Dec 19, 2020

Panchayat Update: Is Abishek Quasi-Canonically Gay?

 


Last week I reviewed the first episode of Panchayat, an Indian sitcom about the beset-upon Rural Development Officer in a quirky small town in Uttar Pradesh.  To my surprise, there were gay subtexts everywhere; it was remarkably easy to read the main character Abishek (Jitendra Kumar) as gay, not to mention his fashion-plate assistant Vikas, the feminine, pink scarf-wearing Deputy Mayor Prahlad, and the down-low Mayor's Husband Brij.  

Since then, I've watched more episodes, and I'm convinced that Abishek is canonically gay -- at least, as canonically gay as you can get on Indian tv.  He doesn't get a boyfriend, but he displays no interest in girls, either.  This is a show about male-bonding.

For instance, Episode 5, "Computer Nahi Monitor" (No Computer Monitor): "Bored with his mundane life, Abishek decides to have a bit of fun."  

The "fun" means going to the town beer garden, drinking two beers, and passing out.  He awakens the next morning to find that he forgot to lock the door, and someone came in and stole his computer monitor.  He's living in the office, so it's government property, and he's accused of the theft. Later, the thief returns it.  

At a climactic moment, Abishek complains that he's lonely.  Brij, Prahlad, and Vikas all abandon him on the weekend; he has no family or friends to hang out with.  So they guys surprise him with a beer and pompadum party.  "Aren't we your family?" Brij asks.  "Aren't we your friends?"

In Indian society, is it commonplace for men to socialize without women, or is this a guy-only man-cave evening?

(No new beefcake: these are random hunks, or I guess famous Bollywood stars).


Episode 6,
"Bahot Hua Samman" (Much Respect): Abishek runs afoul of some bullies.  In the climactic scene, they try to force him and his friends to take off their clothes and dance naked.  That strikes me as a vey homoerotic request.

Episode 7, " Ladka Tez Hai Lekin" (It is Fast, But...), looked like it would prove problematic to a queer reading, since the description says: "Brij sees Abishek as a potential groom for his daughter Rinki." 

But: Rinki does not actually in the series, except as a voice and a hand jutting from a bed.  Abishek never meets her.

And Brij only talks to his wife about Abishek as a potential groom because he makes a low salary, and would therefore require a smaller dowry than the boy she wants.  

How about asking the girl which she would prefer/ "Now you're talking like a lunatic!"

And he doesn't tell Abishek about the idea.  Theoretically, Abishek says that if he were to get married, he wouldn't want a dowry.  Brij finds this odd; what man wouldn't want his wife to bring money into the marriage?  

 Someone who believes in women's equality, or someone who has no intention of marrying.


Besides, 75% of gay men in India marry women in order to placate their families.

I haven't seen a lot of Indian tv series.  Maybe the "will they or won't they?" love interest endemic to American tv is absent.  

Maybe in rural India, men and women don't interact socially before marriage, so there wouldn't be a love  interest, just a potential wife and a dowry.

Or maybe Abishek is quasi-canonically, "hiding in plain sight" gay.

See also: Panchayat: Gay-Subtext Series

Dec 18, 2020

King of the Golden River: Boy Meets Dwarf

Shortly after I was born, my parents bought a set of Colliers Encyclopedia and The Junior Classics, an anthology of mostly Victorian-era stories like Alice in Wonderland and Jackanapes. During my earliest childhood I often took them from the shelves and leafed through them, marveling at the odd illustrations.  I first tried reading them at age 8 or 9, but the antiquated language and obscure references made it well-nigh impossible.  Still, their very impenetrability was attractive, suggesting hidden codes and secrets, so over the years I tried again and again, finally encountering some amazing gay subtexts.

The King of the Golden River (1841) begins with a blustery, round person, "The North Wind," visiting an extremely girlish young man named Gluck.   From there, things get even more bizarre.  Gluck battles his older, bullying brothers, Hans and Schwartz, for a golden mug, which turns out to contain the imprisoned spirit of the dwafish King of the Golden River.  

Someone must travel to the source of the river and sprinkle it with "holy water."  The evil brothers try, but fail, and are turned into black stones.  Gluck tries, but gives the water away in acts of kindness, and is rewarded when the river turns into a river of gold.





There is no same-sex romance, but Gluck (played by Thor Bautz, left, in a gender-transgressive 2009 stage version) is quiet, sensitive, feminine, gay-coded.

And,  bucking the tradition of fairy tales ending with "they were married and lived happily ever after," he never meets a girl.  At the end of the story, he is old, wealthy, well-respected by the community, with no wife.  

That was, in itself, a revelation.






John Ruskin (played by Tom Hollander, top center, in the 2009 tv series Desperate Romantics) was heterosexual; like Lewis Carroll, he liked young girls.  But there is no evidence that he had a physical relationship with anyone.

His marriage to Effie Gray was annulled after six years, not consummated because "there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked passion."  There have been many theories about what those circumstances were, but probably not the nude female form itself. (Effie later married his friend, pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais).

He was a scholar of the Renaissance, who became aware of the practice of "the bestial vice."  Although he was quite homophobic, revealing that same-sex practices occurred at all helped to create the image of the "queer Renaissance," where gay people didn't have to hide.  Oscar Wilde said that studying under him at Oxford was one of the turning points of his career.

Dec 17, 2020

"Once Upon a Time in Wonderland": Getting the Alice Books Wrong




I am a fan of all things Alice in Wonderland, so of course I'm going to buy Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (2013-2014), the spin off of Once Upon a Time (2011-2018).

It features Alice but, perhaps intentionally, not the real Alice Liddell (1852-1934), daughter of Dean Henry Liddell, professor of Greek at Oxford University.  This is an alternate world Victorian England which co-exists with many other worlds, including Oz and Wonderland.

It has the same absurdly complex genealogies as the original series (remember that Henry Mills is the son of Snow White, the grandson of Rumpelstiltskin, and the great-grandson of Peter Pan? And his adopted mother marries Robin Hood):

The plot gets rather convoluted, with back story upon back story, surprise character connections ("he's your father?"), and an obsessive need to throw in everybody and everything from the books.

1.  The main protagonists are Alice and the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha), aka Will Scarlett, who was born in Oz and spent time among Robin Hood 's Merry Men.  They have a back story where Alice restores his heart, which was stolen by the evil queen Cora, so he owes her. 


2. Their main quest is to rescue Alice's  True Love, Cyrus the Genie (Peter Gadiot, left), who is being held captive by the evil magician Jafar.















3. Jafar (Naveen Andrews) wants to get Cyrus back into his bottle, because then he would have all three of the world's genies and ultimate power.  To do this, he must force Alice to use her three wishes, so he keeps putting her ior her friends into life-or-death predicaments.  But the Power of True Love always triumphs.




4. He has an uneasy partnership with the Red Queen, whose twin assistants are the Tweeedles (Ben Cotton, left, Matty Finochio).  She wants ultimate power in order to undo her past mistakes and reunite with her True Love, who happens to be...you guessed it...Will Scarlett.

 The obsessive Alice in Wonderland references become annoying, since the writers usually squeeze them in weird ways, or get them utterly wrong.  The Caterpillar as an underworld don..  The Lizard as a female thief with a crush on the Knave. Borogroves turn into the Lotus-Land Borogrovel. The magical monster is the Jabberwocky -- everybody knows that the monster is the Jabberwock; "Jabberwocky" is the title of the poem!












5.. The original series had very poor gay representation.  Two lesbian characters, Red Riding Hood and Mulan, who hook up, kiss, and then vanish from the series forever.  Here it's even worse.  Heterosexual True Love everywhere.  The White Rabbit becomes a wife-and-kids Family Man.  Grendel, the monster from Beowulf., becomes The Grendel for some reason; he became a monster after the Red Queen separated him from His Wife.

I'm only about halfway through.  Maybe I'll see what's on Netflix. 

The Top 10 Hunks of "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland"

Lewis Carroll never intended to create a coherent fantasy world, where people could actually live, with governments, economics, social structures, and logical rules.  Alice is dreaming.

So when later writers and filmmakers try to make a Tolkienesque alternate-world fantasy out of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, they rin into countless problems: incoherent geography, sudden time shifts, queens without countries, worlds without history.  They closer they stick to the source material, the worse the results are.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, a spin-off of Once Upon a Time, sticks too close.

Oh, there's a new plot, with new characters and the extensive back stories we expect from the original. But the convoluted interconnections make no sense.

The plot: An adult Alice returns to Wonderland to rescue her True Love, Cyrus (Peter Gadiot, left), who happens to be a genie.  She is assisted by the Knave of Hearts (Michael Socha, above) and the White Rabbit, and foiled by the Red Queen and Jafar from Aladdin.

Meanwhile, the Knave of Hearts turns out to be Will Scarlet from Robin Hood, who is searching for his lost True Love, Anastasia (not the heir to the Romanovs; the daughter of Rapunzel), who happens to be the Red Queen.

The White Rabbit and the Caterpillar are actual animals, but the Lizard is just a nickname.  You can't have it both ways.

There are woefully out of place puns ("Forget-Me-Knot") which destroy the versimilitude.

At least, like the original series, Wonderland is a hunk paradise.  Here are the top 10 hotties:

1. Michael Socha

2. Peter Gadiot





3. Matty Finochio as Tweedledee.  He and his Tweedledum counterpart are Anastasia's servants.







4. Lost alumnus Naveen Andrews as Jafar.













5. Raza Jaffrey as Taj, Cyrus's older brother and the heir to the throne of...um...genieland?















6. Dejan Loyola as Rafi, Cyrus's other brother, also a genie.









7.  Hugo Steele as Orang, one of Jafar's guards.














8. Steve Bacic as "The Grendel." In the original Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, it's just Grendel, his name, not his species.










9.  Darren Shahlavi as a genie hunter.












10.  Arkie Kandola as a bartender.  He's also a Vancouver-based Sikh comedian.














'


How about another peek at Darren Shahlavi?



Dec 16, 2020

Whoops, My Dear: The Evolution of a Homophobic Slur

When you research the pop culture of the past, you occasionally come across a mystery.

In an Archie comic book story from the 1960s, Archie has to hold Veronica's purse.  Reggie see him, flashes a limp wrist, and says "Whoops, my dear!"  Obviously he is implying that Archie is gay, but how?

In another comic strip, Mickey Mouse decides to put up flowered wallpaper.  His friend then "accuses" him of being gay by dancing around and saying "Whoops, my dear!"

The phrase appears on The Carol Burnett Show (1970s), in popular novels (1950s), and on the Burns and Allen radio program (1940s).   But what exactly does it mean, and how did it come to be an anti-gay slur?




The earliest use I have found is in a 1910 song by Bert F. Grant and Billy J. Morrisey:

Georgie was a dainty youth, well known for miles around.
Up on the street both night and day, he always could be found.
With his natty little cane and flaming crimson tie
When he'd come strolling down the lane, you'd loudly hear him cry, "Whoops, my dear."

He's a turn-of-the-century dandy, his cane and red tie symbolic of gayness, although in this song, he's courting women.

A Dictionary Criminal Slang  (1913) lists it as a "jovial expression of fairies and theatrical characters"





In a 1915 story by Elinor Maxwell, we read that Mr. Clarkson Porter is "not much on hair, or a slim waistline, but when it comes to a bank account, whoops, my dear!"

Sounds like a mild expression of surprise.

"What Do We Care for Kaiser Bill", a World War I song (1917):
Now Percy left his home one day to join the flying corps
He said I'll make those horrid boys and girls feel very sore
The first time that they took him up, it made him feel so queer
When in the clouds they looped the loop, he yelled out "Whoops, my dear."

Percy (a gay-coded name of the era) yells out the phrase because he's feeling dizzy.  He's probably been turned gay ("queer").

In the 1920s, tourists to Paris could go to the Petite Chaumiere at 2 Rue Berthe, where the "men dressed as women...cavort around and swish their skirts and sing in falsetto and shout 'Whoops, my dear."



"I Wish't I was in Peoria" (Billy Rose and Mort Dixon, 1925), tells us
They're yelling "Whoops my dear" in Peoria tonight.
They've got a big red-blooded warrior, he wears a red tie in Peoria,
Oh, how I wish't I was in Peoria tonight.

The song is about how the "hick town" of Peoria, Illinois is far more sophisticated than Manhattan.  For instance, they have gay people there.  Red ties signified gay identity.


In 1932, the Green Street Theater in San Francisco was playing "the continental spicy musical cocktail Whoops, My Dear.", aka Die Guckloch (peephole).  Mild expression of surprise at sexual shenanigans.

In the 1930s, a gay couple named Frankie and Johnny performed at the Ballyhoo Club on North Halsted in Chicago.  Among their numbers was:

Whoops, my dear, even the chief of police is queer.
When the sailors come to town, lots of brown
Holy by Jesus, everybody's got pareses in Fairytown

A mild expression of surprise at the existence of gay people.  I can't even guess what "lots of brown" means, but "pareses" is an inflammation of the brain that occurs in the late stages of syphillis.




In 1946, the Cocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion by Crosby Gage, a theatrical producer and president of the New York Wine and Food Society, included such drinks as Euthanasia, Whoops My Dear, and Psychopathia Sexualis.

(Shown: Gage Crosby, no relation, a University of Arizona swimmer).

Lucille Ball sang the phrase in "Hey, Look Me Over" in Wildcat (1960), about an attempt to strike oil in Texas (top photo: her costar, Keith Andes):

We're hitting the road
Loud as a Shanta Clare but jittery as hen
The road to glory running a "whoops my dear,"
but here we go again. Yeah!

We see here the final evolution of the phrase, from "I'm gay" to "I'm surprised that gay people exist" to "I'm surprised."

"Christmas in the City": Double Bait-and-Switch


 Christmas in the City: I doubt that there is any gay representation, but if this cover icon is any indication of the beefcake spreading Yuletide joy, I'm in. 

The blurb: Ashanti plays a grouchy store manager who tries to ruin Christmas.  Wait -- don't store managers like Christmas?  It's where 40% of their sales comes from.  

And am I supposed to recognize the name Ashanti?

Maybe I'll just go through it on fast-forward.

A single Mom puts her kid on the school bus, goes to a store, talks to an older friend, then picks the kid up, takes her ice-skating, and tucks her into bed.  She gets a job selling toys in a department  store at Christmas.

Meanwhile, Scrooge walks imperiously through the store, taking down decorations, firing employeees, and snorting about how much she hates Christmas.


Boss Jon Prescott arrives at Minute 13.   He's the store owner's nephew, so he outranks Scrooge and wants to fire her, but the Board wants her there.  .

Single Mom meets the other employees, including Santa Claus, who all are terrified of Scrooge.

Scrooge has some cost-cutting ideas: get rid of the employee daycare program, cancel Christmas bonuses....um, pass out coal instead of candy canes, and have Santa Claus spank the kids.  And why spend all that money on Christmas decorations? Why not some black and white signs saying "Buy!" instead?





She returns to her office and yells at her henchman, Hunk #2 (Josh Crotty): "How dare they reject my ideas?  Now get me a puppy!  I skipped breakfast!"

There are a lot of beefcake photos of Josh Crotty on his instagram page, but this is the only one where he's not sticking his tongue out or making a silly face.

Scrooge has more Christmas-cutting ideas.  No carolers!  No background music!  No kids on Santa's lap!  Doesn't she know that these things push up sales?

She butts heads with Single Mom and Boss, who commisserate -- and date.  

Another five or six tucking-the-kid-into-bed scenes.

Boss reminisces about his childhood with Uncle Harry, back when Christmas meant something.  He plays the piano and sings "The First Noel."  

A Christmas song!  Right in the store!  And to make matters worse, it actually mentions Jesus Chr--- Scrooge can't say it, or she'll burst into flame.   She is outraged!

Falling in love stuff between Single Mom and Boss, Scrooge talking to Boss, some mishegas about a Christmas display, more tucking-kid-into-bed.  

Scrooge doctors the receipts to make it look like Single Mom has been stealing from the store. Mwah-hah-hah.  

Another tuck-the-kid-into-bed scene.  Single Mom seems to live with another woman.  I'd think they were a lesbian couple, except for the falling-in-love montages with Boss.

One hour in, and no shirtless hunks.

"You stole from the store!" "I'm innocent!" "You're fired!" 

Advice from Santa Claus in the park -- the real one, not the store Santa who was fired.


Joel Rush gets second billing as Hunky Santa #1 (he's the one on the left, from the Eating Out series of gay comedies).  But he's not around.



 







 Andy Ashton plays Hunky Santa #2. I haven't seen him yet, either.

Oh well, back to fast-forward: The real culprit is revealed.  Reconciliation.  Even henchman Bruno abandons Scrooge.

In a last ditch effort to ruin Christmas, Scrooge displays videos of dancing, shirtless hunks in Santa Claus hats, plus some live hunks in the background (too obscured for a screen capture).

Single Mom's roommate counters by singing "O Come, All Ye Faithful."

So the shirtless hunks represent the Dark Side in this battle of Good vs. Evil?

Everyone joins in, even the shirtless hunks: "O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord."

Hearing that name makes Scrooge writhe in pain.  She melts into a pool of goo. 

No redemption?  No heart growing three sizes?  

Santa Claus comes.  Boss and Single Mom kiss.  The end.

Wow.  I am flabbergasted.  What's with the huge disconnect between the audience they hope to draw in with the cover icon and the actual presentation!  This movie is about shirtless hunks,  Aha, foold you!  Shirtless hunks are evil!  It's really about Christ the Lord, and no, you can't have both."

Question:  Ashanti is a popular singer, so audiences were obviously expecting to hear her sing.  Why doesn't she get redeemed and sing the climactic song?  If I was a fan, I 'd be angry at the bait-and-switch.

Two bait-and-switches, actually.

Dec 15, 2020

Adore, aka The Mothers: A Four-Way, Intergenerational, Incestuous, Polyamorous Romance in Australia

  


Ok, so Roz and Lili are best friends who somehow managed to get pregnant at the same moment, so their sons are the same age.  

When the boyx are 18:

Roz starts having sex with Lili's son Ian.

Tom is upset by this, and starts having sex with Lili to get even. 

Technically it's not incest, of course, but with the boys being raised together, it's as close as you can get.

They try to end things several times, but one always backslides and ends up in bed with the other's mother, and then the other has sex with the other's mother to get even.  



Years pass, and the affairs continue.  But the boys are feeling the pressure to lead "normal" lives, especially Tom, who is studying acting.  Naturally, a drama major who doesn't date women is assumed gay.  So he (now grown into James Frencheville) starts dating  Mary.  

Ian (now grown into Xavier Samuel) is upset by these new developments, and starts dating Hannah, to get even.

The mothers don't appreciate the competition, and call off the affairs for good.

Years later, the boys are both married, with daughters, but inevitably one starts having sex with the other's mother again, and of course the other has sex with the other's mother to get even. 

The wives find out, get mad, and leave with the daughters (well, maybe they are afraid that when the girls turn 18, the fathers will....).


The movie ends with a dream sequence in which the four lovers continue their affairs openly, a big happy sex-positive family.

The gay connection:

1. The mothers have a homoromantic bond.  

2. So do the sons.  They always start affairs with the Mothers to get even: "You slept with my Mum, so I'm sleeping with yours"  They do this every time they decide to break off the affairs, and one of them backslides.

3. Other people assume that they are gay as well.  But it's actually a four-way, intergenerational, incestuous polyamorous romance, the LGB of LGBT.  Wait, is one of them transgender?

4. The movie is Adoration or Adore (2013).  It's based on a novella by Doris Lessing, the British novelist who "forged the pathway for literary lesbian writers" by celebrating women's sexuality.

5. The sons are half-naked a lot more often than the mothers.

Dec 14, 2020

Panchayat: Gay Subtext Series (With a Little Tweeking) from India


Indian mass media has a rather poor record on gay representation, but that doesn't mean you can't queer the text.  I'm going to go into the Indian tv series Panchayat cold, without any research, because the star Jitendra Kumar is cute.  And I'm going to assume throughout that, no matter what, that the protagonist is gay.

(After watching the episode, I discovered that Kumar plays a gay guy who marries his boyfriend in the 2020 comedy Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan).



Scene 1:
A bus through  the desolate Indian countryside of Uttar Pradesh (Americans: think Kansas).  Abishek cuddles against his boyfriend, who wears a fluffy white sweater tied around his neck.  They both ask the conductor when they will reach Phulera.  

Cut to Abishek at the mall, now in a blue sweater with a feminine silver bracelet, explaining to his chubby friend Prateet why he took a job as Secretary to the Village Pachayat (Office of Rural Development).  In a small town 100 miles from the nearest gay bar!  "What choice did I have? I should have gone to a better college."  

Prateet looks on the bright side: "It's not teaching Gay Studies in Paris, but you'll be digging sewers, building roads. Imagine the hunks in your crew, girlfriend!  You'll be getting more action than any of the big city queens.  Come on, I'll buy you a striped shirt.  They're slimming!"

Back to the bus.  Cuddle Bear was just a trick -- Abishek is alone when they finally reach Phulera -- or rather, the dry desolate outskirts. 


Scene 2:
  Chubby Prahlad and svelte, stylish Vikas are sitting on a bench outside a run-down government building, waiting for Abishek's arrival:  Prahlad says: "I hope he's a top -- and hung!" Vikas scoffs: "And into you?  Please!"  

Abishek drives up on his motorcycle.  They check out his bulge while Vikas introduces himself as his new assistant.  "And Prahlad is the Deputy Pradhan (deputy mayor, I think). I sent you his profile on Grindr, remember?"

"Sure," Abishek says.  "I'm into chubbies.  We'll talk later."

They are moving Abishek into a spare room in the building.  It's all furnished, but the bed might be too big  -- they didn't know how...um...big Abishek was.

Scene 3: Town rich guy Brij Bushan, husband of the Pradham (mayor?), arrives.  First he makes Vikas wash his hands for him, and then search in his pockets for the key to the building.  Obviously he expects Vikas to grope him.  Abishek is shocked -- what a closet case!  This is the 21st century.  Just come out!

Scene 4: Brij lost his key, so they head to the fields to look for it.  Abishek gets squirted by a water jet and steps in ox poop, and there aren't any hunks around!  He thinks: I wish I was back in Delhi, cruising the waiters at the Cafe D'Etoile!

They can't find the key, so Vikas drives into town to fetch a locksmith.

While they are waiting, Brij invites Prahlad home for "um...a cup of tea."  He refuses.  Not into Daddies!

Scene 5:  Brij's house.  He tells his battleaxe wife: "I'm thinking of inviting the new Secretary over for dinner."  She yells: "Sure, invite the Secretary, and those two queens from the office, and all of your Grindr hookups ! Turn this house int a gay bar!  I don't mind!"


Scene 6:
  Abishek is walking through the disheveled, rundown, old-fashioned village, where women still wear saris and carry water jugs on their heads, and the men are all homophobic: "You dress mighty fancy.  Where are you from, San Francisco?"  Or else they try to grift money from him.

Scene 7: Abishek waits at the office.  Finally Vikas returns, with no locksmith and a convoluted story about how he got into a motorcycle accident.  They have to break the lock to get into the building.

Cut to Battleaxe Wife yelling: "You're not breaking my lock, you worm! Let the office stay closed!"

"But the Secretary will have no place to stay -- unless he stays with us."

"What?  You want to move one of your boyfriends into my house?  No way! Just break the lock!"

Scene 8: Night.  Abishek arrives at Brij's house for dinner.   Brij cautions him: "The situation inside is delicate, so be careful.  Stay in the closet, ok?"  

The two eat.  Wife cooks, but is too homophobic to join them.

Scene 9:  Back at the office.  Vikas didn't break the lock -- he broke the whole door down. 

A horrible, dark, dusty room, with papers and furniture scattered everywhere.  An antiquated computer.  Beefcake pictures of Rama and Vishnu on the walls.  

They leave Abishek to his squalid digs.  He calls his friend Prateet in the city. "This is much worse than I expected!  I want out!  I want to come home!"

"But sweetie, the only way you can get another job is to clear CAT (the Common Admission Test for graduate management training)" Prateet tells him. "Besides, this experience will look good on your resume.  You've seen the real India, the down-to-earth Middle America of India!"

"The Middle America of India is full of closet cases and homophobic idiots.  I'm studying for the CAT.  Send me the books, in care of Vikas Khan."

"You have a boyfriend already?  Girl, I told you there'd be wall to wall hunks!"

"Just write down the address."

We zoom out to the utter darkness of the countryside.

The end.

I changed a tiny bit of dialogue, but otherwise this is a major gay subtext series.

Dec 13, 2020

General Whitman and his Cold War Boyfriend

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my parents hated books.  Comic books were suspect enough -- but full-sized books would brainwash me into believing atheism and evolution keep me away from healthy masculine activities like sports, and "strain my brain"!  Maybe they were worried that reading would make me want to escape the future of factory job, house, wife, and kids they had mapped out for me.

So I could only get away with reading only if I could convince them that it was required for school.  That made General Whitman's Adventures ideal.

They were brief, 15-page storybooks, accompanied by "adventure maps,"  written by George S. Elrick (who also wrote tie-in books for tv series like Flipper, Batman, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.).  They were published by comic book company Whitman (talk about product placement!).



General Whitman's Adventures in Intriguing Europe
General Whtiman's Adventures in Exotic Asia
General Whitman's Adventures in Exciting Africa

After that they ran out of adjectives, and just had him traveling to Australia, North America, South America, the United States, and Around the World.

General Whitman,  a "global troubleshooter for the armed forces," was a thin, middle aged white guy carrying a globe.


In each story, he traveled across the designated continent with his assistant, Lieutenant Scott, on on a top secret assignment.  In South America, for instance, he was assigned to inspect rivers that might provide "juice for mission control centers, "and to select likely sites for camouflaged missile silos."

This was during the Cold War, after all.

Meanwhile he pontificated about the continent's history and geography -- with what today seems a very paternistic, Orientalist superiority complex:  "Before this continent was discovered, the poor savages were uncivilized."

And Lieutenant Scott expressed constant disgust or amazement over local customs. In Tibet, he exclaimed: "That lady's making a sandwich out of her face!"

"Butter is often used as a beauty aid here," the General explains.  "The Tibetans are too primitive to have our modern scientific cosmetics."



Still, it beat National Geographic, with its boring "This country is a study in contrasts, embracing its rich traditions and looking toward the future."

And I could claim "research for my geography class."

And neither General Whitman nor Lieutenant Scott mentioned wives or girlfriends back home.  I was pretty sure that they were "Best Men" (my childhood term for gay partners).

Rocket to the Moon: Adventure Boys in Love


Gay boys of earlier generations could find an escape from the incessant interrogation of "What girl do you like" in fiction -- the fast-paced adventure series starring teenage boys.

Unlike the Hardy Boys series, the British Boys' Annuals, or the books in the Green Library, the adventure boy series offered little cover beefcake, but they made up for it with lush verbal descriptions: the teenagersare extraordinarily handsome,  immensely muscular, strong, sturdy, erect, lithe, well-formed, and “well-knit.”

In Jack Winters’ Gridiron Chums (1919),  we read that “Big Bob stretched out his massive arms. . . as though to call the attention of his companion to his splendid physique.”

 In The Radio Boys at the Mexican Border (1922), the hero has “long legs, flat hips, trim waist, deep chest and broad shoulders and a flat back. . .altogether, he was a striking figure.”




Girls are entirely absent, but almost every Adventure Boy forms an intimate, passionate bond with a same-sex chum, and almost every Adventure Boy novel ends with the two planning to stay together forever, a homoromantic version of the fade-out kiss.


In Roy Rockwood’s Great Marvel series, teenagers Mark Sampson and Jack Darrow explore the North Pole, the South Pole, and various planets,  but when they return to ordinary time, they do not abandon each other in search of girlfriends. The books conclude with either a coyly described intimacy or an assurance that their bond is permanent.

For example, when they return from the Earth's Core laden with diamonds, they decide to invest their wealth in college educations. What will become of them after college, Mark wonders.  “We’ll take a trip!” Jack exclaims. The two clasp hands, and the narrator hastily retreats.

In the last book of the series, they are middle aged professors, and still living together.  They have taken an interest in two of their male students, who embark on the adventure, while the adults sit by the fire and reminisce.





In first Don Sturdy novel (1925), fifteen-year old Don is searching for his missing parents, when he encounters a boy, Teddy, being held captive by some brigands.  He mounts a daring rescue.  Since they are both missing one or more parents, it is only logical that they join forces.  But even after Teddy’s father is found, they stay together. Even after Don’s parents are found, they stay together.

They move to Hillville, New York, where they attend high school together and live with or near Don’s “bachelor uncles.”  Every so often they embark on a new adventure involving pirates in the Sargasso Sea, giants in Pantagonia, headhunters in Borneo, gorillas in Africa, or renegade Aztecs in Mexico, and afterwards they always return to lives of happy domesticity. They never discuss the possibility of one day parting.  Their homoromance is permanent.


In The Secret of Skeleton Island (1949), the teenage Ken Holt, son of a famous journalist escapes from kidnappers and stumbles into the office of a small-town newspaper, where he meets the editor’s son, the massively muscular Sandy.  The next day, they are both re-captured by the kidnappers.  Although he became involved in the adventure only by accident, Sandy does not scram the moment he gets his hands untied; he sticks by Ken through many close-calls and run-ins with the bad guys, rescuing him and being rescued by him, right through the final cliffhanger.  In the last chapter, Ken’s father arrives to explain the mystery and write it up for his newspaper.

Then, instead of saying goodbye with a promise to visit, Sandy asks that Ken come live with him forever.  Ken is so overcome with emotion that he can barely assent. Most novels end with the promise of a permanent relationship, but here it is two boys, not a boy and a girl, who will live happily ever after.





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