Jul 21, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale (1997) is difficult to watch now, when there are so many parallels between its near-future dystopia and the real society that the U.S. is becoming.  Our own Orange Fuhrer and his cronies might start ordering the round-up of "gender traitors" at any moment.

The Republic of Gilead, in what used to be the Northeastern United States, is run on strictly Protestant fundamentalist principles.  If the Bible says to stone adulterers to death, that's what we're going to do.  Adulterers, fornicators, sodomites, Catholics, and Jews are all executed, unless they are fertile women who can become handmaidens, given the job of getting pregnant in the place of their owner's wife.

June (Elisabeth Moss) was a book editor before, but women are no longer permitted to have jobs, or even to read -- if they are caught reading, their hand gets chopped off.  Because she was married to a divorced man, she is an adulterer, sentenced to become the handmaiden to Commander Fred Waterhouse and his wife, Serena Joy.  Her name was changed to Offred (Of-Fred) to designate that she was his property.

Serena Joy is not altogether happy with the world she helped to create.  She was once a conservative Christian activist who wrote books and held rallies on why women should stay home, and now she is cut off from all decision making ("we have men working on it").

Male infertility doesn't exist.  If Offred doesn't get pregnant, she will be sent to the Colonies for a quick, painful death handling radioactive waste.

Although these are fundamentalists, they don't follow any of the rules I knew as a Nazarene.  They smoke and drink.  There is no religious music.  There don't seem to be any church services.  One gets the impression that they're Protestant fundamentalists without religion.

There are no gay male characters -- they've all been killed.  There are several lesbian characters, including June's best friend from before, Moira (Samira Wiley), and Emily (Alexis Bleidel), married with a child before, now forced to become a handmaiden, first Ofglen, then Ofwarren. When she is found in a relationship with a Martha (a household servant), the Martha is executed, and she is "fixed" through genital mutilation.

Although there are parallels with today's facist society, there are significant differences.  Racism doesn't exist in Gilead.  There are black and Asian Commanders and wives.  Nor is anyone screaming about illegal aliens.  One assumes that the society is anti-Muslim as well as anti-Jewish and anti-Catholic, but this is never mentioned.  The main injustice is that of women, "restored to their rightful place" in the household, with men in charge.

You don't watch The Handmaid's Tale for beefcake.  It's about women's thoughts, women's lives, women's bodies.  There are very few men around, except for soldiers with guns, and only three men in the main cast:

1. O.T. Fagbenle, who is gay in real life and a star of Looking, as Luke, Ofred's husband, who managed to escape and helps runs a resistance force called Mayday.  He appears mostly in flashbacks.

2. Joseph Fiennes, who played a gay character in Running with Scissors, as the singularly unattractive Fred, who has a fetishistic interest in watching Offred do forbidden things like play Scrabble and read fashion magazines.  He's always fully clothed, even in the scenes where he has to have sex with Offred.

3. Max Minghella, who played a gay character in The Mindy Project, as Nick, the Commander's chauffeur, also an Eye of God (informer) and possibly a member of the resistance.  He begins an illicit romance with Offred.   He's the only one to appear shirtless, and we even get a shot of his butt.

The Boys of Lassie 2: Tommy Rettig

A major child star of the 1950s era, Tommy Rettig appeared alongside some of the greats of cinema, including Jimmy Stuart (Jackpot), Mickey Rooney (The Strip), Eve Arden (The Lady Wants Mink), Marilyn Monroe (The River of No Return), and Van Heflin (The Raid). His heroism and frequent shirtless shots made him the first crush of many gay Boomer boys. Boomer boys.

Years before Jon Provost created the iconic Lassie image of cherubic blond boy in need of constant saving, 14-year old Tommy started hanging out with the collie (1954-57).  Jeff Miller (Tommy) was a slim, handsome teenager who didn't fall into many wells; instead, his plotlines often involved school, friends, and sports. He was the first crush of many gay Boomer boys.

Other than  was most famous for the surreal 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953), in which evil piano teacher Dr. T (Hans Conreid) plans to marry the unsuspecting mom of Bartholomew Collins (Tommy), and has the ultimate plot of forcing 500 boys to play his gigantic piano.  Bartholomew and the heroic plumber, Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes) work together to save them both.  It was an early protest against conformity, including heterosexist marriage-and-children.

Like Jon Provost, Tommy found his post-Lassie acting career complicated by type-casting.  He guest-starred in many tv series, including Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, Mr. Novak, The Fugitive, and The Little Hobo.  He starred in the teen soap Never Too Young as Tony Dow's best friend JoJo (1966). But by the late 1960s, even bit parts dried up.

In the 1970s he tried several careers, including marijuana farming, before finding his niche as a computer database specialist, creating important innovations in DBase and FoxPro.
He was reputedly bisexual; there's a gay dating story on Tales of West Hollywood.

He died in 1996.

Bob Hooks Me Up with the Wrong Guy

Davenport, Iowa, July 2017

That's the last time I let Bob, the19-year old economics major, arrange a hookup for us.  On the way east to New York, he somehow found the most disgusting guy of all time, and on the way back, he got the wrong guy!

We stayed overnight in Rock Island again, and went to the Figge Museum of Art, across the river in Iowa.

I had never been there before.  It opened in 1997, after my parents moved to Indiana, and on the rare occasions that I returned to the Quad Cities, there wasn't time for much sightseeing.

The second floor had galleries devoted to Spanish Colonial art, Haitian art, Grant Wood, and contemporary art.  The third floor was devoted to a corn maze, and the fourth floor to a collection of black dolls.

Some of the galleries had a nice view of the Mississippi.

No beefcake art to speak of, although I did notice a surprising number of Cute Young Things and twinks among the patrons.  A lot of cruisy smiles and up-and-down glances going on.

I found out why when I heard a lot of raucous noise from downstairs, and left Bob in the Haitian Art gallery to investigate.

The downstairs exhibition room was full of people, very cute college-age boys in grey t-shirts with "Metro Arts" logos, some girls, a few kids, very well dressed adults mingling with glasses of wine and little sandwiches.  Some were already sitting on folding chairs facing a stage.  There were t-shirts for sale, and tables of snacks.

Was this a private function?  In my t-shirt and jeans, I looked more like one of the college boys than an adult.

I milled about, pretending to belong, trying to find someone alone, not in a group, to pump for information.

No luck.  Some of the teenagers were in groups, doing voice exercises and giving each other encouragement.  Some were talking to groups of adults.  No one was alone.

As usual, I got cruisy glances from the twinks, suspicious glares from the adults.

Then the program began: it turned out to be the showcase of the Quad City Metro Arts Summer Youth Program.  Thirty college students from all over the Midwest were selected for the five week program, where they worked on projects ranging from public art to graphic design to comedy improv.

The adults were parents, friends, and community leaders.  Later I discovered that the mayors of both Davenport and Rock Island were there.

First up in the showcase: a comedy improv with three performers.  I milled about, taking photos.

Soon Bob joined me, drawn by the noise. I apprised him of what was happening, and we watched in silence for a few minutes.

My eyes were drawn to a father and son standing alone, with no mother.  Gay?

 The full story, with nude photos and sexual situations, is on Tales of West Hollywood.