Feb 9, 2013

Summer 1981: Male Nudity in English Class: The Canterbury Tales


My favorite Boomer summer was the summer of 1981, just after my junior year in college. I saw a dozen movies with gay subtexts: Clash of the Titans, Wolfen, Arthur, American Werewolf in London, Hell NightThe Chosen.  And tv shows: One Day at a Time, Alice, TaxiSoap, Barney Miller. There were subtext songs on the radio.

And I heard The Word, for the first time ever in a college class.  My Culture and Civilization of Modern Germany was devoted to proving that no German ever wrote about homosexualitat, but the professor in my Chaucer class, a big, hoarse-voiced woman named Dr. Dorothy, thought that The Canterbury Tales was all about how terrible "homosexuality" was.

Ok, but the Pasolini adaption of The Canterbury Tales had the most impressive male nudity I had ever seen.  I can't show a picture on a G-rated blog, but those guys were huge. (My complete review is here.)


















The Pardoner, one of the pilgrims who tell stories on the road to Canterbury, was thin and willowy, beardless, with long yellow hair and a high pitched voice.

"An effeminate homosexual!" Dr. Dorothy cried, obviously delighted to say a forbidden word.  "How grotesque!"

Ok, but look at the Squire: a powerfully built young man of about twenty.  But instead of jousting and fighting dragons, he spends his time dancing, singing, and embroidering, quite feminine pursuits. He is a "lover and a lusty bachelor," so busy having sex that he doesn't sleep much at night.  Yet who does he have sex with?  Chaucer leaves this vague, but traditionally squires were devoted to the knights they served.






In The Miller's Tale, a parish clerk named Absolon is infatuated with the Miller's wife, and asks her for a kiss through a peep-hole.  Instead, the Miller shoves his bare butt through and farts in Absolon's face.  But Absolon gets revenge by shoving a red-hot poker into the Miller's butt.

"Symbolic homosexuality!" Dr. Dorothy cried, enjoying the shocked expressions on the students' faces. "How humiliating for the Miller!"

Ok, but look at The Knight's Tale, about two bosom buddies, Arcite and Palamon, who are both in love with Emily.  A classic triangulation, with the quarrel over the girl an impediment to their love, which is described in lushly romantic terms:

Sworn as we are, and each unto the other,
That never, though for death in any pain,
Never, indeed, till death shall part us twain.

Medieval literature was filled with men in love, like Roland and Oliver.  Shakespeare and John Fletcher used the same story as the basis for The Two Noble Kinsmen (1634), here performed by Tyler Neale and Tim Elliott for the Hudson Shakespeare Company.


A Knight's Tale (2001), starring Heath Ledger, tells a different story, but it does feature a nude Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany), plus a homoromantic couple, the Knight's humorous sidekicks, Roland and Wat (Mark Addy, Alan Tudyk).

As I discovered in my classes in Modern British and American Literature, you can't always believe what you hear from a college professor.


Feb 7, 2013

Clownhouse: 3 Kids and Some Monsters



1980s horror was good for beefcake.  Muscular male bodies were on display as often or more often than those of the girls in Fright Night, The Lost Boys, American Werewolf in London -- the list goes on and on.  So I sat down to watch Clownhouse (1989) with great expectations.

But I knew right away that something was wrong.



The plot plays with the standard movie cliche of mentally ill people being murderous.  Three of them, who like to dress as clowns, escape from their insane asylum and terrorize a house containing three brothers who are home alone: older teen Randy (Sam Rockwell, center), younger teen Geoffrey (Brian McHugh, left) and preteen Casey (Nathan Forrest Winters, right).

Casey has a dark past, too; insanity, perhaps a suicide attempt, and a strong case of coulrophobia (fear of clowns).  He's different from the others; maybe he's gay.

The gay-vague kid saves his brothers from evil clown-psychos.  Sounds tailor-made for a gay subtext, but I didn't see any, no homoromance, no buddy-bonding,   not even any brotherly affection.


Casey's brothers inflict psychological torture on him all day, and then at night the clowns come out to torture him.  What's the difference? 

Casey and Geoffrey are both on display a lot, and especially Casey -- he spends half the movie in his underwear.  He bathes; he undresses -- slowly; he walks down dark hallways, the camera lingering on his semi-nude body.


I'm all for giving preteen gay boys some eye candy, as in the skinny-dipping scene in La Gran Aventura, but the movie was rated R.  There were no kids in the audience.  Who was all this physical display for?


Maybe the semi-nudity was meant to emphasize the boys' vulnerability, as in Bless the Beasts and Children?  But Casey is displayed when he's not being threatened.  The underwear shots seem to go on forever.

And there were no boys to gaze at him, just the adults in the audience, trying to figure out what the director was intending. Are we really supposed to fixate on a preteen boy's body?

And why didn't 20-year old Sam Rockwell (left) parade around in his underwear, or ever take his shirt off?  You only get a glimpse of his rather impressive physique after the evil clowns have knocked him unconscious and are dragging him across the floor, and his shirt rides up.

 Who would give us a gratuitous display of semi-nude preteens but deny the desirabiity of a 20-year old?

A few years later director Victor Salva served 15 months in prison for having sex with Nathan Forrest Winters several times during the course of the movie (and filming it).  One wonders where the movie ends and the porn begins.




Salva has also directed Rites of Passage (1999), about a father and his estranged gay son terrorized by escaped convicts; and  the Jeepers Creepers franchise (2001, 2003), about an ancient demon who removes the body parts of boys to wear them.

The world is a hard place.  There are monsters. 

Fall 1978: My First Gay Novel: Neveryon


During my freshman year at Augustana, shortly after the summer of Grease, I was looking for anything written about gay people.  Readmore Bookworld had nothing, and the "h" section of the card catalog of the Augustana College Library listed only Nothing Like the Sun, by Anthony Burgess, which had no gay characters in it.  Carefully-worded inquiries to my sophisticated, artistic friend Aaron, who took me to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (he was gay, but didn't know it yet) revealed that there had been only four gay writers in the history of the world: Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams -- and Samuel R. Delany.

Today Delany is a veritable queer theorist, churning out solemn, artsy tomes on race, sexuality, identity, and male prostitution that delight the deconstructionists. But in 1979 you had to wade through dense, turgid prose in Triton, Dhalgren, Babel-17, and The Einstein Intersection to find glimmers of characters who were multisexual, multigendered, and incorrigibly decadent.  Where were the gay people?

Apparently Dhalgren has been made into an experimental play.  I have no idea what it's about.


I didn't hold out much hope for the Neveryon series (1975-79).  First, there was a lady hanging around the mighty-thewed barbarian hero, as if he was a Conan the Barbarian clone.  Second, there were quotations from Lacan, Foucault and Derrida.

But it turned out to be a gay love story.

 Gorjik, a “great muscled, affable, quiet giant of a youth,” rises from slavery to a position of power, and then goes out to acquire some slaves of his own.  He buys Small Sarg, a barbarian prince (which means he’s dirty and smells bad), takes him home, and  indicates that they are to have sex. Small Sarg responds “that’s silly. . .that is what boys do,” but he agrees to “do it” anyway, as long as he can remove his slave collar first.  Gorgik happily obliges, since he is into S&M, and wants to wear the slave collar himself.  After their first encounter, they both pretend to be asleep while thinking of coy ways to cuddle: Delany is good at describing sex, but affection between men makes him queasy.

Later in the book, they become professional abolitionists, invading crumbling, decadent castles to liberate slaves. Sometimes Gorgik is captured and tortured, but he rather enjoys it.  They take turns wearing the slave collar and refer to each other intermittently as “master.”  When questioned about this odd arrangement, Gorgik responds: “We are lovers. . .and for one of us the symbolic distinction between slave and master is necessary for desire’s consummation.”

One wishes that, at least by the end of the series, they would settle down to a nice egalitarian partnership, but after a lifetime of subtle hints and heterosexist "fade out kisses," Gorgik and Small Sarg came to me as a Copernican revolution.

Here, for the first time ever on a printed page, I read of men who loved each other, and who were lovers.  The image of Small Sarg beneath Gorgik’s massive arm, staving off sleep, lying perfectly still so Gorgik wouldn’t shift position, remained with me forever.

See also: Michael Moorcock.

Feb 6, 2013

Scott Valentine

Scott Valentine had a lot of bad luck. Born in 1958, he arrived in Hollywood in 1979 with the look, charm, and talent to become a teen idol, like Peter Barton, Jimmy McNichol, or even Rob Lowe.  He was hired to star in the gay-subtext classic Lords of Discipline (1981), when a serious auto accident kept him from acting for three years.


He became a household name in 1985, as the teenage Mallory's boyfriend Nick on Family Ties.  They tried to make the character into a dimwit to minimize the appeal of his muscles -- though he was allowed to wear sleeveless shirts to give audiences at least a glimpse of his biceps -- but he quickly transcended the material, becoming one of the most well-developed and interesting characters on the program.  He stayed on until 1989.





Nick became so popular that he spun off onto his own show, The Art of Being Nick (1986) which just aired once before being cancelled.

While on Family Ties, Scott parlayed his fame into some movie projects, but they didn't do well at the box office -- though My Demon Lover (1987) had a good nude scene, if you don't mind the fact that he's covered in paint.

He also posed in Playgirl. 

Afterwards Scott worked constantly, trying his best to shine in minor roles, often as nice guys who turn out to be evil or who are faced with inexplicable evil that disrupts their small town.

He didn't get a starring role again until 2001, when he played Detective Steve Rafferty, partner and eventual boyfriend of Detective Darcy Walker (Michelle Lintel), who is really the superhero Black Scorpion.  It folded after only 22 episodes.


But wherever Scott lands, his roles are guaranteed to be memorable.



Bugs and Daffy: the Gay Warner Brothers


When I was a kid in the 1960s, I didn't realize that the Warner Brothers cartoons that I was watching on Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat were actually produced for theatrical release 30 years before.  But I did notice some substantial differences between them and the Hanna Barbara cartoons that I saw on Saturday mornings, not to mention the Warner Brothers comic books.

There were no same-sex partners like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, no stable backstories or situations at all. Bugs Bunny might become the antagonist of Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd, or Daffy Duck.  Porky Pig may be paired with Bugs, Daffy, or Sylvester (who could talk or not).

The ambiguity in personalities and relationships led away from homodomestic partnerships to more overt gay subtexts.  Pepe LePew tries to romance a male cat in "For Scent-imental Reasons (1949).  Porky Pig and Daffy Duck share a hotel room in "Pig’s Feat" (1943) When they prepare to leave, they are presented with a bill which includes a service charge for removing “love spots."


  
Much has been made of Warner Brothers’ characters’ forays into drag.  Sam Abel, for instance, believed that the drag routines of Bugs Bunny and others were "ways of addressing problems of masculine domination" and question gender roles.  But Bugs often kisses a male antagonist full on the lips while they are both men, conventionally dressed.  And he is not alone in the practice:In “The Hair Brained Hypnotist,” Elmer is hypnotized into thinking he is a rabbit, and he kisses Bugs three times.  In “Tortoise Beats Hair,” an early Bugs is kissed by five tortoises simultaneously. We must answer two questions about this practice: what is its purpose in the plot, and why is it funny.

At first glimpse, it seems that the kiss is a form of humiliation: Bugs may kiss Elmer after dropping his pants or turning his gun inside out.  But on other occasions, it seems to be an annoyance. No live-action underdogs engage in this practice.

And in other instances one can't find any rational explanation.  When Bugs wins an Academy Award, he kisses his Oscar statue and says he'll take it to bed with him.  The Oscar says “Do you mean it?” and sashays, pansy-style, while Bugs stares, stunned either by the spectacle of a talking statue or by the same-sex proposition.

Many of the throwaway jokes involve gay sexual innuendo.  A dog pretends that a female-cat hand puppet is a real cat, and while a male cat is making out with the puppet, he reaches down and squeezes the dog’s bulbous nose, in the place where the crotch would be.  “Something new has been added!” he exclaims, a la Jerry Colonna.

In “The Big Snooze,” Elmer decides to tear up his contract and quit the cartoon business. Bug enters Elmer’s dream, strips him naked, ties him to a railroad track, and then puts him in drag.  A group of zoot-suited wolves chase him off a cliff.  He awakens and decides to not quit after all, whereupon Bugs exclaims, a la Beulah, “I love dat man!”

In “Duck Soup to Nuts,” Daffy peers into Porky’s gun and sees a pinup girl.  When Porky looks, he sees Daffy.

Later Daffy puts Porky in drag and turns into a lecherous wolf to chase him.  Then he begs Porky not to shoot him because he has a wife and kids, whom he kisses. But they turn out to be his buddies.

Thee jokes and innuendos suggest an awareness of same-sex potential and even an openness that one doesn't see in the live-action vehicles of the 1940s, and is rare in cartoons today.

Round the Twist: 3 Kids and Some Ghosts

Of all the Australian kids' shows I saw on the Disney Channel during the 1990s -- Spellbinder, Skytrackers, Ocean Girl -- Round the Twist was the least gay-friendly.  It was about the twins Linda and Pete Twist, and their younger brother Bronson, who live in a lighthouse and have paranormal adventures.  The title means "over the edge," "around the bend":

Have you ever felt like this, when strange things happen,
Are you going round the twist?

There have been four seasons, stretching from 1989 to the present. Pete has been played by Sam Vandenberg, Ben Thomas (left), and Rian McLean, and Bronson by Rodney McLenan, Jeffrey Walker, and Matthew Waters.




As we see often in paranormal series, there is a substantial heterosexist content.  All of the characters except Bronson have heterosexual romances, and the plot arcs of each series often involve true love.
Season 1: The kids' dad falls in love with a woman and gets engaged.
Season 2: The ghost of a former lighthouse keeper failed to save a ship carrying his girlfriend.
Season 3: Whoever reads a poem out of Linda's book falls in love (heterosexual love only).
Season 4: A girl from another dimension tries to get Pete to marry her.

Pete, especially when played by Ben Thomas, gets lots of underwear, swimsuit, and semi-nude shots, and there are a few glimmers of gay subtext:

1. The bully-antagonist Richard Gribble has a love-hate relationship with Pete.
2. His friend Tiger may be hanging out with him because he likes him.
3. Some of the ghosts are gay-vague.




Are teens today willing to overlook the constant "boy girl boy girl" chant in search of teenage beefcake and a few moments of potential buddy-bonding?


Feb 5, 2013

Ken Olandt

During the 1980s, it seemed that every adult actor and teen idol spent eight hours per day pumping iron, so physiques that were merely stunning risked being overlooked in the exalted company of Robby Benson, Allan Kayser, Jon-Erik Hexum, Adrian Zmed, and Sylvester Stallone.

Ken Olandt was almost overlooked.  Trained as an advertising agent, he and his physique started making the rounds of tv guest shots in 1983 -- Love Boat, The A-Team, Simon & Simon, Hotel.  He got a recurring role as a streetwise dock boy on the short-lived Riptide (1984-85).  But he was rarely asked to do as much as unbutton a button by casting agents accustomed to walking, talking versions of Michelangelo's David.




 And the teen magazines, when they paid attention to him at all, showed off his smile (which, to be fair, was very nice).








In 1986, Ken -- or his agent -- hit on a gimmick to get him noticed.  If his pecs and abs were merely spectacular, why not show off the regions where he really surpassed mortal expectatons?  Most other actors were too timid or inadequately superhuman to agree to underwear and jockstrap shots, but Ken was more than qualified, and not at all timid.



April Fool's Day (1986) was a psycho-slasher -- a genre not generally known for male nudity, with the possible exception of Hell Night -- but Ken spent a long scene in his underwear (and, incidentally, buddy-bonding), and gay men and straight women finally started paying attention.


Summer School (1987), a comedy about a substitute teacher (Mark Harmon) who bonds with his students on the way to the beach, featured Ken as a student moonlighting as a stripper.

And so it went for the next decade.  Whether he guest-starred on a remake of the 1960s tv show Gidget,  set mostly on the beach, or Murder, She Wrote, set elsewhere, more likely than not, Ken would be asked to strip down to his underwear or appear nude except for a g-string or swimsuit.

Not that anyone was complaining.

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

Feb 4, 2013

Fall 1977: Muscleboys in French Class: the Signe de Piste

During my senior year in high school, I thought myself too mature for the boys' adventure books in the Green Library, so I asked my French teacher for something about "adventure" with "no girls in it."  She reached onto her bookshelf and gave me one of those pulpy French paperbacks: Guy de Larigaudie, Yug.  A boy living in prehistoric times who domesticates animals, discovers fire, and travels to distant lands.  And is drawn as a semi-nude preteen, his body hard and golden and glowing in the bright light of prehistory








Ok, that wasn't quite what I was looking for.  Two boys together, and a little older?

Les tambours de l'ete (Summer of the Drums), by Theodore V. Olsen. Michigan Territory, 1832, settlers and Indians each mistrust each other.  Only two teenage boys Kevin and the Indian To-Mah, can help them reconcile.

Both are drawn as slim, golden muscle gods in loincloths or altogether nude, clinging together in an idealized Old West.







Ok, but I didn't care for Westerns.  Something a tad more contemporary?

Mon Ami Carlo (My Friend Carlo), by Gine Victor.  A new boy arrives at a dull boarding school in Italy. A thin boy with a pale face, ebony hair, and eyes like stars.  Milo instantly fell in love with him.  They bedded down for the night in their underwear, their smooth hard chests glowing in the moonlight.

Now I had to ask: what was this publisher who specialized in teenagers in love, and who was this illustrator who created endless pages of muscle gods?

The publisher: Signe de Piste, a collection of boys' adventure novels published between 1937 and the 1990s, most with gay subtexts.



The illustrator: Pierre Joubert (1910-2002), who illustrated many scouting publications as well as many of the Signe de Piste series.  He  specialized in idealized semi-nude boys, preteens or teenagers, muscular, blonde when he could get away with it, enjoying the pleasures of "comradeship."

With Signe de Piste, the Green Library, Alix and Enak, Tintin, Corentin, and Spirou, how could gay boys growing up in France ever feel alone?