Jan 15, 2021

Gameboys: Gay Teen Romance for the COVD Era


Gameboys: Level Up Edition 
is an expanded, re-edited version of the Filipino BL (boy love) drama Gameboys.  Don't freak out; in Asia "boy-love" means "love between teenage boys."

It is a gay teen romance for the COVD era, taking place almost entirely online.  We see the uptight, cautious, not-quite-out Cai (left) and cool, confident, gay-and-proud Gavreel (right) interacting through online games, Facebook pages, Instant messages, text messages, and Zoom rooms (or their fictional equivalents).

I find a bit disconcerting to watch someone else's computer screen on my computer screen, but I imagine that the target audience of teenagers will not mind a bit.

Various family members and friends chime in, notably, Terence, Gavreel's ex-boyfriend, who tries to drive a wedge between them, and Cai's Dad,  who dies of COVD before Cai has a chance to come out.

All in virtual forums, of course.

Cai and Gavreel finally meet in person in Episode 10 -- six feet apart, wearing social distancing masks.  Then they take the masks off, kiss, have pizza, and spend the night together.  

The remaining episodes involve challenges to their relationship and,, oddly, Terence's descent into the Dark Side of the internet.  

All in virtual forums, of course.

Gameboys has been winning awards around the world: Indie Shorts Awards (Buenos Aires), Amsterdam World Film Festival, Asian Gigster Awards, First Annual Pinoy BL Awards, Starmometer Asian Awards, Central BL Awards (Brazil).  Third Annual BL Series Awards.

Who knew that there were enough BL series to warrant all that attention?

Naturally, there wil be a second season, plus a spin-off starring Cai's friend Pearl Next Door. 

Jan 13, 2021

Shawn Stevens: The Teen Idol that Failed

In the 1970s, Shawn Stevens had the soft, cuddly, puppy-dog cute, aggressively feminine presence that pushed Shawn Cassidy, Leif Garrett,  Scott Baio, and many others into teen idol heaven.  Why did he not make it to the heights of fame, with millions of middle schoolers kissing his poster and writing "Shawn Stevens" surrounded by little hearts in their chemistry notebooks?

It could be that the field was a little over crowded, with a dozen soft, cuddly, puppy-dog cute, aggressively feminine teens and post-teens strutting their stuff. You can only fantasize about kissing so many boys in a single week.

It could be that he lacked the talent, or the connections.

But I suspect that it was his strong religious beliefs, which kept him from moving to the next level: taking off his shirt, shoving lead pipes down his pants, shifting from dreamy to sexy as his target audience grew up.

According to his very detailed biography on IMDB, Shawn was born in Morristown, New Jersey into a fundamentalist Church of Christ family (his great-grandfather was a prominent Church of Christ minister who founded several Christian summer camps for inner-city youth).  His parents were also besties with fundamentalist ex-teen idol Pat Boone.

His family moved to California when he was 13, and he became deeply involved with musical theater, starring in youth productions and singing with the upbeat group The Young Americans.

When he was 19, a small role filmed in Utah led him to a lifelong devotion to the Latter-Day Saints (aka the Mormons).

Then he got his big break: the shortlived tv drama The MacKenzies of Paradise Cove (1978), about five orphans who adopt a grizzly fisherman (think Punky Brewster times five), shot Shawn into stardom.

Suddenly Shawn was in the spotlight:

He became the National Spokesman for the March of Dimes.

He hosted the Miss Teen America contest.

The mayor of his home town proclaimed "Shawn Stevens Day."

He got Tiger Beat fave rave articles.

He got a record contract.  No actual records, but he did get to perform "New York State of Mind" on an episode of Fame, and he became buddy-buddy with androgynous superstar Leif Garrett.

1981 was a banner year: guest spots on Too Close for Comfort, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Facts of Life, and Captain Kangaroo, a recurring role on a soap opera, the teenage son on Savage Harvest (about a family attacked by lions while on safari in Africa).

And then it fizzled out.  During the next few years, a smattering of guest spots, another soap opera gig, and after 1985, nothing.  Shawn began working on promotional videos for the LDS.  According to Deseret News, they resulted in 600,000 conversions, which is probably a lot more than he would have drawn to the church as a guest star on Sheriff Lobo.

Still, one wonders, did Shawn deliberately end his Hollywood career for the higher calling of Mormon proselytization, or was it unavoidable, as time and again he said "I'll do anything for my art, but I won't take my shirt off."

"Or show a basket."

Religious zeal comes with a price.

Shawn's imdb bio paints everything as joyous, bounteous, and God-directed, of course, but reading between the lines, you can see hints of failures and disappointments, and a flight into the arms of the Church.

The good news: after 30 years, Shawn is back on the big screen, mostly in Mormon or otherwise Christian productions:
The Cokeville Miracle (the aftermath of a hostage crisis with a miraculous resolution)
Sacred Vow (marital infidelity is forgiven)
Drop Off (a drunk gets redeemed)
Love Everlasting (two high school outcasts find love with each other and with the LDS)
In Emma's Footsteps (the wife of Joseph Smith carries on the Mormon work)

Plus three episodes of the post-Apocalyptic Day Zero.

So if you can handle the beaming certainty of religious zeal and an utter lack of gay characters or subtexts of any kind, you have a chance to see Shawn again.

I imagine he still refuses to take his shirt off, though.

Kafka's Boyfriend: 10 Surprising Gay Facts about Everybody's Favorite Writer

The one thing I learned from studying literature for ten years at Augustana College, Indiana University, and USC:
Writers must never, ever be gay.

If their gayness is undeniable, it is a trivial thing, not worth mentioning, as irrelevant to their art as their preference for marshmallow sundaes.

If it is deniable, it will be denied.  Diaries, journals, and stories will be scrutinized, ahd the most fleeting reference to a woman's beauty will be pointed out triumphantly: "See?  See?  See?  Not gay!"

And the strongest, most passionate, most intense same-sex friendships will be ignored.  "He never mentions that they had sex!  Not gay!"

Like Franz Kafka (1883-1924), author of The Metamorphosis, which everyone has to read in high school. 

Biographers and literary critics scream loudly and vociferously that he was "Not gay!"  Saul Friedlander discusses some same-sex desire in his new biography, The Poet of Shame and Guilt (2013), but insists that Kafka never acted on his icky impulses.

But Kafka has a substantial gay connection.

1. Gay symbolism in the stories.

The Metamorphosis: Your relatives are shocked to discover that you have turned into a disgusting, slithering monster (like when homophobes discover that you are gay).

The Trial: You are arrested by unspecified agents of an unspecified government agency for an unspecified crime (like homophobes putting you on trial for making a "choice" that you never made to do evil that isn't evil).

2. In a 1917 book, psychiatrist Wilhelm Steckel analyzes The Metamorphosis as an evocation of gay self-hatred. Kafka did not deny the theory, and even wrote to his friend Felix Weltsch to ask his opinion.

3. Kafka was thoroughly disgusted by the idea of sex with women.  He preferred to court them by letter, so they wouldn't need any physical contact.  He writes in his diary of a nightmare in which a woman gropes him and tries to tear his clothes off, while he is struggling desperately and screaming "Let me go!"

Sounds really heterosexual to me.

4. He was immersed in the Physical Culture movement of early 20th century Germany, which idolized the naked young male body and sang the praises of same-sex activity.

5. He tried to read The Role of Eroticism in Male Society (1917), an early gay history by Hans Bluher, but had to put it aside for a couple of days because it was too "exciting."

6. He had crushes on guys throughout his life. In 1914 he saw 24-year old writer  Franz Werfel (left) in a coffee house, and rhapsodized over "the beautiful profile of his face pressed against his chest."  Later he dreamed that he kissed Werfel.

7. At the age of 19, he modeled for a painting St. Sebastian, the Christian saint who was arrowed to death (top photo, not Kafka).  Throughout history, images of St. Sebastian have been renowned for their blatant homoeroticism. I've never heard of a model for St. Sebastian who wasn't gay (Yukio Mishima also posed).

8. In 1902, while a student at Charles University, Kafka sat in on a lecture by Max Brod (left, the one with the chest hair).  Afterwards Brod took him home and...whatever happened, their relationship was the deepest, most intimate in Kafka's life.  After his death, Brod was named executor of Kafka's estate, and supervised the publication of his stories.

9. Kafka was also a close friend of philosopher Felix Weltsch (1884-1964), who wrote about anti-Semitism in a way that presages current views about homophobia.

10. He lived in Prague, a city which now has more public penises per square mile than any other city in the world (except maybe Thimpu, Bhutan).

Jan 11, 2021

"Bill and Ted Face the Music": Most Excellent Inclusivity


Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
(1989) starred Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as a couple of most excellent valley dude teenagers who travel through time, tracking down historical figures for their history report.  I recall some homophobic slurs, which was de rigueur in the 1980s; but there was also significant buddy-bonding between Bill and Ted, in spite of the Medieval princesses they rescue, and between Billy the Kid and Socrates.  

Plus Alex Winter had a bitchin' bod.

I didn't see the sequel, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (1991), but apparently the duo go to heaven and hell and start a band with a Swedish Ingmar Bergman-style Death.

Re-releases of the films come with a content warning, endorsed by the stars: "This movie reflects historical attitudes which audiences might find outdated or offensive."  According to Alex Winter, it refers only to the homophobic slurs; "other than that, the movies are extremely wholesome."

Now maybe they could include disclamers in The Breakfast Club, Lucas, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, American Werewolf in London, Revenge of the Nerds, Pretty in Pink, Animal House...

Someone on twitter asked Alex Winter about Bill being a trans icon. He responded by posting a Black Trans Pride Flag.  I'm not sure why Bill is a trans icon.

Everything old is new again.  The duo are back in Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020), with wives and young-adult daughters (Billy and Theadora), but still heterosexual life partners, so closely aligned that neither can say "I love you" to his wife; it has to be "we love you."

For that matter, they never actuallly state that they are heterosexual.  Maybe it's a polyamorous bisexual four-way coupling.

The daughters have some masculine traits because they are imitating their fathers, and Billie is played by a non-binary actor, Brigette Lundy-Paine.  They state that the daughters have an "innocent genderlessness," with atypical costume choices and no gender expectations. As well as no romantic interests.  They could easily be read as gay or asexual.


Aside from a subsidiary "our wives left us, and we have to prove ourselves worthy to win them back" goal, Bill and Ted don't display any heterosexual interest, either.  

The plot: In order to save life, the universe, and everything, Bill and Ted must play a song that will "bring everyone together" that night.  The problem is, they haven't written it yet, so they travel through time looking for future versions of themselves who have written the song.  The bad guys send a robot (Anthony Carrigan) to kill them, but he reforms and becomes an ally.

I don't know if he's actually this buffed or it's a photoshopped image; he never appears without his robot suit.

Meanwhile the daughters help by going through time and recruiting the greatest musicians who ever lived to play the song:

1. Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still)

2. Louie Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft), who may overdo the imitation a bit.

3. Mozart (Daniel Dorr)

4. Ling Lun (Sharon Gee), who brought music to ancient China by inventing the flute.

5. The prehistoric drummer Gromi (Patty Ann Miller)

Plus record executive Kid Cudi (playing himself) and Death (William Sadler).

The greatest musicians in history represent a variety of musical styles, two fo the five are women, and four out of five are people of color. A nice course correction  In the original Bill and Ted, all of the historical figures were men, and four of the five were white.  

Also, in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, the duo have sons.  They turn into daughters here to add some girl power to what was a decidedly fratboy franchise.

Of course the song brings everyone together and saves the universe.  The closing credits display people of various ages, races, and musical tastes playing music. 

A dumb, goofy, feel-good movie with almost painstaking inclusivity.  Just the thing we needed to see in the summer of 2020.

My grade: B+

See also: I was Betrayed by Keanu Reeves; Will and Scott Have a Wild Night with Keanu Reeves

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