Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Bitch Is Back

A few months ago As the World Turns introduced a new character, a doctor named Dr. Reid Oliver [expertly played by Eric Sheffer Stevens, pictured].

Oliver knew he was an incredibly gifted surgeon and made no bones about making sure that everyone else knew it too. His chief expression was one of withering contempt.

In other words, he was sort of bitchy.

I remember wondering if the character would turn out to be gay, then immediately admonishing myself because I know full well that most gay men are not bitchy and I've certainly met some straight guys who definitely were, so I told myself to put that right out of my mind. [I also recognized that it wasn't that I thought gay men were bitchy but that this has been a prevailing and unfair stereotype for many years.]

Now I don't think it was because Oliver was a bit of a bitch -- at least I hope not -- but it turned out that the good doctor was gay. He was brought in to shake up the relationship between Luke and Noah, the gay couple on the show, among other things [his character has shaken up a lot of people actually]. Noah had lost his sight, and Luke importuned [or rather badgered] genius surgeon Reid to come operate on him. For many weeks, during which Noah kept pushing Luke away [he in part blamed Luke for his accident], the two -- Luke and Reid -- simply couldn't stand one another.

But you could cut the sexual tension with a knife.

As Reid began to fall for Luke and vice versa, the doctor started to become a little more human. The somewhat insecure man underneath the obnoxious shell began to poke through.

And finally, after days and days of teasing us, the two finally went to bed. [Okay, not that we saw much of that. Even progressive shows such as As the World Turns aren't progressive enough to handle that.] But I must say the two characters have had some sexy kissing scenes [all the more remarkable if the two actors are straight, which, unfortunately, would preclude their actually enjoying any of the action, more's the pity].

In the meantime, Noah, who had vacillated back and forth between Luke and other guys, finally decided he was still in love with his old boyfriend, but he was heart-broken when Luke told him he now loved Reid.

But just yesterday Reid was in a terrible accident and is now brain-dead. His heart is going to be implanted in another character. Luke was, of course, devastated. [I don't mean to quibble, but these sequences, while not bad, didn't seem to have the impact of similar sequences involving straight characters. Perhaps it was simply because Luke and Reid had not been together all that long. There are still many people, who despite being gay-friendly, don't quite see gay relationships as equal to straight. Perhaps this could have been explored on the show -- or will be. Everyone just stood around talking about how Reid was gone and let's get his heart prepped and so on while Luke stood there in shock; would they have just let the poor guy stand there if it had been his girlfriend who'd died? But then Luke didn't seem all that devastated; perhaps because he felt more of an infatuation for Reid than anything else? Or did the actor simply underplay too much for some reason?]

In any case, the openly and happily gay Oliver went out as a hero; the last thing he did before expiring was insisting that his heart be used for a colleague whom he died trying to help, and whom he didn't especially like.

Normally I would rail against the killing off of an excellent character like Dr. Reid Oliver [his being gay added an extra dimension to someone who was already quite interesting, in no small part due to Stevens' performance as well as good writing] but As the World Turns is going off the air for good later this month. The gay characters on One Life to Live are, I believe, no longer on that show. And I've already written how The Young and the Restless de-gayed itself, although minor gay supporting characters show up now and then to say a measly line or two.

So there won't be many or any gay characters on the afternoon soaps. Still, it looks as if As the World Turns will go out with its long-running gay couple, Luke and Noah, intact. Noah will naturally want to comfort Luke after his terrible loss [although he'll probably feel kind of funny helping him get over someone else]. Frankly, Luke seemed a little stupid blowing off Noah. Yes, Dr. Oliver was a very handsome guy, but even after he thawed out a bit he didn't exactly have Noah's sincerity and sweetness. And Noah wasn't exactly chopped liver. Still, it's hardly unrealistic for a young guy to fall for a pretty face, male or female.

As the World Turns may not have been perfect, but in general the show did a mighty good job of presenting mostly realistic gay characters of some variety and intelligence.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Party Animals

Many years ago I went to see the film version of the rock opera Tommy.

The movie was horrible. it would have been horrible even without its most offensive scene.

After Tommy's uncle (or whoever he was) sings about "fiddling" with the boy -- in other words, molesting him -- the actor playing the part picks up a copy of Gay News [or a similar gay paper -- it's been a few years] and begins reading it. Tommy's father, played by the imposing Oliver Reed, walks in and sets fire to the newspaper, wearing a look that could kill.

So there you have it in CinemaScope and technicolor: Gay man equals child molester.

Author Robert Hofler makes no mention of this scene in his book Party Animals, which is ironic considering the subject of the book is producer Allan Carr, who helped promote and market Tommy with a world premiere party in a New York subway station [where it belonged]. More ironic is that the openly and flamboyantly gay Carr tried to bring a gay aesthetic to his projects as well as a homoerotic ambiance to his parties [and orgies]. NOTE: Other projects Carr worked on in one capacity or another were Grease with John Travolta, Can't Stop the Music, the Village People singing group, the Broadway musical La Cage aux Folles [suave, borderline swishy-if-straight star Gene Barry was afraid to share an elevator with the chorus boys because he thought he might catch AIDS], and a famously disastrous Oscar telecast.

Interestingly Hofler does make note of the sad but not uncommon phenomenon that the stereotypically gay Carr was also full of extreme self-hatred, stemming in part from his body image and hard-to-hide effeminacy. Carr was someone who decided he would make the gay thing work for him without ever fully embracing his sexuality [except, of course, during sex, often with men for hire]. Hofler writes how Carr would often go out of his way to do just about anything and everything for the heterosexual men with whom he worked, but rarely did the same for his gay male friends and acquaintances. "Allan had a way of treating fellow homosexuals like mere employees and straight male friends like the brothers he never had," writes Hofler.

Which, of course, is why Carr probably wouldn't have given a shit about that scene in Tommy.

Hofler's book is quite interesting, even if the star of the book himself may not interest you all that much. Some of the negative attitudes expressed about Carr by people may have had to do with their homophobia but just as often with his glittering, often tacky, lack of substance. I never met Carr but I've met people like him. They can be fun -- until they think you've somehow crossed them, or their extreme self-hatred beneath the callow, "fabulous" exterior begins to come out through the cracks and then explodes.

Not a bad book of a certain time and place in Hollywood and New York, with a back drop of emerging gay rights and gay consciousness, as well as the terrible rise of AIDS.

And Hofler made me laugh out loud with the line: "In time matching John Travolta with a mate of the opposite sex turned into a cottage industry."