Feb 12, 2022

Bobbseys, Boxcars, and Beefcake

I was never much of a fan of the mystery genre, but many gay kids liked the gentle, pre-Hardy Boys exploits of The Famous Five or their American counterparts, the Bobbsey Twins and the Boxcar Children.

Laura Lee Hope’s Bobbsey Twins series lasted through 72 installments from 1904 to 1979.  Originally the two sets of twin siblings aged normally, but when the series was revised and extensively rewritten during the 1960s, Bert and Nan remained twelve, and Freddie and Flossie remained six.  They all seemed to behave somewhat older than their "real" ages, or maybe that is just a reflection of the extra freedom kids had in earlier generations. 

 In the 1960s they also began to have more dramatic adventures in realistic locales, though the titles were still aimed at a youngish market: The Secret of Candy Castle, The Doodlebug Mystery, The Flying Clown.

Gay boys found most resonance in Bert, who was in his last days of childhood, still happy to play with his sister and younger siblings but obviously longing for emotional connections outside the group.  In fact, an ongoing theme of the books is the conflict between the comfort and safety of family and the need to “leave the nest” and find one’s own way in the world.  But girls play no part in any of the stories; instead, in nearly every book, in the midst of piecing out clues and solving mysteries, Bert goes off on his own with a boy.

The Boxcar Children were another group of siblings, Henry (14), Jessie (13), Violet (10), and Benny (6), orphans who moved into an abandoned boxcar in the 1924 novel by Gertrude Chandle Warner.  Then, in the late 1940s, Warner realized that the four would make ideal child-sleuths.  She had them adopted by their wealthy grandfather, Mr. Alden, who traveled around the country to keep track of his various business investments, thus providing lots of exotic locales for sleuthing.  Eighteen new installments appeared between 1949 and 1976, sending the kids to haunted houses, bedeveled ranches, mountain cabins, and seaside resorts.   The children age through the adventures, and by #19, Benny Uncovers a Mystery, Henry is in college.

Like Bert, Henry is trying to establish his independence while still remaining part of the family, but, unlike adolescent boys in children's media today, he is never portrayed as girl-crazy.  Instead, when his life outside the family appears in the novels, he is usually seen in the company of a boy (the girl on this cover is his sister).

Why We Watched "Amen" in West Hollywood

When I was living in West Hollywood, Saturday night was cruising night; at 9:30 pm, just after The Golden Girls, you headed out to Mugi (for Asian men), Catch One (Black men), Basgo's (Hispanic men), the Faultline (Bears), or the Gold Coast (Sleazoids).

In by 10:00 pm, out by midnight with a phone number or a hookup.

But the bars didn't get busy until 11:00, so you might stall after The Golden Girls, and watch Amen (1986-91) before heading out.

It starred Sherman Hemsley (left), formerly of The Jeffersons, as the deacon of a black church in Philadelphia, who uses sneaky, underhanded tricks to get ahead (woo a new singer for the choir and so on).

He butts heads with the straightlaced Reverend Gregory (Clifton Davis, right),who finds himself loosening up and even making up some schemes of his own. Clifton Davis was a real minister, affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church (and later a Baptist), so he made sure the shenanigans never got too immoral.

Although they did involve alcoholism, gambling addiction, divorce, and suicide (no gay people or AIDS, of course).

Meanwhile the Deacon's man-hungry spinster daughter Thelma (Anna Marie Horsford) sets out to grab Reverend Gregory.  After a few seasons of "will they or won't they?" and a few false starts, like the Reverend passing out before he can say "I do," they finally get hitched in the spring of 1990.

There wasn't a lot of buddy-bonding between the Reverend and the Deacon. The main draw was Clifton Davis, his hunkiness intensified for those with a preacher fetish.  Unfortunately, he never appeared shirtless (the top photo is another Clifton Davis).

The rest of the cast was of limited beefcake interest. The gossippy Hetebrink sisters.  Ultra-elderly Rollie, who, true to tv tradition, has a very active love life.

Farther down the guest star list, we find Bumper Robinson as Clarence, a street kid who the Deacon takes under his wing (left); and guest spots by many recognizable black actors, including James Avery (Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Ron Glass (Barney Miller), LaWanda Page (Sanford and Son), Richard Roundtree (Shaft), Nell Carter (Give Me a Break), Darius McCrary (Family Matters, below), and Shavar Ross (Diff'rent Strokes).

In retrospect, the main impact of Amen was to revv our engines.

"Ok, Amen is over. Where do you want to go cruising?"

"No doubt: Catch One."

See also: The Jeffersons

Feb 11, 2022

Gay Characters in America's Favorite Novels. Part 1

Last summer PBS broadcast "The Great American Read," a listing of the top 100 best-loved novels as derived from a survey. Many of them I've never heard of, and others  I've heard of but ran away from.  Let's see if it's all men and women gazing into each other's eyes, or if there are any gay texts, subtexts, or characters.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird.  Never read. It's about a girl named Scout, whose father is defending a black man accused of rape in the Jim Crow South.  Some people die.  Sounds awful.

2. Outlander.  Never heard of it. Seems to be about a woman zapped into 18th century Scotland, where she falls in love.  It was turned into a tv series starring Sam Heughan, who seems a bit chunky for a romantic hero.

3. Harry Potter. Read.  Excellent series about the Boy Who Lived and his life at Hogwarts, a magic academy, and eventually a final confrontation with arch-mage He Who Must Not Be Named.   Ron-Harry subtext.  No gay characters except Dumbledore, who isn't outed.

4. Pride and Prejudice.Read. The Bennett family tries to marry off its house-ful of daughters.  It can be kind of queered.  In the 1995 mini-series, Colin Firth played main squeeze Mr. Darcy.

5. The Lord of the Rings. One ring to rule them all.  A fantasy trilogy, one of the iconic books of my childhood.  I still only like alternate-world fantasy, nothing set in the mundane reality.  It can be queered five ways from Thursday. 

6.Gone with the Wind.  Never read.  Did the survey respondents actually read it, or are they going with the movie? Of course, Clark Gable played the iconic Rhett Butler who has a tempestuous romance with Southern Belle Scarlet.  Frankly, Scarlet, there are no gay characters.

7. Charlotte's Web.  Never read, but I think it's about a pig who befriends a spider, who dies.  As Louise from Bob's Burgers said, "Children's literature is about cool animals who die."

8. Little Women.  Never read.  Again, I wonder if the survey respondents have actually read the reputedly ponderous 19th century novel about girls growing up.  Some of them die and some of the marry.  To rephrase Louise's Dictum: "Children's literature is about cool animals or kids who die."

A 2019 film version will star Timothee Chalamet as Laurie, who marries one of the girls.

9. Chronicles of Narnia.  Read.  Excellent children's fantasy series, a little topheavy with the preaching toward the end, and in the last book they all die (remember Louise's Dictum).  But until then, it's a wild ride. Some gay subtexts here and there.

10. Jane Eyre.  Read.  Jane becomes governess to the mysterious Lord Rochester, who has a madwoman in the attic.  The first of the governesses-in-danger tropes.  Not much of a gay subtext.

In the 2011 movie, Michael Fassbinder (not to be confused with director Werner Fassbinder, which I always do) played Lord Rochester.

11. Anne of Green Gables. Never read.  Isn't about a girl in the 19th century who goes to live with some relative or other, and has feelings?

I'm going to look it up on wikipedia.  $5 says that someone dies.

Yep: Louise's Dictum strikes again.

12. The Grapes of Wrath.  Read.  Some of it, anyway.  It's very long and very pretentious, about Okies from Muskogee who seek their fortune in California during the Dust Bowl.  In one chapter, breast milk figures prominently, to the disgust of generations of schoolchildren. No gay characters.

13. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Come on, I know not one person in a hundred has read this antique novel about a girl growing up in a poor New York family, with some deaths and marriages.  Was it an Oprah's Book Club selection or something?

14.The Book Thief.  Ran away from.  A "children's" novel about a girl in Nazi Germany who reads stolen books and hides Jewish people in her basement. Gross. It was made into a 2013 movie starring Robert Allam as the Narrator and Death.  I'll wager Death had a lot of lines.

15. The Great Gatsby.  Read. During the Jazz Age, Nick befriends the mysterious Gatsby, who is obsessed with his old girlfriend.  So he buys the mansion next door and throws lavish parties in hope that she will eventually drop in.  Nice gay subtext, but I could do without the heavy-handed symbolism.

The 2013 movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby.

16. The Help.  Never heard of it.  A black maid and a white socialite in the Jim Crow South collaborate on a book about a black maid and a white socialite. Is this like one of those infinite puzzles?  There seem to be some gay references, anyway.

The 2011 movie had a male actor half way down the character list: Chris Lowell.

17. Tom Sawyer.  Read.  19th century Hannibal, Missouri scalawag Tom is totally in love with Becky Thatcher. I'll give it a pass.  Now, Huckleberry Finn -- there's a novel with subtexts!

18.  1984.  Read. It's about how totalitarianism quashes true love.

19. And Then There were None. Read.Agatha Christie was a great writer,maybe a little judgmental, and I really liked the mystery of who is killing off the guests on the mysterious island.  But she was not very gay-inclusive.

In 2015 it became a tv mini-series (really?  a short novel into a mini-series?), with Aiden Turner as Philip Lombard, the only semi-positive character.

20. Atlas Shrugged.  Ran away from.  Ayn Rand, selfishness as political philosophy?  I didn't even know it had a plot.

It doesn't, really.  It's mostly people giving speeches.  But the main character, a businesswoman named Dagny, does get a boyfriend.

21. Wuthering Heights. Read.  Heathcliff and Catherine are tempestuous lovers.  Heathcliff has a terrible secret,but being gay isn't it.

22. Lonesome Dove.  Never read.  It's a Western, for heaven sake.  Who reads Westerns anymore?  Especially Westerns about a cattle drive.  What's next, a Western about a chicken ranch?  No gay characters, but apparently there are lots of gay subtexts, such as between Gus and Call (Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in the 1989 miniseries).

23. The Pillars of the Earth.  Never read.  I make a point of not reading novels that are on the book racks at airport gift shops.  It's about building a Gothic cathedral in Medieval England, and men and women falling in love.  The 2015 mini-series (have any of these NOT been made into movies?) starred Eddie Redmayne.

24. The Stand.  Read.  Well, skimmed.  If I read every word, it would take days.  The world ends due to a plague, and the few survivors gather in Boulder, Colorado (good people) and Las Vegas (wicked people).  Stephen King is not good at gay inclusion, but there are some subtexts.

25. Rebecca.  Never read, but I saw the movie. The narrator marries Mr. DeWinter, but soon discovers that she can never replace...Rebecca!  Stern housekeeper Mrs. Danvers is probably a lesbian, but it is only hinted at.

f the top 25, I've read 13.  None of them have major gay characters (who are out), and only one has a non-closeted gay reference.  Pretty bad job so far.

Next up: #26-50.

Gay Characters in America's Favorite Novels Part 2

I'm going through the list of America's Favorite Novels, as determined by a PBS survey, to see if there are any gay characters or gay subtexts.  Some of them I've read; others I ran away from in disgust.  Some I've never heard of

26. A Prayer for Owen Meany.  Ran away from.  I hate John Irving to begin with -- what kind of name is Garp?  And I heard this one was horrible. First, what kind of name is Meany?  Second, it begins with Owen playing baseball, and accidentally killing his friend's mother with a foul ball. Later he gets a job picking up dead bodies.  Cheery.

It inspired Simon Birch, a buddy-bonding movie starring Ian Michael Smith and Joseph Mazzello.

27. The Color Purple.  Read.  America's Favorite Novels are often depressing.  Woman in the Jim Crow South is abused by her husband and buddy-bonds with another woman. There's a lesbian subtext that was made explicit in the 1984 movie starring Whoopie Goldberg.

28. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  Read.  Very good, although dated journey to a dreamland, with many quotable lines.  No gay subtexts.

29. Great Expectations. Read. Dicken's best work, with Pip, the creepy Miss Havesham, and Estella ("You can break his heart).  Gay subtext with his school friend Herbert Pocket.

The 1998 "modernization" upped the hetero-romance (naked woman on the DVD cover!).  It starred Ethan Hawke as Finnegan Bell.

30.  The Catcher in the Rye.  "Classic" teen novel about the rebellious Holden Caulfield, who smokes cigarettes and beats up gay people.  Gross.

31. Where the Red Fern Grows.  Never read, but I know it's about a boy and a dog, and I know what happens.  See Louise's Dictum: "Children's literature is about cool animals and kids who die."

Why are so many of these books for kids?  Is it that when the respondents grew up, they didn't read any more?

The 2003 movie starred Joseph Ashton as the Boy.

32. The Outsiders.  Never read, but the 1984 movie was horrible, all about "staying gold" and dying.  Louise's Dictum again.  I hear that the author was horrified by the idea of gay subtexts.  "I intended for them to be STRAIGHT!" she shrieked.

33. The Da Vinci Code.  Never read, but I hear that there's a boy-girl romance amid the skullduggery about the Priory of Sion, the Knights Templars, and who knows what else?  Maybe the Holy Grail kills some Nazis.

34. The Handmaid's Tale. Read. Horrific religious dystopia, slightly worse than our current fascist state, where fertile women become "handmaids," impregnated by rich men with infertile wives.  There are references to gay people being killed in this dystopian future.

In the 2017 tv series, Max Minghella plays Nick, an "Eye of God" (snoop) who may be working for the underground, and falls in love with handmaid June.

35. Dune. Read, but a long time ago.  A vast galactic empire, Star Wars complete with sand worms but without the freedom fighters. All I remember are the quotes from the Galactic Encyclopedia, the Messiah Paul Muad-Dib marrying his mother, and a staggeringly homophobic portrayal of a gay man.  But he still counts as a gay character.

36. The Little Prince.  Read. Awful.  Nightmare-inducing.  The narrator meets the Prince of a small planet, who is trapped on Earth.  The only way to get home is to be bitten by a snake.  He'll look dead, but he won't really be dead.  Louise's Dictum again:  "Children's literature is about cool dogs or kids who die."

37.  Call of the Wild.  Never read, though people kept trying to talk me into it through my childhood.  Apparently the dog doesn't die, he just goes feral after his humans are all murdered.

38. The Clan of the Cave Bear.  Never read. Cave people: A Cro-Magnon girl goes to live with the Neanderthals, and finds love.

39. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Read.  Funniest novel ever. I never laugh out loud while reading, but this time I did.  Nebbish Arthur Dent and galactic gadabout Ford Prefect have picaresque adventures. So long, and thanks for all the fish.  Gay subtext, no gay characters.

40.The Hunger Games.  Never read.  A dystopian future where groups of kids are forced to fight each other to the death, but a boy and a girl try to beat the system.  And...um...fall in love.  .  No gay characters.

In the 2012 movie, Josh Hutcherson plays the Boy.

41. The Count of Monte Cristo.  Read. This is another one that I can't believe people have actually read.  It's long and ponderous.  Dantes gets revenge on the people who wronged him, and helps a couple find true love.

42.  The Joy Luck Club.  Read.  Chinese-American women bond with each other and experience culture clash. Minor gay character who vanishes from the 1993 movie.

43. Frankenstein.  Never read, and I doubt most respondents have, either.   It's an epistolary novel, published in 1817.  They're thinking of the many Frankenstein movies.

44. The Giver.  Never heard of it. In a dystopian future,  a teenage is chosen to be "The Giver" and receive the memories of the past, like Christmas carols and seeing in color,  but there are complications.  And falling in lo-ooo-ooove.

In the 2014 movie, Brenton Thwaites plays Jonah, the boy chosen to be the next Giver.

45.Memoirs of a Geisha.  Never heard of it. A young girl becomes a geisha (a pleasure woman, but not a prostitute), lives through World War II, and falls in love.  I don't think there are any gay characters.

46. Moby-Dick. Read, I think some of the respondents said it was their favorite novel because they thought they were supposed to.  Ahab searches for the whale, while Ishmael and Queequeg share a bed.  Gay subtext; Melville was gay, after all.

The 1998 mini-series (yes, there was a mini-series) stars Henry Thomas as Ishmael.  It minimizes the gay subtext.

47.Catch-22. Ran away from. Weird surrealist war novel.  Lots of people die.

48. Game of Thrones.  Heard of the tv series, didn't realize it was based on an alternate world fantasy with magic swords and such.   Apparently some gay characters, who get killed right away (bury your gays).

49. Foundation.  Read.  About the fall of a galactic civilization.  A lot more boring than it sounds.  Isaac Asimov simply cannot create vivid characters.  Gay people do not exist.

50. War and Peace.  Never read.  Were the respondents serious, or making a joke about the novel's infamous length? Remember the Peanuts story arc where Snoopy plans to read one word a day?

The 2016 mini-series starred Paul Dano as Pierre. I have no idea who that is.

It also featured a naked soldier, penis and all, which I'm sure has Tolstoy turning over in his grave.

I've read 10 of the 25 books on this list.  There are some gay subtexts, but only three have actual gay characters.  So far, not so great.

Feb 10, 2022

"The Privilege": Teen Skulduggery at an Elite Private School, for the 385th Time


The Privilege: "a wealthy teen and his friends attending an elite private school uncover a dark conspiracy while looking into a series of strange supernatural events."  Somebody never took Creative Writing 101: use adjectives sparingly.  And isn't this the plot of , like, every teen soap ever?  But it's in German, and maybe there are some cute guys or interesting exteriors.

Scene 1: A wealthy house in Bavaria.  A young boy plays a video game and a teenage girl complains while their parents head out for another girl's dance recital.  They are careful to set the security system.  Why doesn't the whole family go?  I'd want my siblings at my dance recital.  A contrived reason to get the kids alone for a home invasion?

Scene 2: Sure enough, an ominous figure lurks outside.  The power goes out, all the doors in the house open, and the boy -- Finn -- hears sounds of a struggle from his sister's room. She emerges with a bloody knife, and insists on looking in Finn's mouth.  Satisfied that he's not -- he's not what?  -- she exclaims  "They're coming for us," and rushes Finn outside and into a car.  

This is actually interesting.  Were they aware of the beings before, or is this their first encounter?  Why did she want to look in his mouth?  

They drive to a bridge over a dam.  Sister encourages Finn to jump off with her, so they'll be safe. But he refuses, and she falls to her death.  

Scene 3
: Emergency vehicles. Finn, catatonic, in a blanket in the back of an ambulance. Mom and Dad arrive.  Dad (Roman Knizka, left) kisses Finn right on the mouth, which I find disgusting, but I guess it's normative in Germany.  The bloody knife is still in Finn's hand -- rescue workers didn't retrieve it?  -- so Dad asks if Finn is bleeding.  Rescue workers wouldn't check for that?

They retrieve Sister's body, and lay it on the ground.  Not on a guerney, with a blanket over it?   Finn screams.

Switch to the teenage Finn screaming with wires attached to his head.  A lady attendant explains that the trauma resulted in significant brain damage.  Seeing your sister die can cause physical injury?   

She then claims that he invented the "mysterious pursuer" to avoid dealing with his guilt over Sister's death. So they think Finn killed her? Pushed her over the bridge?  This is getting a little ridiculous.

Finn gets a cardio test, too (nice chest, a bit skinny), and is asked about school.  Attendant: "You belong to a privileged generation."  Really?  I thought Generation Z was struggling to make ends meet.

 Mom arrives to pick Finn up.   We learn that he has a twin sister, no doubt the one off to the dance recital the night it happened. 

Scene 4: Finn and Twin head to school -- an ugly square box colored gray and pea-green.    Twin kisses her boyfriend -- extensively.  When Finn complains, Boyfriend jokingly offers to kiss him, too. 

Finn moves on to meet.  Ulp...the Girl of His Dreams turns in slow motion, her long hair blowing in the wind.  The most hackneyed, trite, over-done, nonsensical cliche on film, yet heterosexual directors are constantly shoving it down our throat.  

I'm out. 

I did a little research anyway.  The results are dreary.

1. Finn has no male friends.  He solves the mystery with the help of his bff, who is a lesbian, and the Girl of His Dreams.  IMDB didn't list any male characters other than his father and "police officer."  I had to go to the end credits to get the name of Sister's Boyfriend (Rojan Juan Barani) and the Girl of His Dreams' Obnoxious Boyfriend (Maurice  Lattke, left).

2. The lesbian bff is wholely concerned with helping Finn Win the Girl.  

3. This isn't a tv show.  It's a movie.  Go figure.

Feb 9, 2022

"Kid Cosmic Season 3": Fry and Hamburg are Gay. So is Dumbledore.

Season 3 of Kid Cosmic, about the staff and random customers at an isolated diner in the desert who suddenly become superheroes, dropped on Netflix on February 3, 2022.  In a Twitter post on February 2nd, Craig McCracken, the creator of Kid Cosmic, confirmed that "Fry and Hamburg" are a romantic couple.  On February 5th, McCracken further specified on his Instagram "how they met and fell in love": Hamburg graduated from a top culinary school in Europe, but wanted to cook "real food," so he got a job at the dingy diner in New Mexico, and fell in love with his coworker, Fry. 

 Fry (voiced by Eric Bauza, left) is a skinny, tattooed Italian guy  with super-stretching ability, and Hamburg (voiced by Fred Tatsciore) is a blond German hunk with the ability to exude multiple arms. 

They are very minor characters.  They didn't even get superpowers until Season 2, and even then, they are  #10 and #11 in the superhero list, with no lines in most episodes.  I saw no gay hints about them in Seasons 1 and 2, but then, I wasn't looking closely: they were mostly background.  

So, on to Season 3.  I'll check every appearance of Fry and Hamburg, looking for holding hands, hugging, dancing together, a shared apartment, any hint, however minuscule, that they are being presented as a canonical romantic couple.

Episode 1:  In Season 2, the Galactic Heroes worked at an interplanetary diner as a cover while they tried to track down missing Rings of Power, which could cause mayhem if they fell into the wrong hands (as they usually did).  When the Rings were all accounted for, they used them to defeat the Planet Destroyer, a planet-sized Big Bad.  In the fracas, the rings were scattered all over Earth.  So, in Season 3, the renamed Global Heroes must track them all down again.  .  First up: an invisibility stone and a growth stone.

Fry and Hamburg stand next to each other, but do not interact.  Only they and the married male-female couple are introduced to the world as a pair, so that might be a clue.  

Episode 2:  An Egyptian supervillain, a potato kid, and an underwater kingdom.  And the Global Heroes discover that this world is not the Earth they know.  And Papa G, central character Kid Cosmic's grandpa, has a dark secret.

Fry and Hamburg appear only in a meeting of the superheroes, and do not interact.

Episode 3: 
They work to escape the fantasy-Earth.  Papa G agonizes over whether to tell Kid Cosmic his dark secret.

The superheroes sleep in single beds in a dormitory (except the married male-female couple, who share a bed). 

  Fry gets up in the middle of the night and tries to take the spatula out of the sleeping Hamburg's hand.  I don't know if he's being affectionate or sneaky, or planning to climb into bed with Hamburg.  Then they're both zapped away to a superheroes meeting.

Episode 4:  Everything the Galactic Heroes thought they had accomplished in Season 2 was a projection.  They actually failed to save the galaxy, and are living on a dismal refugee planet.  But sthere is a spark of hope that they could still defeat the Planet Destroyer.  

Fry and Hamburg are shown in the kitchen, checking out the supplies.  Just canned goods.  Fry says something stupid, and Hamburg tosses a can at him.  

Episode 5:  After several battles, they defeat the Planet Destroyer for real and return to the real Earth.

When they are surprised, Fry clutches at Hamburg's arm.  

Episode 6:  They mourn those people and civilizatiions destroyed by the Planet Destroyer.  Then, their superpowers gone, they return to their ordinary lives.  But at least they manage to communicate with the outside universe and invite all the beings they've helped during their adventures to come to the diner.  So it's back to the interplanetary diner, which is where they were happiest after all.

At the memorial service, Fry and Hamburg step up to say their eulogy together, but so do several characters not involved in a relationship.  They interact briefly while preparing the diner for the alien customers. 

When the two-headed crime mistress from Season 2 approaches, Hamburg hugs Fry, as if to protect him, or to deflect a flirtation: "We're together.  Back off."  

They are talking to each other at the party later.  And that's it.

That's it?

Come on, if you want to establish them as a couple, they have got to kiss.  Or at least hold hands!  Craig and Eric did that on Drake and Josh back in 2007!  This is more like "Dumbledore is gay, but it isn't mentioned in the Harry Potter books or movies.  He just is." 

See also: Kid Cosmic Season 2: Is Stuck Chuck Gay?

Feb 7, 2022

"The Bravest Knight": A Gay Knight-in-Training Has Adventures and Learns Valuable Lessons


The Bravest Knight (2019) 
is advertised as the first children's animation to have an "openly gay main character."  Actually, that would be Paranorman (2012).   I wanted to see how "open" the gay main character was, so I watched the first two episodes.    

Episode 1, Scene 1: In a fairy tale world, Sir Cedric (T.R. Knight, left) is giving his daughter, Nia, lessons in how to become a knight. Today's lesson: how to save someone trapped in a tower.  His husband, Prince Andrew (Wilson Cruz, below), has volunteered to be rescued.  First, build a ladder -- or the prisoner could just lower a rope.  Prince Andrew has to be somewhere, so could we speed things up?  No,Siir Cedric has to tell a story.  The consort of a royal is always a rank down, so Prince Andrew and Sir Cedric. 

Scene 2:
Flashback.  The preteen Cedric (Chance Hurstfield) is in his second year as a knight in training. He sees a flyer: all of the villains have broken out of Fairy Jail!  So he sets out to,,,um...arrest them?  But first he encounters a troll named Grunt (Bobby Moynihan), who tells his story.

Scene 3: Grunt used to have a bridge, like most trolls.  But Sturk, one of the villains who broke out of Fairy Jail, took it away from him.  Wait -- the notice just went up, but Grunt says that he's been bridge-less for weeks.  This timeline is convoluted.

Scene 4: Cedric abandons his original quest to help Grunt get his bridge back.  Problem: Grunt doesn't remember where it is.  While searching, they hear a woman screaming from a tower, and set off to rescue her.   She obligingly lowers her long hair for them to climb.

But it's a trap!  A witch who recently escaped from Fairy Jail  grabs them and throws them into a pit, where they meet several other would-be rescuers.  What is her end game?  Is she going to eat them, or what?  

Scene 5:  Their escape plan: they cover themselves in mud, so the witch will think they have escaped.  When she comes down to investigate, they incapacitate her with mud and climb out on the hair-rope.  Then they call the adults for assistance, and the witch is returned to Fairy Jail.

Scene 6:  Moral: Don't grab a rope unless you are sure what's on the other end.  Presumably this generalizes to: don't begin a course of action unless you are fairly certain how it will turn out.  

Episode 2, Scene 1:
  Today's lesson is about jousting.  Nia is upset that her opponent will be the troll Grunt, who can't even control his horse.   "Never underestimate your opponent," Sir Cedric cautions.  And so the story..

Scene 2:  Preteen Cedric and Grunt, searching for the lost bridge, eome across a children's jousting tournament.  Another troll, Susie, is scrounging for coins under the bleachers.  

Scene 3: Cedric signs up to compete, but he doesn't have any armor, so he and his troll friends fashion a helmet from a pumpkin.  His opponent is a very small boy in a green helmet.  "Look how tiny he is!" Grunt exclaims.  "You'll win easily."  But his opponent trounces him.

Surprise -- it's a girl!  At this point one would expect Cedric to dissolve into a pool of hormones, except that we already know that he's gay.  They just shake hands.

Why is "It's a girl!" a big reveal?  We've already established that girls commonly train as knights, so why wouldn't they joust?

Scene 4:  Eliminated from the competition, Cedric and the trolls watch from the stands as the girl -- Eyame -- bests three more opponents and wins the tournament.  She is modest -- "I was fortunate today," but Cedric is effusive in his praise: "I learned more from watching you than in all my years of practicing back on the pumpkin farm!"  

Scene 5:  Susie the Troll suggests that they go to the abandoned, scary Dark Castle, which has maps of the kingdom.  Maybe it will show the bridge.  

Scene 6:
Back in the present, Sir Cedric repeats the moral: Never underestimate your opponent. 

Story Arc: The flashbacks for the first season are about Cedric and grunt looking for the lost bridge, and meeting people who will apparently be important in their lives later.  But we don't get any later.    I want to know about life in the kingdom today.  Or how Cedric and Prince Andrew met.  I don't want to know about some dumb bridge.

Didacticism:   This show is obviously for young children, not adults, but still, is it really necessary to hit us over the head with a moral, twice per episode?  It seems old-fashioned and contrived.  

How Open is Cedric:  His husband appears only briefly in the first scene of the first episode, and then is never mentioned again.  The child Cedric doesn't display any romantic interest in anyone, boy, girl, or troll.  I'd say "not very open": you could easily miss it. 

To be fair, Prince Andrew appears in the first scene of several later episodes, often trying to get Cedric to settle down to official business, which is interrupted by a story.

My Grade: A>   I was bored stiff, but young children might not be, and having a gay character in a starring role in a program aimed at the kindergarten-set is amazing, even if his husband doesn't appear often.  

Feb 6, 2022

"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings": Martial Arts Hero with Heterosexual Subtext


I've been avoiding Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, on Disney Plus, because I heard that it had that old, tired, uber-heterosexist cliche of a dead wife.  And it does; but worshipping the dead wife turns out to be misguided and evil, not praiseworthy.  

There are enough plotlines crammed in to the 2 1/2 hour running time to fill several movies.

1.  A thousand year old crime boss named Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, who stared in one of the first LGBT movies to come out of Hong Kong, Happy Together ) has Ten Rings (worn on his arms) that give him infinite power.  But he wants even more infinite power, so he sets out to find the fabled village of Ta Lo, hidden behind a living forest and scary waterfall, where everyone practices a "martial arts sent by the gods."

2. He can't get into the village, but he does convince the guardian, Ying Li, to marry him.  They return to the crime compound and have two kids.  Then she dies.

3. Neither kid likes their crime lord father: his lack of affection, his "I'm going to train you to be an assassin" parenting style.  Shang-Chi (Simu Liu, top photo, the hunk from Kim's Convenience), runs away to America at age 14.  He takes the name Shaun, and becomes one of those effervescent scalawags who populate Disney movies (although it's not quite so charming when you're pushing 30).  His best friend and wisecracking partner-in-30-year old juvenile delinquency is bff Katy (Aquafina), whose main defense is to sing "Hotel California" and confuse her assailant.   At this point I'm thinking,  "Of course they're just friends now, but they'll fall in love during the movie.  Probably in a Betty-and-Veronica 'girl next door' vs. svelte sophisticate triangle."

4. Shang-Chi's sister, Xialing, runs away to Macao, where she runs an illegal fighting club on the umpteenth floor of a half-constructed building.  She's also the chief performer.

5. When Dad sends some of his soldiers to kill Shang-Chi, he easily tromps them.  Then he returns to China to protect his sister, who is no doubt getting the same treament.  He arrives just in time to fight her, then to fight more soldiers on the scaffolding outside the upteenth floor of her club.  Pay attention to the extremely sexy Razor Fist, who is missing a hand, but makes up for it with a magic sword.  His name is Florian Munteanu, and his instagram contains 6,000 pictures of him hugging guys, but no women except his mother.

 Then Dad captures them both. 

6. He explains that he has been receiving messages from his Dead Wife, who is being held captive in the fabled village of Ta Lo. They're all going to break through the living forest and rescue her, and "be a family again."  "But Mom's dead!" "No, she's not."  After they retrieve her, his soldiers will burn down the village and kill everyone, just to be evil.

7. To save the village from decimation, Shang-Chi, Sister, Bff, and a comic relief drunk Shakespearean actor (is there any other kind?) steal a car and rush over themselves.  It's in a pocket universe full of strange entrancing animals, and people who speak perfect English.  They meet their aunt, and train in various martial arts, and Shang-Chi learns that he is the Chosen One (naturally).

Left: Andy Le, another of Dad's soldiers, who wears a Chinese demon mask.  In real life he gives off a gay vibe..

8. Auntie explains that the village, and its resident sleeping dragon, are guardians of the gate to another Dark Universe, where soul-eating Cthulhu monsters have been banished.  If they ever break through the gate, it's curtains for all of us!

9. But Dad thinks that his Dead Wife is being held captive behind the gate!  You can see where this is going. 

Beefcake:  Shang-Chi takes his shirt off a couple of times.  Otherwise the main characters are all elderly or women.

Gay Characters:  Shang-Chi displays no heterosexual interest.  I kept waiting for a fade-out kiss with Katy, but all they do is: she puts her head on his shoulder; they touch hands; they have dinner with a heterosexual couple; they walk into the portal to their next adventure arm-in-arm.  At most they have a heterosexual subtext.

Why didn't they kiss, like the boy-girl team in 13,000 other action adventure movies?  Is the director trying to hint that Shang-Chi, or Katy, or both, are gay?  Then why not come out with it?  Because then the movie would be censored in China?

In an interview, director Destin Danile Cretin explains that a romance "didn't seem right," true to the characters and their personalities.  I agree: after being friends for 15 years, like Will and Grace, falling in love would be like perving on a brother or sister.  But heterosexual viewers are pining for the two to hook up in future installments, while gay viewers are grateful for momentary relief from the "boy meets girl" brainwashing.

Homophobia:  The internet has been buzzing with a 2015 comment from Simu Liu that he recently played a pedophile, and it changed his opinion:  "pedophilia is no different from being gay." Both are "disorders" based on genetic mutations. He responded to the accusations of homophobia by saying that he has "evolved" during the last seven years.  But there were gay characters in only one episode of Kim's Convenience.  

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