Aug 27, 2022

"American Horror Stories", Season 2: All Men are Straight, Evil, and Fully Clothed


The anthology American Horror Story, which goes through a single plotline per season, has a good but not great record of LGBT representation: the gay male characters are usually evil, or die immediately, or fall in love with women.  But at least there are always musclemen taking their clothes off.

The spin-off American Horror Stories is worse.  In Season 2 so far, there have been no gay male characters at all, just some lesbian and bisexual women.   The straight male characers are always evil, trying to oppress, victimize, or literally objectify the women.  And beefcake is as rare as nice guys.

Spoiler alert: I'm giving away the surprise ending of all of these stories.

Episode 1: "Dollhouse" In the 1950s, a crazy old guy notices that his son likes dolls, so he decides to turn some women into living dolls.  He's also looking for a substitute for his dead wife.  In an Easter egg, it's hinted that the boy will grow up to become a member of the witches' council in American Horror Story: Coven..  Presumably he's gay, but no sexual identity is specified, here or in Coven.

Episode 2: "Aura"  When she uses a new security app, a woman sees a crazy old guy banging at her door.  Her husband (Max Greenfield, top photo) thinks that she's crazy.  Turns out that it's a harmless (albeit creepy) ghost.  But hubbie is not so harmless.

Max Greenfield played a swishy gay villain on American Horror Story: Hotel.  But there are no gay characters here.  And no beefcake.

Episode 3: "Drive.
"  A woman insists on going out to clubs and picking up strange men (and women), even though there's a serial killer stalking partiers.  Turns out that she is the serial killer, with her husband Chaz (Anthony de la Torre) as an accomplice.  This one has a muscle guy in his underwear (Nico Greetham) tied to a chair before he's butchered.

Why is she a serial killer?  She's trying to get even with the dudebros who ridiculed her in high school, and their ilk today.  

Episode 4:  "Milkmaids."  Two women in a smallpox-ridden village put their faith in science and develop a cure (over 100 years before Edward Jenner invented the smallpox vaccine).  Meanwhile the snarling, superstitious men of the village, recently widowed Thomas (Cody Fern)  and the Pastor (Seth Gabel), fulminate about witchcraft and plot homicide.  The women begin a romantic relationship, but the men are both straight and hetero-horny.  Even Thomas, though Cody Fern is gay in real life.

I had to just listen to this while pretending to be immersed in something on my cell phone, since the original cure involved licking pustules. 

Episode 5: "Bloody Mary."
  Four girls summon the urban-legend spirit, who orders them to perform horrifying tasks.  No boys around except for a predatory guidance counselor and the crush of one of the girls (JJ Batteast), who keeps smooching on his girlfriend in front of her.  Rude!

The transwoman Dominique Jackson stars as Bloody Mary, who started off as a cisgender woman with husband and son.  Nothing LGBTQ here.

Episode 6: "Facelift."  An elderly woman just wanted a facelift, but instead she runs afoul of a cult run by an evil (female) plastic surgeon.  Next door neighbor Bernie (Todd Waring) seems to be interested in her, but he falls for a prettier girl instead, and in the end tries to kill her.  Nothing gay here, and Bernie doesn't take off his clothes.

Episode 7: "Game Over."  Dr. Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott), who ran afoul of some gay ghosts in American Horror Story: Murder House, here is going on a tour of famous haunted houses (along with his wife, naturally).  He meets various ghosts from past seasons, including the lesbian-lover pair from American Horror Stories, Season 1.  But no gay men.

The Boys and Men of Oz

My brother and I hated The Wizard of Oz, the terrible 1939 movie starring Judy Garland.  When we were little we were terrified of the flying monkeys, the man-eating pigs, and the homicidal Wicked Witch. When we grew older, we ridiculed the saccharine songs and the corny "It was all a dream" bit.  And why would anybody want to go back to Kansas?

I never heard of any Oz books until one day in junior high I stumbled across a whole shelf of them at the library, 14 published by L. Frank Baum and 20 by other people. I picked one up out of curiosity.  And then another.  And another. I had found a "good place."

There was little beefcake: the protagonists, boys or girls, were drawn in the same style, as delicate and pretty as cherubs yet tough and hardy, able to endure long wilderness treks and fight monsters.

There was little bonding. The protagonist traveled with a melange of talking animals, magical objects, and adult companions. I found only two significant homoromances.  In Ojo in Oz, between Ojo and the bandit Realbad, but in the end Realbad turns out to be the boy's father, ruining it.

And in Rinkitink in Oz (1916), the jovial king Rinkitink discovers that his talking goat companion is really an enchanted prince named Bobo.  The two walk into the sunset together.

There were many disturbing, horrible elements.

1. No one ages in Oz, so babies stay babies and kids stay kids forever.

2. No one can die, so if you cut someone into pieces, each piece remains alive and conscious.

3. Inanimate objects can easily be brought to life, and they stay alive and conscious forever.

4. There is casual racism, sexism, and class-based bigotry.  Rude comments and unpleasant mannerisms are presented as endearing. Kids are often threatened by sinister adults.

So why was Oz a good place?

1. The delicate, pretty boys in their flamboyant costumes are all gay-coded. Every boy in Oz is gay.

2. Adult men and women follow a strict division of labor, with women who hoped for equality ridiculed.  But the boys and girls have precisely the same interests and activities.  A boy named Tip is transformed into Princess Ozma.

3. The boys and girls never express any heterosexual interest.  Occasionally an adult does, but only minor characters in side-plots irrelevant to the main story.

4. There are few if any nuclear families.  The main family structure in Oz is single parent and child.

5.The outsiders who find their way to Oz are the odd, the unusual, the outcast, the "queer."  And they always find a home.

See also: The Wizard of Oz

Aug 24, 2022

The First Nudie Musical: 1970s TV Stars Get Naked

A few years after Oh, Calcutta! came The First Nudie Musical (1976), a sort of smutty parody of the 1930s "let's save something by putting on a show!" musicals with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

Down-and-out producer Harry Schechter (Stephen Nathan, right) and his wisecracking secretary Rosie (Cindy Williams of Laverne and Shirley) try to save their studio with a pornographic musical.

They bet the debtors that they can finish in two weeks.  So they write a script about a naive country girl in the big city, find a down-and-out director (Bruce Kimmel, left), and hire a lot of down-and-out actors (including Diana Canova of Soap).  Also, Richie Cunningham himself, Ron Howard, has a cameo in an early scene.

It turns out to be a big hit, everybody is happy, and to obey the heterosexist mandate, Harry and Rose fall in love.

We only see a few scenes of the movie-within-a-movie.  It appears to be similar to Oh! Calcutta!, with songs about orgasms, dildos, and masturbation.
None of the main cast is nude, but there is ample male and female frontal nudity.  Nothing hard-core (presumably that occurred in the scenes we don't see).

I like the Stunt Cock.  "Are you always like that?" "Yeah, always."

And it's fun to hear prim, proper Shirley yelling "Cue the Stunt Cock!"  I want that on my business cards.

There are no gay men excepet maybe in the song "Perversion":
"I'll be the king, and you'll be the queen"

Lesbians are represented only in a predatory seduction scene:

Lesbian, butch, dyke
You can call it what you like, but it's what I am and what I'll always be
Lesbian, butch, dyke
You can call me Mike, and not Jane or Susan or Penelope

Stephen Nathan played Jesus in Godspell, and also appeared in Busting Loose, one of my favorite tv shows from high school.  He is now a producer, with credits including Joan of Arcadia, Bones, and Family Law.  

Bruce Kimmel was a fixture on 1970s tv, mostly playing cute, cuddly nebbish types on The Partridge Family, M*A*S*H, Marcus Welby, Happy Days, Alice, and Laverne and Shirley.  In 1999, he produced Out at the Movies, about LGBT characters in film.  He's also written several novels with gay characters.

Aug 23, 2022

Kurt Vonnegut: Homophobia on Trafalmador

When I was in college in the 1980s, all of the hip, cool guys read Kurt Vonnegut.  All of them.  He was even printed in Playboy

Oh, he's great!  They would exclaim.  There's this science fiction writer, see, but it turns out that the things he's writing are real....and, and, the crazy Trafalamadorians are behind Stonehenge....and, and Vonnegut and his sister turn into ducks...and, and Billy Pilgrim gets unstuck in time...and, and.

Sounded sort of like Monte Python and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  Besides, The Sirens of Titan had a hot guy on the cover.  So I checked some of Vonnegut's books out of the library.

The homophobia was equal to or surpasses that of anything on the syllabus of my Modern American Literature class.

In The Sirens of Titan (1959), Salo, a robot, is in love with a man.  "There was nothing offensive in this love.  That is, it wasn't homosexual."  Well, that's a relief!  Can't have any of that offensive "homosexual" love!

In God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965), we read the personals column of a newspaper.  Some of the ads are nice, but this one is "sick": "St. Louis hairdresser, male, would like to hear from other males in the Show-me State."   Why am I supposed to find it "sick"?

In Breakfast of Champions (1973): Dwayne's son has "grown up to be a notorious homosexual" named Bunny.  

It was filmed in 1999, with Bruce Willis as Dwayne and Lucas Haas (left) as Bunny.

The short story "Harrison Bergeron" (1961), an impassioned plea against equal rights, posits a future dystopia where everyone is equal -- literally.  Attractive people have to wear masks, smart people hear loud noises to break their concentration, and graceful dancers are hobbled, all due to the draconian political correctness fomented by lesbian feminazi Diana Moon Glampers.

 It's been filmed three times, with  Avind Harum, Sean Astin (top photo), and Richard Kindler as the heroic heterosexual Harrison.

Lest you think that Vonnegut's homophobia mellowed with age, try his memoir, Man without a Country (2005):

“If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts."

Ok, how could being gay possibly hurt your parents?

And who in 2005 thought that you could decide to be gay in order to hurt them?

Dom Deluise and Sons: Gay Stereotypes Were a Step Forward

The most flamboyantly feminine actor in the 1970s was not Paul Lynde or Charles Nelson Reilly: it was Dom Deluise (below), who played gay-coded roles in many of his buddy Burt Reynold's movies (Smokey and the Bandits II, Canonball Run, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), and many of his buddy Mel Brooks' movies (Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie, The World's Greatest Lover).   It seemed that you couldn't go to any comedy where Dom wasn't camping it up.

His characters were all gay stereotypes -- in fact, they were rather homophobic -- but you never saw positive portrayals of gay men anywhere.  Just depicting them as vivacious, fun-loving, and not monsters was a step forward in 1976.

Dom continued to work steadily during the 1980s and 1990s, moving into voice work, appearing as himself everywhere on tv, and publishing some best-selling cookbooks.  No movies with "real" gay characters, except for Girl Play (2004), in which a director casts two women to play lesbian lovers, and they end up falling for each other.

With all his flamboyance and camp, and his close friendships with closeted gay performers like Liberace and Jim Nabors, most people assumed that Dom was gay.  Maybe he was, but that didn't stop him from being married to Carol Arthur from 1965 to his death in 2009.

His three sons are all actors, but they have resisted the family tradition of flamboyant, gay-coded characters, playing mostly cops and other macho types:

1. Peter (left), born in 1966, is best known as Officer Doug Penhall on 21 Jump Street. 

2. Michael, born 1969, had a recurring role on The Gilmore Girls.

3. David (top photo), born in 1971, is best known as the father of a family of wizards in the Disney Channel's gay subtext Wizards of Waverly Place.

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