Jul 9, 2022

Saturday Morning Beefcake: the 1990s

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Saturday morning tv was strictly for little kids. By junior high, I watched only the live-action programs like H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Lidsville.  By high school, I had abandoned even those.

In the late 1980s, Saturday morning became cool again.  Everybody watched Pee-Wee's Playhouse  and  Saved by the Bell.  For some reason, most gay men preferred  Slater (Mario Lopez, right) to Mark-Paul Goesselaer's prettyboy operator Zack Morris.

Between 1993 and 2001, there was a whole lineup of teencoms to watch with your boyfriend and whatever guy you had brought home to "share" the night before. They all had the about the same plot: a group of high schoolers go out for sports, consider cheating on tests, take part-time jobs, date, and start bands.  There was always  a Zack Morris clone and a Slater clone, plus sundry stereotyped athletes, nerds, cheerleader-type girls, and brainy-type girls.

Boring stuff.  But who was watching for the plots?

1. Running the Halls starred blond goldenboy Richard Hillman as the Zack Morris clone who got into constant trouble with the vice-principal.   Hillman  also had small roles in Detroit Rock City and Teenage Caveman.  He died of AIDS in 2009.

2. California Dreams followed Iowa teens to their new home in California (shades of Beverly Hills 90210!), where naturally they started a band.  It starred Michael Cade's abs.

Fortunately, Book Circus had a full selection of teen magazines with Michael Cade centerfolds.

3. Saved by the Bell: The New Class was set right at Bayside High, with the vice principal and the nerd Screech still there.  It changed teen hunks frequently, but Christian Oliver is probably the best-remembered Zack Morris clone. 

You can also see Christian Oliver in the 2012 film Blow Me.

4. Hang-Time was oddly set in small-town Indiana rather than Malibu, and involved basketball rather than surfing.   It went through a lot of cast changes, too, with new groups of teen hunks every season.  Danso Gordon (left, recent photo) played the Slater clone.  Today he performs mostly in evangelical Christian movies like Heaven is Real.  I doubt that he would be happy learning that hundreds of gay men in West Hollywood thought that he was hot.

5.City Guys was set at Manhattan High School (apparently there is only one high school in Manhattan), with a diverse cast of two black guys, not just one, plus the Hispanic Al, played by Dion Basco (far left, from the cast of Naked Brown Men).

Jul 6, 2022

Going to Movies in 1984-85: Four Buddy-Bonds, Three Androgynous Prettyboys, One Psycho-Slasher, and One Arnold


In August 1984, just after getting my M.A. in English, I drove 1000 miles south to Hell-fer-Sartain, aka Texas, for the worst year of my life.  I hated everything about Texas: 

The innumerable construction sites with scattered nails that gave you a flat tire at least once a week.

The 24-hour a day traffic jams

The postal carrier who delivered my mail to random houses in the neighborhood.

The bank that deposited my money into someone else's account

The nearest gay neighborhood, 20 miles away (an hour drive in the traffic jam)

The absurdly closeted local gay men ("I can't hook up with you; you have neighbors.  Someone might hear us!").

You might expect me to go to a lot of movies as an escape, but in fact the nearest movie theater was in the mall, three miles away, through a 24-hour traffic jam, past six construction sites to give me yet another flat tire.  During my nine months in Hell-fer-Sartain, I saw only 10.

August: Oxford Blues, with Rob Lowe, then an androgynous prettyboy whom everyone assumed was gay, as a teenage operator who chases the Girl of His Dreams to England and cons his way into Oxford  University.  All men are competitors, bullies, or villains; all women are kind, loving, and gentle. Heterosexism to the max, but in 1984 I didn't think anything of it; every movie was like that.

September: Amadeus, with Tom Hulce, whom I later discovered was actually gay, as a rabble-rousing Mozart who spars with establishment composer Salieri.

: The Terminator, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a naked cyborg assassin from the future, out to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to the man who will save humanity.  In sequels, he turns into a good guy.  Meanwhile Sarah falls in love with a human from the future.

November:  A Nightmare on Elm Street. A child-murderer assassinated by angry parents returns to seek revenge, stalking out contemporary teenagers in their dreams.  Today I'm annoyed by the assumption that everyone on Earth is Roman Catholic, and by the wacky belief that failure to sign the proper documents will allow a man on trial for killing a lot of kids to go free.  I don't remember being annoyed in 1994.  Having seen hundreds of movies since, I've become more critical.

: The Flamingo Kid, with Matt Dillon, another androgynous prettyboy, as a poor Brooklyn boy who draws the interest of a fast-talking con artist.  A definite gay subtext, in spite of the time spent on Matt chasing the Girl of His Dreams.

December: Johnny Dangerously, with Michael Keaton as a poor New York boy who draws the interest of a fast-talking gangster.  The plot hinges on his love for his brother (Griffin Dunne), in spite of the requisite Girl of His Dreams trope.

January: The Falcon and the Snowman. Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn play a falconry expert and a cocaine dealer who sell military secrets to the Soviets so they can make enough money to settle down together.  A strong gay subtext in spite of the girlfriends in the background.

February: Witness.  Detective Harrison Ford is assigned to protect a young Amish boy who witnessed a murder.  Naturally, he falls in love with the boy's mother.  If you are interested in seeing an Amish woman washing her breasts, this is the movie for you.  If you are interested in beefcake, no.

March: None

Private Resort, a teen sex comedy starring Johnny Depp, then the heart throb on the teen cop drama 21 Jump Street, and Rob Morrow as his heterosexual life partner, on the prowl for girls at a "private resort."  I figured that there would be some beefcake, but actually the bikini babes outnumber the bicep boys ten to one.

Gotcha, with Anthony Edwards as a college student in Europe who gets mixed up with spies and meets the Girl of His Dreams.  There's a gratuitous strip-search scene with a stunning underwear bulge.  Or maybe it was memorable because it was so unexpected.  Any attention to the male form was rare in 1985, and underwear (other than boxers) practically non-existent.  

In May, the moment I finished grading the final exams for my classes in Bonehead English at Redneck University, I jumped into my car and started driving.  I didn't stop for anything until I was halfway through Mississippi.

Alice's Queer Wonderland

I first encountered Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) when I was 8 or 9, in a volume of the Junior Classics called Stories that Never Grow Old (along with such oddities as The King of the Golden River and Jackanapes).  I didn't understand most of it , and what I did understand was either horrifying or deadly dull.  Alice falls into a constantly-changing world where bizarre characters quiz her on her knowledge of arithmetic and poetry.  Most of them want to kill her. And it turns out to be a dream.

Besides, there were no cute boys or muscular men in it, although movie adaptions often feature hot actors, like Andrew-Lane Potts as the Mad Hatter (2009), left, or Jason Byrne as Pat the Gardner (1999), below.  Lewis Carroll liked little girls (a lot), but he detested boys.

Give me a nice, normal science fiction novel, like The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet or The Spaceship under the Apple Tree.

But in the spring of 1985, just before I moved to West Hollywood, the music video of Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More" used an Alice motif.  I reread Alice and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, and found ample gay content.

1. No character displays even a hint of heterosexual interest. Lewis Carroll was utterly baffled by sex and romance in general, and looked in horror at the day when Alice would grow up, and marriage would "summon to unwelcome bed a melancholy maiden."  Although there are occasional sexual threats, such as the Duchess, who digs her sharp chin into Alice's shoulder as they walk (begin Freudian analysis here).

2. Male characters often come in domestic duos: the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, the Walrus and the Carpenter, the Lion and the Unicorn.

3. For all of Lewis Carroll's fear of sex, he populates his Wonderland with phallic symbols (the Caterpiller's mushroom, the swaying flamingo mallets, Alice with the elongated serpentine neck) and castration motifs (the Red Queen's constant cry of "Off with his head!").  He is very interested in the power and threat of sexual potency.

4. The adult characters, with their lessons and demands, are trying to force Alice into the constraint of a proper Victorian girlhood, but she will have none of it.  She mangles her lessons, rejects advice, and fails utterly at domesticity when the child in her charge turns into a pig.  Gay kids understand, perhaps better than others, the malice of adult constraints, the "what girl do you like?" chant, the "when you grow up and get a wife" threats.

5. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Wonderland uses madness as a substitute for the queer, the marginal, and the outsider.  "We're all mad," the Cheshire Cat tells Alice.  "You must be [mad], or you wouldn't have come here."

Jul 5, 2022

"The Upshaws": Has Bernard Turned Straight? Netflix Hopes You Think So.

The Upshaws,
on Netflix, features an African-American blended family: Bernard (Mike Epps), his wife Regina (Kim Fields), and their three kids, plus Kelvin, Bennie's kid from another mother, the baby mama (sometimes), and the sharp-tongued Auntie Lucretia (Wanda Sykes).  During the first season, adult son Bernard Jr. (Jermelle Simon) comes out, first to Kelvin (by accident), then to his mother, and finally to his dad (during a father-son boxing match).  So far so good.

Then the second season dropped.  And the icon seems to show Bernard kissing a girl!  And there are episodes entitled: "Maybe Baby" and "Bennie's Woman."  I can't remember which of the Bernards was called "Bennie," but it sounds very much like Bernard Jr. turns straight, or bi with a girlfriend, which is thematically the same thing.

I watched the first episode, "Maybe Baby," with fear and anxiety.  Bernard Jr.'s high school girlfriend Monique (Sharifa Oliver) shows up with his ten-year old daughter!  Apparently they had sex on the night of the prom, because Bernard had to be sure that he was really gay.  That's nonsense; how will having sex with a woman tell you if you are attracted to men?  You could be bi.  And if you're gay -- attracted only to men -- you can just look at a woman to tell that you're not interested.

She got pregnant, but didn't tell him for some reason that doesn't make sense.  Then, ten years later, the daughter found out, and decided that she wanted a dad in her life.

So, does Bernard decide that he's actually bi, and return to the ex?

I fast-forwarded through the rest of the episodes with fear and anxiety.

Episode 2:  Auntie Lucretia insists that they do a paternity test to make sure Bernard is really the father.

Episode 3: Dad-daughter bonding night. "We could watch Frozen." "What are you, like a thousand?"  Girl, it's from 8 years ago.  "Well, we could just talk."  "Ok.  If you knew you were gay on prom night, why did you..."  

Episode 4: Bernard complains to Mom and Auntie that he can't find "someone," because the minute they discover that he has a kid, they ghost him. Usually dropping pronouns means that you're interested in someone of the same-sex -- gay people do it so often to avoid harassment that it becomes instinctive -- but in this case I'm not so sure.  Maybe Bernard has come out to himself as bi, and is looking for men and women, and he'll end up with a woman by the end of the series.  Gulp.

Episode 5:
On his job at a UPS-like shipping service, Bernard is assigned to work with his ex, Hector (Dewayne Perkins). It's not what it looks like -- Dewayne is gay in real life.

They broke up after Bernard refused to come out as his boyfriend in front of Hector's parents. "But I'm out to everybody now, so let's try again."    Bernard neglects to mention the daughter; when Hector finds out, will he ghost him?  The date does not appear on screen.

Episodes 6-7: Bernard doesn't appear, or is just in the background

Episode 8: Apparently the date went well.  Bernard and Hector are cuddling on the couch.  Suddenly Bernard's daughter arrives for their bonding time, a few hours early because Mom was busy.  At first Bernard tries to cover, but then he comes out with "This is my daughter."  We are not told how Hector reacts.  The end.  Rather a cliffhanger.  I guess they're pushing for a Season 3.

Take another look at the icon.  Feminine hairstyle, pajama bottoms that look like a dress, an arm across Hector's chest that makes it look like cleavage.  Even close up, and knowing the scene, you'd swear that Bernard is kissing a girl.  And Netflix decided to use this image to sell the show.  Why?

Remember Will and Grace, the 2000s sitcom about a gay man and his platonic (sort of) life partner?   Nearly every promo showed Will or his friend Jack kissing a girl, so audiences would think "He's cured! He's not gay anymore!"  It always turned out that they were rehearsing a play, or they were dreaming, or they had to pretend to be a couple for some zany scheme.  20 years later, Netflix is doing the same thing, trying to draw viewers to The Upshaws by making them think that Bernard has turned straight.

See also: The Upshaws

Jul 3, 2022

"Blair Witch": A Gay Guy and Two Hysterical Girls Fight Whatever Evil Lurks in the Maryland Woods


The Blair Witch Project (1999) was a found-footage movie about some college students who go into the Maryland woods to investigate the legend of the Blair Witch, and end up being killed in a mysterious empty house.   One of them does not display any heterosexual interest, and so could be read as gay. The sequel Blair Witch (2016) sends a young man out searching for his sister, one of the students who disappeared.  Sister instead of a girlfriend immediately raises a gay or gay-subtext potential.  

Scene 1: James (James Allen McCune) reviewing the found footage while Lisa films.  "That might be my sister."  The searchers never found the house where the students disappeared, but maybe they weren't searching in the right place.  A paranormal investigator has discovered a DV with the house, and posted it online.  

Peter (who unfortunately is named Brandon Scott, like 1,000 other celebrities) and Ashley come in with groceries, and get the deets: they're going to recreate Blair Witch journey to look for James' sister, who disappeared when he was 8, and Lisa will film them for her class.  This time they have much better cameras, drones, and cell phones with a GPS, so no getting lost.

Scene 2: At a nightclub, Lisa interviews the other participants: Peter is James' childhood friend.  Ashley met him through dating Peter.  Lisa has only been "friends" with him for a short time.  Not a girlfriend?  Is James gay?  I can't tell if he's looking at men or women..

Scene 3: The next morning, they check out the equpiment and go.  They drive all day and stop in one of those single-story Mom-and-Pop hotels for the night: boys in one bed, girls in the other. 

Scene 4
: They arrive at Burkittsville, which used to be called Blair before it was mysteriously abandoned, to interview the guy who found the DV: Lane (Wes Robinson), a frizzy-haired redneck with a giant confederate flag on his wall.  But his girlfriend has pink-and-purple hair. Maybe she's LGBTQ.  They insist on escorting the gang to the place he found it.

On the way, he gives them a run down of the mysterious happenings in these woods, which "no one likes to talk about."  Are you kidding? Paranormal activity is a big tourist draw.  

In the 1940s, Rustin Parr brought 8 kids to his house in the woods, and killed 7, becaue the voice of an old woman compelled him to.  But it's not the house they are looking for: it burned down. Ghost house!

Scene 5: More mysterious happenings, as they cross a creek: "A girl drowned in this creek.  Her mother saw a hand reach out of the water and pull her in."  

Ashley cuts her foot on some broken glass or something!

They send the drone up to look for a clearing where there may be a house.  Nothing.

Scene 6: Camping for the night.  They're not good at assembling the tents.  Tell me they've been camping before!

Hot dogs and marshmallows around the campfire, and deets on the Blair Witch: Elly Kedward (no person was ever named in the original): accused of witchcraft after some local kids said she took blood from them, taken out to the woods, and tied to a tree to die of exposure.  Then people in town started disappearing.  Finally those who remained fled, and the town was abandoned.  She still haunts the woods: if you look directly at her, you'll die of fright.

Scene 7: Bedtime: James gets his own tent.  Definitely not dating Lisa.  He is awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of someone moving around outside.  One of your friends getting a midnight snack, dude.  Nope - a lot of branches breaking.  Suddenly Lisa bursts into his tent.  "What the hell was that?" 

Lane is missing!  James and Talia, Lane's girlfriend, look for him. That's what cell phones are for.   Psych!  He was just out -- um, peeing.  Yeah, that's what we'll call it.  

Scene 7: 
Morning.  Lisa spent the night with James!  Boo!  But there was no smooching scene: maybe she was too spooked to sleep in her own tent. I'm still holding out for James to be gay.   There are weird symbols like St. Andrew's crosses hanging from the trees. Evidence that whoever killed the first group is still around; maybe the police will re-open the case!

Lane uses a DV camera, just like the one that took the video in the house. Ulp!  But he's too young to be the murderer.  And there's rope in his backpack -- exactly like the rope used to make the St. Andrews' crosses!  

He explains: they faked the crosses to scare them away, because there's something bad in the woods, and he didn't want them all to be killed.  They why did you insist on coming along?

The gang tells them to go home. Lane begs: "It's not safe!  Let's all go home!"  But they force him and Talia out.

James is upset; he was sure that they would find his sister's murderer, or at least evidence that the police could use.  Instead they were just being played.

Scene 8: They head for home.  But even with a GPS, they end up walking in a circle, back to last night's campsite.  And Ashley's foot is worse: she can't walk anymore.  Time to set up camp.

I'll stop the scene by scene there.  You know what happens to them, right?

Beefcake: None.  This is mostly a "women in distress" movie, with Lisa and Ashley freaking out and being harmed. 

Gay Character: James can definitely be read as gay.  No heterosexual interest of any sort throughout.  However, he's not the focus character.  Lisa turns out to be the Last Girl.

Plot Twists:  More than I expected.  

The Blair Witch:  In the original, the threat is never explained.  It may not be a person or ghost at all.  It detracts from the sense of unease to make it Elly Kedward.

Sequel: Turns out that this is the second sequel to the Blair Witch Project.  Another, Book of Shadows, appeared in 2000.  Lane mentions the events in one of his stories of mysterious happenings.

My Grade: C.  James should have played a bigger role.  We can see girls blubbering into cameras in 30,000 psycho-slasher movies; why repeat it here?

Going to Movies in 1996: Robin Williams Plays Gay, Marky Mark Plays Evil, Edward Furlong Plays Southern, and There are Martians


In  August 1995 we took the plunge, moving from West Hollywood, just another gay neighborhood, to San Francisco, Gay Heaven.  Living in San Francisco takes work: it's frightfully expensive, dangerous, and surprisingly cold, even in the summer.  Poverty and homelessness are endemic.  Besides, you have the responsibility of living as a stand-in for thousands of gay men stuck in homophobic small towns.  Every moment has to count.  Even doing laundry and buying groceries has to have some connection to the gay commuity.  Even movies: no more hunting for subtexts or looking for muscles: "If it's not gay, stay away."

January: None

February: None

March: The Birdcage, an adaption of La Cage Aux Folles, about a drag queen (Nathan Lane( and his boyfriend (Robin Williams) dealing with their son's fiance and her homophobic family.  All gay men are feminine and work as drag queens, got it.  

March: The Celluloid Closet, about gay villains and subtexts in movies from the Golden Age to the 1990s.

April: Fear, with Marky Mark as a sinister stranger who intrudes into the "perfect life" of a heterosexual nuclear family in suburban Seattle.  It's a dad's "no man is good enough for my little girl" jealousy gone wild, with no gay subtexts, but Mark taking off his clothes was draw enough, even in San Francisco.

May: Mulholland Falls.  I don't remember why; maybe I was feeling homesick (Mulholland Drive is in L.A.), or maybe I was confusing it with another movie with a similar title.  Nick Nolte, who is not at all attractive, plays a heterosexual cop. 

I Shot Andy Warhol: a biopic of Valerie Solanis, who founded SCUM (The Society for Cutting Up Men), dedicated to the goal of killing all men. Strangely, she got some male recruits, but when she asked them to follow through with the goal and kill themselves, they balked.  She also shot Andy Warhol.

June: The Phantom, based on the comic strip superhero who wears a purple leotard and is called "The Ghost Who Walks" by the superstitious racial-stereotype natives.  In this version, Billy Zane plays the Phantom sans biceps and bulges, and of course gets The Girl.  Yuck.

July: None

August: Basquiat, a biopic of the heroin-addicted, hetero-horny artist, whom I had never heard of before. There are hints that he was bisexual, and interested in Andy Warhol, but everything is closeted. 

September: None

October: Bound, because it features a lesbian relationshisp between ex-con plumber Corky and gangster's girlfriend Violet.  

October: T
he Grass Harp, based on a novella by Truman Capote, who was gay, so it must have a gay theme, right?  Nope, it's pure Southern Gothic, starring Edward Furlong as a teenage boy sent to live with his eccentric aunts in a town overrun with eccentric characters.  The town barber is played by Roddy McDowell as a swishy stereotype, but is not explcitily gay.  Some reviews thought that Edward was playing gay, but he kisses a girl.

November: None

Mars Attacks: I expected a send-up of 1950s alien-invasion movies, but instead found a send-up of Independence Day, with government officials,  various colorful small-town residents, and singer Tom Jones fighting the Martians.  

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