headaches.  It all fits together even more nicely.

Scene 14: Cut to the police interrogation: how did Carla, Mila, and Parnal happen to be in the same car at the same time?  Mila wonders about that herself.

Scene 15: Cut to the three of them in the same car at the same tme.   They arrive at Zenobia the Voodoo Lady's house, Mila and Carla to talk to Mila's Dad, and Parnal to steal things.

Scene 16: Inside Zenobia's house  they are accosted by a flaming demonic being.  Carla takes a porcelain doll from it, and they run away.  They scream as the car hits something.

Scene 17: Back at the police interrogation.  Turns out that they hit the burning demonic being.

Scene 18: The scary ghost tells us: "Don't be shocked.  Everybody dies sooner or later. EVEN YOU!"

Whoa, trippy.

Plot:  I could do without the endless cutaway scenes, and the various plot strands fitting together seems too contrived.  Is Sao Paulo a small town, or what?

Scenery:  The exterior shots of Sao Paulo are striking.

Heterosexism: Not much.  Pardal and Mila do end up in lo---oo--oove, but it's barely alluded to in the first episode.

Gay Characters:  Nothing specified yet, but I'm hoping.  There are some gay actors in the cast, and the drag queens suggest that gender fluidity is commonplace here.

Beefcake:  Only some muscle shirts so far, but I'm hoping.  There are some mega-hunks in the cast.

My Grade:  B

Feb 27, 2020

The Gay Erotic Postcards of Pops Pullum

Born in 1887, William A. Pullum grew up in Camberwell, a poor neighborhood of south London.  He was a slim, sickly boy, suffering from tuberculosis and a host of other ailments.  As part of his therapy, he took up weight lifting, and soon he was starring in strength exhibitions across Britain .  In 1911 he joined the British Amateur Weight Lifting Association, and during the next five years, broke 200 weightlifting records.  He was most famous for his "Plan Feat," in which he lifted 14 men with his arms and leg -- 2000 pounds -- all the more remarkable because he was a featherweight, weighing about 120 pounds


He wrote two instructional books which are still in print: Weight Lifting Made Easy and Interesting (1922) and How to Use a Barbell (1922).

As the president of the Camberwell Weight Lifting Club in England, Pullum trained many future weight lifting greats.

But he did more than train.  He offered a full range of photos of his most buffed pupils, naked except for their shoes and loincloths or skimpy posing straps, under the series "Pullum's Popular Pupils"

 C. F. Attenborough became a 1924 Olympic champion.

T. W. Cranfield was named "Britain's Strongest Youth" (I don't know by whom; I suspect by Pullum).

William Beattie was known as  "The Scottish Apollo."  Mostly by Pullum.

 And A. A. Verge was "The British Hercules."  Hercules is more powerful than Apollo, right?

The postcards were immensely popular for amateur weight lifters to use as inspiration.

And for gay men. During the 1920s and 1930s, every gay man had a stash of muscleman postcards, used for erotic appreciation, but also for identifying each other.

"Would you like to see my postcard collection?" was a standard pickup line.  You would display some ordinary postcards, then throw in some musclemen and decide, from his reaction, whether to make a move.

Although "Pops" Pullum retired in 1929, he remained one of the most respected elder statesmen of the weight lifting sport for generations.  When he died in 1960, he was mourned by thousands of amateur weight lifters.

And gay men.

A Catholic Priest in Love: The Little World of Don Camillo

During my sophomore year in high school, I became obsessed with all things Catholic. Most likely it was due to a "forbidden fruit"  thing: Nazarenes thought that Roman Catholics were the epitome of evil.

  One day I found The Little World of Don Camillo (1950) at the St. Pius Catholic Church book sale: a small, yellow collection of short stories, illustrated by cute, half-naked angels and devils.

I had never read anything like this before. There were lots of stories about boys in love with boys, or teenagers with adult men, but never two adults!  And one was a tall, muscular Catholic priest who assaulted people with candlesticks!  And the other, a Communist!

The small yellow hardback remained on my bookshelf for several years before vanishing; I think my mother accidentally put it in a "to donate" pile.

The Little World of Don Camillo is the first of eight collections of short stories about the priest of a small village in Tuscany.  Formerly a boxer and World War II resistance fighter, Don Camillo has hard fists and a hot temper.   The Mayor, Peppone, once fought the Fascists beside Don Camillo, but now he is a godless Communist. The two former friends, on opposite sides of an ideological fence, argue religion and politics as they vie for control of the village.

Peppone is married, but his wife and children rarely appear.  And almost none of the stories involve the hetero-romance of other characters.  Often they involve a conundrum that requires Don Camillo and Peppone to work together:

Vandals steal Don Camillo's clothes while he's swimming.
Don Camillo returns to the boxing ring to save the town's honor.
Don Camillo and Peppone are stuck on a ferris wheel.
Peppone is lost in the mountains, and Don Camillo must rescue him.

During the next twenty years, Don Camillo and Peppone grow into middle age, and though they remain "enemies," their love for each other shines through more often than not.  In the last volume of the series, Don Camillo Meets the Flower Children (1969), a young, hip priest has come to town, and butts heads with Peppone's hippie son, and the cycle begins anew.

The French-Italian movie Don Camillo (1952) starred Fernandel as Don Camillo and Gino Cervi as Peppone (above), and Franco Interlenghi (left) as the young hunk who requires their assistance.  Four sequels appeared.

There was also a 1980 BBC television series, with Mario Adorf and Brian Blessed, and a 1983 Italian movie with Terence Hill (left) and Colin Blakeley.

The author, political satirist Giovanni Guareschi (1908-1969), was a conservative Catholic, and probably heterosexual -- he also published humorous stories about his wife and children. I wonder what he would have thought if he knew that his books had a strong gay subtext.

Feb 26, 2020

Jesse Bradford

Born in 1979, Jesse Bradford made his acting debut at the age of 8 months, in a Q-Tips commercial (it was a non-speaking role).  He was busy as a child, playing the son of a screenwriter with lung cancer in The Boys (1991) and brother of a psychotic gay kid (Harley Cross) in The Boy Who Cried Bitch (1991).

But he first made an impression on gay teens with Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog (1995), where his Angus is lost in the Canadian wilderness with a dog named Yellow, fights for survival, and takes his shirt off, revealing a hard, firm but not muscular chest.

Unfortunately, his teenage projects involved a lot of girls.  In Hackers (1995), teenage computer whizzes Joey (Jesse) and The Girl try to save the world from a dangerous computer virus, and in Clockstoppers (2002), Zack (Jesse) and The Girl find a device that allows them to move super-fast, in effect stopping time.

But his darkly handsome teen idol face was sure to elicit swoons from gay and straight teens, and he became more muscular every year.

The thriller Swimfan (2002) is about a psychotic girl who stalks Ben (Jesse), a high school swimmer.  Though he is heterosexual, the disdain he feels as the girl becomes more and more insistent in her desire to be with him can be read as a gay subtext.  And  fans got to see Jesse in a revealing swimsuit.

Some buddy bonding: his character likes Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Romeo+Juliet (1996), and bonds with the gay male cheerleader Wes (Huntley Ritter) in Bring it On (2000).  In Flags of Our Fathers (2006), his Rene Gagnon storms the beach at Iwo Jima while mooning over Doc Bradley (Ryan Philippe).

After playing a gay hustler in Speedway Junky (1999), with Jonathan Taylor Thomas as his bisexual colleague, Jesse turned down a gay role in The Rule of Attraction (2002), fearing that he would be typecast.

But he played gay again in The Heights (2005), a young actor whom the engaged Jonathan (James Marsden) meets, falls for, and kisses.

Jesse's most recent roles have involved young adult heterosexuals negotiating relationships: a driven young attorney in Outlaw (2010),  a guy in love with a single mom in Other People's Kids (2011), a single dad in Guys with Kids (2012).  But he remains a gay ally.

Feb 24, 2020

Are Muscles Sexy or Dangerous?

Do you want to kiss this guy or beat him up?

Today I was on the treadmill at the gym, flipping through the channels, when I came across Mark Wahlberg with his shirt off -- always a reason to stop and gawk.  He was talking to a male-female couple, who tell him the various problems they've had on a night out.  Now they just want to go home, and they need his help.

I think the movie was Daddy's Home (2015), with Mark Wahlberg playing the ex-husband who moves in with Sarah (Linda Cardellini) and her new husband Brad (Will Ferrell).

Brad pleads with Mark.  "You're a decent human being," he says, "But your pecs make me want to kill you."


What is going on?  Pecs make you want to smile at him, kiss him, go down on him -- but kill him?

Is this the standard heterosexual man's response to muscles, a violent rage?

I've been around bodybuilders and gym rats for most of my life.  I worked for a bodybuilding magazine.  Muscles were, if not desired, then at least admired, regardlss of sexual orientation.

Of course, that was among fitness enthusiasts.  What about the straight man on the street?

Later I was talking to a former student online, a straight guy, and mentioned that I bench press 300 pounds.  He replied, "I can probably bench press about 150, but I generally go for the knees, groin, and face anyway."

It took me awhile to understand what he meant:

"I can't bench press as much as you, but I can still handle myself in a fight."

He completely misunderstood what I meant.  I mentioned my weight training statistics as an indicator of my ongoing physical attractiveness.  He thought I had mentioned them as an indicator of my fighting prowess.

To gay men, this guy is sexy.  To straight men, he is a threat.

I don't get it.  This guy is not the least threatening.  He's smiling, happy, open.  He looks like a cuddler.  I can understand not wanting to kiss him, sort of, but wanting to punch him?

Such a huge gap in worldview is disheartening.

Lidsville: Butch Patrick's Bubble Bath

One of many Krofft Saturday morning tv shows about boys trapped far from home, Lidsville (1971-73) starred Butch Patrick, formerly Eddie the werewolf-boy on The Munsters, as seventeen-year old Mark, more macho than the androgynous Jack Wild of H.R. Pufnstuf, with a firm, tanned body and a fondness for shirts opened to the navel (unfortunately, their color was so close to his natural skin tone that from across the room you thought you were getting beefcake).

 In the opening segment, Mark visits an amusement park and sees a performance by Merlo the Magician. Intrigued, he lags behind his friends and sneaks backstage, where Merlo’s magical top hat sits unguarded. He peers inside. Suddenly the hat gets larger, the room shakes, and Mark falls down a rabbit hole – through a kaleidoscope of sinister Day-Glo colors, with gape-jawed monsters and maniacal laughter. It seems that Merlo has orchestrated the entire sequence of events.  But what does he want with Mark? 

The only thing I could think of in 1971 was: don't trust strangers.  They want to kidnap you and take you away.

Mark falls into Lidsville, a land of badly stereotyped living hats (Nurse Hat, Chef Hat, Hillbilly Hat, and so on).

They are all terrorized by the evil magician Hoo Doo (gay actor Charles Nelson Riley), who has green skin and Satanic fire-red hair.  My friends and I found him scarier than any movie monster.

Most episodes involve Mark's increasingly desperate attempts to escape, while the lecherous Hoo Doo tries to capture him for an unspecified sinister purpose.  

Although fast-paced and frenetic, with Butch Patrick providing ample eye candy, Lidsville had none of the domesticity that made Living Island a desirable home: we never find out where Mark sleeps or how he eats. And he has no strong same-sex bonds, just an androgynous genie named Weenie (Billie Hayes in male drag), who is too weak and servile to become a chum.  
In Pufnstuf, the threat is female, but in Lidsville, it is male, the leering, gay-vague Hoo Doo.  Same-sex desire lurks in the shadows, unwholesome, festering, potentially violent.

Even Butch Patrick's only beefcake photo was disquieting.  Butch naked in a bubble bath, his leg raised to cover his privates, holding a rubber duck, leering at the camera:

My friends and I only watched a few episodes.  Lidsville did not offer a glimpse of "the good place."

Feb 23, 2020

Quentin Crisp: Homophobic Gay Pioneer

This elegantly-attired, feminine person, who looks a lot like my Grandmother Davis,  is Quentin Crisp (1908-1999), who spent his life saying and doing exactly what he wanted.

He didn't like doing housework, so he didn't do any: "after four years, it doesn't get any worse."

He liked to wear makeup and feminine clothing, so he did, on the streets of London in the 1930s, even though he was constantly accosted, screamed at, and beat up.  Asked "Who do you think you are?", he replied, "I don't think I'm anyone but myself."

Like Jean Genet and Yukio Mishima, he grew up in an era where gay people were expected to hate themselves and each other.  And he never got over it.  He denigrated "homosexuals," even to gay audiences.  They usually laughed, thinking that he was joking.

He wasn't.

For most of his life, Quentin Crisp lived in poverty, working mostly as an artist's model, thought he had a wide circle of affluent friends charmed by his nonconformity and acerbic wit.

Then in 1968, he published The Naked Civil Servant, arguably the first gay autobiography -- at least the first I ever read -- a trenchant, witty account of of being completely true to yourself as gay and feminine in homophobic London. (The title comes from his job, posing naked for art students, for which he was paid by the government.)

In 1975, The Naked Civil Servant was made into a movie starring John Hurt, probably the first gay biography ever broadcast on American and British tv.  And suddenly the 67-year old Quentin Crisp was a celebrity.  He moved to a one-room apartment in New York, where he didn't do any housework.

He wrote more books -- How to Have a Life Style, How to Go to the Movies, The New York Diaries.  He appeared in movies -- Hamlet, Orlando, Homo Heights.  He went out to dinner, said witty, trenchant things -- actually, whatever he wanted -- and was taken to events, including Gay Pride events.

He was uncomfortable with his new role as a gay icon. The Gay Rights Movement was ridiculous.  "Homosexuality" was a disease, an affliction, and a curse.  Mothers who discovered that they were carrying a gay child should get an abortion.  And why hold AIDS benefits?  AIDS was just "a fad."

He went to his grave believing explicitly that every heterosexual, however vile, was superior to every gay person, however noble.

That didn't stop him from accepting invitations to appear at Gay Pride events.
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