Jan 21, 2022

Michael Strogoff: Jules Verne's Gay Couple

Jules Verne is most famous today for his science fiction novels, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Mysterious Island, but during his lifetime his biggest fame came for a romance, Michel Strogoff, or Michael Strogoff: Courier for the Czar (1876).  

It was translated into a dozen languages, and there are film versions in English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Turkish. The 1970 French-Italian version starred counterculture beefcake icon John Phillip Law (the nude angel in Barbarella), and the 1975 German version rugged bear Raimund Harmstorf (left).

The plot sounds unrelentingly heterosexist:  In "contemporary" Russia, Tartar rebels have taken control of Siberia, and the governor, brother of Tsar Alexander II, is trapped in the besieged city of Irkutsk.  Michael Strogoff is assigned the task of traveling across enemy-occupied territory to warn him of a plot to blow up Irkutsk.

On the way he meets and falls in love with Nadia, who is traveling to meet her exiled father.  They are captured by the Tartars, who decree that Michael be blinded (in a shirtless scene that appears on almost every book cover and movie poster).

But the blinding doesn't work, and Michael and Nadia escape and continue on to Irkutsk to save the day.  Then they are married. The end.

But there is also a gay-subtext couple, French and English reporters Alcide Jolivet and Harry Blount (played by Donatello Castallaneta and Christian Marin in the 1970 version), who accompany Michael on his journey.

They meet as jealous rivals for the same "scoop," but then they must work together.  They help Michael fight off a giant bear.  Harry is shot, and Alcide tends to him.  They are captured by the Tartars, and escape together.

At the end of the novel, they attend Michael and Nadia's wedding, with an exchange that sounds very much like a marriage proposal:

"And doesn't it make you wish to imitate them?" asked Alcide of his friend.

"Pooh!" said Blount. "Now if I had a cousin like you—"

"My cousin isn't to be married!" answered Alcide, laughing.

"So much the better," returned Blount, "for they speak of difficulties arising between London and Pekin. Have you no wish to go and see what is going on there?"

"By Jove, my dear Blount!" exclaimed Alcide Jolivet, "I was just going to make the same proposal to you."

And that was how the two inseparables set off for China.

Jan 20, 2022

How to Ruin Jules Verne in 12 MIntues

 Jules Verne wrote stories about men having science-fiction adventures and buddy-bonding, with barely a woman mentioned:  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island, From the Earth to the Moon, Five Weeks in a Balloon.  Movie adaptations almost invariably throw in some girls for the guys to fall in love with. Still, I have high hopes for Journey to the Mysterious Island 2, or Journey 2 the Mysterious Island.   It stars a teenager (Josh Hutcherson) teaming up with his stepfather (Dwayne Johnson) to find his grandfather, so testosterone all the way down, and there's no hint of heterosexual romance in the trailer.

Scene 1: Jules Verne is mentioned in voice-over in the very first shot: we are told that his books are not science fiction.  Everything actually happened.  

A person on a motorcycle being chased by the police.  They have humorous misadventures, and end up crashing into a swimming pool.  Surprise -- it's Josh Hutcherson! 

Police cars, ambulances, dogss. Josh broke into a satellite facility, but because his stepfather is The Rock, the police aren't pressing charges (they don't have the authority to do that). 

Scene 2: Back home, Josh, The Rock, and Mom argue.  "You're not my real Dad," and so on.  Josh takes his shirt off for gratuitous beefcake.  Then he rushes to his room, takes out a secret message, and tries to decipher it.

The Rock comes in.  Josh explains that the message came from the radio three nights ago.  But his radio wasn't strong enough to get the whole message, ergo the satellite facility.

They decipher references to Treasure Island, The Mysterious Island, and Gulliver's Travels.  Each time, Josh pulls out an ancient volume -- he's never heard of paperbacks?  Turns out that all three books depict the same island, which is real, located just east of Palau in the South Pacific.  So we're going to meet pirates and Lilliputians?

And by the way, Josh's Grandpa is trapped there.

Scene 3: 
  The Rock and Mom discuss the situation.  Turns out Grandpa was a wide-eyed schemer who was never "there for her."   They decide to let Josh go to Palau anyway, so the two can have some father-son bonding time,

Scene 4: The docks in Palau.  Josh makes a fool of himself by talking to the natives in broken English.  The Rock and Josh try to charter a boat, but no one is willing to take them to the coordinates: "it's a graveyard!"  Finally the fast-talking Gabito offers to take them in his run down helicopter.  

"You must meet my daughter," he says. This can't be good.

Uh-oh.  It's the Girl of Josh's Dreams.  Slow-motion walk, hair blowing in the wind, Josh dissolving into a puddle of hormones.  

I'm out.

Jan 19, 2022

"October Road": Gay Tease or Gay Couple in a 2007 Soap Opera?

The soap opera October Road appered in the spring of 2007,  in a  Thursday night time slot with hit lead-ins Ugly Betty and Grey's Anatomy.  A sure-fire hit, right?  It lasted for six episodes.  A second season premiered in November 2007,in  a Monday night time slot against The Bachelor, CSI Miami, and Medium.  It lasted for ten episodes before being yanked.

The title was evocative, reminiscent of the musty rainy-day feel of Ray Bradbury's October Country, but apparently the reviews were atrocious.  In an article in Entertainment Weekly, creator Scott Rosenberg complains that his show was "a cardigan sweater...a Joni Mitchell record...a cup of hot chocolate. You may not necessarily like hot chocolate or Joni Mitchell or cardigan sweaters, but why would you violently hate hot chocolate and Joni Mitchell and cardigan sweaters?"

I've heard of Joni Mitchell, but I don't recognize any of her songs.  Is she a lesbian icon?

October Road
just dropped on Hulu.  In search of gay characters, I looked at the episode guide.  

The title of Episode #4, "Secrets and Guys," implies a secret gay relationship.  The icon shows two guys interacting, and the blurb says "Nick makes a decision about his relationship with Aubrey."  Aubrey is a boy's name with gay connotations, reminiscent of the artist Aubrey Beardsley.   All signs point to Nick being involved with a boy.

But I've been fooled by gay teases before, so I'm not going to invest until I do a more research and find out if Aubrey is actually a boy, or a girl with a boy's name.  According to the EW article, the show involves these relationships:

1, Focus character Nick (Bryan Greenberg, top photo)  left his small town to become a famous writer, and has returned, naturally.  He discovers that his ex-girlfriend Hannah has a son old enough to be his.  She denies it.

2. Owen (Brad William Henke) gets upset when his wife has an affair with his best friend Ikey (Evan Jones).

3. Eddie (Geoff Stultz, left) is dating the local female bartender, but Rooster (Sean Gunn) is also into her.

4. Agoraphobic Phil (Jay Paulson) tries to get a girlfriend, in spite of being unable to leave his house.

5. There's a gay reference in Season 2.  Stacey moved to the Big City to get married, but discovered that her husband was gay, dumped him, and came crawling back.  Gayness is presented as a traumatic experience for heterosexuals.

Given the homophobic premise of #5, I'm reasonably sure that Nick and Aubrey aren't a gay couple, but it's odd that none of my sources say who Aubrey is.  The most I can find is: Aubrey is one of Nick's creative writing students.  They date during the first season, but Aubrey is uncertain about the relationship, and ends up cheating on him with his brother Ronnie (Jonathan Murphy)

No pronouns.  Darn it, is Aubrey a boy or a girl, or nonbinary?  

Time to check the complete cast list on IMDB.

Aubrey is played by Odette Annable, an actress who has played only female roles.  Mystery solved.

I don't understand the big cover-up.  Why give the girl a gay man's name and hide her pronouns?  Maybe heteronormativity: in a world where gay people don't exist (except as traumatic experiences off-camera), the writers never considered the possibility of a gay reading. 

Walt Whitman, The Good Gay Poet

When I was in high school and college it was customary to closet gay writers.  The professor might have known, but it was assumed unseemly (at best) to tell a class full of "impressionable youth" that gay people exist  So Oscar Wilde was arrested on "scandalous charges," and Shakespeare's rhapsodies over the "fair youth" of the Sonnets was a "poetic convention of the day."

And Walt Whitman (1819-1892), whose Leaves of Grass includes exceptionally open lines like "we boys together clinging, one the other never leaving"?

"Oh...um...he's talking about his brother."

In my junior year, my American Renaissance professor, Dr. Ames, brought Whitman a little farther out of the closet: "He loved women -- he scattered illegitimate children up and down the Eastern Seaboard -- but he also had a bit of the fruit in him."

Thirty years later, Walt Whitman the "good gay poet," and his magnum opus, Leaves of Grass, are still usually closeted by English professors.  I often give my students this list of famous writers, and ask them to guess which ones were gay or bisexual:

1. Herman Melville (Moby Dick)
2. Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities)
3. Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass)
4. William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet)
5. Emily Dickinson (Final Harvest)
6. Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)
7. Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest)
8. F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby)
9. Edgar Allen Poe (The Raven)
10. Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows)

Answers: #1, #3, #4, #5, #7, #10.
They're always the most surprised to find out that Whitman was gay, and Dickens was not.

So let's make things clear:  Walt Whitman, the greatest poet in American history, was definitely, undeniably gay.

There is no evidence that he had any erotic interest in women: the illegitimate children story was a screen, made up during the 1920s to "save" the poet's image.

Before there was a vocabulary for same-sex desire, Whitman was all about inventing one:
"the manly love of comrades" and "adhesive friendships."

Near the end of his life, when the word "homosexual" was coined, and same-sex desire defined as a symptom of a dangerous psychosis, he backtracked a bit, claiming that he meant only spiritual comrades, nothing physical.

But he had many "physical" comrades through his life, and his journals describes cruising in detail.  He picked up men on streetcars, at the docks, in the park.

Jerry Taylor, slept with me last night, heavenly.

Traverce Hedgeman, young, slight, fair, feminine, conductor.

Howard Atkinson, tall, sandy, country-fied.

Thin, smooth, and slightly feminine were his favorite traits. In West Hollywood, we called them Cute Young Things.

His long-term lover, Peter Doyle, went against type.

He also spent time with early gay rights pioneer Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), and, perhaps, artist Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), who painted a famous portrait of him, and may have photographed him nude.

Labeled only "Old Man, Seven Photographs," they are today housed in the Getty Museum.

But not on exhibit; you have to ask for them.

Even today, Walt Whitman is closeted.

See also: Gay American Renaissance

Jan 18, 2022

The Man on the Flying Trapeze: William Saroyan

During my first year in college, the drama club performed The Time of Your Life (1939), William Saroyan's Pulitzer-prize winning play about the lost and wounded denizens of a seedy San Francisco bar.  Every one of them expressed some type of heterosexual interest, with one exception: Willie, a teenage pinball player.  During the 1970s, all teenagers in mass media were portrayed as churning cauldrons of heterosexual horniness, but Willie never once looked at or mentioned a girl.

I didn't usually care for the heterosexism of Modern American Literature, but I tentatively sought out the other works of William Saroyan (1908-1981), and found melancholy stories about working-class Armenian immigrants in California, mostly with crushed dreams or memories of past glory.

And endless homoromantic subtexts.

My Name is Aram (1940). Aram grows from age 9 to young adulthood without ever falling for a girl, though he is drawn to many men and boys, including his best friend Panko and his beautiful cousin Dikran.

There is even a veiled reference to gay people. In one story, his Uncle Melik, about to travel by train from Fresno to New York, receives advice from his own uncle:  "An amiable young man will offer you a cigarette.   It will be doped." On the train, Melik waits for the cigarette offer, but it never comes, so he takes the initiative and offers a young man a cigarette.  They become friends.

The Human Comedy (1943).  Teenage Homer has a job delivering telegrams during the War, mostly about soldiers who have died; but he doesn't have to deliver the telegram about his older brother Marcus, because Tobey arrives, who knew Marcus "better than anyone in the world," to tell the family.

Meanwhile, though Homer gazes at a "beautiful girl," he finds solace in the eyes of men.

In the 1943 movie version, the actors who portrayed Marcus and Tobey, Van Johnson (left) and John Craven, were both gay.

"The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" (1935): he doesn't really fly on a trapeze.  He is dying, with no women among his dying thoughts.  Instead : he remembered the young Italian in a Brooklyn hospital, a small sick clerk named Mollica, who had said desperately, I would like to see California once before I die."

On and on, a world where coming of age does not mean "sex with an older woman," where death does not mean "letting go of the faces of women," where life is big and dangerous and sad and lived among men.

Saroyan, by the way, had some ties to the post-War gay community.  He frequented the Black Cat Bar in San Francisco, became friends with gay director Vicente Minelli (they collaborated on a musical together), and in 1955, a radio biography starred gay actor Sal Mineo.

Trans and Nonbinary Inclusivity on Nickelodeon's "Danger Force"


I reviewed the Nickelodeon teencom Henry Danger, about a teenage superhero-in-training, back in 2014, and called it a "gay subtext classic."  It stayed on for five seasons and 121 episodes, but I didn't watch, in spite of Cooper Barnes' physique and Jace Norman's transformation from skinny kid to hunky 21-year old: the laugh track was too annoying and the plotlines a bit infantile.  Besides, I gave up television in favor of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus.  It's not on any of them.  

I understand that the gay subtext never turned into a text.  Michael D. Cohen, who plays the wacky inventor Schwoz, revealed that he is transgender in 2019, but his character is apparently cisgender heterosexual.

The lack of LGBTQ representation may be alleviated, to an extent, in the spin-off Danger Force (2020-), which is also unavailable on any of my streaming services. The premise has Captain Man (Cooper Barnes) and Schwoz training a new cohort of kid superheroes:

From left to right:

1. Mika, whose superpower is sonic screams.

2. Chapa, whose superpower is electrokinesis.

3. Bose, whose superpower is telekinesis.

4. Miles, whose superpower is teleportation.

Two girls, two boys aged 14-15.  No beefcake potential there, but look carefully at the cast. #2 is a girl, and #4 is a boy, both gender atypical.  They are cast as heterosexual: Chapa gets a crush on Creston (played by Jax Kemp, left), and Miles dates a girl.  But being gender-atypical is a good start.

Bose and Miles get crushes on Creston, too, but I'm not sure how the episode plays out.

Two episodes have LGBT guest stars.  In "Say My Name," the team reunites a lost boy with his parents, who turn out to be two dads.  Captain Man is unclear on the concept, and asks where the mother is, but he soon comes around.  "Oh, you adopted him!"

Michael D. Cohen runs the Trans Youth Acting Challenge, to help trans and nonbinary actors break into the business -- he received 200 applications for 15 spots.  One of the participants, 13-year old Sasha A. Cohen (no relation), was cast in the episode "Manlee Men" as a teenage reporter who helps save the day.  I don't know if the character is identified as trans or not.

Not bad for Nickelodeon.  But I'm still waiting for a gay regular character.


Jan 17, 2022

"Grand Blue Dreaming": A World Where Boys Who Like Girls are "Perverts"

Grand Blue Dreaming 
 is a Japanese anime series about a boy who joins a diving club called Peek-a-Boo.  I'm not joking.  And check out the Episode 5 plot synopsis: Iori and Kohei attend class in their underwear like normal, but everyone glares at them with a bloodthirsty look in their eyes! It's because they heard that Iori and Chisa are dating! Sensing their lives are in danger, Iori and Kohei offer to setup a mixer."  In what universe is it "normal" to attend class in your underwear?  Or to be in danger of being killed because you're dating someone?  Same-sex couples are often attacked by homophobes; could Iori and Chisa be gay?

Scene 1: Iori and Kohei, both boys, black-haired and blond, respectively, in a classroom full of grunting, glaring older men with blank zombie-eyes.  They wonder why they are getting so much antagonism.  Suddenly the camera pulls back to show that they are in their underwear!  

Iori asks why they are glaring, and they grunt "We're going to kill you, jerk!"  

Kohei thinks that this bloodthirsty rage is a bit odd.  Iori disagrees, but offers to help him investigate the mystery.  

They decide to ask Chisa, the only girl in the class, who also appears to be in her underwear.  She doesn't know.

Suddenly they get a note: "Break up with Chisa, or we'll kill you."  But Iori and Chisa aren't even dating!

Kohei asks if he's involved.  The gang grunts: "No, we're just after the perverted bastard."  He tries to leave, but Iori convinces the gang to hate him, too, by accusing him of dating a girl named Azuka.  Way to betray your friend!  Is this a world where being gay is hegemonic, and heterosexual romances are deviant?

Establishing shots of muscular guys running into the surf.  Close-ups of girls' boobs and butts.  Undersea divers.  A voice over tells us to "Dive into the sky, shine bright with the sun," or something.

Scene 2:  Iori and Kohei in the cafeteria, looking over the dozens of threatening letters they have received.  Two swishy guys (black hair with glasses, red hair) approach and suggest that they've been getting threats because "You aren't normal."  They offer to help, in exchange for Iori and Kohei teaching them how to use hypnosis to get girlfriends.  Wait -- I thought having a girlfriend made you a "pervert" and "not normal."  Why do the Swishy Pair want to become "perverts"?

But the guys don't know hypnosis, so the Swishy Pair return to their gang, grunting and threatening: "Where shall we bury their bodies?"

They approach with rope to tie the guys up and shovels to bury the bodies.  Iori protests that he's not dating Chisa, but they don't believe him.  "You're just saying that so we won't kill you!"

As they dig the hole to bury them, Iori and Kohei get an idea: "If you let us live, we'll organize a mixer, so you can meet some girls!"

Scene 3:  The guys prostrate themselves before Azusa (a purple-haired girl), and ask to be introduced to a girl, so they won't be killed.  Wait -- don't they need several girls for a mixer with the murderous gang?  She agrees, on the condition that Iori act like Chisa's boyfriend.  But that's what got him all the death threats.

Scene 4:
The guys are now fully clothed.  No explanation of why they went to class in their underwear. Azusa arrives with a blue-haired girl.  The guys are outraged. "Not her!  Absolutely not!  She's Cakey!"   But they don't have a choice.  

Scene 5:  The day has finally come.  The guys still grumble about letting Cakey handle the mixer.  The Swishy Pair appears, still irate about Iori dating Chisa, but they will just beat him up, not kill him, now that he's going to introduce them to girls.

One of the Swishy Pair wants to set up a signal system -- point your chopsticks at the girl you like, so there won't be a big competition-- but the other doesn't care.  Sex is sex; the girl's appearance is irrelevant.  

"We're going to a new world!" the guys shout as they burst into the restaurant and see...four heavily made-up girls!  They see that one is Cakey, and rebel: "Not her!  No way!  Absolutely not!"  But there are four boys and four girls, so someone has to get Cakey.

The girls introduce themselves.  Girl 1 likes horse racing and pachenko.  "Nope!  Nope! Absolutely not!", the guys squeal.  

The game has changed; now it's getting the redhead laid. First step: get the girls to use their first names.  The girls refuse: that might suggest that they're "easy." 

Whoops, Iari starts flirting with one of the girls.  The others are irate; how can he claim victory and leave them behind?   Kohei ruins his chances by claiming that he has a girlfriend -- a mixer taboo!  

Scene 6: 
 Dinner is over, and none of the girls has agreed to sex!   In fact, they walk away laughing at the boys: "It was like a zoo!"  The boys collapse in agony at their humiliating defeat.   

The girls report back to Azusa: "Yes, we humiliated them.  They learned their lesson."

Meanwhile, the guys are in their underwear again, getting drunk, blaming each other for the debacle.   The end, except for a final song that may or may not be part of the episode.

Beefcake: Guys in their underwear all the time.

Hetero-phobia:  Apparently a boy who gets a girlfriend is a "pervert," but all of the boys are desperate to get girlfriends anyway.   Well, first it's the entire gang, then just the Swishy Pair, then just the redhead, then everyone again.

WTF:   The premise seems to change minute by minute.  Weird things happen with no explanation. Why were the boys in their underwear?  Why did the gang want to murder them?  Why did the number of boys wanting to meet girls change?  Why did the goal of the mixer change?  What's wrong with "Cakey"?  

And, in a series about a diving club, why was there no diving?

Jan 16, 2022

Enlisted: "Gomer Pyle" meets "MASH," with Beefcake


Last night Bob wanted to check out the show on Hulu that stars "Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) from Riverdale and the guy from Imposters."  He meant Enlisted, which originally aired on Fox in the spring of 2014: a military comedy starring Geoff Stultz (7th Heaven),  Parker Young (Imposters), and Casey Cott lookalike Chris Lowell (Veronica Mars).

A military comedy?  In 2014?

The premise: War hero Pete Hill (Stultz), who has led 100 missions in Afghanistan, punches his commanding officer and is demoted (not court-martialed?).  He must train a ragtag bunch of misfits (fat, skinny, female) at Fort McGee, Florida, a base dedicated to cleaning equipment and taking care of military families.

The episode I watched was devoted to Pete meeting his "you're arrogant!" love interest, Sgt. Jill Perez, and getting assigned two tasks by his cliche commanding officer: 

1. Finding the lost dog of a military family (who explain that it's an important reminder of their husband/father overseas, as if you need to justify wanting to find your dog).

2. Playing in war games against the Italians, who are extremely muscular and therefore despicable.

The two tasks interfere with each other, requiring Pete to choose.

The ragtag band of misfits happens to include Pete's two brothers (so why does he resist the assignment so vociferously?  Doesn't he like them?).

1. The sarcastic Derrick (Chris Lowell), who hates the military (so why did he enlist?).   He also seems to hate his brothers.  Actually, he doesn't like anything.  He really belongs on MASH, not a No Time for Sergeants homage.

2. Randy (Parker Young), a dumb jock who is extremely emotionally unstable.  When he thinks he has let his brother down, he cries while doing jumping jacks for hours.  When he becomes agitated, the only thing that will calm him down is his brother Pete's hand on his head (which must have been a problem while Pete was in Afghanistan).  No way this guy should get anywhere near a gun.

Beefcake: The guys are hot.

Gay Characters:  No.

Heterosexism: According to the plot synopses, all of the brothers get girlfriends or have plots involving ex-girlfriends showing up.

Is it Worth It:   Fox has the habit of moving shows around, so you can't find them, then yanking them if the ratings aren't spectacular immediately. The 2013-2014 season also featured American Dad in two time slots, American Idol in three time slots, I Wanna Marry Harry (8 episodes), and Murder Police (1 episode).  Enlisted was cancelled after nine episodes, with an additional four "burnt off" in June 2014.  That's not enough time to get invested in the characters, particularly when they are so unlikeable.  I suggest watching Gomer Pyle instead,

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