May 1, 2020

Wreck-It Ralph and the Loss of Gay History

I read an article written by a gay guy who was totally traumatized by the homophobia of Wreck-It Ralph (2012).  

The limp-wristed, lisping Candy King, who lives in a hot-pink castle (("it's salmon!", is beat up by the macho, all-man hero, and  called a "nelly wafer."

So of course I had to watch the movie.

The premise: Wreck-It Ralph is the bad guy in an antiquated video game, wrecking an apartment building so Fix-It Felix Junior can "fix it." He wants to become a good guy, so he leaves his game, and eventually ends up in a candy themed video game.  He helps a young girl win a candy-themed race, while the sinister Candy King tries to thwart them.  There are a lot of plot twists, some scary scenes, and a bit of Disney treacle.

It wasn't great.  I would have preferred a grand tour of other video games (we see three), and some greater exploration of the video-game characters' world. But...I kept waiting and waiting for the "nelly wafer."


1. The Candy King is not a gay stereotype.  He looks and talks like famous comedian Ed Wynn, specifically his performance as the Mad Hatter in the Disney Alice in Wonderland.  Wynn's distinctive delivery was endlessly imitated; anybody over age 40 will recognize it instantly.

2. Ralph is no macho he-man.  He is a dimwitted ogre, an anti-hero, a bad guy who wants to be good.

3. The Candy King's palace is pink for a very important plot point that has nothing to do with him being effeminate: it's not his palace!  He's a usurper.  The true ruler of the Candy Kingdom is...well, watch the movie.

4. Ralph does not best the Candy King in a fight until the end of the movie, when he has transformed into a giant spider-creature, and even then, it takes a lot of people working together,

5. Among many other candy-themed insults, Ralph calls Candy King " a vanilly wafer."  It is conceivable that Ralph said "vanilly" instead of "vanilla" to make it sound like "nelly," an old term for gay men, but rather a stretch.  He doesn't say anything else to imply that Candy King is gay.

Earlier, Ralph appears to call Pac Man a "cock gobbler," but actually in the video game Pac Man eats dots, so the slur is probably "dot gobbler."


Has the author seen any other Disney movie?  They're loaded down with sleeky,sophisticated, gay-stereotype villains.  How about Jabar? Shere Khan?  Captain Hook?

Or any movie from the 1980s?  "Fags" and "homos" litter the dialogue. Just a sample:

Teen Wolf: "I'm not a fag, I'm a werewolf."
Adventures in Babysitting; "Thor is a homo."
An American Werewolf in London:"Prince Charles is a fag."
The Breakfast Club: "Stay out of my locker, fag."

 A single misheard line that could be a gay slur is nothing.  Grow a pair!

By the way, Ralph displays no heterosexual interest, ever.  He hangs out with other male villains, changes clothes with an army guy in a patently homoerotic scene, and buddy-bonds with Fix-It Felix.  Gay subtext is rather obvious.

When you don't remember your own history, you are doomed to repeat it.

Apr 30, 2020

Mr. Student Body President: Finn the Human Rules the School

You're probably wondering what the extremely bicep-gifted Jeremy Shada has been doing during the two years since Adventure Time ended, sending Jake the Dog and Finn the Human into Ooovian history.

The answer is: running for student body president at Beringer High, a position of unlimited power and prestige.

Mr. Student Body President is a rather awkward title; we're apparently supposed to read it as Mr. President, with "Student Body" in parenthesis.

The 15-minute long episodes are called "Clips." I watched the first.

1. Teen operator Tyler Prendergast (Jeremy) and his entourage (cheerleader girl on one side, smart clipboard holding girl on the other, nonbinary person carrying his coffee) discuss his morning schedule and the new principal's hassles over the upcoming pep rally. He hyperbolizes: "This pep rally will be the most important thing any of us will ever do."  It will be big, with fireworks and live music.

2. He argues with Principal Helfrick, who is young enough to be a student, but a stick-in-the-mud.  She makes a reference to Van Halen, and Smart Girl explains: "It's something old people are into, like Twilight or email."

3. He negotiates with his Vice President, Jenna, and Lance, the Spirit Chair (whatever that is).

4. The Student Council deals with the crisis of the day: Star quarterback Damion was suspended for appearing with a red cup in an instagram post, so now he can't play in the Big Game. 

Other players and cheerleaders are getting suspended for social media posts where they use terms like "get turnt," which the oldsters don't understand but think must refer to sex or drugs.  To try to defuse the situation, Tyler decides to cancel the party being held by Cheerleader Natalie tonight.  He can do that?

Unlimited power.

5. Tyler tries to use his executive privilege to grant clemency to the suspended students, but the Principal vetoes him.  She assures him that it doesn't matter: once you graduate, you move into the world, and never think about high school again.

Wrong!  The memories of high school stay with us forever.  High school defines us, Tyler explains. one cares except for football players and cheerleaders: there are many other groups pursuing their own interests, like the ecology club and the honor society.

6. So Tyler invites them all to Natalee's party and has them post contraband or bad words to social media, so the whole school will be suspended.

The Principal can't suspend them all, nor can she suspend just the football players and cheerleaders and not the honor society president and chief cellist, so she backs off.

7. Tyler gets his vast, expensive home coming, with the theme "The Sexual Awakening of Miley Cyrus."  Dancing in Miley Cyrus drag, Tyler waves at the Principal.

She says: "You want a war, Tyler, you got it."

Beefcake:  None.  They're all at school all the time.  I  got these photos by googling "Mr. Student Body President" and "shirtless" or "nude," so there are apparently shirtless shots later on.  Gabriel Conte (3rd photo) appears in 36 episodes, Spencer Watson (4th photo) in 17. and Michael J, Murphy (2nd photo) in 8.

Location Shots: None.

Gay Characters;  None specified.  There's a lot of drag in the last scene, suggesting that these people are mostly post-gay  "you like guys, whatever."

The non-binary person in Tyler's entourage is Rory, played by Caelan Scrivener.  According to his Facebook page, he identifies as male in real life.

Heterosexism: None.  No one mentions or engages in heterosexual activity, even at Natalee's party. No "Girsl are the meaning of life!" rhetoric

Will I continue to watch:  I've seen it all before, many, many times.  There are similar premises in Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Saved by the Beill, and even Our Miss Brooks. But it might be interesting to see a kinder, gentler, non-bullying, non-homophobic take on the old Principal vs. Golden Boy trope.  Sure, why not?

Apr 29, 2020

Murder, she Wrote

In West Hollywood we didn't watch a lot of tv -- there's not much time when you're working three part-time jobs, taking classes, spending two hours a day at the gym, cruising, dating, going  to parties, and just being alive in a gay neighborhood.  When we watched, we tended toward shows with gay subtexts, drag queen-camp, or beefcake.

In 1988-89, for instance:
Monday: Newhart, Designing Women
Tuesday: Who's the Boss
Wednesday: Head of the Class, Night Court
Thursday: Cosby, Cheers
Saturday: Golden Girls
Sunday: 21 Jump Steet... and Murder, She Wrote?

I knew several guys in West Hollywood who were obsessed with that show, who made room on their calendars and watched religiously.

Broadway great Angela Lansbury starred as Jessica Fletcher, a retired schoolteacher who started a new career as a mystery writer, and keeps stumbling upon (and solving) real-life murders, usually at family gatherings ("Don't invite Aunt Jessica to Thanksgiving Dinner, or somebody will die!").

I was always in the other room, watching Married...with Children, Get a Life, The Simpsons, or anything other than Aunt Jessica clattering away on her typewriter, so I have only seen one episode.  I still don't understand the interest.

Beefcake:  The full cast and crew takes so long to load on IMDB that it freezes my computer, and I have to reboot (the show aired for 12 years, after all).  But I don't think so.  No one ever mentioned any.

Gay subtexts? No.

Gay characters:  Only two episodes feature veiled, closeted allusions to gay people:

At a mystery writers' convention: One of the suspects is Robert Reed as a lavender-scented poof who writes mysteries about "Greek boys mincing about."  But he's not out: "The young man I was dining with last night was a reporter."    Can't go much farther into offensive stereotypes than that!  At least he's not the murderer.

At Jessica's niece's wedding in San Francisco.  One of the suspects is the fiancee, who is secretly working as a drag queen.  But he and his fellow performers are all straight;no gay drag queens exist.

There's also a reference to gay people in one of the mystery novels that Jessica published (ghostwritten of course): "You have heard that we have a few homosexuals here in San Francisco? Well, Lana is pretty well known in the Castro.  Works as a waiter there."

That's a relatively poor gay connection, even for 1980s television.

Angela Lansbury is a gay ally.  In 1945, when she was 19, she married 35-year old actor Richard Cromwell, not realizing that he was gay. The marriage lasted for only nine months, but they stayed friends for the rest of his life.

But Angela didn't start outing him in interviews until the 2010s, so we would have had no way of knowing in the 1980s.

Maybe Murder, She Wrote was popular in West Hollywood precisely because it was lacking in beefcake, gay subtexts, or gay characters.  It was so utterly unlike anything we experienced in our daily lives. that it became exotic, a glimse into a weird alien world.

Where Jessica rode her bicycle up and down the hills of small-town Maine, then sat at the kitchen table to work on her latest novel, only to be interrupted by a telephone call: "Aunt Jessica, can you come to Thanksgiving Dinner?"  And the game is afoot.

Apr 28, 2020

The Origin of My Peter Pan Nightmares

Peter Pan has a long, sinister, and disturbing history.  He began in the grieving imagination of 8-year old J.M. Barrie, when his brother David died in a skating accident the day before his 14th birthday -- at least a dead boy would stay a boy forever.  He took shape in Barrie's early novels about dead and dying boys, Better Dead (1888) and Sentimental Tommy (1896), and in stories Barrie told to the five Llewelyn-Davies boys, whom he met while walking his St.Bernard in Kensington Gardens in 1897.  And when his wife, actress Mary Ansell, was swept away by a mere boy, 24 year old Gilbert Cannan, in 1908 (by the way, Cannan published a novel called Peter Homunculus in 1909).

There is no indication that Barrie had any pederastic intentions with the Llewelyns.  Boys and men mingled without suspicion in those days.  In the stories, however, Captain Hook has an arguably homoerotic love-hate relationship with the Dead Boy.  When one considers that Barrie's Captain Hook and Daddy were played by the same actor, one wonders about the elder Barrie, a strict,conservative, Calvinist.

The baby who leapt from his tram in Kensington Gardens and lived in trees like a bird (that is, died) first appeared as a named character in J.M. Barrie's very Victorian childhood-equals-death novel The Little White Bird (1902).  Next came a stage play, Peter Pan, Or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (1904), based on the pantomime tradition, which is why Peter Pan and the Lost Boys were all played by women, and there was a dying fairy (the Edwardians loved long, slow, sentimental death scenes as much as we love things blowing up).  George du Marier, uncle to the Llewelyn Davies boys, played both Captain Hook and the Darling kids' father.  Hints of child abuse, anyone?

Next Barrie adapted the stage play into a novel,  Peter Pan and Wendy(1911).   Both play and novel became sensations, especially during World War I, with so  many boys dying in the trenches of Europe -- but they were forever young.

And adaptations began: news plays, movies, novels, cartoons, stories, songs, statues, with the dead boy becoming more playful, less sinister to keep up with the changing times.  My favorite is Malcolm, the evil Peter Pan of Once Upon a Time (Robbie Kay, shown with some of his Lost Boys in the top photo).  My least favorite is the 2003 movie version,  with a barely-pubescent Jeremy Sumpter in a pedophile-dream costume, and a hetero-romance "girls are the meaning of life" conclusion.

A 1954 Broadway musical Peter Pan stayed true to its pantomime roots by casting a woman as the Dead Boy, and an older woman at that: 40-year old Mary Martin, who had previously starred in Annie Get Your Gun and South Pacific.  Cyrill Richard played both Captain Hook and George Darling  for more Freudian nightmares.  Although it was the exuberant 1950s, some other disturbing elements were retained:
1. The family is called "Darling," which is ridiculous.
2. The nanny is a dog in a nanny's cap played by a man.
3. Wendy sews Peter's shadow onto his feet. Imagine how painful that would be!
4. Blackmailing the audience to clap in order to keep a fairy from dying.
5. Amputation, mutilation, bombing, death, and near-death everywhere you turn.  Fun!
6. Growing up means dying.

Nevertheless, Neverland returned to Broadway in 1979, 1990, 1991, and 1998 (with Peter Pan played by Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby). 

The entire cast except for the children reprised their roles for a 1960 tv version -- restaged, so you were actually watching and hearing a stage show. This version was rebroadcast in 1963, 1966, 1973, 1989, and 1991. 

Photo: Kent Fletcher, who played Michael in 1960, forever a child in his only other film role, The Lord of the Flies (1963).

I think I saw part of 1966 rebroadcast.  I would have been 5 or 5 1/2 years old, too young for bizarre dog-human hybrids, shadows sewn onto bare flesh, murderous pirate-fathers, dying fairies, and growing up as the equivalent of death.  Since then Peter Pan has often appeared in my nightmares.

The Famous Five Have Plenty of Fun

The Famous Five were Britain's answer to the Boxcar Children or the Hardy Boys, five youthful detectives who appearing in 21 volumes by Enid Blyton from 1942 to 1962.

There have also been original Famous Five novels in French and German, films in English, Danish, and German,  comic books, a video game, and even a stage musical.
The Famous Five are really the Famous Three:

1. Julian Bannard, age 13 (right), described in boys' adventure novel terms as tall, strong, and muscular.  He was played by Marcus Harris in 1978 and Marco Williamson in 1995.

2. His brother Dick, age 12 (far left), a practical jokester and standard boys' adventure novel sidekick, played by Gary Russell in 1978 and Paul Child in 1995.

3. Their cousin George, age 12 (center), a girl who "wants to be a boy."

The other members are:
4. Their young sister Anne, who doesn't do much except get scared and "stay here where it's safe."
5. The dog Timmy (a regular dog, not talking).

Perpetually 12-13 years old but acting several years older, the Five solve their mysteries during school holidays, usually while on vacation on Kirrin Island.  There are kidnappers, smugglers, secret rooms, gypsies, decadent circuses, ghosts that really aren't, and lots of scenes set on the beach, giving Blyton the opportunity to describe the boys' physiques in swimsuits.

One might suspect that the family dynamic and the presence of both boys and girls would eliminate buddy-bonding, but in fact Julian and Dick behave rather like the Hardys, going off alone with each other to investigate the mystery, and there are lots of other kids to interact with.

The gay-vague George is most likely to seek outside friends, mostly other girls "who want to be boys," such as Berte and  Jo, but Julian does his share of bonding with older boys as he tries to establish his own adolescent identity.

The gender-transgressive girls are not the result of gay-friendliness, but of sexism: Blyton thought that adventuring was a masculine preserve, so any girl with an interest in danger and excitement must "want to be a boy."

There have been three incarnations on British tv.  The 1978-79 series was never shown in the U.S.

The 1995-97 series was a period piece, set in 1940s Wales.

In 2008, an animated series featured the children of the original Famous Five.  Even George has a daughter (but her partner is never mentioned; maybe she had a wife).

Apr 27, 2020

It's Your Move

Before Married with Children demolished the myth of the euphoric nuclear family, It's Your Move (1984-85) did the same for the teencom.  Matt Burton (Jason Bateman, who would go on to star on The Hogan Family) seems to be a perfect teenage boy, but he's actually an unscrupulous, amoral operator, running a variety of scams and illegal businesses with the assistance of his best friend Eli (Adam Sadowski).  His only soft spot is for his mother, Eileen (Caren Kaye), so some of his schemes involve doing things for her, like getting her a raise at work.

Then struggling writer Norman Lamb (David Garrison, who would go on to star on Married...with Children) moves into the apartment across the hall and starts dating Matt's mom.  It turns out that there is also an unscrupulous, amoral operator lurking under his "nice guy" facade.  But not to worry, he has only honorable intentions.

Matt and Norman begin a battle of wits, cons, and blackmail, as each tries to gain power and demonstrate the other's true nature to an oblivious Eileen.

It was a welcome surcease from the TGIF sitcom jungle. Plus beefcake (David Garrison in extremely tight jeans), gay symbolism (hiding a secret life), and a decided lack of girl-craziness in Matt. Though his relationship with Eli didn't quite make the intensity of a homoromance.
The producers had high hopes for It's Your Move.  A tie-in novel was authorized, and up-and-coming star River Phoenix had a guest shot in the pilot.

Teen magazines began nonstop gushing over freckle-faced Jason Bateman..

Unfortunately, the network shoved the series into a Wednesday night timeslot opposite the blockbuster Dynasty, with the sixth season of The Facts of Life as a lead-in.  I watched, but apparently nobody else did.  Only 18 episodes aired.  You can see them on youtube.

Apr 26, 2020

Extracurricular Activities: Endless Gay Teases Ruined by a Horrible Ending

Colin Ford is gay in real life, and a review of the movie Extracurricular Activities notes that his character is "shy around the opposite sex," code for "gay," so I watched to see if he was gay by canon or subtext.

Scene 1: High schooler Reagan (Colin Ford) is heading to a farm-to-table Belgian restaurant with his loving, thoughtful parents (Gary Hudson, Darlene Vogel)  Two other parents are driving on the same highway,  discussing how much they hate their kids.  One is "morbidly obese and stupid,"  and the other is a boy who uses eye-liner.  The two cars pass each other, and then the other parents drive over a cliff to their deaths!  Reagan's parents don't notice.

By the way, Reagan is not all attractive: Grotesquely skinny, like a victim of anorexia, with a long, sad face, painful to look at.

Scene 2: On the way back from dinner, past the accident scene, Detective Dawkins (Timothy Simons) stares at Reagan.

Got a thing for skinny high schoolers, Dawkins?

Scene 3: Grief counseling at the high school.  Reagan is taking donations to help out the bereaved kids, Ben (Paul Iacomo) and Becky (although they've just become heirs to a fortune).

Scene 4: At the funeral, Ben and Becky eulogize their parents as warm, caring, and supportive.  We know they weren't!  Afterwards they talk to Reagan, and to Detective Dawkins.  He notes that his son Kenny (Tanner Stine) is in their class.

Scene 5: Reagan is hanging out at a cafe occupied entirely by parents who are  belittling, ignoring, and abusing their kids.

Scene 6: Dinner with the super-parents. Dad says "Great meal, honey!", a  cliche from tv commercials.  Apparently they follow ancient gender stereotypes, with men bringing home the bacon and women frying it up in a pan.

Reagan asks if he can go to a party thrown by his friend Tom (Isaac Cheung), and Mom asks "Will there be girls?"  She's delighted with his "yes" answer.  Apparently they are also following the heteronormative "boys must like girls!" mandate. I heard that "will there be girls?" question many times growing up 40 years ago.

Scene 7: Reagan doesn't interact at the party.  Socially awkward?  Is it too soon to ask Ben for a date?  Mary cruises him intently while dancing with Kenny (the detective's son).  He's not interested.

The hosts's Dad shows up and acts obnoxious, grabbing the girls and fighting with the boys.  Tom commiserates with Reagan about how awful he is. Later Reagan asks Tom for a ride home (homoerotic romance? or at least a hookup?)

 Meanwhile, an unseen person hands Dad a beer.  He keels over into the hot tub and drowns.

I guess Tom won't want to date the person he was going down on the moment his Dad died.  

Scene 8: Detective Dawkins interviews everyone who was at the party, and checks their videos of Tom's Dad acting like a jerk.

Scene 9: The curiously non-grieving Ben (whose parents went over the cliff in Scene 1) is cheerleading at the basketball game, while Detective Dawkins films his son (left) (actually, he's creepily filming the cheerleaders).  Mom is a total jerk, criticizing her son, making sexual comments about the girls - uh-oh, she's had it.

Then Dawkins sees Reagan in the bleachers!  Surprised that a high school boy would be at a high school basketball game, he starts filming as Goth girl Sidney approaches and complains about her parents (rich, health food nuts, and nudists!)

Later, in bed, Detective Dawkins rejects his wife's boozy, smokey, slutty advances, and reveals that he can't stop thinking about Reagan (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)

Scene 10: While Sydney's parents are away, someone sneaks in and adds poison mushrooms to their stash. Are we really not supposed to know who it is?

Scene 11: The next day Detective Dawkins hears about Sydney's parents' deaths, and connects all of the deaths to Reagan.

Scene 12: Reagan keeps kissing up to the teachers and other adults with a slimy insincerity of an Eddie Haskell (look him up).   He's rather a jerk himself, isn't he?  Mary, who cruised him at the party, arrives to cruise some more. Get a clue,girl -- Reagan is not interested.

Scene 13: Detective Dawkins interviews Reagan, and concludes that he is responsble for the deaths. The other cops think he's crazy.  Reagan is such a nice boy!  He doesn't drink or text , he's respectful to his parents.  Also look up Jason Bateman in the 1980s sitcom "It's Your Move."

Scene 14:  Detective Dawkins goes home to his Kentucky Fried Chicken (gender role stereotype: his wife doesn't cook, therefore she is reprehensible!).  Kenny and his bud James are playing basketball outside.  "They're getting cloeer every day," Mom says.  Another same sex romance brewing!

Then Dawkins goes outside, barges into the game, and berates Kenny.

Scene 15: Reagan meets Grant in the woods (a favorite cruising spot?).  Grant tells him about his mother and her terrible new boyfriend, who are stealing from old ladies at anursing home.  Plus they're abusive.  They need offing! (Ok, ok, blow job first, then business).

Scene 16: Ben and Becky, the first kids with dead parents, decide to stop paying Reagan (wait -- it's not a lump sum?).  But he has a recording of them arranging the murder-for-hire, so they're stuck.

Detective Dawkins, who has been stalking Reagan the whole time, approaches and accuses him of running a murder-for-hire business.  Reagan confesses to...breaking copyright laws!  (Har-har).

When Reagan goes home, Mom is on the phone.  "With a GIRL!" she exclaims in homophobic delight.  (Our boy likes girls!  He's not gay after all!  We were so worried!).  

Stalker Mary is in the library, and sober, for a change!  Reagan gives her an assignment.

Scene 17:  Detective Dawkins has somehow made it to the library while Mary is still there.   While staring at her breasts, he notices that she has checked out a book on trees.

Later, Reagan drills some holes in a tree branch!  So, he needed a book on trees to tell him about tree branches?

Scene 18: Grant from Scene 15 hugs Reagan, and is rebuffed (hey, keep our hookup on the downlow!)  He is extremely hurt. Detective Dawkins is listening.

Scene 19: Detective Dawkins listens to Mary and Reagan planning to get "Dad and Heather" out of the way on Saturday, so they can "really have fun."  Another murder contract!

He rushes to the station and plays the tape to the other cops.  Now do you believe me?

I've seen enough sitcoms to know that they're planning a surprise party, not a murder.

But the cops believe him, and go swarming through the woods to interrupt a date, with  Dad and Heather taking the happy couple's picture!

Stalker Dawkins is suspended.  Reagan's parents file a restraining order.

At home,  his boozy, smokey Wife is abusive.

Scene 20: Grant and his little sister overhear his abusive mom and boyfriend screwing (they like to do it in the car outside).  Meanwhile, Reagan is planting explosives in the tree branch -- above the car.  The tree branch falls, crushing them, then explodes.

Scene 21:  In the morning, Stalker Dawkins accosts Mary  (no, don't get in the car with him!  He's all scraggled and creepy-looking!). She agrees to help him look for evidence. .

That night Mary shows up at Reagan's house.  He tries to blow her off: "I'm supposed to meet Grant!" (take a hint -- he's already got a boyfriend!).  But Mom insists that they hang out.

Mary sneaks into his bedroom, grabs a recording device, runs out, and jumps into the car with Stalker Dawkins (bad move, girl!)..  He's so creepy that she gets spooked and jumps out of the car, but Dawkins has the recorder!

I'm not going to tell you the rest: the final switcheroo was a complete surprise.

However:   Stop watching before the last scene.

Beefcake:  Some of the guys at the party are shirtless.

Other Scenery:  No.  Some rich people's houses.

Gay Characters:  Ben, of course.   Isaac, Grant, and maybe Kenny/James.  Dawkins has an arguably homoerotic fascination with Reagan; his wife is apparently bisexual. 

 Reagan has extremely strong gay coding, displaying interest in guys and an absolute lack of interest in Stalker Mary, until the final scene ruins it all.

Heterosexism:  You better believe it!  I thought that Mom and Dad gushing "He talked to a girl!" was just parental homophobia, but it turns out that the writers and directors completely agree.

My Grade:  A- if you delete the the horrible final scene.  If you include it, F-.

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