Jan 9, 2016

The Iceland Fisherman: Gay Romance in Collier's Encyclopedia

When I was little, there weren't many books in the house except for the Bible and the thick, black, ponderous volumes of the 1955 edition of Collier's Encyclopedia.  I used to leaf through it, looking for muscular semi-nude men (try "African Tribes," "The Circus," and "Egypt").   The last volume contained the Reading Guide, a list of the best books ever written, and among them was The Iceland Fisherman (1886), by French novelist Pierre Loti (1850-1923).

Why was a Frenchman writing about Iceland, I wondered.  Because of the Northern Thing, the Viking ships and horned helmets and "Baldur the Beautiful"?  Because it was a place of wild freedom, where men could hug, kiss, and marry?

The mystery of the French Icelander stayed with me for years.  When I took French in high school and then college, I was surprised that no professor ever mentioned Pierre Loti or The Iceland Fisherman-- wasn't it the "best book ever written"?  It wasn't in our library.  But one day I ordered a copy from interlibrary loan.

No professor mentioned it because it was a symbolist novel, no longer in style.  And gay-themed.

A group of Breton fishermen sail to Iceland each summer in search of cod. Sylvestre, "a girlish boy," befrieds the big, muscular Yann, who disapproves of women and says he'll "marry the sea."

Back in France, Sylvestre courts women, in darkness, "dreaming of death," but in the summer he goes out to sea again, and leans against Yann, and they go on "gaily with their fishing in the everlasting daylight."

When Sylvestre dies in Indochina, Yann is heartbroken, and finally marries his sister, so at least some part of him will remain.  But that is not enough, so in the end Yann surrenders to the sea.  But even in death they cannot be together, for Sylvestre had "gone to sleep in the enchanted gardens, far, far, away, on the other side of the earth."

The novel is famous in France.  Pecheur d'Islande has been filmed several times, notably in 1959 (with Jean-Claude Pascal, left, and Georges Poujouly) and in 1996 (with Antony Delon, top photo, and Marius Colucci).  The film versions apparently emphasize The Girl.

Pierre Loti was himself bisexual, sleeping with women but longing for the wild homoerotic freedom of Turkey and the Middle East.  He filled his home with mementos of his journeys, including many paintings of semi-nude men, such as these Easter Islanders, as well as semi-nude photos of his own muscular physique (most destroyed after his death).

Jan 8, 2016

Rudeness, Insensitivity, and Downright Craziness: 20 Things People Do That Grind My Gears

As you get older, you're supposed to get crankier, with petty annoyances building up over the years.  But I've been annoyed by these examples of rudeness, insensitivity, or craziness my whole life.

On the Street

1. When you're walking alone on the street, why do people walk very fast and overtake you, as if they're planning to attack? They should keep their distance!

2. When a group is standing around, why do they wait until the exact moment you have passed to start laughing hysterically?  It's really disconcerting.

3. Why do parents let their toddlers run wild, bumping into people with their chocolate stained hands, saying "hi" 50,000 times, or just staring?

4. When there are double doors going into a building, why does everyone clog one side?  Are they afraid to try the other side, for fear it will be locked and they'll look stupid?


1. Why do cars zoom around and cut you off?  Are they trying to demonstrate their macho superiority?  Sometimes I just move into the other lane, so they can go past without cutting me off.  Or I follow a truck, so they'll cut them off instead.

2. Conversely, why do they drive 10 miles under the speed limit, when there's no traffic and the weather is fine?

3. I don't understand why anyone would listen to music while driving anyway -- it's incredibly distracting.  But why revv it up to ear-splitting levels when you're stuck at an traffic light?

4. Why do driving apps take you on the absolute shortest route, even though the tiny, meandering side street with fifty stop signs is 5.3 miles from your goal, and the limited access highway 5.2.?


1. Why does the server come swooping out of nowhere in the middle of your meal to ask "Are you doing ok?"  It's always when you're in the middle of an intimate, embarrassing conversation about your body odors or preferred sexual activities.

2. On the Plains, it's even worse. He asks "How is everything tasting?", precluding the possibility of you asking for more water or a new fork.

3. Why does the server snatch your plate away the second you're done eating? It's disconcerting to have a plate suddenly vanish from in front of you!.  I always leave a little food on my plate, to keep it there.

4. Why would anybody ask for a bit of food from someone else's plate, or a sip of their soda?  It's disgusting!  Get your own!

In Shops

1. Why do floorwalkers latch onto you the minute you walk in the door, and won't take "Just looking!" for an answer?

2. Why does the person ahead of you in line always have a cartful of crazy, nonsensical items, like 8 Gatorades, 3 bags of donuts, eyebrow tweasers, and a can of bug spray?

3. And he doesn't realize that he has to pay.  When he is informed, he looks confused, then slowly fishes around in the big bag for the little bag, fishes a checkbook from the little bag, and writes a check.  Which requires the manager's approval.

4. Why do salesclerks always make sarcastic comments about your purchases, like "Going to do some heavy reading tonight?" when you buy a magazine?  Isn't buying things what the store is all about?

5. And try to sell you a rewards card, a 10% off card, a subscription to the newsletter, a membership, a chance to win a prize, and a duck, when you just came in to buy batteries?

With Friends

1. Why does everyone assume that everyone is a drunk, so when they invite you over for dinner, they have nothing but booze and seltzer to drink, and they serve some disgusting booze-laced concoction like soup with beer in it?

2. And, if your appetite isn't already ruined, they insist on playing the most depressing whiny torch songs they can find as "dinner music."

3. Why would someone go out with you with the expectation of hooking up with someone and abandoning you in some bar?  When you go out together, you come home together, no exceptions.

4. Why would you leave a room without saying "excuse me"?  Don't just vanish and have everyone wondering where you went and waiting around like idiots for you to get back!

5. When you spend the night with someone, you get breakfast the next day.  Take them out, fry some eggs, slap down some Cheerios, something.  Don't just kick them out the door on an empty stomach!

Jan 7, 2016

The Bear with the Sweeney Todd Fetish

November 1987, Silverlake

I met Will  at Sunset Junction, the gay street fair held every October in Silverlake, L.A.'s second gay neighborhood.

He was about five years older than me, short, compact, with a little belly and a  very hairy chest, one of the first "bears" I ever met.  He told me that he worked at the Eagle, a leather bar in Silverlake.

I was a little nervous about accepting a date with a bartender -- he must get drunk a lot.  But Will was attractive, different from my usual Asian and Hispanic guys, and besides, I wanted a tour of Silverlake.  It was 15 miles from West Hollywood, way out where Santa Monica met Sunset, so we didn't go there much.

We had dinner at La Casita, a very bright, colorful Mexican restaurant -- rather a treat, since there were no Mexican restaurants in West Hollywood at the time.

Then Will took off his shirt, put on a leather vest, and took me to the Eagle.

It was my first time in a leather bar.  Older crowd, a lot of bears, a lot of chaps and leather jackets and cigarette smoke.  I was the youngest guy there, a little out of place in my cruisy tank top and jeans.

Will got himself a bottle of beer and me a soda, and introduced me to some of the regulars.  One asked "Isn't it past your bedtime, kid?"

I wasn't amused.  "I'll be 27 next week."

Will escorted me away.  "Don't mind him -- he's just jealous,  We don't get many young guys at the Eagle.  The rule is, West Hollywood for twinks and creepy old guys, Silverlake for daddies and bears."  He paused.  "So, what do you like to do?  In bed, I mean."

The question was surprising, even shocking.  In West Hollywood we never asked -- we just brought the guy into our bedroom and found out.  It must be a Silverlake thing.

"Oh, um....the usual." I stammered.  "You know, a lot of kissing and cuddling and...well, the usual."

"What about non-vanilla sex?  Like, you know, bondage? BDSM scenes?"

"I'm not very experienced with that," I said.  "My first boyfriend Fred liked to be tied up and spanked, and I met a guy at Mugi who had a closetful of whips and paddles.  But I've been reading Cavelo and Sean since I lived in Indiana."

"Wow, Cavelo and Sean, that's hardcore stuff!  You're probably ready for a scene, do you think?"

"What kind of scene?"

"Kidnapping and POW are my favorites, but my super super favorite is cannibalism."

The rest of the story, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Why Is Bomba the Jungle Boy Always Tied Up?

Johnny Sheffield (1931-2010) spent the first 24 years of his life being filmed in a loincloth cut to the thigh, first as "Boy," son of Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller in 8 movies (1939-1947), and then as the teenage Bomba the Jungle Boy in 12 movies (1949-1955).  After all that, it proved impossible to find a fully-clothed role, so Johnny went to UCLA, got his degree in business, and had a successful second career in real estate.

The movies were on tv constantly during my childhood, and now they're all available on DVD. 

I noticed something interesting: in all of the Tarzan movies featuring the adolescent Boy, and in all but one of the Bomba movies, Johnny gets tied up. 

Did the directors have a bondage fetish?

Or is it a matter of maximizing beefcake?

Johnny begins to get an impressive physique in the last 3 Tarzan movies, which are terrible.  Maureen O'Sullivan refused to do them, so Jane was recast with Brenda Joyce.  

The Bomba movies are even worse: endlessly recycled stock footage of African animals, and an endlessly recycled plot about Bomba falling in love with a visiting colonial administrator's daughter while fighting poachers or insurrectionists.  

How can you get audiences to fork over money to see such stuff?

Easy: show some pecs and biceps, and maybe a loincloth-bulge now and then.

So you add a few scenes of Johnny asleep, or else unconscious after falling out of a tree.  The camera zooms in for a close up of his face, shoulders, chest, stomach, and loincloth.  Then it starts over again.  Before we're done, we've been staring at Johnny's body for five minutes.  

But sleeping/unconscious shots show the muscles at rest.  Audiences want big, bulging, flexing muscles.  Fight scenes with bad guys or wild animals cause bulges, and sometimes the loincloth rides up to reveal the underwear beneath, but there's too much moving around for a serious gawk at Johnny's body.

Idea: why not have Boy/Bomba tied up, threatened by poachers or about to be sacrificed by an evil cult or something? That way he can strain against the bonds, flexing his muscles, but he's not moving.  The camera can zoom in, and audiences can stare as he struggles for five minutes.

I'd pay money to see that.

Jan 5, 2016

Gregory Harrison: Not For Ladies Only

While Magnum and Buck Rogers were grunting and posing, Gregory Harrison was quietly making a name for himself on Trapper John, MD (1979-86) as Gonzo Gates, the irreverent surgeon who lived in a trailer  (don't surgeons make a steady income?) and sunned himself semi-nude in the hospital parking lot.  Lot of beefcake, some minimal buddy-bonding, and two "gay episodes":

In 1981, a swishy gay guy named Judy is hospitalized after a hate crime (they called it "gay bashing" back then). All gay men are drag queens, I get it.   But at least all drag queens aren't homicidal maniacs; Judy turns out to be nice.

And in 1985, one of Nurse Libby's old boyfriends turns out to be gay and have AIDS -- the third AIDS-centered episode on network television.

Gregory Harrison is no stranger to beefcake.  In 1973, he played one of a group of students who romp around nude in The Harrad Experiment, along with Don Johnson, and during the 1970s (and 1980s and 1990s), he was often asked to appear shirtless in his tv and movie appearances, not to mention Battle of the Network Stars. 

But in 1981 he went all the way (or as far as the censors would allow), playing an aspiring actor who becomes a stripper in For Ladies Only.  In spite of the heterosexist title, he got many gay fans and write-ups in gay magazines like Christopher Street.

Nor is he a stranger to bonding.  In North Shore (1987), he plays Chandler, an experienced surfer who lives on the North Shore of Hawaii and begins a buddy-bonding romance with Arizona transplant Rich (Matt Adler, right).  In Red River (1988), he plays Cherry Valance, who buddy-bonds with Matthew Garth (Bruce Boxleiter) during a cattle drive.

Greg has always been quick to acknowledge his gay male fans.  In an interview, he estimated that about a third of his fan emails are about his role in the gay-angst movie It's My Party (1996), in which a gay man with AIDS invites his friends to a party, after which he will commit suicide.

He has also toured as Billy Flynn in the gay favorite Chicago.

Jan 4, 2016

The Shield: TV From the 2000s, Homophobia from the 1960s

You already know the most homophobic contemporary movie -- Chuck and Buck, the savagely homophobic "comedy" by Mike White.

Outside of Fox's animated sitcoms, TV series tend to go for erasing gay people from existence rather than excoriating them, but I found an exception.  Excoriations of gay people week after week for six years.

It's The Shield (2002-2008), a police drama set in contemporary Los Angeles.


In the real L.A. in the 2000s, there were gay police offices.  The LAPD advertised for recruits at gay pride festivals.  Police cadets got  training in LGBT issues.

But on The Shield, all of the cops are intensely homophobic.  "Queers" and "fags" drop from their lips every five seconds, along with the usual heterosexism that we find everywhere on tv.

The key character, Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis)  is a blustering homophobe -- but so is everybody, so not a problem.  But he is also boorish, stupid, vulgar, racist, sexist, violent, corrupt, and unfamiliar with the concept of "due process."

Oh, he loves his wife and kids -- so much so that when they leave him and go into hiding, fearing for their safety, he pays private investigators $20,000 to track them down.  Then he bursts in and starts yelling.

I guess that's supposed to be positive?

One of his nemeses is detective "Dutch" Wagenbach (Jay Karnes), who's actually intelligent and therefore the butt of constant jokes.  He grinds my gears by offering far-out psychoanalytic interpretations of every suspect, proclaiming that he "studied criminology."

Um...criminology doesn't teach you that nonsense.

But even Dutch is a first rate homophobe.  He asks, "What do they think causes people to be queer?  Is it biological, so they can't help themselves.  And if so, should we condemn them?"

Who's condemning them, Dutch?  I suppose the writers' perception of the intended audience as homophobic.

Criminals are homophobic too -- way homophobic.

There are occasional gay characters -- swishy queens who all have AIDS.
"Are you sure he has AIDS?"
 "Just look at him."

One of the cops, Julian Lowe (Michael Jace), happens to be gay.  Completely angst-ridden, overcome by guilt: it's a terrible urge inside him that he hates and can't get rid of.

He participates in a brutal gay-bashing with his fellow cops, tries to commit suicide, then tries to become "ex gay" through prayer and sex with a woman.

Oh, and he's also being blackmailed -- Vic is threatening to reveal his gayness to the precinct, where he will certainly be fired in disgrace.

Um...anti-discrimination laws for police officers have been in place in L.A. for 30 years.

By the way, the cops are uniformly racist, too.  When a Muslim asks why he is a suspect when he hasn't done anything, he is told: "Because a group of men who look like your twin brothers killed 3,000 Americans."

Um...there are Muslim Americans....

Even though I can't find shirtless shots of the regulars, there is a lot of beefcake on the show.  Criminals -- mostly drug dealers and gang bangers, with an occasional serial killer thrown in -- are often shown lounging around shirtless or in their underwear.  Danny Pino, a drug dealer that Vic extorts and then kills, always finds a way to cover up the bulge in his black briefs.

But, really, a precinct full of racist, sexist, homophobic jerks -- who writes this stuff?

Ok, it was created by Shawn Ryan, who was born in 1966 and grew up in Chicago, and was a staff writer on Nash Bridges and Angel.   In an interview, he said that the "Boys in the Bar" episode of Cheers, in which the bargoers recoil in homophobic horror from two guys that they think are gay, influenced how he "thought about homosexuals."

Homosexuals?  Is this, like, 1973?

On The Shield, it is.

See also: Chuck and Buck.

The Gay Adventures of Billy and Mandy

One of my favorite gay-subtext series of all time was The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy (2003-2008) on the Cartoon Network, about the friendship between two kids, the sinister Mandy (voiced by Grey Delisle) and the dopey Billy (Richard Horvitz), and the Grim Reaper, a skeleton with a Jamaican accent (voiced by Greg Eagles, left).

 No tv series aimed at a juvenile audience has ever gone so far in hinting about the existence of gay people.

1. Inclusivity.  Classmate Irwin’s mother turns out to be a decaying, 5,000-year old Egyptian mummy; his father advises that “No one can tell you who to fall in love with.”

In Billy and Mandy Save ChristmasSanta Claus turns out to be married to a female vampire, who has bitten him several times over the years. “You can’t control who you love,” he explains.  Although these relationships both pair male and female creatures, they tacitly validate same-sex bonds, which certainly would be far more conventional.

2. Hints about Same-Sex Practices.  When Billy gets a girlfriend, his father yells to his mother, “Hey, Gladys, Billy is in love -- with a girl!  You owe me five dollars!”, suggesting that there has been some good-natured speculation in the household about the boy’s sexual orientation.

 In a Lord of the Rings parody, a fey elf is overcome with lust as he praises a dwarf’s “thick, sinewy muscles,” and “bulging, compact thighs,” and a scene at the end of the episode shows a cabaret occupied entirely by same-sex elf-dwarf couples listening to Billy sing.

3. References to Gay Culture.  Billy’s parents speculate about his sexual identity in an episode entitled “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name,” a well-known euphemism for same-sex love.  “Dad Day Afternoon,” a play on Dog Day Afternoon, has nothing to do with bank robbery, but the plot about Grim hiding his grim-reaper career from his conservative father might be read as a parable for a closeted gay identity, like that of the primary pair in the movie.

4. Gay Marriage.  In “One Crazy Summoner” (August 5, 2005), Billy and Mandy attend summer school in a sorcery academy modeled on Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.  A misdirected potion makes Dean Toadblatt (John Vernon) fall in love with one of the male teachers, a human-sized squid (Weird Al Yankovic), who eagerly returns his interest.  In the next scene, they graphically kiss, then ride away on a broom decorated with tin cans and a “Just Married” banner, while the students cheer.

5. A Gay Romance.  In “Most Greatest Love Story Ever Told” (April 9, 2007), Billy's cousin Nergal, Jr. rejects a girl’s offer to walk him home from school, suggesting a lack of interest in preteen heterosexual practice; but he eagerly accepts Irwin’s offer to “hang out.”

Later he agrees to ask Mandy to the school dance for Irwin, and ends up with the date, whereupon Irwin angrily breaks off the friendship. Nergal is heartbroken, and he never “liked Mandy that way” in the first place, but he can’t call off the date and disappoint his unaccountably enthusiastic father (perhaps Nergal’s parents have been speculating about his sexual orientation, like Billy’s parents, but with less nonchalance).

At the dance, Nergal and Irwin fight, and Mandy rejects them both.  They look at each other.

Nergal says “So this is what love is?”  Irwin nods.

They begin to slow dance, holding each other closely as the camera pans out.  Nergal was never interested in Mandy, or in any girl, so his statement makes no sense unless he is referring to Irwin.  Perhaps not coincidentally, this was the last regular episode of the series.

Unfortunately, the last season hasn't been released on DVD.

Maxwell Atoms, the show's creator (center, with producer Noah Z. Jones and Atticus Schafer of The Middle), complains on his blog that his grandmother believes him to be gay.

Jan 3, 2016

Charles in Charge: The First Teencom

Fresh from his tenure on Happy Days, Scott Baio made a dent in the "servant saves dysfunctional family" genre with Charles in Charge (1984-85), about a college student who works as a male nanny, a surprisingly gender-bending role for 1984.

Willie Aames, who had starred with Scott in the teen sex comedy Zapped! (1982), would play his girl-crazy best friend Buddy.

Charles' rather disturbed charges would include painfully shy teenager Lila (15-year old April Lerman), tween mad scientist Douglas (14-year old Jonathan Ward), and preteen juvenile delinquent Jason (Michael Pearlman).

Charles himself would be rather nerdy, fond of suspenders, ties, and shirts buttoned all the way up.  To preclude any gay suspicions, he would have a steady girlfriend, Gwendolyn (Jennifer Runyon), and Buddy would be indefatigably girl-crazy.

Charles in Charge premiered on October 3, 1984 in a block with John Stamos' teen-oriented sitcom Dreams. There were a few things to like about it, like Jason's blatant crush on Charles.  But the teens who were expecting a hot teen idol stayed away, and the adults were busy watching The Fall Guy and Highway to Heaven, so the show tanked after 22 episodes.

A retooled Charles in Charge appeared in first-run syndication on January 3rd, 1987.   Lots of retooling:

1. The theme song was revamped to sound sexy and risque ("I want...ooh...I want Charles in charge of me!").

2. Charles was now a collegiate hunk, with an updated wardrobe, when he wasn't wandering around the house in a towel (or a hot dog suit).  A Charles-of-all-trades, he supplemented his nanny income by working as a teaching assistant at the college, and at the local pizza parlor hangout.

3. Buddy's girl-craziness likewise faded away; he became a dimwit instead.

4. There were strong adult characters, grumpy Walter Powell (James T. Callahan) and Charles' mother Lilian (Ellen Travolta).

5. And Charles' new charges, the Pembrokes, were not at all dysfunctional: glamorous future model Jamie (14-year old Nicole Eggert), bookish future writer Sarah (13-year old Josie Davis), and preteen athlete Adam (12-year old Alexander Polinsky).  Justin Whalen played Cousin Anthony.

This time teen viewers took notice, and Charles quickly becoming the #1 syndicated program on the air (Mama's Family was a close second).  It lasted until 1990, and inspired a whole genre of beefcake-heavy 1990s teencoms.

Of the three kids in the first incarnation of Charles, only Jonathan Ward had a significant acting career as a teenagerHe starred in the "boys alone" drama White Water Summer with Sean Astin (1987) and in the E.T. ripoff Mac and Me (1988), plus his own "my secret" teencom, The New Adventures of Beans Baxter (1987).  In 1994, he wrote and starred in a Discovery Channel documentary, Understanding Sex. 

Of the three kids in the second incarnation, both Nicole Eggert and Josie Davis went on to successful acting careers.  Alexander Polinsky does voice-over work and is involved behind-the-scenes in model construction.

See also: The Sound of Music

The Homophobic Gay Ally of "The War at Home"

All in the Family hit the heights of television glory in the 1970s with bigot Archie Bunker.  He hated blacks, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, Poles, women's libbers, gays, and just about everyone else, to the consternation of his easygoing wife and radical-hippie daughter and son-in-law.

Everybody loved him, right?  So why not try it again 30 years later?

Enter The War at Home (2005-2007), starring Michael Rappaport as obnoxious jerk Dave Gold, who hates blacks, Puerto Ricans, Muslims, women's libbers, liberals, and gays (not Jews because he's Jewish).

He has an easygoing wife and three teenage kids: horny Hillary (Kaylee DeFer), obviously not named after Hillary Clinton; feminine Larry (Kyle Sullivan); and teen operator Mike (Dean Collins, left).

Most storylines involved Dave's obnoxious prejudices, his hatred of sex (no matter who has it), or a combination of the two:
Hillary dates a black man!
Hillary has sex with a black man!
Mike has sex!
Larry starts to masturbate!
Larry wears women's clothes!
Larry kisses a boy!  (Actually, a girl in men's clothes).

It was impossible to watch, vulgar, obnoxious, horrible.

The problem is: you felt sorry for Archie Bunker.  He was a product of the 1930s, when white heterosexual male supremacy was practically unquestioned.  (Remember the theme song, "Goils were goils and men were men").  He was a relic of the past, lost in a rapidly-changing world.

Dave Gold is a product of the 1970s, when Civil Rights, Gay Rights, and Women's Rights were already underway.  He lives in an ultra-liberal Long Island milieu.  There is no reason for his prejudices.  They exist just so the character can say outrageous things, like Peter Griffin on Family Guy (which aired immediately afterwards).

After a year of groaning critics and bad ratings, it became obvious that Dave Gold had to clean up his act, become kinder, gentler, less obnoxious.  So Larry's school friend Kenny (Rami Malek) comes out, gets kicked out of the house by his conservative Muslim father, and moves in with the Golds.

 Dave dives head-first into the problem of gay kids being rejected by their families, even serving up a PSA for the Trevor Project at the end of some episodes.  He also dives into Kenny's love life, buying the embarrassed kid a copy of The Joy of Gay Sex and quizzing him on lubricants and dildos.

Wait -- was this the guy who hated Muslims, gays, and sex last year?  It was completely out of character -- and Dave looked positively aghast during the Trevor Project PSAs.  After winning a GLAAD Award for a portrayal of the only gay Muslim on tv, The War at Home was cancelled.

See also: Dean Collins.


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