Aug 6, 2021

"Chip n Dale: Park Life": Is the Gay Subtext Embraced or Erased?

 Chip and Dale were an iconic gay-subtext couple who appeared in 24 Disney cartoons (1943-56).  They mostly spoke in chipmunk-gibberish, with maybe a word or two of English per cartoon, which was appropriate for the simple, simple, slapstick-prone plotlines: generally they bedeviled Donald Duck (and occasionally Mickey Mouse or Pluto) in their attempts to get food or protect their tree-home.   They were not often  differentiated, but sometimes they were divided into intellectual/sensible Chip (with a black nose) and foolhardy/dopey Dale (with a red nose). 

Comedy partners were often displayed living together and sleeping in the same bed in those days, so doubtless no one noticed the gay subtext apparent in the domesticity and permanence.  The two even compete over a girl named Clarice in the 1952 short "Two Chips and a Miss."

In the comic books that appeared under the Dell and Gold Key imprints during the 1950s and 1960s, the two were more obviously a couple.  Their hole-in-a-tree is drawn as a modern home, with chipmunk-sized furniture, even a television set.  They speak,  Chip in grammatically correct, complex sentences, Dale in baby-talk. 

This allows for more complex plots than "trying to find nuts."  They embark on Western, secret-agent, and science-fiction adventures. Here they are interacting with Gilbert, Goofy's genius nephew.

This time someone noticed, or maybe it was just part of the 1980s rush to heterosexualize everyone, but the tv series Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers (1989-1990)  adds a girl-chipmunk named Gadget to the team for them to crush on and compete over. (They also get Magnum P.I. and Indiana Jones outfits befitting their new roles as adventure heroes).

In July 2021, the Disney Channel began airing a French-American co-production, Chip n Dale: Park Life (Les aventures au parc de Tic et Tac).  No way will major Disney characters ever be a canonical gay couple, but maybe the writers would embrace the gay subtext.  Or maybe they would erase it altogether.  I watched the two episodes that have appeared to date (six cartoons):

The boys have reverted to nonverbal chatterers, although they have voice artists listed, Kaycie Chase and Matthew Géczy, and they can communicate with other animals.  They live in a bare hole in a tree in a walled city park.  The only "humans" who have appeared to date are a pack of babies, but Donald Duck and the Beagle Boys are in the character lists of future episodes.

The gay subtext clues, in the order that they aired:

1. When Chip rides a baby like a horse, looking masculine and "tall in the saddle," Dale swoons with romantic ecstasy.  

2. Their romantic affection, riding in a boat together, licking the same acorn (like an ice cream cone), and hugging, makes three male-female animal pairs (frogs, dogs, and rabbits) say "aww."   When they break up, everyone is heartbroken; when they reconcile, everyone cheers.  Here they are portrayed as the exact equivalent of male-female couples.

3. They don't actually kiss, but they press noses.

4.  They don't compete for the affection of any lady chipmunks (although I see the name "Clarice" in a future episode).

5. They have a romantic candlelit dinner.

6. When everyone thinks that Chip has murdered their god, a giant peacock, he is banished from the park.  Dale goes with him.   

7.  They sleep in the same bed.

8. When Chip becomes possessed by a magical, glowing acorn, Dale sacrifices himself to save him.  

My verdict: The gay subtext is about as obvious as it can get, and maintain deniability.  If anyone inquires, the producers can still say  "We had no intention of portraying Chip n Dale as gay."

Aug 4, 2021

"Newly Rich, Newly Poor": A Gay Tease Turns Out to be the Grinch

 The intro to the Colombian telenovela Newly Rich, Newly Poor: a nurse mixes up babies at the hospital; rich guy in a bathrobe ignores his frustrated girlfriend (so far, so good); he dumps a pile of file folders on the desk of his overworked secretary; who goes home to her auto-mechanic husband; who yells at his coworkers at the auto shop.  It goes on like that for another 10 scenes; wait -- in one of them, the rich guy hugs another guy?  A same-sex couple?  I'm in.

Scene 1: Many years before. Rico Bernardo, his wife Antonia, and their chauffeur are driving through the countryside, looking for a hospital: she's about to give birth.  Meanwhile, pobre Leonidas (Hugo Gomez) and his wife Esperanza are also...well, you know.  They arrive at a small-town health center simultaneously; boozing nurse Lucero assists with the births, then mixes up the babies.

Montage of the boys growing up, one rico, the other pobre.

Scene 2:
  Today. Rico Andres (Martin Karpan, left) wakes up in his palatial bedroom, works out, checks the stock market;  pobre Brayan wakes up on a rollaway bed in his parents' bedroom, worries about the rent being three months overdue, and showers (the water cuts off halfway through).  Some nice beefcake shots of both men.

Scene 3:
 Rico Andres points to what he wants on the breakfast buffet so the maids can fill his plate, then yells at them for preparing his eggs with yolks.  He reads a magazine with a cover story about him, then grabs his assistant or boyfriend Hugo (Herbert King, left) and leaves for the office.

 Meanwhile, pobre Brayan (Jhon Alex Toro, below) has a happy, loving breakfast with his family: his father, his brother, and two women whom he kisses on the lips and calls "sexy."  Mother, wife, sister, daughter?  Who knows?

Scene 4: Andres drives to work, being interviewed on the radio.  His company made a profit of 100,000,000 last year (American dollars, not Colombian pesos).  To what does he attribute his success?  "Hard work."  "But many people work hard." "Nonsense!  Poor people are just lazy or stupid.  Anyone can be rich if they want to be."  This is the Horatio Alger myth, ignoring the institutional inequalities that have a profound effect on your life chances.  Of course, Andres will find out about them soon enough. 

Brayan, his brother, and one of the women he kissed ride the bus to work -- they work for Andres! They listen to the radio interview.  "It's all nonsense," they say. "Hard work has nothing to do with it. The key to success is being born into a rich family!"

Scene 5: The nurse Lucero, in a dimly lit bedroom surrounded by crucifixes and rosaries.  Now that she is dying, she wants to tell the secret about the babies.  How could she know?  Did she make the switch on purpose?  And why tell them now?  The two families have been raising the boys as their own for about 30 years.  It's like being adopted.

Scene 6: 
While brother and the kissed woman rush to work at Andres' company,  Brayan is still on the bus.  He and his new seatmate comment on the sexiness of a woman on a poster, Fernanda Sanmiguel. Brayan prays that "someday that body will be mine."  I think he means he wants to own her, not have a body like hers.  

Whoops, turns out that Fernanda is Andres' girlfriend, but he's not interested in having sex with her, so she's having an affair with his cousin Mateo (Andres Toro) -- right in the office.  She has to hide under a desk when Andres comes in. She overhears that Andres is planning to propose at the party next week.  Fernanda is in her underwear throughout!  Yuck!

When Andres leaves, Fernanda and Mateo discuss their plan: she will marry him, then divorce him and get half of his fortune.  Then they will move to Aruba together.

Scene 7:   Down in the secretarial pool.  This is a very sexist company!   The kissed woman is passing out invitations to her own party, a Christmas Rumba.  One of the secretaries makes fun of Andres "the robot" just as he is walking by, and gets fired.  The kissed woman fumes.

Scene 8: Pobre Brayan finally makes it to his janitorial job -- late for the ninth time in ten days.  His boss fires him. "That's ok.  I'm destined for greater things." Foreshadowing.

Meanwhile, the kissed woman -- who finally gets a name, Rosmery or Rochi -- is praying to her patron saint that the abrasive, overbearing Andres doesn't select her as his new secretary.  But she speaks English, and she's taking a course in international finance, so she's the most qualified!  Gulp!  Andres selects her, and then wonders why she is so obviously disgusted, but she can't admit that she hates him, or she'll be fired.  He stares in hetero-horniness as she leaves; she must be Brayan's wife or girlfriend, so they will be competing to see who gets to "own" her after the switch.  

Wives and girlfriends as property: very retro sexism.  

Scene 9:  Pobre Brayan goes home to yell at his dad for losing money on another crazy get-rich scheme: selling thongs to men in Finland.  Why is that crazy? Sounds homoerotic.  

The landlady, who looks like a drag queen but is played by a woman (Rosemary Borhorquez), suggests that Brayan cover the back rent he owes by having sex with her.   He rejects her and goes to bed.

Scene 10: Andres' Mom calls.  She wants to know why he is still in the office in the middle of the night: he's working, of course.  "But tomorrow is Christmas.  Everyone takes the day off." "Not here, Mom.  No one gets off for Christmas at my company."  Is the Ghost of Christmas Past about to appear, Mr. Scrooge?

Scene 11: Morning.  Kissed-woman Rochi talks to the other kissed woman, Ingrid, who is her younger sister.  Finally, they clarify the relationship.  Now I just need to know if Rochi is Brayan's mother, wife, or sister, and I'll have the family figured out.

Rochi prays to her patron saint to let her marry Brayan, so she's his girlfriend.   Finally!  But Brayan living with Rochi's family, or is Rochi's sister living with them?  Plus the brother (Mauricio Velez) has the same last name as Ingrid.  So is he her husband or brother?  And if so...I'm completely lost.

Scene 12:  Andres' Mom is worried: "he's become so strict, so rigid, so passionless about the good things of life. He's nothing like my late husband, who loved the holidays."

Suddenly she gets a fax from Lucero, the nurse who delivered her son.  "I have a secret that I need to share with you before I die...."  The end.

What happens next:  They switch everything: houses, jobs, families, and girlfriends.  That makes no sense.  In this situation, Mom might decide to give Brayan some of his biological father's money, and maybe a sinecure job at the company, but Andres is the one trained in finance.  And the girlfriends?

The newly poor Andres struggles to survive, the newly rich Brayan struggles to "keep it real," everyone gets new relationships (Rachi starts dating Daniel Arenas, top photo).  And there are various other soap opera plotlines to fill in 190 episodes to date. 

Gay characters:  None.  Andres rejects his girlfriend because his heart is "three sizes too small."  He warms up.  

The same-sex couple in the intro: Newly rich Brayan goes into his new family's living room, kisses his mother, and then puts his arm around Hugo, his new assistant.  

Aug 3, 2021

"Raven's Home": Lesbian Couple, Gay Son, Both, or Neither?

 That's So Raven (2003-2007) was a Disney Channel sitcom about a teenage girl, Raven (played by Raven-Symoné), who gets into humorous scrapes, sometimes by using her mild psychic abilities.  As an adult, the actress stated that she does not identify as gay, but her relationships have all been same-sex, and now she is married to a woman.  

In 2017, 10 years after Raven ended, the Disney Channel premiered Raven's House: Raven, now divorced with two kids, shares an apartment in Chicago with Chelsea (her best friend on the old series), divorced with one kid.  

The entire cast recorded a "Happy Pride Month" message.

So, have they come out as a lesbian couple?  

I've read through the plot synopses of every episode, and find neither of them getting a boyfriend, but no references to them being a same-sex couple, either.  In 2017, a writer on the lesbian blog Lipstick Alley thought that they were a gay-subtext couple, "testing the waters" to see how audiences would respond.  

Well, maybe there are other open gay characters?  Maybe Chelsea's son Levi, an aspiring thespian?

The plot synopses don't specify any romantic relationships for anyone except daughter Nia, who is heterosexual.

I watched the Season 4 Episode "Play of Our Lives": Raven's son Booker, who inherited her psychic powers, has a vision of Levi's first starring role.

Scene 1:
While the family sings and dances to make washing the dishes fun, Levi (13-year old Jason Maybaum) is in a dour mood: he's been cast as Mercutio in the school production of Romeo and Juliet, and his understudy, Griffin, keeps trying to undermine him.

So far so good. Mercutio can be played with a strong gay subtext.  

Introduction: The blended family dancing and getting psychic visions on an animated set.  It really should be updated.  The kids are now teenagers.  

Scene 2
: School.  Dimwitted hunk Ramon (Max Torina, left) and his girlfriend painting a set, when the stage manager, Raven's daughter Nia, rushes up to tell them they're doing it wrong.  Plus she's anxiety-ridden because Wyatt (Paul-Mikel Williams, below), the "arrogant" (that is, sexy) captain of the rival debate team, has transferred to their school, so she'll have to look at his infuriating, perfect face all the time.

Scene 3:  Levi practicing his lines while Griffin glares at him.  Booker, his blended-family brother (middle), approaches to help him practice.  They are both freaked out by Griffin's stare.

Scene 4: Raven knocks on the door of wacky downstairs neighbor Clark.  He invites her to perform stand-up comedy at the Neighborhood Watch Committee's open mic night. 

Scene 5: Levi and Booker practicing the sword fight between Tybalt and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, which ends with Mercutio's death.  Booker: "I don't know what you're so stressed about.  You die like a pro."  Levi: "Don't tell Mom I'm stressed.  She used to be an actress, and she is putting the pressure on me to live up to her legacy.  She'll be disappointed."

Suddenly he gets a vision of the director saying "After that performance, I'll have to rethink my casting decision,"  while Griffin grins evilly.  I assume that the visions depict a potential future, so it can be changed?

Scene 6: Booker in the hallway trying to decide whether to tell Levi's Mom, "Aunt Chelsea,"  about his vision.  What could she do to help?  When she arrives, he stutters and stammers and finally uses charades to tell her.  I don't understand this at all.  

Chelsea wants to coach Levi so he'll perform better, but Booker doesn't want him to know about the vision.  "Why don't you coach me, and then I'll coach him?"

Scene 7: 
Backstage: more drama with Nia and her enemy-crush Wyatt.  "What's he doing here?" "He's big and important, so he joined the stage crew."  Growl, growl: "I can't work with him!  He's too sexy...I mean, arrogant!"

Scene 8: Booker coaches Levi while his Mom mouths instructions from a hiding place. 

Scene 9:  Everyone watches a video of Raven's stand-up routine.  Mostly she makes fun of Booker and Nia.  They become upset. When she arrives, they insist: "No more jokes about us."

Scene 10:
Back stage during Act 1.  The director yells at Levi for performing badly: "What happened to the kid I cast?  Where's that raw talent?"   Booker tries to help: "You can do this.  You just have be emotionally available." He reveals that he told Levi's Mom about his nervousness, and Levi gets angry and runs away. (I still don't see why.)

Scene 11:  Levi runs through the auditorium -- everyone is sitting at little tables instead of in stadium seats.  There's only a few minutes of intermission left.  Aunt Chelsea and Booker search for him, while Raven stalls by performing her stand-up routine.  Some people are wearing pandemic masks.  Nice that they normalized it.

Scene 12: Chelsea and Booker find Levi hiding among the costumes.  Levi: "I can't live up to your legacy.  I'm no good."  Chelsea: "I'm proud of you, no matter what."  

Thus reassured, Levi and Booker go onto the stage (behind the curtain) and dance.

Meanwhile, Nia and her frenemy Wyatt are so distracted by their fighting-flirting that they open the curtain prematurely, so everyone sees the boys dancing.  They immediately rush into the sword fight scene (hey, what about the actor cast as Tybalt?).  They perform beautifully.  The curtain drops.  

Scene 13:  More about Nia and Wyatt.

Scene 14: Backstage, Booker and Levi are whooping and hugging, when the director comes in: "After that performance, I'll have to rethink my casting decision."  Say what?  Levi was great!  "You skipped several lines and died an act too early, but you showed raw talent!  Perform like that, and I'm casting you as the lead in our next play." Ok, I see: the visions always come true, but not the way you expect them to.

Scene 15: Dinnertime sharing and joking.

Beefcake: Some high school hunks.

Heterosexual Characters:  Nia-Wyatt and Ramon-his girlfriend.

Gay Characters:  Levi is rather feminine.  He never states that he wants to be an actor in order to meet girls.  He's cast as Mercutio, not Romeo.  And Mom's "I'm proud of you, no matter what" sounds very much like a "if you are gay" reference. But he's only into drama in that one episode, and I find no evidence that the character is canonically gay.

I went through three other episodes on fast-forward.  Neither of the boys expresses any heterosexual interest.  

What about Raven and Chelsea: They barely interact, and then only through their kids. Maybe they have scenes together in other episodes.

My Verdict: Subtext only, therefore fragile and easily denied. 

Aug 2, 2021

The Top 11 Heterosexual Hunks of "Superman & Lois"

 When I saw that the tv series Superman and Lois had dropped on Vudu, naturally I assumed that it was the old series with Dean Cain.  But that was Lois and Clark:
The New Adventures of Superman
(1993-97).  Granted, there are only a finite number of titles that will tell you what the series is about, but is it really smart to go with something so similar? Unless you assume that your intended audience was born after 1997 and has never heard of Dean Cain.

This is a Hallmark Channel Man of Steel, with small-town "people care about each other here" and "family is everything!" interspliced with saving the world.  

I just needed to watch half of an episode to get turned off by the heteronormativity.  But at least there are plenty of hunks around: 

1. A middle-aged heterosexual Clark Kent (Tyler Hoechlin) moves back to his hometown of Smallville along with his wife Lois Lane (who goes to work for the ultra-retro Smallville Gazette) and teenage sons:

2. The athletic, heterosexual Jonathan (19-year old Jordan Elsass), who inherited his father's physique.  

3. The neurodivergent, androgynous, heterosexual Jordan, who inherited his father's superpowers, proving that you don't need to be buffed to fly.

4. They reunite with Clark's old girlfriend, Lana Lang (he is only into girls with L.L. initials).  Lana is now married to the alcoholic, abusive, superhero-hating, heterosexual Kyle (Erik Valdez).  They have a teenage daughter, Sophie, who starts dating Jordan, to the consternation of both feuding paterfamilias.

5. Also to the consternation of Sean Smith (Fritzy Klevans-Destine), the obnoxious, abusive, superhero-hating, heterosexual jock dating Sophie before she dropped him for Jordan.  She was looking for a man like Daddy, but decided on a man who could fly.

You got an actor named Fritzy Klevans-Destine, and decided to name his character Sean Smith?  

6. But Smallville is not all jocks and superheroes whipping it out to see who is bigger.  Clark goes to work for Lana's father, General Lang (Dylan Walsh), a gung-ho heterosexual army guy who tracks down threats to national security so Clark can eradicate them. Truth, justice, and the American way.

7. First threat: A superhero-hating Mysterious Stranger, later revealed to be the evil, heterosexual John-Henry Irons (Wole Parks), who had a relationship with Lois Lane on a parallel Earth.

The actor is gay in real life.

8. Next: Subject 11 (Daniel Cudmore), a heterosexual human who acquires superpowers in a nefarious experiment and goes on a rampage.

9. And Lois has problems of her own, investigating the heterosexual CEO Morgan Edge (Adam Rayner), who turns out to be Superman's half-brother, an evil Kryptonian bent on destruction.

10. The boys have problems of their own, too.  Mos involve girls,but they do try to help heterosexual classmate Tag (Wern Lee) when he accidently develops superpowers that he can't control, and turns evil.

Apparently in Smallville, superpowers are as easy to catch as a cold.

11. But usually they are just dealing with hetero-romance and the endless supply of superhero-hating bullies at Smallville High, like heterosexual Timmy Ryan (Zane Clifford)

You may have noticed that this series is very retro: bullies everywhere, no people of color except for villains, and no gay characters even hinted at.  Writer Nadia Tucker states that she was fired for trying to introduce some storylines with positive black and Asian characters and women who were more than damsels in distress.

There are LGBTQ characters in other series in the DC universe, but they are set in big cities.  As we all know, small towns are gay-free.

Aug 1, 2021

Is Freddie Highmore's Character Gay in "The Vault"?


I always had the impression that Freddie Highmore was gay.  I don't know why -- I've never actually seen him in anything, and apparently he has only played a non-straight character once, on Bates Motel: after being presented as a horny straight teenager for five seasons, psycho-in-training Norman Bates hooks up with a guy.  He states that he has been hooking up with men a lot, but only when being controlled by his dead mother.  Because, you know, he's psychotic.  So there's no such thing as same-sex desire, just psychotic transgender people.  I can't even think of the words.

But I conducted the research after going through the bank-heist movie The Vault, to see if Freddie's character, boy-genius Thom, would be gay.    The trailer shows no boy-girl kiss, plus lingering stare between Thom and James (Sam Riley).

Of course, directors use lingering stares to represent both romantic attraction and threat.  So which is it?

There are two lingering stares.

1. Thom is introduced to the team.  James stares because he is overcome by growling, snarling hatred: "You expect me to work with this arrogant, impertinent, ignorant, impudent, self-righteous jerk?  It's all I can do to keep from bashing his face in."  Sounds bad, but movies and tv shows use "arrogant" as code for "sexy."  Maybe James is overreacting to his attraction.

2. James can't go in to do the engineering job, because he was in interpol, so face recognition systems will catch him.  They need an unknown.  Thom volunteers to do it.

James snarls.  "You impudent, arrogant, insufferable bitch!  You think you can just walk in and do a job that takes 20 years of training and immense talent?  There are only three or four people in the world besides me who can do it, and you think you're good enough?  Maybe tomorrow you can write a sonata for us, Mr. Mozart!  And the day after that, perform heart surgery!  You're not even qualified to shine my shoes.  It's all I can do to keep from bashing your face in!"

But to be fair, Sam Riley seems to have dropped out of acting school after the "displaying raw hatred" class.  He doesn't know how to express any other emotion; everyone else gets the same treatment.  He smiles briefly at minute 55, when Thom notes that he's having trouble with the assignment.

Thom and James  can't do the heist together, because of that face recognition thing (and because James would bash his face in the minute they were alone).  So it has to be Freddie and a girl.  They haven't had any scenes alone together, but he saves her from something or other, and they kiss.  Boo! 

 Is it physically impossible for screenwriters to avoid a boy-girl kiss? "Let's see, this movie is about a bank heist, so what should happen next?  Help, my keyboard is clicking on its own! It's putting in a boy-girl kiss!  But the two haven't expressed any romantic interest at all.  It makes no sense!  Stop, keyboard, stop!"

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