Jun 4, 2022

Winthrop: A Gay Kid in 1960s Comics

When I was a kid, if you wanted a good comic strip, like The Wizard of Id or Doonesbury, you had to go across the Mississippi to Iowa and buy the Davenport Times-Democrat. A lot of people did.  Rock Island's newspaper, The Argus (what kind of stupid name was that?), ran only thousand-year old strips like Out Our Way and Alley Oop.

And bargain-basement knock-offs.  Instead of Peanuts, with Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy, we got Winthrop, about a similar group of kids, but with none of the humor or ironic wit.

Apparently Winthrop wasn't intended to be a Peanuts knock-off.  Dick Cavalli started it in 1956 as Morty Meekle, about a mild-mannered office drone who was dating Jill Wortle over her father's strong objections.  Eventually he found the "disapproving dad" schtick too limiting, and started centering strips around Jill's preteen brother Winthrop.  In 1966, Morty and Jill vanished forever, and the strip was renamed Winthrop.

But at least it had gay-vague characters.

Winthrop had a set of quirky friends and relatives, most of whom I don't recall. There was a parrot who quoted Shakespeare, a best friend, a girl with a crush on him, a sister, a bully...nothing special.

But Spotless McPartland was nattily dressed, an intellectual, not into sports, and a germaphobe, sort of the Felix Ungar of the comic strip crowd.

And Foster Norman encapsulated the childhood fear of balloons: they might lift you off the ground and send you soaring into space.

He floated, balloon in hand, over the landscape, week after week, year after year.  He couldn't come down; he was lost  He looked on from above, occasionally making ironic comments about a world that no longer made sense, with rules that he no longer understood.

Even his name was evocative: "Foster," a foster child, someone who doesn't really belong, and "Norman," close to "no man," a boy who will never become a man.

I understood being an outsider, looking onto a world that made no sense, where the cries of "What girl do you like?" filled the air, and same-sex bonds were trivialized and ignored.

I was floating, observing but not belonging.  I was the boy with the balloon.

See also: Gay-coded Peanuts.

Jun 1, 2022

"Bless this Mess": "Do My Meat" in a Small Town in Nebraska

Bless this Mess,
a 2-season, 28-episode sitcom on Hulu: "newlyweds decide to move from New York City to rural Nebraska."  Huh?  That's the wrong direction -- you abandon your homophobic small town for the safe haven of a big city.  But I guess if they're heterosexual, one place is as good as another.  

It's doubtful that there are any gay characters, but if there are, they will be introduced in Season 2.  So I reviewed Season 2, Episode 13, which had the cryptic title "Volsung and Beef Boy."

Scene 1:  Big city transplants Mike and Rio (a woman) at the country-style house of their frenemy Beau.  They came to watch his teenage son Jacob, aka Beef Boy (JT Neal, top photo), judge raw meat: "these two are top sirloin..that one is.steakhouse quality" Apparently this skill has made him famous at 4-H Clubs county-wide, and could lead to a career.  

Also his father's love: if he wins the Meat-Judging Contest on Saturday, Beau will gift him with a belt buckle reading "Meat Champ" (if that's on your belt buckle, won't people want to check your meat?).

Scene 2:
Mike( (Dax Shepard, left)  runs into Jacob "Beef Boy" at the General Store: "You have a real talent.  Here -- do my meat!"  (do mine next!  These homoerotic innuendos are obviously intentional).   

But Jacob actually doesn't like judging meat; it's his father's interest, not his.  Mike can relate: he used to have a band called Volsung (iconography and lyrics from Norse mythology), but his high school guidance counselor made him quit and go to college, where he studied journalism, became a reporter....and ten years later got laid off and had to move to Nebraska and become a farmer.  Grr...

Scene 3: B plot about Rio learning to drive.

Scene 4: That night Mike and Rio discuss their days.  Rio hated the driving lesson, and Mike is playing his guitar again.

Scene 5:
Frenemy Beau (David Koechner, left) and son Jacob knock on the door.  Beau is upset because Mike has been filling his son's head with "fairy tales."  Now he refuses to judge meat!  "I'm not Beef Boy anymore!" Jacob exclaims.  "I'm a musician.  Mike and I are starting a band!"  He rushes in with a backpack, planning to stay with Mike.

Beau: "My boy is a golden god that smells like snow cones.  His future is meat.  Fix this!" He's been sniffing his son?

Scene 6: Jacob sings for Mike: "Did you ever get so sad that you tried to eat grass?"  He's awful.  Mike suggests that he go into meat-judging, and keep music as a hobby, but Jacob rejects the idea: "I got no passion for meat."  Maybe you like ladies?  

Jacob has researched Mike's old band, Volsung, and bought one of their t-shirts online.  Mike agrees to sing with him for nostalgia.  

Scene 7: Mike and Jacob practicing a Volsung song.  

Jacob: "Did you see my sex-god face?"  

Mike: "Well, I don't..."  

Jacob: "Here it is again. Are you turned on?"  He's a minor!  It's a trap -- don't answer.

Mike: "I'm going to say yes so we can move on."

Scene 8: The B Plot about learning to drive.  Later, Beau and his wife discuss the Jacob problem: "Do you think we get too angry?  Maybe we should try a different approach to get through to him."

Scene 9: Beau listening to Jacob and Mike play.  He pretends that he loves it.  "Maybe you could perform  during meat-judging contest.  Everybody in the county will be there."  

Scene 10: The meat-judging contest.  A dozen people with red hats and clipboards.  Jacob tells Mike the plan: "As we discussed, I will judge meat for a few minutes, then yell 'rancid meat'!  Then you run onto the stage in Viking gear -- I have mine under my clothes -- and we unleash the raven!" Because Odin had a raven.  Get it?

Scene 11: The B Plot.

Scene 12:
Nervous, Jacob takes the stage and begins meat-judging.  He gets so much adulation that he forgets to give Mike the signal, and turns his judging into a sexy rap: "Though #1 displayed a uniform color and was firmer, #2 displayed much less...bone."  I prefer more bone.   He looks like a construction worker-stripper, but nothing actually comes off.  Stil, everyone cheers, and a row of high school girls swoon.

Later, Mike and Rio congratulate Jacob on his victory.  He realized that he has no passion for either meat or music; his true passion is being cheered.  So, Magic Mike in your future?  Then: "I'm gonna bounce.  Some of the kids want me to autograph their meat."  Taste it first.

Mike takes the stage and begins singing a Volsung song.  The end.

Beefcake: Jacob is cute; the other two male cast members, not so much.

Gay Characters:  Jacob is not canonically gay -- he has a girlfriend in another episode -- but here he doesn't display any heterosexual interest: no "as a musician I'll get girls," both boys and girls cheering as he judges the meat.  Plus asking Mike if he's "turned on"  by his "sex-god face" suggests that he wants to be a sex-god with men and women both.

Homoerotic Innuendos:  Obviously intentional, but the joke is that everyone is oblivious.

Follow Your Dream: I expected Dad to accept Jacob's interest in music, not meat, a sort of parallel to being interested in boys, not girls (or girls, not boys).  But it didn't happen.

My Grade: A- for the episode, C for the series.

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", 2012 or 2018: Mikey finds a Boyfriend


I've never been particularly interested in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies or tv shows.  Mutated turtles who talk like valley dudes and are named after Renaissance painters?  Too weird, although  I did review two of the movies a few years ago (See Which of the Ninja Turtles is Gay?)

But I was drawn into a promo on Netflix that featured "Mikey" overtly in love -- eyes turning into little hearts -- with a guy!  

It's Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018-2021), originally on Nickelodeon, with the premise and character personalities slightly altered.  The turtles are young teens with Anglicized names: Leo the leader (Ben Schwartz), Donnie the tech guy (Josh Brener), Raph the muscle (Omar Benson Miller), and Mikey (Brandon Mychal Smith), "an affectionate and sensitive artist" (lots of gay code words there).  The "overtly in love" scene is from Episode #4.

Scene 1: Evil black-skull ninjas practing.  Master Shredder enters and congratulates his "greatest pupil."   He announces that he's found an old enemy, Hamato Yoshi, hiding in the sewers of New York, transformed into a giant rat named Master Splinter.  He wants Black-Skull to destroy him and his turtle-ninjas.  A switchblade-wielding thug named Xever will assist, since he knows the area.

Scene 2: The Turtles patrolling on the rooftops of New York.  Mikey wants to return a lost cat to its owner, but the others warn: "You can't show yourself to humans.  They'll freak out."  Mikey doesn't listen, and the owner freaks out.  "The humans will never understand you!" 

Suddenly Mikey sees a poster advertising an appearance by martial artist Chris Bradford.  "That guy will understand me! He's my soul mate!  Maybe he'll show me his secret kata."  Only if you buy him dinner first.  

His brothers disagree: "He's a famous celebrity!  No way will he be interested in you!"

They're attacked by Black-Skull and his team, but everyone scatters when the police arrive.

Scene 3: Back in the sewer, Mikey reads about Chris Bradford in a magazine and makes "yummy" noises.  "I wish we were friends!"  Their human ally, April, points out that she is his friend.  "You don't count -- you're a girl."  

April suggest "friending" him on social media.  Mikey tries it, his eyes turning into little hearts.  Bradford accepts the friend request immediately! '

 "Don't get your hopes up," April warns. "He's probably got thousands of friends."  "But none like me -- we're soul mates!"  

Scene 4: Bradford leaving his boxing club.  Mikey appears; Bradford attacks, but calms down when he announces that they're social media friends.  They shake hands; Bradford invites him in.

Later, Mikey enthusiasticlly describes their date to his bored brothers.  "And then he put on his akama..."  So before he was naked?  Did they hook up on the first date?  

Raph jokes: "Maybe he'll wear it when he takes you to the prom."  This seems to be a homophobic jibe, implying that Mikey's interest in Bradford is romantic, therefore "wrong."

Scene 5: Bradford boxing.  Mikey appears.  He rolls his eyes and recoils at a hug, but pretends to be happy to see him.  "Now tell me everything about you, including your sensei." Uh-oh, ulterior motive!

Scene 6:  Out to dinner (actually, pizza on the roof).  Bradford continues to feign interest in Mikey while pumping him for information.  "Tell me about your sensei."  But Mikey won't talk about Master Splinter; it's a secret.

Later, in the bedroom (what, precisely, are they up to?), Bradford promises to show him his secret Death Dragon move, if he doesn't tell anyone else about it.

Scene 7: Mikey describing the Death dragon move to his brothers.  Bradford texts and asks him out; he leaves. 

Cut to Bradford -- have  you already figured out that he's Black-Skull?  -- telling his associate Xever: "The freak is on the way.  The trap is set." 

The other turtles are practicing the Death Dragon move.  Master Splinter sees them, and remembers his arch-nemesis Shredder using it, back when he was human.  They realize that Bradford is Shredder's associate, using Mikey to get intel on Splinter.

Scene 8:  Mikey arrives at the darkened dojo for the date.  Bradford and his associate Xever attack, subdue him, and tie him up.  "You actually thought that someone like me could be friends with someone like you?" he sneers.  

Scene 9: The other turtles to the rescue!  A very quick rescue -- they don't realize that Bradford planted a tracking device on Mikey, and now knows where their secret hideout is. 

Except the turtles do know.  They capture all of the ninjas except for Bradford and Xever.  After a battle, they flood the tunnel so the baddies are swept out into the sewer.

Scene 10: Pizza back at the lair.  Master Splinter is despondent: "Shredder now knows that I'm alive and training ninjas, and he'll try to destroy us again."  

Mikey is despondent, too.  "This was all my fault.  I should never have tried being friends with a human."  "You're an awesome guy.  You deserve better friends than Bradford."  Mikey unfriends him.  The end.

Is Mikey Gay:  There are many hints that Mikey has a romantic interest in Bradford (and a few hints that he has an erotic interest), but he uses only "friend" terminology throughout.  His brothers tease him about having a romantic interest, but don't seem to think of it as a real possibility.  Therefore I doubt that Mikey is canonically gay, but the subtext is obviously intentional.  

Whoops, I made a mistake.  When Netflix shows you something on the home page, you naturally assume that it's new, not something that's been in their vault since the Stone Age, but this is actually a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle series from 2012-2017, starring Jason Biggs/Seth Green, Rob Paulsen, Sean Astin, and Greg Cipes. 

No one in that group is particularly gay-friendly, so I doubt that they would approve of making Mikey canonically gay.  Besides, the fans would start screaming:  "Why does eve single character on every single show have to be gay? Leave us at least one straight guy!"  Right, "every" means "more than zero."

We'll have to make do with subtexts.

May 31, 2022

David Cassidy's Comic Book Career

In 1972, when I was 11 years old, David Cassidy was everywhere.

On tv, as Keith Partridge on The Partridge Family.  On Saturday morning cartoons. 

On the radio, where the Partridge Family was still cracking the Top 40, and his own singles were cracking the Top 10.

In 17 paperback novels (The Ghost of Graveyard Hill, Terror By Night, Marked for Terror).

In every teen magazine on the newsstand.

So it made sense that he would push into comic books.  The bargain-basement Charleton Comics, which specialized in cannibalizing other properties, published 14 issues of David Cassidy (1972-73), most with photographs of David on the cover.

Yes, I bought them.

The stories inside were banal, mostly involving David helping a fan, or getting into humorous misadventures on the way to a concert. His fans were portrayed as 100% female.  Men were competitors for girls, manipulating agents, scheming managers, 100% bad guys.

But at least most issues found a way to get David out of his clothes.

By 1973, when David's star was in decline, apparently stories about meeting fans or trying to seduce the one girl in the world who wasn't into him weren't selling well, so the plots moved toward action-adventure, with David meeting spies and pirates.  This says "Outlaws, groovy chicks, and a fiddle bit keep David busy."

A few years later, when his songs were no longer charting, the real-life David also tried to re-invent himself as an action-adventure star with David Cassidy, Man Undercover (1973)..

See also: David Cassidy, Man Undercover; Charlton Comics

May 30, 2022

Summertime Car Washes

One of the joys of summer is the car wash fundraiser.  Check your local event calendar, and you'll find one or two per week: a club, class, team, or church group is raising money by washing cars.

The attraction, of course, is that they're washing with their shirts off, allowing you to gawk at their spectacular physiques.

They know it.  They plan on it.  It's the one time in the Straight World where everyone acknowledges the existence of same sex desire.

Well, not really.  Everyone is supposed to pretend that it's all about the cars.

A lot of the car wash fundraisers feature women instead of men, so you have to be careful.  Is it a male team or club?  Is it being advertised by men?  Especially men who wrap the signs around their waists, implying that they are naked.

You also have to worry about the age of the guys.  They are typically in high school or college, but occasionally younger groups host car washes.  No point in gawking at a group of 12 year olds.

If you're lucky, they'll be even older than college age.

I stay away from car washes with both male and female participants.  They invariably try to steer male drivers toward the females, and female drivers toward the male.  If you insist on the "male" group, they act as if they have never heard of anything so outrageous.

And what's up with the car washers who leave their shirts on?  I understand that when you're out in the sun for hours, you can get burnt, but that's what sunscreen is for.

You're not allowed to just stand and watch the workers. That would make the real reason for the car wash fundraisers too obvious.

But nobody says you can't bring your car in to be washed several times.

Harrow: How do you solve a gay teenager's murder without promoting homophobia?


According to the Hulu blub, Daniel Harrow is "a brilliant forensic pathologist who solves cases that others can't."  Naturally.  I'll bet they are all about serial killers...yawn.  But Episode 8 is about "the death of a "young, gay student," so I tuned in to see how homophobic it was.

Prelude:  Someone rowing in the river sees a body on the shore.

Scene 1: Harrow wakes up, notices that his bedmate is gone, makes breakfast, and looks at old photos.  Dead wife, the oldest cliche in the heterosexist writer's manual. I'm already disgusted, and we haven't even met the gay student yet.  

Scene 2: Harrow goes to work in his elegant, ornate coroner's office, and yells at a woman named Pavich for performing an autopsy in his exam room.  She explains: a body came in, and she hasn't done an autopsy for a long time, so she couldn't resist. She's planning to take a job in Geneva, which will upset the boss.

Scene 3:
The boss, Bryan, trying to get ahold of Pavich, without success: she's ghosting him to avoid having to reveal the Geneva job.  He and his coworkers discuss a case about "tyres."  Is this England? I'm watching on mute with subtitles, so I haven't heard the accents.

Meanwhile, the hunky Jesse (Ulu Lakutefu, left) gets up and smooches on his wife or girlfriend, who quickly hides whatever she was doing on her laptop.  This show is apparently not the corpse-of-the-week.  He invites her to have sex, but she refuses.  He suggests a weekend on the coast; she refuses.  The plot thickens.

Scene 4: Back at the autopsy, a Stick-in-the-Mud Guy comes in and gets all persnickety about Pavich playing around inside a corpse.  He's already applied for her job, so now everyone knows that she's leaving!  She yells at him and stalks off.

Then Hunky Assistant (Remi Hii) comes in, and tells Harrow that he's taking David to a resort for his 30th birthday.  A gay coworker!   Harrow tells him to finish the autopsy.  He leaves and gets a phone call: "It's Dass.  Fancy getting out of the office for a bit?"  Definitely England.  We don't use "fancy" as a verb in America.

Scene 5: A woman photographing the corpse from the river.  The guy playing the corpse has a nice bulge.  Harrow arrives and asks for the details: he's Rhys Weir, 17 years old, a member of his high school rowing team, dead from a massive skull fracture.  It looks like he let himself into the rowing shed, got a boat, and slipped and hit his head as he tried to launch it.  But...he's been dead since about 2:00 am. Who goes rowing at 2:00 am?

They interview the rowing coach: all team members have keys to the shed, but they aren't allowed to go rowing before 5:00 am.  By the way, there was a big rowing meet yesterday, and Rhys flubbed a stroke, resulting in his team losing the championship. She continues: Rhys came out as gay last year, but all of his schoolmates and faculty have been totally supportive.  

His Mom is gone, and his Dad is in Dubai.  He mostly lived by himself.  Letting a minor live without an adult guardian?  We would be screaming "child abuse!" in the U.S.

 A teammate named Luke left an instagram message: "Thanks for losing, Asshole."  His scholarship is in jeopardy due to the lost championship.  A suspect!

Scene 6: Back at  the office, Harrow and Hunky Assistant begins an autopsy.  Nothing cut open yet, a nice rear view of the naked guy playing the corpse. Now turn him over, so we can see his dangly bits.  Injuries consistent with slipping and hitting your head on the concrete.  End of story?  

They turn the body over (nice chest, no dangly bits).  Wait -- he was going into anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction. That's why he fell and hit his head. 

Scene 7:  Rhys must have been exposed to the allergin at the boat ramp.  But there was no food in his backpack or his car.  Harrow and the lady cop he's flirting with check the boat shed.  No food, but they find Rhys' notebook.  Someone left him a note: "Leave him alone!"  A jealous boyfriend or girlfriend?

Hunky Assistant calls -- Rhys hadn't eaten anything all day, but there was a strange base protein on his tongue.  He also had been drinking.  So he does the autopsy, and the genius forensic pathologist does regular detective work?

Scene 8: Harrow and the lady cop he's flirting with interview the teammates.  Sean, Rhys, Luke, and Ash all went to Ash's house after the competition, to drink vodka and console each other.  Rhys left at 1:00 am.  They let a friend drive drunk?   They don't know what the "Leave him alone!" is about; Rhys didn't have a boyfriend.

As they leave, Harrow stumbles upon Luke fighting with another guy.  Luke won't say what's going on.

Scene 9:  Back at the office, Harrow teases Stick-in-the-Mud Guy about applying for Pavich's job (remember, she's moving to Geneva?).  "No way!  You're a loose cannon.  You disregard protocols!  You don't play by the rules."  Like every cop, detective, surgeon, teacher, and forensic pathologist who has ever appeared in any movie or tv show.

Hunky Assistant bring in the lab report:  the allergin was semen!   Turns out that semen allergy is a real thing, but heteronormative medical reports assume that the semen is going into a vagina.  But not anyone's semen, just one particular guy's.  Who would have been there when he started choking, but didn't bother to call for help.  Let's find him with a DNA analysis!  Fortunately, they have a fully equipped DNA lab right there at the morgue.

Scene 10:
They ask all of the boys that Rhys was with that night to provide a DNA sample.  Sean (Joe Klocek) says he's happy to provide one, but his Dad is outraged: "Grr, grr, why are you maligning my son's reputation by implying that he's a poof? I'm calling my lawyer!"  

A police diver looking for clues in the river stumbles upon a human skull!  Back at headquarters, Stick-in-the-Mud Guy and Pavich argue about who should do the forensic analysis.  

More stuff about the "two tyres" case, which also is the case of Hunky Jesse's wife or girlfriend from Scene 3 (remember her).  

Scene 11:  Back to Harrow.  More bad news: all of the boys are refusing to let them give DNA samples, so they have to go to the Supreme Court for an order, which will take weeks.  Harrow rushes to an opulent mansion and yells at Sean: "Why did you change your mind?  You don't need your father's permission to give a DNA sample.  Let's go to the station and do one!"  Sean yells "You can't be here!" and slams the door in his face.

More stuff about the "two tyres" case. Harrow is personally involved.   I'm beginning to think that it's the A plot, and the guy who died of semen poisoning is the B plot.

Scene 12:  Back at the lab, Harrow tells Hunky Assistant -- Simon -- that all of the boys have refused DNA samples.  How long has it been?  Rhy's corpse is still lying naked on the examination table, untouched.  Didn't they open up his stomach?

Harrow notices something else: there was algae all over the boat ramp, and on Rhys' clothes, but none in his head wound.  How is that possible?  They make a cast of the wound and compare it with the boat ramp steps.  Not a match!  He fell somewhere else, and then someone brought him to the ramp as a cover-up.

Next, they sneak into the yard of Sean's opulent mansion, and check it against the fountain.  A match!  Rhys hit his head there!

Harrow confronts Sean:  "You and Rhys left together that night, and came here.  You had sex by the fountain, and then he went into shock and hit his head. It was an accident -- you're not to blame."  Then Dad comes out and starts yelling and punching everyone.

Spoiler alert: it was Dad!  He caught them together, got angry, and pushed Rhys.  Still an accident, but then he refused to call an ambulance.  Instead, they covered it  up.  (Dad left the note in Rhys' notebook, too.) The title actually broadcasts the solution: "Peccata Patriai," the sins of the father.  

Scene 13:  Rhys' Dad, finally back from Dubai, views the body.  Out in the hallway, Hunky Assistant talks to Harrow: "Things were rough for me when I came out in high school, but I thought gay kids today would have it easier.  I guess the world haven't changed as much as we'd like to think it has."  There was just one homophobe in the lot, and it was the boyfriend's dad.  Sounds like progress to me.

He's upset by the case, so Harrow loans him his car to drive up the coast with David.

There are still 10 minutes left for the A plot.

Beefcake:  Harrow's chest while he wakes up.  Lots of shots of the corpse in pristine condition, obviously meant to provide beefcake appeal. Other boys take off their shirts in flashbacks.

Gay Characters: Three.

Heterosexism: Harrow has a girlfriend and an ex-wife in the A plot.

Forensic Investigation: They actually use forensics to solve the case, although Simon does all the work

My Grade: B if Simon mentions being gay in other episodes.  Otherwise C.

Update: Simon is killed halfway through Season 2 (bury your gays).  His boyfriend David either doesn't appear, or appears in just one episode.

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