Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Who's Watching the Watchmen?

Okay, sometimes it takes me a while to catch up with things.

I'm talking about a movie that came out last year entitled Watchmen.

A little background.

Watchmen was a 12 issue maxi-series published by DC Comics in the eighties. It answered the question: what if there really were costumed heroes in our world, and what if they were every bit as fucked-up as everyone else, with neuroses, sexual hang ups, and the whole magilla. [In general comic books began asking that question even before Watchmen was published, but the series was, for lack of a better word, a little more "adult."] Mentioned throughout the story is the first group of heroes, called the Minutemen, who formed in the 1940's.

The series even had gay material, some of it overt, some subtle, most of it ambiguous. [And, of course, most it it was left out of the film version].

A little background on the guy who wrote the mini-series, Alan Moore. Apparently Moore and his first wife lived in a kind of menage a trois with a woman who was lover to both Moore and his wife. [This is all courtesy of wikipedia]. Moore was quite pro-gay. He stopped working on a strip for a British paper when the paper ran an anti-gay editorial. He, his wife, and their mutual female lover worked on a pro-gay comic that protested homophobic policies of the government.

All good.

Then his wife, the lover, or both decided that they weren't so much bisexual as lesbian -- or else they fell so in love with each other they didn't need Moore -- and the two of them took off. With the kids.

Now, after that, I don't know how Moore felt about gay rights or lesbians in particular. So let's examine Watchmen first.

The comic is quite long and involved and I won't recount the entire story here, only look at the gay stuff.

Rorschach, a psychotic, super-conservative, right-wing hero who's wanted by the police for his outlawed vigilante actions, is fairly homophobic, but he's conservative on just about everything. Ironically, he's just about the only hero who tries to do the right thing at the end.

[I must state right here that Watchmen is an unconventional and unpredictable comic book, not standard in any way, shape or form. To coin a cliche, it defies expectations.]

One of the heroines, who is dead before the story proper begins, is named Silhouette. She and another woman become lovers and are bounced out of the group [which at this point is still called the Minutemen.] This is not unexpected as it is the 1940's. Years later, one of the other heroines in the group, now retired, admits that -- while she didn't like Silhouette, presumably for other reasons -- she felt badly about voting her out, as well as hypocritical, as everyone knew that two of the male members were involved in a sexual relationship. Silhouette and her lover are murdered by one of the former's long-time foes. [All of this is referred to in passing; it is not part of the storyline as such.]

In the movie, during which he hear much of Rorschach's internal thoughts, he says that Silhouette was a "victim of her immoral lifestyle" or something to that effect even though that was hardly the case. But remember, Rorschach is crazy. [In the comic he wonders if one of the other heroes, Ozymandias, is a homosexual, and makes a note to investigate.]

Also in the movie, during the credit sequence, we see what appears to be the wild, manic, joyous celebrating in the streets that occurred at the end of WW 2. Remember the famous picture of the soldier bending over a nurse and giving her a smack? Instead we see a costumed heroine -- presumably Silhouette -- in place of the soldier, giving a lady nurse a really hot smooch. [Of course it's two women, which for some reason turns on some straight guys, so while it's great, it isn't as edgy as it would have been showing a male soldier kissing another guy.] Still, the movie gets points for that.

A few paragraphs up I mentioned how there were two gay guys in the Minutemen. Reading between the lines of the comic -- it was not really part of the main storyline -- they were butch Hooded Justice and handsome Captain Metropolis. You have to read all the text extras in the comic book to piece it all together. When DC Comics put out a Who's Who entry on the Minutemen, it mentioned Silhouette and her lesbian scandal, but not that these two guys were lovers. [I won't be paranoid and I'll say it was because Silhouette's sexuality was mentioned in the comic portion and the guys' only in the text portion, but still ... makes you wonder.]

Hooded Justice sort of used a heroine named Silk Spectre as a beard. When another "hero" called the Comedian tries to sexually assault her, HJ comes to the rescue, and while he's beating the Comedian, the latter figures out that he gets off on it. In one of the text extras [issue # 9, I believe] there's a reference to HJ beating up "boys" or "punks" and having embarrassing public squabbles with the good Captain. [Again, none of this was part of the main storyline, all of it having happened in the past. Both characters were presumed dead.]

As for the movie: We never see either of these characters, not even in flashback. During a dinner conversation where they share memories, a character named Nite Owl says to a female former heroine : "You didn't know those two were ... ?" Presumably he was referring to HJ and CM being a gay couple, but who knows?

Although they are minor characters, there are two lesbians in the main -- or present-day --storyline of the Watchmen comic. One of these is a butch, old-fashioned gal named "Joey" or Josephine, who drives a cab. She buys Hustler at a newsstand and looks at the pin-ups. Yet she also asks the news vendor if he'll post a flyer for a benefit for Gay Woman Against Rape ["You gotta be kiddin' me! the vendor snorts, or something to that effect.] Of course, a woman who's in a group named Gay Woman Against Rape would hardly read Hustler, but it turns out that that's a bone of contention for Joey's femme lover, who shows up an issue or two later. This leads into a fight between the two women which becomes physical, with Josephine knocking her much smaller lover to the ground and kicking her as others around them, concerned, try to intervene. Josephine, either a self-hating lesbian or just so furious at her lover she'll say anything, screams: "I wanna be straight and I wanna be dead!" [Huh?]

This all just happens as a back drop, a vignette, to the main storyline, which ends with half of New York being wiped out. Presumably Josephine gets her wish -- not about being straight, but being dead -- along with several other minor characters we've been introduced to over the length of the story. [For the record, Moore's first wife and their mutual lover were named Phyllis and Deborah, respectively, and I don't think either of them drove a cab!]

Of course Josephine and her lover are not in the movie -- which, considering what happens is probably just as well. Also they really didn't have much to do with the main plot. The comic book is worth reading [it helps if you're a comics fan, and while Watchmen The Comic has some depth to it, it ain't exactly Shakespeare] although you may gnash your teeth at the really stupid ending, a mistake which is pretty much repeated in the movie, with a few alterations. The comic book, at least, was suspenseful, but the movie -- although it has its moments -- is long, silly, and all told, not too memorable. [Those of you who want to spend hours exploring the various sub-texts of the comic can do so, but as for me, life is too short. I liked it, but I didn't like it that much.]

There were many more, much more upfront -- and upbeat -- gay characters in comics after Watchmen. More on that in future posts. [For instance, in the late 90's a comic called The Authority featured a gay male couple among its prominent heroes. And I've already posted on the new gay Batwoman more than once.]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Silver Studs"

On the ABC series Brothers and Series, which airs Sunday nights at 10 PM, there are a few gay characters in what is essentially a family-oriented drama. First there was Kevin, the gay brother (Matthew Rhys), and his lover Scotty (Luke Macfarlane); then they outed Kevin's Uncle Saul Holden (Ron Rifkin, pictured). Rifkin is an excellent actor whose last major TV role was as the incredibly evil Arvin Sloane on the absorbing spy series Alias. "Saul" is quite a change of pace.

This was an interesting situation that was never fully explored. I mean here we have a guy who is a senior citizen, who apparently had an involvement with at least one man many years in the past [who got married, although Saul never did] but who never came out to his gay nephew, and when said nephew asked if he was gay became furious and refused to talk to him.

Saul did eventually come out to Kevin and the rest of his family, but we have to speculate what went wrong with his life. Obviously the man suffered from internalized homophobia -- there's no doubt of that. At a party, before he comes out, Saul is approached by his old boyfriend, who tells him that his marriage is over, he's accepted himself, and apparently wants to get back together with Saul or at least renew old acquaintances [gee, after all those decades -- Saul must have been somethin'!]. But we're left to wonder -- did they have a casual fling, did they have sex, was this guy Saul's actual lover, and was Saul so hurt when he left him to get married that he, too, tried to go straight, couldn't, but nonetheless renounced his homosexuality?

The program has never wrestled with those issues.

Last week Saul was moody and difficult, snapping at everyone. Everyone was wondering what was wrong with him. I could have told them. Saul suffers from Late Bloomer's Syndrome. Sometimes when men come out quite late in life they feel like, as others have put it, the party has passed them by. They feel they wasted years and years full of guilt and denial. At one point Saul practically cries that he's seventy years old, there's nothing left for him, and all he has is his friggin' work. In other words, Saul not only needed a man -- he needed to get laid.

While watching the program I said to myself, if Saul were a real person and I knew him, I'd recommend that he sign up on the silver daddies web site ["for older men and the men who love them"] and get himself a date. [I just can't resist playing "Gay Doctor Bill."]

Well, sure enough, after the commercial Saul bounces into his sister's (Sally Field) kitchen bubbling over with joy and tells her he's signed up for online dating on -- get this -- Silver Studs! [Gee, I wonder where they got the name?] Saul was excited because he got what's known as a "friend request." (Maybe someday he'll actually get a date and we'll see it on the program).

I imagine it's tough enough coming out when you're middle-aged, but at seventy? Still, where there's life there's hope.

In the meantime, there's the gay couple Kevin and Scotty. As portrayed, they're nice enough guys, even if Kevin is a borderline bitch and Scotty is so damn precious at times you want to puke on him. Scotty (played by openly gay Macfarlane; Rhys and Rifkin are straight) did his impression of a gay owl. Which means he swiveled his hips, turned his head around, and said, "Who?" in an effeminate voice [not that it was all that much different from his "normal" voice.] I guess I forgot to laugh. At least Scotty is a more realistic partner for Kevin than the hot and hunky supposedly-bisexual-but-definitely-prefers-guys Hollywood action movie star that he briefly dated in season one. As Kevin, who has his good points put it: "Bi now, gay later."

As this show is all about "family" [for many of us our friends are our true family, but if we have good relationships with our parents and siblings so much the better], Kevin and Scotty are having a baby. Awwww. They have hired a surrogate to carry the baby, a gal that I probably wouldn't hire to walk my dog, if I had one. But that's where the conflict and the "drama" will come in, one supposes.

Frankly, I find Saul and his dilemma and especially his decision not to give up but to meet and date new guys to be far more arresting than the domestic and baby concerns of somewhat dull Kevin and Scotty.

On my post about eighty-plus Jack Larson who played Jimmy Olsen and recently appeared on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, I wondered if LOGO would ever have a show about senior or even middle-aged gay men. Wouldn't it be funny if ABC's Brothers and Sisters becomes the first show to detail the romantic and sex life of a gay male septuagenarian?

Maybe Saul will decide to date older instead of younger and wind up on a date -- or in bed -- with Jimmy Olsen?

Hey -- Why not? Sex ain't just for "twinks."

Monday, January 18, 2010

More Closet Cases on Law and Order

I just posted last week about an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. In that post I mentioned how irritating I found some of the various Law and Order shows on matters gay.

Last Friday we had another one of their married closet queen episodes, this time on the regular Law and Order program. It was written by Ed Zuckerman and Matthew McGough.

The plot had to do with a female talk show host who was married with children but who had had numerous affairs with other women. [I would say that she was bisexual, but when a married person only has affairs with members of their own sex, I would categorize them as married homosexuals.] One of the women who'd been with her was gathering material for an expose, and is found dead. Then another guy tries to blackmail the host and so on.

Right off the bat I recognize two things. The first is that Law and Order is a fast-paced mystery program which rarely stops to take the time to delve into subjects. Everything is subordinate to getting the story told, maintaining suspense, and providing plenty of plot twists.

The second is that I can hardly complain about all the closet queens who show up on the Law and Order programs when I've written about same -- as well as married homosexuals, family men who seek cock, and self-hating homos -- on this very blog more than once.

Still, I would love to see a Out and Proud gay person -- hopefully not the corpse they make their obligatory quip over -- on some episode of Law and Order, be it the regular show, SVU, or Criminal Intent -- if that's still on the air. Yes, script writers may think that closet cases who can be blackmailed and cheating wives going muff-diving make for better and more sensational stories, but surely they can find drama in the lives of Out and Proud gay people. [True, the Law and Order shows have had gay-sympathetic episodes, but they do seem to rely much too much on closeted and ashamed homosexual characters, making the shows often seem just a little dated. And even when they do feature out, proud people they seem a little weird and/or manic.]

For instance, this episode dropped this woman -- this married lesbian -- into our laps, but there was no discussion of her sexuality, how she identified, why she got married in the first place -- only a quick scene when her husband seems to express some disgust with her actions, and when the wife worries about the marriage's future and custody issues. [I figure the show has had so many male closet cases that they figured it was time for a lesbian.] The program glossed over the fact that the wife seemed to be committing sexual harrassment over and over again, as most of her lovers were employees who seemed to get fired at the same time they got dumped. Most seemed to be women who then went on to boyfriends or husbands. But even their bisexuality goes completely unexplored -- it's just another "plot bite."

Of course this is yet another example of a show that simply uses homosexuality for added spice or confusion and to bring in another twist for the viewer's alleged pleasure. But it doesn't add to anyone's understanding.

It reminds me of The Young and the Restless, which has virtually de-gayed itself. As I mentioned on previous posts, Adam, who had sex with his gay lawyer Rafe to "control" him, claims to be totally straight and recently got married to a woman. Another character, who is planning to do an expose on Adam, talks to the hardly-seen Rafe, who is still appalled at Adam's actions. But can you imagine any gay guy who has been to bed with a certain man [not a quick drunken bj with the guy being passive, but actual sex in a bed] -- in this case, Adam -- not thinking that the sex partner has to be at least bisexual? Yet Rafe tells the man interviewing him that Adam is neither gay nor bi. Sure -- you go to bed and have sex with a guy and then when he tells you he's straight you actually believe him. Surrrre.

Over at The Young and the Restless they could argue that who would want such a borderline sociopathic character as Adam to be gay? But they should have considered all that before they came up with the whole homo-seduction scenario in the first place. Now the writers have created a ridiculous situation. Besides, having Adam turn out to be gay wouldn't have been so terrible had they not sent gay Philip packing and limited gay Rafe's appearances to the occasional walk-on, as they were positive characters.

True, most writers aren't gay activists, and while you're grateful they're including gay characters, you wish a.) that the gay characters had a little bit more to do with reality and that b.) they forgot all the conflicted, repressed closet cases and zeroed in on the Out and Proud for a change.

For instance, speaking of Law and Order possibilities: A straight relative is found dead at a gay wedding. A gay activist kills a gay basher and there's some debate as to whether it was self-defense or not. An out gay teacher is stalked by a homophobe and the suspects are numerous. The head of a gay rights organization is falsely accused of murdering an ex-gay minister and so on. Let's just see some characters who aren't ashamed and on the down low.

I mean, the woman on Law and Order was just the opposite of an Out and Proud lesbian. She was horrified of being exposed, as much for her sexual activities as for the fact that she was seen, rightly or wrongly, as a sexual harrasser or even a predator. She was, frankly, a rather loathsome person, enjoying her heterosexual privileges while indulging her private appetites without Standing Up and Being Counted, or doing anything for the gay cause. Even after news of her affairs gets out, she doesn't come out of the closet but simply tells her audience that "everyone knew she was kinky." Being gay is "kinky?" [Maybe the problem is with writers Zuckerman and McGough?]

Monday, January 11, 2010

"Jimmy Olsen" Knocks One Out of the Ball Park!

Actor Jack Larson [pictured] played Jimmy Olsen on the old Superman TV series many years ago. Before that Larson had appeared in a few movies, and after The Adventures of Superman ended its run he made sporadic appearances in films and on TV, often in cameos related to Jimmy Olsen. He has also been a writer, producer and opera librettist, a man of many talents.

[For non-comics fans Jimmy Olsen was a cub reporter at the Daily Planet, which also employed Clark Kent/Superman. In the comics he was an ambitious, brash, often fool-hardy if lovable redhead with freckles. The Olsen of the TV show was much more subdued, a little hang-dog, and if Larson was a redhead it was hard to tell in black and white.]

But for our purposes I'm much more interested in a recent appearance by Larson on one of my favorite programs, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit which aired last Wednesday, Jan. 6th, 2010. [Let me make it clear that I've had issues with some episodes of the show. And its sister series Law and Order has on occasion given me pause, as they say.]

Let me interject here that Larson is openly gay. He had been a companion to Montgomery Clift, and then was the life partner of Hollywood director James Bridges for 35 years until Bridges' death.

Larson is now 82 years old [or 77 -- hell he has the right to shave off a few years if he wants to, who doesn't?]. I think it's great that in his senior years he was handed one of the most memorable roles of his career on a top-rated television show in the episode entitled "Quickie."

On the show Larson plays Dewey Butler, the grandfather of a young man he has raised. This young man -- who is straight, by the way --- has HIV and knowingly infects as many women as he can. Butler loves his grandson, but is appalled, heartbroken, by his actions, and does what he can to make restitution to the young man's victims. Larson is excellent, and has several very affecting moments, including his death scene. [Brian Geraghty, who plays the grandson, Peter, is also excellent; in fact the episode is full of skillful acting.]

An interesting aspect of the episode is that it underlines a fact that too often people ignore -- that HIV/AIDS is not a gay disease. Straight people get it and spread it. Men can get HIV from women just as women can get it from men. The script by Ken Storer also made the point that there are cases of drug-resistant HIV, so while it may not be the death sentence that it used to be, AIDS is still pretty serious stuff. [Safe sex, everyone!]

On the Internet Movie Data Base [imdb.com] site there are four listings for "Jack Larson." The first is the man we're talking about here. The fourth is -- get this -- an "actress" who played "Dewey Butler" on "Quickie" on Law and Order: SVU.

Now I'm not saying there's some sort of homophobic conspiracy on the Internet Movie Data Base. But even if somebody thought "Dewey" sounded like a woman's name, surely they might have wondered about the "Jack?"

In any case, congrats to a gay brother on a job well done!

While it's highly unlikely that LOGO or any other gay network would want to air a program dealing with the lives of older gay men, if someone gets inspired maybe they'll think of Larson for a major role.