Jul 24, 2020

"Ugly Betty": The Gay, Transgender, and Racial Diversity Has Not Aged Well

I've been re-watching Ugly Betty (2006-2010), the soap opera/comedy adaption of the Colombian telenovela Betty la fea, about a Latinx girl of unconventional attractiveness (America Ferrara} who gpes to work in the svelte, "new now next" world of fashion magazine Mode.  The two worlds, working-class Queens and the upper East Side upper-crust, compete, collide, and merge in humorous or heartbreaking ways (this is a soap opera,after all).

Alhtough only 10 years has passed since the series ended, our  world is completely different, and Ugly Betty has not aged well.

1. The executive producer, some of the writers, and halfof the cast was Latinx.  The show won Alma awards for Hispanic representation.  But some of the depictions of Hispanic persons are cringeworthy today.  They're not all crass, gauche, loud, and flashy.

2. I find it a little annoying that Betty is supposed to be la fea, but she has to beat off the suitors.  In the first season, she has an on-off romance with a Queens boyfriend and Mode accountant Henry (Christopher Gorham, below), and gets several other suitors.

2. Women, especially women of color other than Betty, are scheming, manipulative, devious, underhanded, and treacherous. Mode creative director Wilhelmina wants to become editor-in-chief, a job for which she is exceptionally well qualified.  But magazine mogul Bradford installs his ne-er-do-well son Daniel (Eric Mabius, top photo), who knows nothing about fashion (except how to bed supermodels) and doesn't even want the job, except as a chance to prove to his father that he's not a screw-up. Wilhelmina is the villain, a veritable Wicked Witch of the West.

Other scheming women of color during Season 1 included: Sofia (Salma Hayak), who tricked Daniel into falling in love with her so she could write it up as the lead article in her magazine; and Constance (Octavia Spencer), the case worker of Betty's father Ignacio, who develops a wacky Fatal Attraction obsession with him.

3. Gay men are even worse.  In the first season, there were only two, both  flamboyant, flitting, fabulous fashion plates (plus a straight guy who pretended to be fabulous to get all of the wonderful benefits that gay people get, har har): Betty's nephew Justin, who doesn't actually come out until Season 4, in spite of his mother constantly saying how suppportive she is;and Wilhemina's "flying monkey" assistant Mark. She demeans, belittles, berates, and gay-bashes him every chance she gets, making it obvious that she ccnsiders him less than human.  She even "sells" him to a competing rich bitch.

4. The representation of transgender people is still worse.  Daniel's older brother Alex disappeared for two years and was assumed dead; then he returns as Alexis. It takes awhile,but eventually the other characters get used to she/her pronouns. But everyone, even Alexis, believes that she changed gender rather than confirming the gender identity she had all along: "I used to be a boy, but now I'm a girl." 

And "they cut it off," which is not at all what happens in sex confirmation surgery.

And back when he was a boy, Alex dated and had sex with girls, because, you know, everybody with a penis likes girls.  Now that she has "changed into girl," she dates boys. That's not how it works.  Your sexual orientation doesn't change along with your genitals. But heteronormativity and all that.

Did I mention that Alexis is even a bigger villain than Wilhelmina?

I still like the show, but it's amazing how much the world has changed in just 10 years.

See also: The Heterosexual Gay Kid of Ugly Betty

Jul 23, 2020

The Toast of London: Is Everybody in the Theater World Homophobic?

British humor is distinctly British; 90% of the time, we residents of that country across the pond don't get it.  Do you really sit through all of Monte Python, or do you fast forward to the Dead Parrot sketch?  For every Absolutely Fabulous, there are a dozen Drop the Dead Donkeys.

The Toast of London is a Drop the Dead Donkey

Matt Berry, who you may recall as the effeminate, pandsexual vampire on What We Do in the Shadows, plays a theaterical actor named Toast, who is having problems.  I'm not sure about all of them , but the main ones are:

1. Purchase (Harry Peacock, top photo)a failed actor who now works as a police artist, caught Toast in bed with his wife.  His attempts at revenge fuel most of the plot.  According to wikipedia, he is homophobic, but this doesn't come out in the first episode.

2. Due to financial problems, Toast is forced to stay with fellow actor Ed Howzer-Black (Robert Bathurst), who lives with an elderly agoraphobe, who may or may not be his lover.  When he convinces her to leave the house for the first time in two years, she is accosted by a flasher. Purchase frames Toast.

3.  Trying to find another place to live, Toast visits his estranged brother Blair (Adrien Lukis), a war veteran with an amputated hand, a bit of a looney, a lot of a homophobe.  He wants Toast to give up acting for the army, since there aren't any "homosexuals" to bollock things up.  Later, Purchase attacks Toast in the bathroom, and Blair thinks that they are having sex, and freaks out.

4. Toast gets a voiceover job which requires him to say one word: "Yes."  But the crew make him say it over and over until he loses his temper.

5. Toast must audition for Cliff Promise (Geoffrey McGivern), who is in prison for Holocaust denial.  I didn't know you could actually go to prison for that.  So Toast goes to the prison and reads a scene about an extra marital affair.

Promise tells him that the character is gay, so Toast camps it up.  The other prisoners think that they are a gay couple, and attack.

So, two scenes where people think that Toast is gay, and react with contempt or violence.  And we didn't even get around to Purchase's homophobia.  And I'm supposed to find this funny?

My grade:D

Jul 19, 2020

"Adventure Zone": A Gay Elf Plays Dungeons and Dragons

I received a recommendation on my Facebook feed for a book called The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins., and immediately wondered "Why not goblins?  It's not a copyrighted term."

The cover displayed "#1 New York Time Bestseller!" prominently, and three people in a Medieval fantasy setting: a red-haired barbarian, a white-haired wizard, and a green-skinned girl in a purple witch's hat.  The Amazon page had the usual glowing review, and something about an illustrated podcast that I didn't understand.  But I paged through a bit, and the artwork was pleasant, so ok, I ordered it.

We begin in media res, with  three  people on the road to a Medieval-looking city, when they are attacked by Gerblins  Characrter profiles identify them as:
1. Magnus, a Human Fighter (the barbarian)
2.  Merle, a Dwart Cleric (the one I thought was a wizard).
3. Taako, an Elf Wizard (the one I though was a witch)

They are in real danger -- they can kill and be killed -- but they are also apparently playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons.  Every now and then Griffin the Dungeonmaster pushes into their reality to  give information or make comments.

Wait -- Taako is a guy!  A rather androgynous one, full of gay-coded artistry and snark.  When the Gerblins attack, he complains "Their war cry isn't very creative."

But to be fair, everyone makes snarky comments.  Taako puts out a fire with the incantation "throw-ius blanket-ius," and the Dungeon Master comments "Perfect!  Wonderful! Tolkien-esque!"

The goal keeps changing as one quest leads into another.  They were  hired to deliver a wagonload of mining supplies to a guy named Bogard, but then their friend Barry is captured by Gerblins, so it's off to the rescue.  Yahve the Gerblin offers them Barry in exchange for killing the boss, G'nash.  But G'nash turns out to be a furry sweetheart who offers them tea.  So they decide to kill Yahve instead.

It's mostly an excuse to face random dangers -- a flood!  a giant spider!  a blob monster!  --while making MST3K-style meta-comments.  Pleasant, as long as you're not expecting much in the way of plot.

Wait -- are Taako and G'nash flirting?
Taako: Since we're friends here...
G'nash: Best friends?
Taako: Definitely
G'nash: Lovers, maybe?
Taako: Time will tell.

Wait -- is Taako canonically gay?

Time to conduct some research

Back in 2011, brothes Travis, Justin, and Griffin McElroy  ran an advice podcast called My Brother, My Brother, and Me.  Then, joined by their father Clint, they began playing Dungeons and Dragons live during  the podcast.  Soon they were getting corporate advertisers, and making enough money to go full time, under the name Adventure Zone..  

I'm not sure what the fun was for fans, just watching some guys play a table game,  but not being able to play themselves (although they could make suggestions).  But to date there have been three seasons of "campaigns" (D&D storylines), with names including "Murder on the Rockport Limited," "Lunar Interlude," "The Eleventh Hour," and "The Crystal Kingdom."

The brothers all have wives and are presumably heterosexual, but they made Taako gay.   In one of the podcasts, he gets a boyfriend.  Another featured a gay couple who was killed, but the  McElroys later apologized for the "bury your gays" trope.  According to wikipedia, the podcasts are very popular among juveniles and "in the LGBT community."

Three graphic novel versions have been published to date, based on podcats and illustrated by Carey Pietsch.  I'll have to read the otthers to see if Taako's gayness translates to the printed page, or gets censored

See also: Dungeons and Dragons

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