Oct 16, 2021

The Decline and Fall of "Dear White People"

 


Dear White People
 (2017) highlighted the microaggressions (and some macro-aggressions) faced by black students at a "liberal" Ivy-League college.  The title comes from a radio program run by undergrad Samantha White, in which she chastises white people for their often-unconscious objectifying behavior, like teachers asking one black student for "the black point of view."

In 2017, Dear White People spun off into a Netflix series, with the same characters and the same seriocomic tone.  As the seasons progressed, the tone became less seriocomic and more comic, then less comic than bizarre. The plot arc of Volume 2 involved a ridiculous Illuminati-type secret society.  Well, actually closer to the Stonecutters on The Simpsons: "Who keeps Atlantis off the maps?  Who keeps the Martians under wraps?  We do."  

And in Volume 4?  Three complicated plotlines, lots of who's-dating-who drama -- they think we're much more interested in these characters than we really are.  And people breaking into song at odd moments. 

The frame story is set about ten years in the future, when they've all become successful writers, filmmakers, and so on by selling out to the white power structure.  Lionel (DeRon Horton) has published a novel, Dear White People, based on... you guessed it.  He and Sam decide to work together on a sequel, about the events of their senior year, before they sold out.  They interview their friends, most of whom they haven't seen in ten years, and tease things like "Are you going to include that terrible thing that happened?" or "Surely you're not going to include that dramatic, life-changing event!"  Then we see what happened senior year:


Reggie (Marque Richardson, left) rejects a $100,000 app-development job because that would be selling out.  He develops his own "New Green Book," a sort of Yelp reviewing safe and unsafe places for black people, but rejects a $27 million development deal because that would be selling out.

You'd think that an actor playing a major character who takes his clothes off every second would have some beefcake photos online, but there's noting usable for Marque Richardson except for a tiny jfif.

Joelle gets involved in a ridiculous experiment to determine if praying for random strangers in a hospital helps them get better.  She discovers that the whole thing is fake, but continues anyway, thus selling out.


Gabe (John Patrick Amedori) has an uncle who is head of a movie studio, and offers him $30,000 to make a religious movie.  He refuses, then capitulates, which causes breakup-rebounds with his girlfriend Sam.

Troy (Brandon P. Bell, left) gets his famous actress-mother to direct the Varsity Show, but having her around causes him to be impotent in the bedroom. I'm not sure why.

Lionel and his boyfriend are in charge of the big annual Varsity Show, which is being held in a building named after a slave owner.  They break up over creative differences.

Sam gets a guest on her radio program who accuses her of selling out because she's not protesting the slave-owner-building adequately.  They get into a fight, and Sam's show is cancelled.

There's a queer song-and-dance in the Varsity Show -- lots of pansexual hijinks -- which the white power structure wants removed.  They remove it, thus selling out.

I don't remember anything else.  It's all very obtuse.  And annoying when in the frame story, they keep saying "Let's include this extremely important, dramatic, earth-shaking event in our book," and the event is a couple having a fight because one of them has sold out.

In the last episode, Reggie thwarts a gunman who plans a mass shooting at the Varsity Show, but it comes and goes instantly, and has no impact on the characters, so it's not at all dramatic.  

In the third plot arc, everyone in their senior year is obsessed with a Real World type reality series, Big House, with its challenges, collaborations, back-stabbing, and selling out for us to watch and keep track of.  But at least there's a competitor who doesn't own a shirt.


You'd think that a guy hired to hang around with his shirt off would have lots of beefcake photos online, but all I could find was a series of stock photos with watermarks.  Why does Thomas Kasp even have stock photos?  

In the final scene, during the frame story, the various couples have gotten back together after breaking up during senior year.  They sing about how tight they are, even though they haven't interacted at all during the last ten years.  The ridiculousness continues.  

At least there was some gay representation: not only Lionel and his boyfriend (whose name I don't recall) arguing over selling out, but a song about male sex workers and their clients.

My grade: Season 1: A.  Season 2: C.  Season 3: C.  Season 4. D-.

See also: The Top 10 Hunks of Dear White People, Season 3; Dear White People


Oct 15, 2021

"A Million Little Things": A Million Little Tearjerkers, One Gay Kid

 


"They say that friendship isn't a big thing -- it's a million little things."  I never heard that saying until it was used as the title of a tv series on Hulu about a group of elite, entitled, self-absorbed young adults "dealing with life's curveballs."  

So, is A Million Little Things a Friends clone: Your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's DOA?  Nope. The episode synopses reveal angst, pain, and trauma ad nauseam.  This is a tearjerker!

Let's see how many terrible things happen to the friends.





1. Jon (Ron Livingston)
 starts the chain of angst by killing himself in the first scene.  Trying to determine his motive fuels some of the plot. Well, there's some shady business deals, and a woman he had an affair with, who shows up with a teenage son in tow.

And his daughter, Sophie, is sexually abused by her music teacher.

 His widow, #2. Delilah, was having an affair, and got pregnant by: 

3. Eddie (David Giutoni, top), an aspiring musician, a recovering alcoholic, and cheating on #4: his wife Katherine, a lawyer.



Jon and Delilah's son Danny (Chance Hurstfield) is gay, and a drama club kid (of course).  For a change of pace, his biggest angst is worrying that his first kiss will be with a girl on stage (he's been cast as Danny in Grease) instead of with a boy.



#5. Rome
(Romany Malco, left), an aspiring filmmaker, is suffering from drug addiction.  He is dating Gina, who is suffering from financial woes. 

Rome's wife, #6 Regina, is traumatized by being sexually assaulted by her uncle Neill at age 12, so she tracks him down, but he dies before she can confront him. Her mother is also a victim.  



#7 Gary
(James Roday Rodriguez), a breast cancer survivor, is dating fellow cancer survivor #8 Maggie, whose cancer returns and gives her six months to live.  She dumps him because she doesn't want a boyfriend at her deathbed

Later, Gary starts dating Floriana, a soldier suffering from PTSD.






Maggie, by the way, has brother, Chad, who died in a car crash due to DUI.  Eric (Jason Ritter) shows up, claiming to have Chad's transplanted heart, but he actually has his sister's.  She died in the car crash, too.

Keeping track?  I counted 18 tearjerkers.  And I skipped over some of the boring "stalled music career" and "can't get a bank loan to open my ritzy restaurant" woes

Oct 14, 2021

"Deadbeat": Slackers See Dead People, Hate Gay People

 


The icon for the Hulu tv series Deadbeat shows two guys recreating the pottery scene from Ghost, but they looked shocked rather than romantic.  A bit of homophobic panic going on, or a gay subtext romance?

The plot synopsis: Kevin (Tyler Labine) is a slacker medium who makes a living helping ghosts finish their unfinished business so they can go into the light.  How do they pay him?






For instance, the ghost of a World War II soldier who died a virgin (Todd Alan Cram) wants to have sex with his long-lost girlfriend before going into the light.  Kevin has to track her down -- she's now pushing 100 -- and tell her "Hi, your boyfriend who died in 1943 wants to have sex with you.  He's possessing my body.  How about it?"

Or: a professional hot dog eater (that's a thing?) died before the big contest, and his . stomach was donated to an elderly Jewish guy (they do stomach transplants?).  Kevin tries to convince the elderly Jewish guy to participate in the hot dog eating contest, but he refuses because they're not kosher. (Why not just possess Kevin's body, like with the WW II sex episode?).

Kevin is heterosexual, dating the ghost of a girl who died in his apartment.  And  a keyword search in the extensive, barely-literate episode synopsis reveals just one gay character, who doesn't get a centric.  The ghost of the head of the Swedish Mafi (Darrell Hammond) has to have his "secret" revealed to his coworkers in order to go into the light.  But the episode is actually about a ghost who videotaped a murder before he died.


There's some homophobic panic, however.  Kevin hires a male stripper, Billy Club (Chris Matesevac), to perform for the ghosts of some ladies who died on the way to their bachelorette party.  But he misunderstands and dances for Kevin.  When Kevin tries to explain the situation, Billy Club runs away, so the ghosts insist that Kevin dance for them.

The other guy in the Ghost parody is Clyde (Kal Pen), a fellow medium who appears in Season 3.  Clyde and Kal become roommates and coworkers.  So let's check for gay subtexts.

In the first episode after they move in together, there's a ghost haunting their aparment: Clyde's middle school guidance counselor (Neal Huff). Clyde falsely accused him of "showing him his testicles,"  which caused him to be fired and labeled a sex offender.   To get revenge, the ghost tricks Clyde and Kevin into responding to a To Catch a Predator-type program.  

His name: Mr. Fage.  Pronounced "faggy."  Like the cigarette if you're in Britain, but these guys are in America, where it's like the homophobic slur.

 Clyde framed a gay guy named Mr. Faggy.  

Holy sh*t, that's the most homophobic thing I ever heard of.  And I've seen Chuck and Buck.

I'm out.


Oct 13, 2021

The 2021 Netflix "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" Reboot: Any LGBTQ Representation?


 


I have reviewed He-Man and the Masters of the Universe twice. first in July 2016.  Then again a couple of years later.   That's a lot of reviews for a program I never actually watched.  In case you don't want to read the reviews, it was a 1980s sword-and-sorcery cartoon/toy commercial featuring Prince Adam of Eternia, who raises his sword, yells "By the power of Grayskull," and turns into the superhero He-Man.  Yuck.  In spite of the obvious beefcake, yuck.

But recently I read an interview with the writers of new 2021 Netflix animated series, who are both queer, and note that in their childhood, He-Man was an essential gay icon.  Other than the beefcake, he had an "inner fabulousness" that he had to keep secret from the world.  Isn't that every witch, alien, vampire slayer, and superhero?  So, with the permission of the Mattel Company, they are trying to be "inclusive."  

We'll see. Episode 1:

Scene 1: Eternos, a futuristic planet, with flying cars and thin towers.  King Radnor is grumpy and depressed.  Meanwhile, Green Monster, his bumbling teenage apprentice Duncan (Antony Del Rio, top photo), and Snarling Lady Villain discuss Teela's mission to steal the Sword of Grayskull, which will give them infinite power. 

Teela sneaks past the guards and searchlights.  She hypnotized a soldier into giving her the key to the armory, grabs the sword, and runs out.  That was easy -- or not!  The royal guard squadron is on her tail!

Lady Villain sends a purple blast to annihilate them, but Teela objects: "They're just doing their job!"  She uses magic to protects them. 

"Whatever.  Now give us the sword!"

A mysterious voice hypnotizes her into not handing the sword over; instead, she must bring it "to the champion."  Um...a little more detail?  Who's the champion?


Scene 2:
Adam (Yuri Lowenthal), a dreamy teen idol type, is rescuing a sarcastic cat.  He botches the job, but his best friend Krass (a girl) rushes in to save the day and belittle him.  

They are out looking for the missing Cringer (David Kaye, a green tiger who talks like a Klingon: "To hunt will bring me honor".  He;s been captured and caged by poacher robots ("It is not honorable to capture a warrior!").  Wait -- tigers are sentient.  They talk.  They live in villages.  This isn't animal poaching, it's slavery!

Adam and Krass find his flying transport vehicle, disable the slaver bots, and spring him.  

On the way home, Cringer gives us some plot exposition: Adam has been adopted by the Tiger Tribe, but he's hesitant about giving up his metallic cuff for "stripes," tiger tattoos, because the cuff is all he has from his old life, before he was lost in the jungle. That cuff better be important later; they spend an Eternia of plot time discussing it.

Scene 3:  The hypnotizing voice has led Teela and her sword to the Tiger Tribe, but she's afraid of cats!  She's hiding in a tree! Adam points out that cats can climb trees.  They have a love-at-first-sight moment.  Then she uses magic, and the tigers freak out and throw her in tiger jail (which is human sized).

Meanwhile, the Evils are using Snarling Lady Villain's psychic powers to track down Teela.  Apprentice Duncan feels guilty over the crimes they're committing, but Green Monster -- Kronis --- explains that they're actually the good guys, out for revenge against the evil King Radnor. 

Scene 4:  Adam, visiting Teela in jail, complains that she wouldn't be interested in him because she's a sophisticated big-city witch, and he's just a jungle tiger.  But she doesn't like the big city, either, with King Rador being all tyrannical and oppressive.  They do some Sam-and-Diane insult/flirting.

Scene 5:   Kress, Adam's platonic bff, complains that now that there's a sophisticated big-city witch in the tribe, Adam is going to get all goofy and forget her. Ulp, this is the plot of every teen nerd movie: glamorous girl-of-his-dreams or plain-jane girl next door who supported him all along?

Teela explains that the hypnotizing voice ordered her to come to the Tiger Tribe and deliver a "package" to "the champion."  But what champion lives in the jungle with tigers?  Adam just happens to know the Champion Code: "being a champion means helping those who can't help themselves."  Then he says: "Excuse me -- I have to go help someone."  Got it figured out yet, Teela?  Obviously Adam is the boy King Arthur, about to find Excalibur.  No doubt he's King Radnor's long-lost son.

Scene 6:  The Evils appear with an army of reprogrammed robot slavers, and command "Give us the Witch."  She's a criminal, so why not hand her over? But the Tiger Tribe goes on the defensive.   If it's a tiger tribe, why are all the fighters humans?  

The Evils order Apprentice Duncan to have the slaver...um, I mean poacher bots kill everyone, but he refuses -- that would be, like, murder.  So Green Monster grabs the control device.  Fire spurts out of the poacher bots.  Duncan rushes over to the Tiger side, and coincidentally saves Cringer.  

Teela (who could have broken out of jail at any time) orders Adam to take "the package" far away and hide it, while she confronts the Evils.  He insists on fighting, too.


Scene 7: 
 The Evils and their bots approach Adam and Teela.  He opens the package; it conveniently contains a sword!  When he wields it, holographic runes appear: "By the power of Grayskull, I have the power."  A burst of light from the sky transforms him into a muscular adult (bare arms only).

Watching from a distance, Bff Krass gasps: "He's a...Man!"  You almost got to He-Man there, girl.

Meanwhile, in a secret castle, a new Evil Guy (black beard, glowing eyes) notices that the sword found its champion.  "The power of Greyskull belongs to me!" he yells.  Lightning flashes.  The end.


Beefcake:
  None.  Where's the mostly-naked He-Man of yesteryear?

Gay Characters: None specified.  

Heterosexism:  Adam will spend the series torn between Betty and Veronica...um, I mean Platonic BFF Krass and Sophisticated Big-City Witch Teela. Duncan had a moment of jaw-dropping "love at first sight" when he saw Krass, so he's heterosexual, too.  And that's all of the human good-guys.  

Representation: I don't see any LGBTQ+ representation.  So much for queer writers trying to be "inclusive."

Will I Keep Watching: I've fast-forwarded through a couple of episodes, to see if Duncan and Krass turn into a couple.  They don't appear to.  Duncan's most important buddy-bond seems to be with the tiger Cringer.

Oct 11, 2021

Charlie Brown, Linus, and Gay-Coded Peanuts

I didn't read  Charles Schulz's Peanuts in the newspaper; our Rock Island Argus offered only a cheap imitation called Winthrop. My knowledge of Peanuts came through Fawcett paperbacks acquired at garage sales during the 1970s and treasuries acquired at the Waldenbooks at the Mall during the 1980s.

Not a lot of gay content.

1. Only two significant same-sex friendships (Charlie Brown-Linus and Peppermint Patty-Marcie), and neither display the intensity, physicality, or exclusivity that might push them from friendship to romance. (Christopher Shea provided the original voice for Linus.)

 Marcie calling Peppermint Patty "Sir" does not signify lesbian identity.  Lesbians do not call each other "Sir."




Plus, every character, almost without exception, is involved in an unrequited heterosexual romance: Lucy is in love with Schroeder, Sally with Linus, Peppermint Patty and Marcie both with Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown with the Little Red-Haired Girl.  Linus and Snoopy never zero in on one crush, but they each get many girlfriends.

In one 1985 continuity, Charlie Brown merely has to say "Eleanor" for Linus to collapse, and "Fifi" for Snoopy to collapse in agony over their lost loves.

Heterosexual desire validated over and over again, same-sex desire absent.  It was a world where gay kids felt alien and unwanted.



But there was an exception.  Like Jughead in the Archie comics, Schroeder is not interested in girls.  He not only rejects Lucy's advances.  He not only lacks a heterosexual crush of his own.  He never expresses any interest in any girl, ever. 

Of course, Schroeder never expresses any interest in boys, either, but he had a passion for music, specifically classical music.  Mostly Beethoven, because Schulz thought the name sounded funny, but also Bach, Schubert, Brahms, Handel.  His artistic interest and ability is gender-transgressive in a world devoted to sports (continuities are devoted to baseball, tennis, golf, ice skating, and so on).  He alone resonated with gay kids as "one of us."  He alone saw the world in a way they could understand.




Oct 10, 2021

"Books of Blood": Not Much Clive Barker, A Lot of Beefcake

 


Any movie trailer that starts like this is bound to get my attention, even if the naked guy is caressed by a woman before collapsing amid threatening graffiti in his cell.  Besides, it's Books of Blood, based on the collection of stories by gay horrormeister Clive Barker.  Many of the stories had gay protagonists, so there are bound to be some gay characters in the movie, right? 

In the frame story, an elderly bookseller with a cavernous bookstore runs afoul of  mob enforcer  Bennett.  To save his life, he reveals that the extremely valuable Book of Blood is hidden in the abandoned town of Ravenmore.  So Bennett and his partner, Steve, set out to fetch it.  Maybe they're a gay couple?  While they're driving, we see some stories:


1. Jenna. 
A college student suffering from a mental disorder, Jenna stumbles upon a bed-and-breakfast run by a sinister heterosexual couple that paralyzes their guests and seals them in the walls.  

Contrary to expectations, she doesn't end up in the wall, but she does die, in a car crash, during an unrelated story about an guy blaming her for his son's death. 

Kenji Fitzgerald (left) plays fellow guest/ "love interest" Gavin.


2. Miles. 
 Psychic Simon (Rafi Gavron) and his girlfriend Mary are running a foundation that communicates with the dead (using Mary's money).   His technique involves getting naked and asking the ghosts to write messages on the walls in blood (that's what we see in the trailer)  Then Mary's dead son Miles appears to tell her that Simon is a grifter; it is all a fake.  So Mary and Ghost Miles get revenge.



The stories over, Bennett (Yul Vasquez, photo from several years ago) and Steve (Andy McQueen) finally reach the abandoned town of Ravensmore. Nope, not a gay couple: Bennett says that after this score, he and "Jeanne" are going to retire and live on the beachWas it really a good idea to give his wife almost the same name as Jenna in Story 1, so you think they're the same person?

Steve hears his dead mother calling him, so he shoots himself so they can be together.  Ok, the "in love with his mother" stereotype might code him as gay.  

Bennett presses on.  He meets Mary and Ghost Miles, and discovers that -- spoiler alert -- the book is actually stories told by ghosts, written on Simon's body.  And now Bennett's story will be there, too, after he's eaten by rats.


Hmm -- I guess it wasn't a frame story after all.  We return to Jenna, who survived the car crash.  But she still feels guilty because, before the bed and breakfast incident, she talked her boyfriend Tony (Seamus Patterson) into jumping off a building to "make a statement" about the futility of life.  Maybe being walled up in a B&B is a good idea, after all.

Beefcake:  Simon is naked all the time.

Gay Characters: No.

Heterosexism:  Everybody has or alludes to a heterosexual partner.

Convoluted Plot:  The frame story turns out not to be a frame after all.  And why does it say "Books" of blood, when there's just one book?

Grossness: Lots.  Fortunately, it's usually too dark to see what's going on.

My Grade: F.

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