Tuesday, 31 July 2012

447: Charles Atlas

“Physical Culture”, body-building, call it what you will. Is it just a desire to build up a more manly physique to attract the ladies, or does it shade over into something more insidiously homoerotic? All those 1950s muscle magazines featuring glistening, toned, scarcely clad young men, and the 1998 film “Beefcake” would argue that the intent was more homosexual than advocates would admit. Of course the most famous body-building course, aimed at the boys who just wanted to look a bit more manly, was Charles Atlas’s, with his adverts about the wimp on the beach getting sand kicked in his face. So a few parodies of the format of the ad and the other appeals of muscle.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus, 16 November 1969
0.38 – 0.55

This animation by Terry Gilliam is a spoof of Charles Atlas. However the line, about “a body that is the envy of other men” produces this camp poof. The snide tones and a limp wrist are universal. The “duckie” I think is more English, but the blonde bouffant hair and striped suit are more American clichés of the time.

Playboy, November 1977
Lou Brooks

This one, since it is a cartoon, can more accurately follow the original cartoon style of the Charles Atlas adverts. The parody follows the format, but each panel is rather more subversively coarse than the original. The pay-off of the strip is the homoeroticism of body-building, confirmed by the final line in which the bodybuilder reveals his name is Bruce. This is obviously the cartoon I was trying to remember in this earlier Al Jaffee cartoon about the gay appeal of bodybuilding

Saturday, 28 July 2012

446: Lesbian Femininity Control

Private Eye, 29 September 1967
Bill Tidy

Private Eye, 5 November 1982
Marc Boxer

The counterapart to the sissy, effete male athlete is the mannish sportswoman, which is equally threatening to conservative gender assumptions. How easy to undermine a woman’s accomplishments in a man’s arena by insinuating that she’s a lesbian. That’s one of the reasons why I generally try to avoid comic portrayals of lesbians. They’re generally a lot more limited than humorous portrayals of gay men – dykes in male drag, threatening burly monsters, feminist ballbusters and sexual teases. I lack the specific historical knowledge to pick up on allusions, and there’s a whole raft of cultural assumptions and experiences that I lack to make any informed assessment so I’d be little better than whoever was making the crappy lesbian joke in the first place. It is also unfortunate that any cartoons that I happen to have posted that have included any lesbians being affectionate or naked with each other have usually had hit rates 4-or-5 times the average. Ugghh.

Friday, 27 July 2012

445: Gay Olympics Sex Test

Punch, 11 February 1976

Wup-wup-whooppeee! (Twirls finger in air like a tiny pixie about to throw a lasso.) Thank god my TV’s partly broken and I can only use it to watch DVDs. Don’t know about you, but I’m going to go Robert Altman crazy.


As every child knows the practical test of masculinity is the ability to run about and jump and kick and throw and catch things. People who can’t do these things are either girls (though this has now changed somewhat, as the games started with some women playing football in Wales – make your own jokes here) and poofs. So imagine the hilarity of effete sissy homosexual types trying to play sports. No, go on, imagine.

Much earlier I posted this 1982 Gay Games-inspired two-page cartoon spread by Larry in Punch, so have a look at that for a warm-up (see - I’ve got that athletic patter down).

“Femininity control” is indeed a real thing the Olympics enact, to ensure that women competitors attain the allowed level of women-ness to be able to compete – don’t have the wrong levels of testosterone and oestrogen or any other chromosomal oddities or who knows whatever else. That’s not creepy at all, is it? Or enforcing existing social sexual stereotypes either?

So here’s it’s used as the excuse for a load of jokes which reverse it for the purpose of “masculinity control”. The old third sex bit, with lots of shallow, ditzy, sissy assumptions (hairdresser stereotypes basically), and a little surreptitious sexual appreciation of the male form. The line about “writing to the Leader of the Liberal Party” is to an allusion to Jeremy Thorpe whose gay problems had just been publically revealed in January 1976.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

444: Gay Bert and Ernie 2

Contemporary with the last sketch by National Lampoon, though not a parody, is this more whimsical riff from the humorist Kurt Andersen’s 1980 book on modern life, “The Real Thing” in which he makes Bert and Ernie the subject for his brief essay on “Homosexuals”:


“Bert and Ernie, of ‘Sesame Street,’ are the Real Thing

“ . . . and that the two Muppets don’t flaunt their gayness — Big Bird is far swishier, and an old bitch besides— is very much to the point. Bert and Ernie conduct themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women and hand puppets do. They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impeccably decorated cabinet.

“In fact, Bert and Ernie lead a far more ‘normal’ life than bilious heteros like Cookie Monster and Grover. Nor for these two lovers does the gay life have any connection with the sad wrinkle-room of aging fairies such as Captain Kangaroo's Dancing Bear and Fran's Kukla.

“Among theater folk today, as everyone is aware by now, being homosexual is thought no more bizarre than having a foam-rubber head, a two-dimensional face, or strings permanently attached to one's limbs. None of Bert's and Ernie's professional colleagues treat them oddly, in short, because gayness is just another friendly part of life on "Sesame Street.”

443: Gay Bert and Ernie 1

Christopher Street
National Lampoon’s White Album (1979/1980?)


Like Batman and Robin, another male duo in children’s entertainment subject to longstanding gay rumours is the opposites-attract pair of roommates Bert and Ernie from “Sesame Street”. The naïve portrayal of two men living together arouses speculations that this is really a gay relationship, although nobody ever makes these points about their inspiration from “The Odd Couple”.

This parody is the earliest instance I can find of gaying up Bert and Ernie. Of course in these democratic days of the internet when everybody has access to the means of production, the public is no longer restricted to consuming only those few comedy offerings which have been sanctioned by the media gatekeepers, so knock yourself out searching Youtube. Although in the specific matter of gay Sesame Street parodies, to be honest, they aren’t going to be much worse or much better than this offering on what was a rather poor late period National Lampoon LP by a load of unknowns. I can’t even find concrete confirmation as to whether this record was released in 1979 or 1980, and don’t know who wrote or performed this specific sketch. (LP Written by: Alice Playten, Tony Scheuren, Lynn Goldsmith, Marc Rubin, Ted Mann, Tony Scheuren, Lynn Goldsmith, Marc Rubin, Steve Goodman, Sean Kelly. Performers: Alice Playten, Michael Simmons, Rodger Bumpass, Tia Brelis, Tony Scheuren, Shelley Barre, James Widdoes, Sylvia Grant, Steve Collins, Garry Goodrow, Rhonda Coullet, Rory Dodd.)

The fun-loving, goofy Ernie and the uptight, easily-irritated Bert become emblematic of certain types of gay couples. Compare this relationship to the near contemporary portrayal of the two gay roommates played by Cheech and Chong. Ernie becomes the equally genial Eddie, and his muppet-voice easily acquires a distinct lisp. Bert’s frustrations with Ernie are transformed into the bitchy hissy-fits of a jealous lover. And again, again, again, again, and yet again, the sissy-name of choice “Bruce” is dragged out.

Some attempts are made to also include a few Sesame Street-format counting gags (Numbers: 2+1 equals 3, and Letters: KY). There’s one heavy-handed reference to a “closet” and a taste for Judy Garland and canapes, which could have been unthinkingly knocked out with no effort anytime in the previous decade, but otherwise it’s a view of the late 70s heavily-sexualised gay social scene (saunas, slave bracelets, threesome, getting reamed, and “meat racks”). Other than just gesturing at large capital cities in general, the Castro in San Francisco and Christopher Street in New York city were the gay ghettos that the general public might be able to identify. As a contrast to this sketch, there’s also the “To Think That I saw It on Christopher Street” in National Lampoon magazine. You get Big Blonde as a shrieking sissy with a “big basket of goodies”, and if Herman the Fag refers to anything in the original programme I don’t know. Given that it’s the late 70s I expected a Coke Monster joke, but instead it’s the Ka-Ka Monster, because scat is as freaky-gay as you can probably get sexually without explicitly making any fisting jokes, which as this is about puppets would have seemed like an open goal. But there you go, it’s not a great sketch, as I’m sure I’ve said somewhere in the preceding.

Christopher Street
Where all kind of people meet;
To love one another
Get into your brother
By the back door”

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

442: Osbert Lancaster

Osbert Lancaster
Daily Express, 1 July 1960

A nifty exemplification of the hypocrisy underpinning the arguments about the illegality of homosexuality from the ever piquant Osbert Lancaster. As cartoonists go, Osbert Lancaster was infinitely more wordly and sophisticated than the conservative newspaper he appeared in. Lancaster was the companion and equal of the likes of Evelyn Waugh, the Mitfords and John Betjeman, hence he was a lot more clear-sighted and able to mock the moralising pettifogging of MPs and newspaper leader writers. Incidentally in its satirical manner, this cartoon is a knowing argument that homosexuals are just another part of society too.

Monday, 23 July 2012

441: Gay Boy Scouts

Punch, 18 May 1983
Mike Dickinson

From nearly thirty years ago, some cartoons about what a gay scout might be.

“Scouting for Boys” is the real title of one of the scouts guide books (raise you eyebrows if you will at this), and so Dickinson employs expecting his audience to bring the rather more base assumption.

So working down, then from left to right:

1. , First cliché: fussy gays like cocktail bars with torch singers (their gay scoutmaster limp as asparagus and with a rather contemporary bushy gay moustache) and a Noel Coward-type piano player.

2. Where would we be without a pun on “Queens”? And the first of the cartoons based on a fear of paedophilia.

3. Greenham Common was the American weapons base in England which was the site of a longrunning peace protest, mostly peopled by women, who were commonly thought to be a bunch of radical feminists – or “dykes” if you want to be less kindly about it.

4 and 5. The last two explicitly make jokes about little boys having sex – which is of course always the fear about letting gay men near the scouts: what exhausting depredations have the pair in #5 been subject to, being the joke.

Vide the line from Marty Feldman’s “Funny He Never Married” sketch from 1968:

1, He was very keen on scouting, wasn't he.
2. Even in his later years, he'd only have to see a troop of scouts go by and his eyes would light up.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

440: Coming Out On Television

Playboy, January 1975

Heartburn, Nora Ephron 1983:

“I picked up the remote control unit and turned on the television set. There was Phil Donahue. He was interviewing five lesbians, who had chosen the occasion of their appearance on Donahue to come out of the closet. I could just imagine the five of them, waiting through the years for the right offer, turning down Merv, turning down Kup, turning down Cavett, watching contemptuously as their friends chose mundane occasions like Thanksgiving with Mom and Dad for the big revelation, waiting for the big one, Phil himself, to finally come clean.”


With the whole idea of coming out on television, comes the notion that different television programmes have different class associations, and aren't snobbery and self-aggrandisement a natural part of modern life.

1983 was also the same year as Walker Percy's Donohue Show parody which also started off with satire of the tendency to use homosexual rights and lifetsyles as TV discussion show fodder.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

439: 12 + 1

“12 + 1”
Directed by Nicolas Gessner and Luciano Lucignani
Written by Marc Behm, Nicolas Gessner, and Dennis Norden

Jackie: Tim Brooke-Taylor
Bennet: Willie Rushton

“12 + 1” aka “The Thirteen Chairs” (1969) is a dreadful film. The story is the chase for jewels that have been hidden in one of twelve chairs that have been sold off to disparate buyers. The original story is from the satirical Russian novel “The Twelve Chairs” by Ilf and Petrov which is an excellent book and you should read it if you get the opportunity. The book has been adapted for the cinema numerous times but almost all drop the specific satirical aspect, and just use it as a string on which to hang various comic encounters. This film is better known for being Sharon Tate’s last film before her murder and starring a ragbag of American (Orson Welles), English (Terry-Thomas) and European (Vittorio Gassman) stars in brief appearances than for any positive or distinguishing characteristics as a comedy. The online version below looks as though it’s been filmed through someone’s filthy net curtains so that doesn’t aid the viewing experience, but even if you discount that, no comedy can survive having half of its actors dubbed, the photography and editing looking as though been done using sellotape, and if the script wasn’t garbage to begin with then having been translated backwards and forwards repeatedly has only aided the process of decomposition. There’s a section in which Orson Welles looks as though he may be enjoying himself playing dress-up in a theatre, but that’s largely immaterial here.
6.24 – 10.56
The only remaining interest then is in the gay couple played by Willie Rushton and Tim Brooke-Taylor. So: gay antique dealer. That’s already a gay stereotype with some history. A gay couple is a bit of a novelty at this time though. In line with other 1969 films about gay lifestyles such as “The Boys in the Band” and “Staircase” this is a bitchy relationship, just on the point of disintegrating nastily. Rushton is emotional (a man pleading for the affections of another is the joke here), and wearing tighter white trousers than he otherwise would in real life. Tim Brooke-Taylor, who has already had some experience over the last 5-6 years of playing gay comedy characters in “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again”, “At Last the 1948 Show”, and “Marty Feldman”, finally gets to bring his camp stylings to the big screen. His head held with nose high in the air, and with a swishing mincing step, Brooke-Taylor is the selfish queen dealing out bitchy quips. Unfortunately, I lack the fashion expertise to describe what Jackie’s wearing in the first scene, but it’s certainly nothing a straight man would attempt. You’ll notice Rosie, his new “partner”, is a fashion designer with his oh-so groovy swinging boutique.

Jackie then becomes the film’s antagonist, a rival to find the jewels, and keeps popping up throughout the rest of the film chasing and being chased for the chairs in the film’s pursuit of slapstick. Throughout the film, Jackie has an eye for attractive or masculine men, making appreciative little “mmm”s, and constantly jealous of the interest men show other women.

0.00 – 1.10, 5.30- 6.20
These are Jackie’s scenes during the longer segment in a grand guignol theatre run by Orson Welles’s character. The better scene (to wit,. he’s actually doing something) is when Jackie escapes and intrudes upon the play then in performance with some outstanding prissy swanning about and effete cocktail bar mannerisms – this then degenerates into just a load of crappy slapstick

7.10 – 9.24
Here we a get slightly more extended instance of eying up another man with some camp insinuations. His gleeful cantering across the lawn with the two chairs isn’t too bad either. There then follows extended farcical chasing with an inevitable tumble into a swimming pool.

5.12 – 5.19 – Jackie’s pleasure at being saved by a handsome man
5.54 – 6.20 : a cry if “Hello Cheeky” when being revived

If you have just spent the last 8-10 minutes watching rather fuzzy excerpts of Tim Brooke-Taylor camping it up in this stinker, why? Historical it may be, hysterical it’s not.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

438: Spike Milligan - The Melting Pot

The Melting Pot, 1975
Written by Spike Milligan and Neil Shand

A brief gay guardsman gag from Spike Milligan’s infamous cancelled 1975 sitcom “The Melting Pot”. The programme followed the hijinks of two illegal Pakistani immigrants in England, played by Spike Milligan and John Bird in brown-face. At that time, almost no Indian actors appeared on British television and such characters were usually played by English actors in make-up. However the point of the programme was in taking almost every conceivable racial and sexual stereotype and then exaggerating them to absurd and surreal proportions. So you get Scottish Jews, Chinese cockneys and African with Yorkshire accents. Many of the characters are also racist and bigoted, which given their various nationalities only makes their prejudices seem more ridiculous. However, the show’s premise and its implementation meant that it was always going to cross certain borders of taste even if it was lucky enough not to be perceived as racist. The entire series was recorded but after airing only the first episode, the BBC withdrew the whole programme. The series is too little known to join the roster of notorious / embarrassing British racial comedies of the time such as “Curry and Chips”, “Love Thy Neighbour”, “Mind Your language” and “It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum”. Milligan published “The Melting Pot” script as a book in 1983, and large chunks of material were recycled in Milligan’s 1987 novel “The Looney”.

This is a brief gag from a longer scene set in a laundry in the second episode, which would have aired in June 1975. A brief skit which is as in-yer-face and confrontational as the rest of the show. No delicacy or subtlety, which is the is the point. The butchness of the guardsman played off against the 1970s poof–cum-rentboy attire of his boyfriend. Aggressively blatant without apologies


A very smart guardsman enters holding hands with a delightful gay boy. The gay boy wears flared red corduroys, sleeveless body vest, a pink ostrich feather-boa. They are holding hands and carrying a laundry bags. The gay wears an afro wig which he removes and puts in the washing machine. He sits back with the guardsman to the amazement of other Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

Guardsman: Wot you starin’ at? It’s legal now, isn’t it?

Friday, 13 July 2012

437: On Your Guards

Unlike America, England has a slightly different expectations regarding homosexuality and the army. Everyone knows the connections between sailors and sodomy due to the long periods spent with no other company except other equally lonely men. However, the availability of a soldier for a nice night out has a long tradition. Usually not just any soldier, but a guardsman or member of the household cavalry. This is partly for historical and practical reasons as these are branches of the military traditionally attached to the Palace and therefore stationed in London and easily available for a little casual rent.

Private Eye, 11 June 1965
Willie Rushton

Private Eye, 5 January 1968

Previously posted is this 1976 parody of A.A. Milne’s “Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace” by Alan Coren

I can’t help but think that this is prime Osbert Lancaster and Mark Boxer cartoon territory but I haven’t come across any appropriate pieces. However to make up for their absences, here’s a more than relevant entry from the always morally ripe Simon Raven. This excerpt is from his 1960 essay about the different kinds of rentboy to be had in London.


“Boys Will Be Boys: The Male Prostitute in London”
Encounter, November 1960

In my first category come young men of the armed services who are either stationed or on leave in London. Prominent among these are, of course, the members of whatever units of Household Troops are currently serving in the capital, centuries of city life having endowed these regiments with a traditional knowledge of and a notorious capacity for all sexual activities of a venal nature. If a young guardsman wishes to augment his modest pay, and if he has no objection to hiring out his person to this end, then he need only "ask about," as a guardsman whom I shall call Tom once put it to me, and some older man (occasionally a N.C.O.) will tell him which pubs or bars to frequent, or which street corners to wait on, and will sometimes offer to accompany him in order to see fair play.

"I knew all about it happening," said Tom, "but I didn’t mean to go myself, see? Then one week-end I was going home to see my girl, and most of my pay was owed, and on the Friday I reckoned I was at least two quid light on what I needed. So I went to a bloke I knew used to go with queers .... " He was told to try several pubs in Kensington and the West End, and if still unsuccessful at closing time to take up a stance in the region of Grosvenor Gardens. Tom was not to accept less than thirty shillings in any case, he was told, and he must ask for at least three pounds if his client requested and he himself allowed the "taking of a real liberty," by which euphemism one connotes the practice of buggery as opposed to the very much more usual manual or oral caresses. The upshot was Tom returned from his first outing without "a real liberty" having been taken (he was not at all anxious, he informed me, for this to happen) and the better off by some two pounds ten in cash and several sophisticated items of information. His subsequent week-end with his girl was a success, having got off to a round start when he presented her with an unlooked-for pair of stockings which the odd ten shillings of his wages of sin had enabled him to buy.

Thereafter, having discovered so easy a way out of his financial afflictions, Tom found himself "on the streets" with increasing frequency. But, I enquired, did not these expeditions do violence to his proper sexual nature? Apparently not. Tom’s explanation was that he regarded "what happened" as a form of masturbation: he would close his eyes and think about "girls and things" while his partner provided the necessary mechanical stimulus--a service which Tom performed unthinkingly, with an almost automatic movement of the hand, in return. Thus Tom was able to persuade himself that he was not at all "queer" by nature, and that what occurred was of no sexual significance. However, it is evident that a person who is not at least slightly homosexual in taste could never begin to tolerate such a situation; and I strongly suspect that Tom, along with most soldiers who behave like him, has a definite if narrow homosexual streak. He is, in fact, bisexual---a judgment which, in its general implications, is confirmed by some remarks once made to me by a young Lance- Serjeant (also of the Brigade).

"Some of us get quite fond of the blokes we see regularly," he said. "You go to their flats and have some drinks and talk a bit--they’re nice fellows, some of them, and interesting to listen to. And as for the sex bit, well, some of the younger ones aren’t bad looking and I’ve had some real thrills off them in my time .... "

But it would be unjust to burden Her Majesty’s Guard with an unrelieved onus of obloquy. Provincial regiments which from time to time replace Household Troops in the performance of "public duties" in London are quick enough, after a few weeks of sniffing the air, to rival the iniquity of their predecessors. Not all country boys, one must suppose, have the integrity which is popularly premised of them: show them the chance to make a little easy money, and their response is regrettably easy to predict .... I should also remark, as a final comment on H.M. Forces in this connection, that soldiers and sailors, particularly the latter for some reason, who are to be in London on leave often discover from friends the address of a "Club" or "Bar" where they are likely to be picked up by well-to-do homosexuals, and are sometimes told by friends to ring up "So-and-So, who said to send my mates to him. He’s very rich with a smashing flat, and he’ll give you a fair old time if you don’t mind being fiddled with now and again." By this time, however, activities are within spitting distance of being amateur, and we had best proceed to the second category.

Monday, 9 July 2012

436: Art Spiegelman - New Yorker Gay Pride

Art Spiegelman
New Yorker, 28 June 1993

In similar vein to Jules Feiffer’s treatment of gays in the military overlapping stereotypes about gay men being transvestites, here’s a cover by Art Spiegelman for “The New Yorker”. This coverof a transvestite shaving in a mirror is contemporary , not merely because of the debate over gays in the military as signified by the poster reading in reverse “I Didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier”, but because it also ties in with New York City’s gay pride celebrations the week of publication. A daring image then for a sometimes stuffy, hidebound magazine revived by the recent injection of talent by brash new editor Tina Brown. Although an image of a rough looking drag queen for Gay Pride is not exactly ideally flattering as a means of demonstrating a new inclusivity of subject matter. But then Spiegelman’s other cartoons about homosexuality show a certain tension between trying to be socially sympathetic and his graphic tendency to draw upon and reinvigorate old clichés.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

435: Jules Feiffer 6 - The Army Game

Playboy, May 1993

Feiffer hadn’t had a cartoon in “Playboy” for almost the last two years prior to this, and that was when he was doing a series of cartoons about the perils of middle-aged dating “Bernard and Huey”. This is a topical one-off, inspired by the months of investigation and debate about the issue of gays in the military in the early days of the Clinton administration which would lead to the implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

The Larry on the other end of the phone would be American talkshow host Larry King.

Irrespective of the political issue, the comic hook of a sexual encounter where a gay transvestite tricks a straight man is pure “Playboy”. This particular scenario has cropped up in “Playboy” cartoons numerous times since the late 1960s. Usually the comedy payoff is shock or horror, but the acceptance and willingness of the soldier to fuck is a new development and so the joke goes further and is also proof of Feiffer’s superiority in handling his materials. Then the next twist is that the attractive transvestite is revealed to be a gay soldier – although a gay soldier naturally being in drag is a bit retrogressive. The subsequent queer-bashing is this soldier revealing his own hypocritical ignorance and opens up further conflicted arenas of machismo and the military. Finally the lewd comments about lesbians only includes one further aspect of crass attitudes to homosexuality. So a lot of territory covered in one short monologue.

434: Jules Feiffer 5 - The Decision

Playboy, November 1968

The first five panels are traditional Jules Feiffer : the monologue in which a man lays out his condition of conflicted, compromised emasculation. “Marriage is not a natural state for a man”. What punchline to this? What reconciliation? What ironic reversal? He’s escaping a completely different kind of compromise. Not a nelly stereotypical signifier in sight, otherwise it would ruin the punchline.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

433: Jules Feiffer 4 - Little Murders

Little Murders – 1971

Alfred Chamberlain – Elliot Gould
Patsy Newquist - Marcia Rodd

Little Murders is an expansion of Jules Feiffers 1967 play. What is original to the play and what is new to this adaptation I don’t know.

The film is a nightmarishly comic view of a contemporary paranoid New York City that is disintegrating into an inferno of violence and corresponding anomy. The film is punctuated by random violence to which the bypassers have become inured. The corresponding sexual element is exemplified by a fear of homosexuality which pervades the film. Seriously - cries of “fag” and insinuations of homosexuality recur throughout the film. Whatever laughs the film wins are at the expense of modern fears and hysteria. Homosexuality is prominent as a disturbing modern element – and the writers and director are quite conscious of their intent.

The film opens with Patsy being phoned by one of her former lovers to be informed he is getting married. (Later in the film we discover that every single one of her boyfriends to date has been “swish”.) Patsy’s morning is then disturbed by the cries of “faggot” from a group of thugs outside her building who are beating up a man. Patsy eventually sets out and rescues their victim, Alfred. Elliott Gould’s character, a photographer who takes pictures of shit, is the exemplification of affectlessness and anomie, a man who feels nothing, and unresistingly allows people to beat him up for lack of any alternative:

“Those guys in the park, they said 'Hey, fatface! What are you staring at?' If I told them I wasn't staring at them, they would've beat me up for being a liar. And if I told them I was staring at them because I wanted to take their picture, then they'd beat me up for being a cop. So I told them I was staring at them because they looked familiar, and they beat me up for being a fag. There's no way of talking someone out of beating you up if that's what he wants to do.”

Having saved him physically, Patsy sets out to rescue him emotionally and they become girlfriend and boyfriend. She takes him home to her comically Jewish family. The first scene with her mother and father is a litany of her former gay boyfriends.

Father: Bet he’s a fag!

He’ll be a fine boy. I know it in my bones

Father: What was the name of that interior decorator she went to Europe with?

Mother: Howard. He was delicate.

Father: Swish. And that actor... the one she went camping up in Maine with.

Roger. He was very muscular.

Father: Swish. And the musician and the stockbroker and the Jewish novelist.

Mother: Oh, they're not like that.

Father: Swish, swish, swish, swish. I can spot them a mile away. She draws them like flies. She's got too much stuff. Too much stuff. You wait. You'll see. This new one, what's his name?

Brother: Alfred.

Mother: A swish name if I ever heard one.

We also meet her brother, in his early twenties, who still lives at home. Besides being an oddball, he is given to constantly abusing people and things he disapproves of as “fags”.

1: 48 – 2.08

Eventually Patsy and Alfred get married. At the wedding several of Patsy’s gay boyfriends make brief cameos. The second one in particular is camp. We then get a long, and marvellous monologue, from the opportunistic countercultural reverend, played by Donald Sutherland. Contemptuous of society’s hypocrisies and yet equally and arrogantly hypocritical himself, his speech comes to its conclusion when he addresses himself to each of the members of the family:

“And to Patsy's brother, Kenneth Newquist, with whom I had the pleasure of a private chat, I beg you feel no shame, homosexuality is all right, really it is.. it is perfectly all right.”

Kenneth Newquist: (screaming) Sonovabitch!! Aarrggghh!! (Kenneth assaults the minister and the marriage ceremony descends into a brawl, while Kenneth screams almost unintelligibly.) I’m not a faggot! I’m not a faggot!

There’s nothing obviously camp, fey, or gay at all in the brother’s performance. The revelation of his homosexuality is only another further facet of his oddness. If you want, you can see his constant aggressive cries of “fag” as a kind of projection. A little later though there is a scene where the brother is hiding in a closet, and talks about his attraction to his mother’s clothes.

Eventually the surviving characters find satisfaction and happiness by coming together to take sniper shots at passersby.

Apparently in the original play there’s some comment about Kenneth the brother also wearing his sister’s shoes, and the line in the minister’s monologue is different:

“And Patsy's brother, Kenneth Newquist, in whose bedroom I spent a few moments earlier this afternoon and whose mother proudly told me the decoration was by your hand entirely: I beg of you to feel no shame; homosexuality is all right”

so that in the play there are more transvestite / interior decorator allusions to Kenneth’s nature than in the film. Of course the play was from 1967 when assumptions about gay nature were even more restrictive than the early 70s.

432: Jules Feiffer 3 - Village Voice

Village Voice, 9 March 1967

This is rather ambiguous, but I include this strip so you can compare and contrast with the equally ambiguous figure in his 1966 strip about unisex fashion. Just as in that cartoon, here Feiffer offers a rather knock-kneed feyly-stanced figure who has some wrists as vertical as a plumb line. As one of the types to be found on campus, he is a slightly more mature version of the “flit” (or art fag, as we might call him nowadays). I may be reading too much into it here, but this sort of character isn’t a type Feiffer's drawn otherwise. So to build toward the larger point about politised campus life, he's thrown in as a signifier of contemporary diversity which the clued-in Village Voice audience should probably recognise.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

431: Jules Feiffer 2: Hostileman 2

“Playboy”, June 1969

The point of interest in this two page excerpt from this late instalment of “Hostileman” is Jules Feiffer’s take on the gay folk myth that has historically accumulated around Batman.

In Feiffer’s case this piece doesn’t just grow out the obvious dig about a grown man and his close relationship with his younger ward. Only a couple of years earlier Feiffer had written his study, “The Great Comic Book Heroes” (Dial Press, 1965).

In his book, Feiffer quoted Frederic Wertham's 1954 condemnation of comic books “Seduction of the Innocent”, in which the homosexual appeal of Batman and Robin is revealed:

"At home they live an idyllic life…They live in sumptuous quarters with beautiful flowers in large vases…It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together. . . The atmosphere is homosexual and anti-feminine. If the girl is good-looking she is undoubtedly the villainess. If she is after Bruce Wayne, she will have no chance against Dick. For instance, Bruce and Dick go out one evening in dinner clothes, dressed exactly alike. The attractive girl makes up to Bruce while in successive pictures young Dick looks on smiling, sure of Bruce".

You’ll note this is a fairly good description of what Feiffer himself does in the relevant panels of “Hostileman”.

Feiffer however doesn't agree about any putative homosexulity, despite the fact that the young Feiffer had no real love for Robin (“I couldn’t stand boy companions….God, how I hated (Robin). You can imagine how pleased I was when, years later, I heard he was a fag…”). Wrote Feiffer: “Batman and Robin were no more or less queer than were their youngish readers, many of whom palled around together, didn’t trust girls, played games that had lots of bodily contact, and from similar surface evidence were more or less queer. But this sort of case-building is much too restrictive. In our society it is not only homosexuals who don’t like women. Almost no one does. "

Bruce Maim is an obvious ref to Bruce Wayne as Batman, however within the context of a cartoon with gay content in “Playboy”, there’s also the fact of Bruce as the stereotypically gay name.

Tangier, meanwhile, was long a famed bolthole for gay tourists.

Monday, 2 July 2012

430: Jules Feiffer 1: Hostileman 1

Playboy, January 1967
Jules Feiffer

Jules Feiffer first began to publish his distinctive cartoon strips in “The Village Voice” in 1956 and the newspaper would remain one of his primary venues for 30 or more years. At first Feiffer gave the strip to the paper for free as a means of advertising his work. One of the first big paying venues to hire Feiffer for other work was “Playboy” in 1958. Feiffer's work in “Playboy” has largely been forgotten but it’s just as good as the “Village Voice” strips and “Playboy” let him experiment with longer pieces, drama and stories .

Feiffer’s cartoon work stands out because he used the strip format for monologues and two-handers exploring sexual and political relations. Comic strip characters don’t usually exist solely to express contemporary dissatisfaction, resentment, neediness, conflicted emotions, neuroses and ideologies. Yet for all the crippling personal doubt, inadequacy and demonstrations of impotence in all its forms, Feiffer’s characters never seem to have any doubts about their sexuality. Similarly, for all the insults that get thrown about by his arguing partners, “faggot” or “queer” never crop up either. Homosexuality as an individual condition or a social phenomenon doesn’t make much appearance in his “Village Voice” strips.

One of the recurring features by Feiffer in the 1960s is his strip “Hostileman” in “Playboy” which ran for 6 instalments from 1964 to 1969. It features Bernard Mergendeiler, the generic adequate everyman from many of Feiffers’ Village Voice strips. Usually Bernard is pushed around and is incapable of expressing his needs or his resulting anger. In a parody of Captain Marvel who becomes a superhero by uttering the magic word “Shazam”, when the emasculated Bernard says “Hurt”, expressing his repressed desire for revenge, he is transformed into his secret identity of “Hostileman” and is able to gain the upper hand over his opponent, usually a girlfriend or his mother.

This one is inspired by the post-1965 new popularity of “camp” as the new style, which in the context of Feiffer-world is just a new way of making Bernard feel inferior. So you get “Chic Man” aka Tony In and his coterie of clones. The new mandates of fashion come from obvious homosexuals, which goes hand-in-hand with the fact that homosexuality and homosexuals are now slightly more conspicuous socially as the topic of assorted social analyses in magazines in “Life” and “Time” and an increase in sly homophobic digs in columns in newspapers like “The New York Times”. Note that “chic man” and co all have blond hair or platinum blond Caesar cuts, which is an American cliché of the time. There’s a profusion of wrists limp to the point of being perpendicular, and the tight striped suits are de mode.

Somewhat daring is the sequence at the top of page 4 in which Bernard gets cruised in a lavatory, a relatively early instance of acknowledging and joking about this aspect of gay life. Not one of those things people talk about. Near-contemporary sixties satirical types like Lenny Bruce and Barry Humphries treat the matter of cottaging via the aspect of the injustice of police entrapment. Here, there’s no distance, it’s just a preening winsome gay man having a bit of a leer. Note too the kicked back heel in the upper right column as he looks back into the toilet.