Mar 5, 2022

Dennis the Menace

Newspaper comics aren't for kids.  They never have been.  We couldn't understand Blondie and Dagwood or Hi and Lois; if the husbands and wives hated each other so much, why didn't they just leave?  Comics starring kids, like Peanuts,  were even worse; references to contemporary sports and politics that we knew nothing about, using words that no real-life kid would even think of.

Dennis the Menace was an exception, a single-panel strip detailing the adventures of Boomer kid Dennis Mitchell, drawn as about five years old but enjoying the freedoms of someone much older.  Hank Ketchum's single panel strips first appeared in 1951, and could be seen in thousands of newspapers through the sixties, as well as an iconic sitcom and a featue film, as millions of parents of Boomer kids saw a reflection of their own lives.

 I encountered Dennis through the series of cheap paperback reprints that appeared regularly in garage sales and library book sales every summer: Dennis the Menace...Teacher's Threat, Dennis the Menace -- Nonstop Nuisance, almost thirty titles in all.

I noticed 3 things right away:

1. Dennis was my exact opposite.  I was quiet, mild-mannered, and didn't like to play outside.  He was rambunctious, aggressive, destructive, uninhibited, a “little savage."

I was occasionally scared, and I cried when I was upset, but Dennis never waivered from his hypermasculinity. He displayed not a moment of weakness.  He was, as adult characters kept saying, "all boy."

2. His foil, Margaret, was an absurdly exaggerated "girl."  Although extremely intelligent, she pushed a doll carriage, jumped rope, played “dress up,” and could think of no possible future except as a housewife, or maybe an airline stewardess.  She was not shy about her intentions: first civilizing Dennis, teaching him manners and fashions, and then marrying him.

But Dennis would have none of it:

He slugged Margaret in a Tunnel of Love because he thought she was trying to kissing him.

At a party, he anticipated that Margaret would want to play “post office,” a kissing game, so he brought a stamp to put on her nose.

3. Dennis was not only uninterested, he couldn't even recognize heterosexual desire when he saw it.

When he saw an adult couple kissing, he concluded that “They’re fighting.”

 A sailor kissing his girlfriend: “Makes you wonder what kinda guys they got protecting our country."

A cowboy with a woman on his arm: “She must be his sister.”

His Dad and neighbor Mr. Wilson ogling a cheesecake calendar: “They’re talking about football. 40-23-36 is signals.”

It didn't last.  Sometime during the 1970s, the reprint books introduced Italian immigrant Gina, tall and slim, in a mod outfit.  No prissy girl-stereotype, she liked skateboarding and soccer, didn’t disapprove of dirt and bugs, and could beat up any boy. Dennis was entranced. Maybe he never met a girl that he had anything in common with before.

"Gina makes me feel all funny inside," he announced to his parents.  And met his heterosexual destiny.

But in the 1960s, Dennis gave gay kids the freedom to not to be interested in "the opposite sex," in spite of what parents, teachers, and peers kept telling us.


Mar 4, 2022

Better Nate Than Ever: Gay Kids, Wacky Aunts, and Beefcake

Big Nate
is a comic strip character who first appeared in 1990.  Since then, there have been many collections, a series of chapter books  with pun titles, some activity books, a musical, and an animated tv series (with Nate voiced by Ben Giroux).  A live action movie, Better Nate Than Ever, js set to appear in April 2022.  Creator Lincoln Peirce writes that in the original chapter book (2013), he included a subplot about a boy coming out, which caused homophobic schools to cancel his speaking engagements and libraries to ban all of his books.  But he also got "a lot of support" and won a Lambda Literary Award.  

I didn't want to wait for the movie, so I bought the book.  

Nate, age 13, lives with his working-class parents and older brother Anthony in a suburb of Pittsburg.  He loves musicals, and acts out various scenes with his friend Libby, who has a crush on him.  However, when she moves in for a kiss, he backs away.  He states that his sexual identity is unknown: "I'm 13.  Macaroni and cheese is my favorite dish.  How do I know who I want to hook up with?"

You generally know who you're attracted to at a very young age, even if you're not thinking in sexual terms yet.   But let's go with it.

The other chapter books and the tv series portray Nate as aspiring artist and chess player, never mention a musical, and give him friends named Francis and Teddy but not Libby.  He concocts wild plans to meet girls,  has had three girlfriends,  and dissolves into a slurry of hormones when he sees Jenny, the Girl of His Dreams.  

In the comic strip, we see the same characters and hetero-horny hijinks.  Nate is currently accusing his buddy Francis of being a jinx who caused their favorite sports team to lose.  

What's going on?   

Better Nate Than Ever
is not included in the list of Big Nate novels, nor are its sequels, Five Six Seven Nate (2014) and Nate Expectations (2018), "wonderful evocations of what it's like to be a theater kid."

Turns out that this is a new evocation of the character, written by Tim Federle (with Lincoln Peirce's permission, one assumes).

Nate's interest in musicals, and singing and dancing in general, gets him a lot of homophobic harassment.  His older brother calls him a "homo" and asks if he's practicing Gays and Dolls.  His father disapproves of his goal of becoming an actor and "hanging out with a bunch of queers."  Even his mother complains that the neighbors can see him prancing around in the back yard "like a fairy." 

He and Libby see a call for open auditions for the role of Elliott in E.T.: The Musical, to be held in New York City.  The day his parents happen to be going out of town.  They come up with a plan: Nate will "borrow" his mother's ATM card, take the bus five hours into New York, audition, then get back on the bus and home before Mom and Dad notice.  

The book details Nate's very funny adventures on the bus and at the audition, with some subplot involving his freespirited Aunt Heidi.  Nate tries to get a guy to ask her out, but he states that he "only dates men."  Nate is shocked for a moment, but then says "Hey, that's great!"   No subplots about boys coming out.  Could I have gotten the wrong book?

The 2022 live action movie will star Rueby Wood as Nate,  Lisa Kudrow as his wacky Aunt Heidi, and Joshua Bassett as older brother Anthony.

Joshua Bassett came out as gay while starring in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (actually he said that he identifies as LGBTQ+, but there are many letters in the alphabet, and it's ok to still be figuring out which applies to you).  His Anthony  plays a bigger role than in the novel, as an ally rather than an antagonist (and he gets a shirtless shot in the trailer).  

Joshua promises that there will be "gay kids" in the movie, but I don't see any likely prospects on the IMDB cast list.  Unless it's Nate himself.   

Mar 2, 2022

A Fashion Photographer Tied to a Merry-go-round in his Underwear

David Anthony was a fashion photographer on Swinging Sixties Carnaby Street, who had a brief career as a singer, under the name "Charles Dickens."

Apparently Mr. Dickens released three singles: "That's the Way Love Goes" (1965), "I Stand Alone" (1966), and "So Much in Love" (1966).

In 1968, he was cast in the film The Touchables (1968), a take on the gangster tv series The Untouchables (1959-63).

The plot is minimal, just an excuse for some "hush-hush wink-wink" British naughtiness.  Pop star Christian is kidnapped by four girls, who take him to a Buckmeister Fuller geodesic dome and then a merry-go-round, tie him up, and have sex with him.  Meanwhile his friends are trying to rescue him, and there are some gangsters.

It was directed by Robert Freeman, the Beatles' favorite photographer during the 1960s.  The song "Norwegian Wood" was based on John Lennon's affair with Freeman's wife.

This was his only directorial credit.

  Other performers include Harry Baird as a gangster named Lily white, and professional wrestler Ricky Starr, who also took his shirt off for an episode of the American sitcom Mr. Ed.

No gay content in the movie, and I can't find anything else out about David Anthony: there's another photographer AND another musician named David Anthony active now, plus celebrities named David Anthony Higgins, David Anthony Kennedy, and so on.

But this post is really about the fashion photographer turned actor stripped to his underwear and tied spreadeagle to a merry-go-round.

Mar 1, 2022

"Merli": Catalan Boy Studies Philosophy, Has Sex with Cougars, and Displays His Butt

In college I took a class in "Modern Philosophy," assuming that the philosophy would be modern.  No, it's 18th century.  All I remember about it is: "Berkeley" is pronounced "Barkeley."  But the teaser to Merli, a Spanish teen drama about a philosophy student, shows a guy gawking at another guy's bare butt, so I'll give it a try.

Scene 1: Score!  Closeup of the bare butt of Pol (Carlos Cuevas) as he showers!  We see most of the rest of him, too, as he dresses while getting a plot dump: He and Dad have just moved into an apartment together, he's going to work instead of applying to Uni, and his friend Bruno has just lost his Dad. I thought this was a Spanish series, but I don't understand anything they're saying.

Bruno appears. More plot dump: Pol hooked up with Bruno once, but he's actually straight.  Bruno doesn't really believe him, but what can you do?

Scene 2: Pol runs into Dad and his new girlfriend, and decides that he should get on with his life, too.  He applies to Uni after all, in philosophy.

Scene 3: 
  First day of class at the amazingly ornate Universitat de Barcelona.  That explains the language: not Spanish, Catalan!    Pol has a meet-cute with Biel (Pere Valribera), who guides him to the wrong class: math, not philosophy.  Finally they find the correct class, Philosophical Issues, with a jaded, world-weary professor (world-weary after just 10 years on the job?  Get back to me after 30 years!).   They also take classes in the History of Culture (all Marxist) and Symbolic Logic (which sounds like gibberish), and meet a Just-Friends Girl.

Scene 4: In the library, they get all-tongue tied over the Girl of Their Dreams, Minerva.  Unfortunately, she already has a Rich Jerk boyfriend, Rai.  

Scene 5: Ethics Class with another world-weary philosophy prof.  She makes a bigoted joke to see if the students understand freedom of speech, and brings in a janitor to explain social inequality, and half the class walks out.    

Scene 6:
They all hang out after class.  Pol sees Bruno eating Rainbow Flag cake with his new LGBT friends.  Rich Jerk Rai (Pablo Capuz) stops by their table for a few minutes, then accidentally takes Pol's wallet!

Scene 7:  In a palatial mansion, a rich blond lady is giving a blow job to a chunky working-class guy.  Did I accidentally switch channels?  This doesn't seem to be the same series at all.  Someone rings the bell, so she sends working-class guy -- Henry -- to answer the door.  It's Pol, bringing Rich Jerk Rai's wallet.

Mom comes downstairs and flirts with Pol before Rich Jerk Rai appears -- in a swimsuit!

Scene 8:  They go up to Rai's room  -- erm, suite --  to exchange wallets.   Rai invites Pol to take a swim, but he refuses -- he has to work.  But he sticks around long enough to gawk at Rai's bare butt as he dives into the pool.

Scene 9: Just Friends Girl goes to visit Minerva, who has a flat in the Temple of Augustus. Imagine living in a museum, looking out your window at the crowds on tour.  We are introduced to roommates: Amy, a bubbly American, and Etin, a musician.  Then on to Minerva's room, where she admits that she has a crush on Rich Jerk Rai.   Wait -- I thought they were already dating?  

Scene 10: Rich Jerk Rai's Mom having cupcakes with her friends.  Rai comes in: Mom criticizes him for dropping out of Business to study...ugh...Philosophy.  "Now you have somewhere to vomit your existentialism about being different from everyone else."  So Rai is gay?

Nope: one of the friends excuses herself and goes to the bathroom to have sex with him. (No beefcake.)

Scene 11: Pol at his job. mopping the floor at a parking garage, when a middle-aged woman drives up: she needs help parking.  They have sex.  Wow, two college boys sexing up cougars, one after the other.  I guess the director has a fetish. 

Scene 12:  Back to class.  World-Weary Prof asks if it's ethical to discriminate against people because they are ugly.   Then she has pastries with her friend and complains that students used to enroll in her classes because she was beautiful; now she's ugly, and attendance has dropped off.  10 to 1 Pol starts dating her before the term is over. We already know that he's into older ladies.

Scene 13:  World Weary Prof meets her daughter, who appears to have Down's Syndrome.  They discuss her chances of becoming Chancellor -- nil.   Meanwhile Pol's Dad discusses moving in with his girlfriend, which makes Pol furiouos.  

Scene 14: The pool at the palatial mansion.  Rich Jerk Rai is pretending to be dead, but Mom isn't falling for his prank.  They argue: "I've spent years tolerating your eccentricities, and the calls from school about your bad attitude and stupidity."  "You should talk!"  And so on, while Henry watches.

Scene 15:
Pol and Bruno (David Solans) , his friend from Scene 1, talking over the recent events in Pol's life.  They flirt.  Bruno: "When you hook up with guys and girls, you're bisexual."  Pol: "It was one time, and there was a girl between us.  I only like girls. Besides, I'm not into labels." I've heard that one before.  It means: I'm into guys, but I don't want to suffer the discrimination that comes from being out as gay.  

He takes off his clothes and runs naked into the ocean (nice butt).  Bruno muses: "I'm going to get you, Pol.  In the end, all roads lead to Bruno."  He strips and runs naked into the ocean, too.  They frolick.   The end.

Beefcake: A lot of bare butts, no lady parts (which is a good thing).

Other Sights: A lot of Barcelona.

Gay Characters: Bruno, the possibly bisexual Pol, and maybe Rai.

Heterosexism: Two cougar sex scenes.

Character Dump:  There are about 20 named characters in this episode, impossible to keep track of them all, or to decide which ones are connected. Especially the middle-aged blond women who want to have sex with college boys.  The director definitely has a fetish.

 In the last scene, Pol says that he wants to get a scholarship, graduate, and become "a merli,"  so I assumed that Merli was a Catalan term for a kind of philosopher.  But Google Translate is not familiar with the term.

IMDB lists a tv series called Merli, about an inspiring high school philosophy teacher.  It has a Pol, but otherwise the characters are all different. This must be a sequel or a remake or something.  So they named a tv series after a character who doesn't appear and is only mentioned once? 

Plot Arc:  No paranormal, no secret society, no mystery of any sort.  What is this series about, Pol's sexual identity?

My Grade: C for the plot, A for the butts.

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