Apr 5, 2023

"Prom Pact": Do Teen Romcoms in 2023 Have Any Gay Content?

 Prom Pact, on the Disney Channel, features a girl and her best friend, a boy, negotiating prom dates and Harvard admission. I figured that, in 2023, the best friend would be gay, but no, according to the plot synopsis, they both get heterosexual partners.

so I checked the fan wiki for gay characters.  None mentioned. 

Finally I just googled "Prom Pact" and "gay," but all I found was a review from a fundamentalist screaming about the horrible gay agenda: "guys asking guys to the prom!  A gay sex scene!  Disgusting!" So I went through the movie on fast-forward, looking for evidence that gay people exist.

Minute 7:  Focus character Mandy, who is obsessed with getting into Harvard, her bff Ben (Milo Manheim, top photo), Charlie (Jason Sakaki), who has a sort of feminine gay vibe, and an unidentified girl are at lunch, discussing how proms are a patriarchal way for men to maintain dominance over women.  Sounds like all prom dates are boy-girl.  Actor Jason Sakaki is gay, so is the vibe just his regular personality, or is his character gay?

Minute 8:
BFF Ben is at work in a grocery store, getting ribbed by bag boy Kyle (Nolen Dubuc) because he doesn't have a girlfriend. and has never had sex with a girl.  It never occurs to Kyle that he might be gay.  Wait -- when the hunky Graham (Blake Draper, below) comes to check out, Kyle gets all flustered and whispers "Don't embarrass me!"  I'm confused -- if Kyle is gay, why is he critical of Ben's lack of heterosexual experience?  Maybe he just wants to kiss up to the popular guy? 

Minute 23: Mandy and BFF Ben at a party, discussing how, in 1980s movies, girls always give up their future plans in order to be with of the Boys of their Dreams.  That will never happen to her: it's Harvard, or nothing!  Foreshadowing, anyone?   Ben clumsily tries to flirt with the Girl of His Dreams. A boy asks a girl to the prom. Mandy interrupts two unnamed guys who were kissing (off camera); she says "I'm an ally, so please continue."  Ok, so there are two guy guys at this party. Otherwise it seems to be boy-girl couples all the way down.

Mandy decides that the best way to get into Harvard is to get a letter of recommendation from the Senator, and the best way to get the letter is to tutor his son Graham, the hunk from Minute 8.  She doesn't like him, of course: he's extremely hot, which she finds distasteful, and "arrogant."  Maybe if you're 12, you won't figure out where this is heading.

Minute 31
: BFF Ben is trying desperately to speak to the Girl of His Dreams without dissolving into a pool of hormones.  She's surprised that he knows her name.  "But. doesn't.everyone know your name?  You're a Goddess.  Surely you have millions of worshippers."

The next upteen minutes are devoted to the Mandy-Graham and Ben-Girl of His Dreams romances. 

Minute 53: Graham takes Mandy to his father's elegant tuxedo parties, all middle-aged male-female couples dancing.  His friends rib him for having multiple girlfriends, which enrages Mandy: she thought he had been waiting for her his whole life.  Then he discovers that she is just using him to get the letter of recommendation, and angrily dumps her.

Ben and the Girl of His Dreams have a falling out, too.

Minute 122: The prom, finally. Mandy and Ben go together, to make their respective exes jealous.   They mistakenly thought it was a costume party, so their 1980s hair and outfits draw sneers and ridicule.  Charlie from Minute 7 appears with a girl, so he's hetero after all.  Kyle from Minute 8 is not arround. There are two girls dancing together, but otherwise it's all boy-girl couples.

TIme to pick the Prom King and Queen.  How heteronormative!  It's Ben and the Girl of His Dreams.  Ulp -- they've broken up.  Awkward!  Not to worry, they get back together.

Minute 133: Graduation.  Contrary to expectations, Graham and Mandy stay broken up.  I guess she really meant it: you can have a relationship, or you can go to Harvard, but you can't do both.  I've been with Harvard guys, so I'm relatively sure that they are allowed to date

Gan Content: No same-sex prom requests, no same-sex couples except for one easy-to-cut scene, a couple of gay teases, and we're done.  Better than a 1980's movie, but not by much.

Apr 4, 2023

In Praise of the Sitcom

If you ever admit to watching television, you will get heavily ridiculed in both gay and academic communities: "How can you watch that mindless trash?"  

And if you admit to watching sitcoms, the ridicule intensifies: "Boring, mindless trash!  Puerile escapism!  The same recycled plots about Mom burning the roast and Junior trying out for Little League."

But I grew up on sitcoms.  Among my earliest memories are hayseed sitcoms like The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, or "my secret" sitcoms like Bewitched -- they were all my parents would watch, or let us watch.  Although occasionally I managed to sneak in some science fiction.  I watched them for gay subtexts, for hints of gay potential, for a "good place."

If you were filming the story of my high school and college years, the soundtrack would come from the theme songs of 1970s and 1980s "hip" sitcoms:, One Day at a Time, Alice, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi.  I watched them for gay characters and references, for hints on coming out.

My halcyon years in West Hollywood, the sex-and-friendship sitcoms of the late 1980s and 1990s:  The Golden Girls, Designing Women, Perfect Strangers, Who's the Boss.  I watched for the beefcake, the buddy-bonding, the friendship, the sense of "home."

The sitcom is a distinctively American invention.  There are precursors in the comedy skeches of Vaudeville, the sequential comic strips of early 20th century newspapers, comedy movie series of the 1930s and 1940s, but it really originated in the comedy-variety programs of 1930s radio, such as Fibber McGee and Molly, Duffy's Tavern, and The Great Gildersleeve.  Movie comedians could be shown in different situations in every episodes -- the Three Stooges could be delivery boys, then music teachers, then African explorers.  But with just voices, the situation had to be stable and easily recognizable: a small-town living room, a tavern, a school. 

Plotlines had to involve reasonable crises and complications: a small-town husband might forget an anniversary or stay out too late carousing with his chums, but he could hardly become involved with space aliens or international spies.  It was utter naturalism;maybe there were more wisecracks and more recurring gags, but the characters lived "three doors down on the next block."  

Since the radio waves were broadcast directly into your home, the characters behaved like guests.  If you didn't like them, you would turn them off.  No one was mean, except for comic foils, and even they had attractive qualities.  No one was actually evil. 

When the sitcom made the switch to television, the insistence on absolute recognizability remained.  Only a few American and Canadian sitcoms, and no successful ones, were set in the far past, the distant future, or in other countries.  The setting was almost always a home, a workplace, or a hangout like a tavern.   Any fantasy element, a witch, a genie, or a talking horse, must be portrayed as an intrusion into "normal" space. 

Of course, the sitcom world was not exactly like the contemporary U.S.  Occasional episodes dealt with serious topics like sexual assault or runaway teens, but most problems were small, two dates on the same night or an upcoming talent show.  

Death was rare, and quickly forgotten.  Alex on Family Ties spends two episodes dealing with the trauma of his friend's death, and then it is never mentioned again.

 "Middle class" meant rich, poor meant "middle class," minimum-wage workers lived in magnificant apartments, and even Roseanne had no trouble pulling together expensive, elaborate props at a moment's notice.  

The emphasis on likeability remained as well.  There was sarcasm and snark, but no real malevolence, and no real danger.   When Fran on The Nanny became a hostage in a bank robbery, she befriended the goofy robber. 

During the 2000s, the sitcom fell into decline, along with most scripted shows, as reality tv took over.  In 2002-2003, I was living in Florida, and watching Fox Sunday night (The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Futurama, Malcolm in the Middle) and nothing else.  The rest of the weekly schedule is a mystery.  Friends?  I've seen it only in reruns on the treadmill at the gym.  Everybody Loves Raymond?  Never saw it.

Today the sitcom has returned, revitalized by the internet and streaming services which allow for a variety of formats: 15 minute long webseries, 8 episode long miniseries, ongoing plot arcs.  And more diverse characters, including gay protagonists.  Right now Bob and I are watching Corner Gas, Young Sheldon, Happy Endings, Cougar Town, Disenchanted, Bonding, Bob's Burgers, and of course The Simpsons.  With some science fiction thrown in from time to time.

Apr 2, 2023

"Star Trek: Strange New Heterosexual Worlds"


Captain Christopher Pike was the captain of the starship Enterprise in the pilot epiosde of Star Trek, where runs afoul of mind-control aliens and meets a girl.  He returns in "Menagerie," severely injured, hoping to return to the planet and spend his life in the virtual reality with The Girl.  The new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds covers more of the stories from Captain Pike's tenure, and it's rumored to have gay characters, so I bought the first season on Vudu.

Scene 1: A space center gets all excited because an alien spaceship is approaching. They're not alone in the universe!  Psych: they're the aliens (from our point of view): the spaceship approaching is the U.S.S. Enterprise!

Scene 2: A naked lady in bed.  Way to ruin the series!  But I paid for this, so I'll trudge on through the heteronormativity.  The elderly Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount, top photo) is making breakfast for his hookup, a much younger Star Fleet lady.  Wait -- these people have cell phones and flat-screen tvs.  It's supposed to be the 2200s! The Enterprise is returning to space dock; she wants to know what happened out in space that has made him hesitant to return to command.  Maybe he's traumatized by the mind-control planet?  She's shipping out, so she says goodbye until their next hookup, and gives him a 55-second long kiss.  Ugh! But at least she's not licking his lips -- that fad must be over.

Scene 3: Pike riding his horse through a snowstorm.  The Admiral lands in a space shuttle and asks him to go back to work, to handle the case of a starship that disappeared while trying to make first-contact, with his former first officer Number One, real name Mia, aboard.  "Naw, naw, dog, I'm traumatized.  Get someone else." "But I have a bigger cock, so move!"

Opening Credits: Replicate the original Star Trek, except "to boldly go where no man has gone before" has been replaced by "no one.'  Still ethnocentric: obviously there are lots of sentient beings out there.

Scene 4:
Vulcan.  Spock (Ethan Peck), the chief science officer in the original Star Trek, and his girlfriend T'Pring are celebrating their anniversary.  Is it really essential to establish the heterosexuality of every single character in their first appearance?  Why are the producers so afraid of someone being misidentified as gay?  T'Pring proposes marriage; he eagerly agrees, and they kiss for 55 seconds.  This causes them to be kicked out of the restaurant, so they adjourn to their room for sex (more kissing, Spock with his shirt off, T'Pring half-naked).  The com rings: It's Captain Pike, ordering him onto the Enterprise.

Scene 5: Captain Pike beams aboard the Enterprise, being triggered by his trauma.  Spock, already aboard and being triggered by the death of his sister, introduces him to his crew: Security Chief Noonien-Singh, Navigator Ortegas. Communications Chief Uhura, Helm -- hey, they're all women!  What is this, a Playboy ship?

He explains the mission: whenever they detect the development of a warp drive, Star Fleet sends a crew out to make First Contact.  Six days ago, they sent the U.S.S. Archer to Kilev 279 (the 279th planet out from the Kilev sun?)   They have lost contact.  Their job is to find their people and bring them home without anyone dying.

Scene 6: Captain Pike in his quarters (a huge room with a fireplace), remembering a space accident that killed and melted his crew,  Spock enters; he explains that he went to the moon Borath to get a rare ore that causes temporal displacement: he's traumatized by the future, not the past!  "I saw my own death...in about a decade!"  Wait -- I thought it would be on this mission.  Who cares about 10 years from now?

Scene 7:  While Pike and Spock are talking, they drop out of warp?  So soon -- it's been like 20 minutes!  On every other Star Trek series, it takes days or weeks to get to the edge of Federation Space, even with the advanced warp engines of Deep Space Nine.

 The USS Archer is intact, but with no life signs -- no one is aboard.  Down on the planet, they have a pre-warp civilization.  They are incapable of developing warp technology, yet they have warp drive.  Correction: a warp bomb!  The equivalent of developing nuclear bombs before airplanes.  

Another problem: since they're pre-warp, they're pre-first contact.  The crew can't interfere with them in any way, or even make their existence known.

Scene 8: Pike consults The Doctor, M'Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) -- finally, a guy! -- who identifies as heterosexual immediately by exchanging lovey-dovey looks with a female crew member.  Also Nurse Chapel, who will stay on the Enterprise for the original series and fall in love with Spock.

Nurse Chapel modifies the physiognomy of Pike, Spock, and the Girl so they will look like the natives.  For some reason the Girl refuses sedation during the painful procedure.

Transporter Chief Kyle outfits them with local clothing, universal translators, and tricorders but no phasers.  

Scene 9: They beam down into a major city, where news broadcasts are telling everyone that Big Brother has the rebels under control, and there is no warp bomb.  It reminds them of the  two civil wars in the old U.S.A. on Earth.

At the building containing the warp bomb, they disable some scientists and steal their id badges, then beam them aboard the Enterprise so no one will notice. But they still need a DNA sample to fool the retinal scans.

Scene 10: In Sick Bay, Dr. M'Benga sedates the scientists and prepares to extract some DNA.  Whoops, one wakes up and runs away in a panic!  You didn't strap them down?  Uhura calms him down with a discussion of tagball, the planet's favorite sport, including team statistics.  She had time to research the culture?  And why would she bother, when she's not going down?

Scene 11: 
 Transporter Chief Kyle (Andre Dae Kim; I don't know if he's a regular, but I'm grasping at straws here) sends down the DNA in the nick of time, and Kirk, Spock, and The Girl are granted access to the facility.  They track Number One Mia's biosignature: she's in a cell the sub-basement.  What about the rest of the crew?   On the way down, a woman flirts with Pike (well, Kirk fell in love with an alien babe every week, so there's a precedent).

They spring Mia and two other crew members, a man and a woman.  Plot dump: there were only three people aboard the gigantic spaceship!  That's ridiculous -- in The Next Generation, Doctor Crusher specifically states that three people can't run a starship all by themselves.  What if someone gets sick or injured?  Besides, First Contact requires a load of anthropologists, linguists, biologists, protocol experts...

More plot dump: Mia, Pike's former Number One, appears to have a history with The Girl: "She helped me when no one else would."  I should say something snarky about everyone having a history with everyone, but I'm too relieved to find lesbians.  Unfortunately, they're too far down for a transporter, and Spock reverts to his Vulcan ears, drawing attention (and walking out of the facility with the "alien" prisoners doesn't?).  Fisticuffs result (Kirk engaged in fisticuffs in every episode, so there's a precedent).

Scene 12: 
 Ascending in the elevator, Mia gives the big reveal: how did a pre-warp planet get warp technology?  The Federation gave it to them!   By accident: their telescopes watched a battle between the Federation and the Klingons, and they managed to retro-engineer a matter-antimatter engine, centuries before they would be able to do it on their own.  And since they're still in the tribal stage of cultural evolution, they're going to use it to destroy each other!

"Captain, we're ready to beam up!"

"Nope, we're going to break the Prime Directive and interfere with this planet's development!"

Left: Dan something-or-other, who appears in five episodes as Lieutenant George something-or-other.

Scene 13: Pike and Spock meet with Fearless Leader and come clean about everything. "You're too primitive to handle warp technology, so please let us destroy it."   "But we can use it to kill all of the evil Communists...um., Terrorists...um...people who don't think like we do..."

So Pike orders the Enterprise to become visible.  "I give the order, and your entire planet explodes.  Now let's talk peace!"   The end.

Beefcake: Some of Spock's chest.

Heterosexism: Constant.  One gets the impression that guys join Star Fleet solely to get with alien babes.

Gay Characters:  I thought that Mia, the Number One, and the girl who beamed down, had a history.  Apparently not.  But later on, Nurse Chapel mentions dating both men and women, and there's a trans woman who "forms a surprising connection with Spock" in one episode.  Big deal -- Spock likes women, and she's a woman, so what?

Will I Keep Watching: Well, I bought the darn thing, so I don't really have a choice.

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