Feb 6, 2021

"Ok, K.O.": Six Gay Characters in Search of a Subtext

OK KO, Let's Be Heroes!
is a Cartoon Network series (2017-2019) set in a future world where there are many superheroes.  K.O. is a young boy who hangs out at Lakewood Plaza where his mother works, interacting with other employees and honing his superhero powers.  Sounds like a lot of noisy battles.  But apparently six characters end up in same-sex relationships:

Enid, a teenager training to be a ninja, and Red Action, a cyborg teenager from the future (even farther in the future).

Main villain Lord Boxman, a corporate bigwig obsessed with destroying Lakewood Plaza  and  the even more evil Professor Venomous

Minor characters Joff Army and Nick The Shaolin Monk, who get married in the last episode.

I watched Volume 2, Episode 1, "We're Captured."

Lord Boxman has K.O, Enid, and Rad suspended over molten lava (Rad is a muscular surfer dude from Planet X; the top photo may be fan art, not canon).

As Boxman tries to explain his complicated evil plan, he keeps getting distracted by the dinner he is preparing.

Professor Venomous arrives, accompanied by his little girl sidekick; Lord Boxman is all flustered and nervous.  

Apparently the dinner is to butter up Venomous, an important client of his robot factory.  Boxman can't let Venomous know about the captured heroes, so he keeps trying to distract him and rushing back and forth.

"Double booking is so unprofessional," Rad complains, "As if we're not important enough to get tortured."

During dinner, Venomous is aloof and critical, Boxman nervous.  Is he worried about keeping Venomous as a client, or is he interested in romance?  Is this a business dinner or a date? 

The trio escapes from the lava and gets even with Boxman by pretending to be chefs.  They sabotage  the dinner with slapstick routines, including sneezing pepper and pies in the face.  

At first Boxman tries to convince them to leave; then he fights back with a pie-bazooka (buffed physique whle he is fighting; then he goes back to being fat).

Venomous seems to be staring at Boxman's muscles.  Or maybe he's just interested in the fight. He says: "Dinner parties are so stuffy, but vanquishing heroes -- that's much more exciting."

He tweaks the pie bazooka to make it more powerful, and propels the heroes through the window.  Then he confesses that he was planning to sever business relations, but now that he realizes that Boxman is into villainy, he'll double his robot order.

Boxman's eyes tear up.  "You still want my robots?  You still want me?"  He rushes up and hugs Venomous, but the sidekick pushes him off.

Verdict: Ambiguous.  Every expression of same-sex desire can be explained as something else - Boxman's interest in keeping Veonomous as a client; Venomous's interest in villainy.  "You still want me" and the hug come close to overt, but if I didn't know that they were going to eventually spend the night together, then move in together, then get married,  I'd still say "gay subtext," not text. 

Feb 5, 2021

Kid Cosmic: Boy and Teenager Fight Aliens in the Worst Animation Since Adult Swim


Kid Cosmis ia a new Netflix animated series created by Craig McCraken, whose Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends and Chowder had plenty of gay subtexts. as well as an interesting animation style.  So I started the first episode with high hopes.  

First impression: The animation style is awful, incomplete, like a storyboard, with an unappealing brown color scheme. 

Scene 1: In a reddish-brown universe, an alien in a truck driver hat is being attacked by a squadron of battleships.  He grabs some magic stones and goes through a wormhole, evil bug guy in hot pursuit.  The flying saucer crash-lands on a barren, desolate desert on Earth, where the magic stones are scarttered onto the ground.

Scene 2: Establishing shot of a run-down farmhouse in the desert, front yard overloaded with a hoarder's paradise of rusty junk.  A run-down trailer packed with action figures, comic books, an old-fashioned tv, and a record player.  This must be the 1950s.  Hey, McCracken, didn't they teach you to fill in the shapes in art school?  

Kid Cosmic, a preteen boy dressed as a superhero, jumps out of bed and opens a safe containing the magic stones, now set into rings.  He puts one one and heads out into the yard, fighting pretend aliens, saying goodby to aging hippie Grandpa Gi, and riding his bicycle out onto the road.

Barely missing a toddler who looks like a boy but is named Rosa, standing in the road yelling "I'm a monster! Let's play!"

Scene 3
At Mo's Oasis Cafe, Jo the Waitress is looking at shots of exotic foreign locales on an old-fashioned viewmaster.  Her boss, who looks like a man but is wearing earrings and pink cowboy boots, tells her to get back to work. 

Suddenly Kid Cosmic bursts in with a big announcement: "I've stumbled onto a crashed spaceship, and found the Rings of Power!"

Hey, Jo has a cell phone!  It's not the 1950s. They just haven't bought any stuff since 1956.

Boss hates his disruption, but Jo likes him.  A little excitement in her dreary world. 

Scene 4: Kid Cosmic trying out the rings to see if they give him superpowers.

Scene 5: Jo cleaning up and complaining. Suddenly Kid Cosmic shows up, flying!  The rings are real!  

He invites her back to his trailer.  Close up of a newspaper article about the death of his parents, implying that the trauma has made him retreat into a fantasy world.  But  this is no fantasy.  He can actually fly.  I'm confused. 

Scene 6: Jo wants to play, too, so they go out into the desert to test the other rings.  Jo finds one that opens teleportation portals. 

They argue about whether to go to the big city to fight crime or stay in the squalid desert (um..aren't you both minors?  You can't just leave.)

Suddenly the bug alien from Scene 1 attacks. They manage to incapacitate him by teleporting him halfway through the trailer floor.  He tries several languages before hitting on English: "Give me the Stones of Power, or die!"  

Scene 7: Next a giant alien dog attacks.  Bug Alien -- now named Stuck Chuck --  explains that it's not his pet, it's yet another alien searching for the Stones. And there are lots more coming.  Apparently the Stones aren't part of everyone's toolkit; they are unique in the universe

Kid Cosmic still won't give up the Stones (they don't belong to you, boy).  Instead, he's going to form a superhero team to fight the coming alien menace (and keep the stones he stole).

Jo is opposed to the idea; let the military handle it.  But Kid wins her over by being vulnerable ("I need a chance to prove that I'm not just the weird kid down the road.")

I fast-forward through several more episodes.  Apparently you can't switch rings: they respond only to your DNA or something, so Kid Cosmic can only use the flying ring, and Jo only the teleportation ring.  The rest of the team consissts of: Rosa, the toddler fom the street, whose ring turns her into a giant; Grandpa Gi, who can create multiple versions of himself; and Tuna Sandwich, a cat who can see the future.  Stuck Chuck will remain stuck in the floor, reading comic books and making sarcastic remarks. The other regulars will include Jo's mother/boss and some truck drivers at the diner, one of whom is not what he seems.

Stuck Chuck is a fun character. 

There are hints of character development.  

With the team of vastly different ages, there's no chance of hetero-romance, and in fact no one expresses heterosexual interest except for two of the truck drivers at the diner (a m/f couple).  

Gender fluidity is common.  Several characters have an androgynous appearance.  Kid Comsic asks Stuck Chuck for his pronouns.

Cons: Very constrained setting and characters, just Grandpa Gi's junkyard and the diner.  Don't Cosmic Kid and Jo go to school?  Don't they have other friends?  

With the limited number of characters, same-sex buddy-bondng is impossible.

The horrible animation makes my head hurt.

See also: Kid Cosmic, Season 2; Kid Cosmic, Season 3.

Feb 2, 2021

Let's Get Physical

I heard Olivia Newton-John a lot during the 1970s. Her easy-listening, feelings-drenched songs appealed mostly to girls. "If Not for You" (1971) and  "I Honestly Love You" (1974) didn't specify pronouns, and  "Have You Never Been Mellow?" (1974) wasn't about romance at all, but I still wasn't a fan.

But after the success of Grease (1977), Olivia's music became as sexually liberated as her character.  Her next big hits included: "Totally Hot" (1979), "Physical" (1981), "Make a Move on Me" (1981), and "Heart Attack" (1982). Again, no pronouns, and this time desire was added to the cuddliness.

 One of ten or twelve songs with gay subtexts from the early 1980s, "Physical" (1981), has about the same theme as "You're The One that I Want," and for that matter, "Show Me" from My Fair Lady (1964): we've done the dinner and movie thing, we've talked about our feelings.  I've got nothing left to say except "Let's get horizontal."

The music video responds directly to gay fans.  Olivia plays a personal trainer whipping men into shape, leering at various disembodied, muscular pecs and arms, and semi-nude men in jockstraps.

She gives extra attention to an out-of-shape specimen, until he gets stronger, younger, and more handsome.  And seems to change his race.  But to her consternation, he goes off with a man, one of the first explicit evocations of same-sex desire in popular music.

Kenny recreated the iconic song on a 2017 episode of The Real O'Neals.

"Make a Move on Me" (1981) makes a similar plea to stop talking: "Spare me your charms and take me in your arms."  (You couldn't carry on a conversation anyway, with disco music blasting).

Not that the romance was absent.  The movie Xanadu (1980) was about the Greek goddess of. . .um, roller disco. . .helping a nebbish  (Michael Beck, left) open a nightclub.

But the song "Xanadu" is about leaving the straight world behind, running away to West Hollywood.

 A place where nobody dared to go
The love that we came to know
They call it Xanadu

See also: Madonna, Gay Diva of the 1980s

Jan 31, 2021

The "Saved by the Bell" Reboot: Racial DIversity, Queer Diversity, and Structural Oppression


Saved by the Bell (1989-93), about wealthy slacker students at Bayside High, was a big hit among kids and teens. Not so much in West Hollywood.  Granted, teen operator Zack (Mark-Paul Goesselaer) and surly jock Slater (Mario Lopez) were attractive, but the show aired at 11:00 am on Saturday morning, when we were usually busy with housework or having brunch with last night's date.  Besides, there were problems:

1. Zack and Slater were obsessed with girls! girls! girls!

2. No racial diversity.  Lisa was black (mentioned in one episode), and Slater was Hispanic (never mentioned at all).

3. Everyone was annoyingly affluent, even the "poor" Slater.

4. Stupid plot complications, especially those involving goofball Screech.

Fast-forward 27 years.  The culture has changed: gay characters are no longer forbidden on teen or children's tv.  So when a Saved by the Bell reboot appeared, I decided to check it out for beefcake, buddy-bonding, and modenization.

Scene 1:
A campaign ad from  the still extremely hunky Zack Morris from the old show now the smug, entittled, corrupt Govenor of California.  He goes surfing, goggles girls in bikinis, .discusses his "smokn' hot wife."  He brags that he cut  $10 billion from education, gave btax cuts to the wealthy, and bailed out the fossil fuel industry.  Geez, what a smug, entitled, corrupt jerk!

Cut to a black or Hispanic mother and daughter watching his campaign ad and complaining that he's a smug, entitled, corrupt jerk. What a relief! I thought we were supposed to like Governor Zack.  This episode was filmed during the Trump era, when corrupt officials got White House approval.

Scene 2: Zack's hunky but smug and arrogant son, Mac Morris (Mitchell Hoog, left), is now a student at the elte, well moneyed, and overwhelmingly white Bayside High (what, you thought that segregation ended with Brown v. Board of Education?).  He flirts with girls, talks to the goofball Jamie (Belmont Cameli, below), and solves a cheerleader's ridiculous problem. Ok, we have a Zack and a Screech.  Where's the Slater?  

Scene 3: Establishing shot of Dougla High: poor, mostly black and Hispanic, and falling apart.    School assembly: Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), the girl from Scene 1, is running for class president, vowing to make some changes.  Suddenly the school is shut down.  

Scene 3:
Press comference.  Governor Zack fields questions about his "disastrous education cuts."  Where are the students in the schools that have closed supposed to go?  He gets roped into sending them to well-funded districts.  The Douglas High students will be bussed to Bayside High!

Scene 4: Parents of Douglas High students complaining: an hour long bus ride every day?  "Yes, but the buses will be equipped with a modest selection of discarded magazines."   And will the Baysiders welcome them?  

Meanwhile, Bayside High parents are complaining about the Douglas High kids: they're bl...hoodlums! Our kids won't be safe!

Incidentally, the school counselor is Jessie from the original series.  She's also written "a dozen bestsellers."  So why is she still a counselor?

Out in the hallway, Jessie encounters  Slater (Mario Lopez) from the original series (he never ages!), now the football coach and inexplicably impoverished ("the hot dog I was microwaving for dinner exploded).  He flirts with her, she thinks he's a jerk. 

Scene 5:  Daisy and her mother arrive at Bayside High. Sorry, it's her friend Aisha (Alycia Pascal-Pena).  She just looks old enough to be Daisy's mother.

They are overwhelmed by the parking lot full of bright, expensive cars, the gigantic glass-and-steel foyer. No graffiti.  Was that a lesbian couple that just walked by?  Aisha  gawks at 'the hottest man I have ever seen," Goofball Jamie. 

Everyone has a Bayside Buddy to help them adjust to the new school.  Aisha happens to get Goofball Jamie, and Daisy gets the Governor's Son Mac. 

Enter Mac, arguing oveer a parking space with entitled rich girl  Lexi.  Trans actress Josieh Totah.  I wonder if her character is trans, too.

Scene 6: Mac brings Daisy to the Max, the hangout from the old series. She wonders how they can afford going to a restaurant every day.  He doesn't undestand.  Doesn't every teenager get an unlimited allowance. 

The Bayside Buddies are all divided into black/Hispanic-white and boy-girl couples: Devante-Lexi, Aisha-Goofball Jamie, Mac-Daisyt.  

Yep, Lexi is trans.  She is the star of a reality show about her transition. "And the hot friends who support her," Mac adds.

Aisha mentions that she played football at her old school.  This will become important later.

Scene 7: 
Devante (Dexter Darden) complaining about how weird Bayside High is.  They got two beach volleyball teams and an artisanal bath salts club.  Slater the Football Coach approaches and asks him to try out (he must be a good athlete  because he's bl...muscular.).  Devante rejects him.

Meanwhile, Mac is explaining to New Girl Daisy that Bayside is paperless. You just download your textbooks onto your ipad.  "What if you don't have one of those things?" Daisy asks.  Gulp

To the locker room.  Daisy complains to Aisha that she can't take any honors classes because the Douglas High curriculum was sub-standard. "Our library was a Bible and a bunch of army pamphlets."  Aisha likes it: money for sports, teachers with Ph.D.s; the cafeteria is run by Wolfgang Puck.

Scene 8: Zack..um, I mean Mac sitting in the principal's chair.  He runs the school, like his Dad did in 1990.  He has a solution to his dispute  over the parking space: hy doesn't the principal give Mac his space?

Meanwhile Daisy-- wants to run for student council president, but the postrs have to be up by tomorrow (wait -- isn't it the first day of class?).

Meanwhile Football Coach Slater talks to Jessie the Counselor about his failed attempt to seduce...um, I mean bond with Devante. (Slater, aren't there hundreds of bl,...muscular kids?  Why not choose another?).

Scene 9:  Daisy 
goes to the library to pick up her little brother and make copies of her photo for the student council campaign poster, but the copying machine is broken.  So she rushes to a copy store (yes, they still have those) and makes her copies, but she doesn't have enough money to pay. 

 She makes an impassioned speech (and pretends to be a single mom) and Dean (Darryl Stephnes, right) lets her have them for free. A named character, but he only appears in two episodes.

Scene 10: Daisy rushes into the school with her hand-made construction-paper posters, only to be overwhelmed by the elegant, professionally-produced posters ("Don't you have a poster guy?") of -- guess who?  Yep, Mac and Lexi.  They don't want to improve the school, they are just running because the president gets their own parking space.

Daisy rushes off in anger.  Mac and Lexi follow to ask what's wrong: "I always thought that if you worked hard, you can accomplish anything.   Then I came here, and learned about structural inequalities and white privilege."  Ok, she doesn't say those exact words, but that's the idea.

Mac and Lexi miss everything she said except that the president goes to a leadership conference in Washington, DC during spring break.  They want to spend spring break partying, so they sabotage their campaigns: "I will make sure that teachers give Fs for no reason."   Daisy wins the election.

Scene 11: Slater approaches Devante again.  Dude, your interest in this kid is staring to look creepy.  He explains that he needs a win -- the football team hasn't beaten Valley High in 15 years.  So you assume that the black guy must be a good player?   Devante says that would be a classic white savior stunt, except that Slater is Mexican.

I yelled "Hallelujah" and almost woke up Bob.  The original series was overtly racist, assuming that no one would watch a show with an openly Hispanic character.   

"Thank you!" Slater exclaims.  "Nobody ever talks about it!"

Slater advises Devante that if he finds something he loves, he should do it, and don't worry about what other people think.  Devante approaches the sign-up boards (wait -- don't they sign up for things on the Bayside App?).

Scene 12:  Football tryouts.  A new student appears to try out -- not Devante, Aisha!  We're supposed to be surprised, but it was broadcast back in Scene 6.

Meanwhile, Daisy tells the principal that she can't be president because the election wasn't fair.   Principal explains that with structural inequalities and white privilege, it's never fair, but she won the election, and she'll be a good president.

Scene 13: Devante is trying out -- but not for football!  For the high school musical. He sings: "I believe that children are our future..." The whole song.  While Aisha plays football, and Daisy refuses to give up the presidential parking space, because she's the president. The end.

Beefcake: Lots of cute guys, but nobody takes off anything.

LGBTQ Characters:  Lexi.  I like the fact that the trans character does other things besides teaching tolerance (really, who still needs to figure out that trans girls are girls?).  None of the teens express any heterosexual interest except Aisha and Mac.  I understand that in a future episode, Jamie states that he was in love with Mac at some point in the past, so he's probably bi.  Or else everyone is post-gay "hot is hot, who cares about gender?"

My Grade:  This show is obviously aimed at the now-adult fans of the earlier series: lots of throwbacks, "where are they now," and "wow, things have changed!" references.  Contemporary juveniles are likely to think "Black and Hispanic kids suffer from institutional discrimination?  Girls can play football?  Boys can sing?  Transgender people exist?  Big deal, I've known about all that since kindergarten."  

If you saw the original series, A.  If you were born after 1993, B.

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