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2013/02/25

State of the Tube: Television 2012-13

Is he really going to write about television, again?  Yes, he’s really going to write about television… again. This is what happens during winter here, in Minnesota.  Those of us who don’t snowmobile, cross-country ski, downhill ski, ice skate, ice fish, play hockey, or participate in any indoor group sporting activities sit on our asses and watch television.  That said – sitting remains the second favorite thing I like to do with my butt (which might help explain my ever deflating ass).

As of this writing?  34 days and counting until April 1st.  Spring cannot get here any too soon.

Yes, I continue to watch too much television.  And that’s bad, mmm’kay?  I compensate for my boob tube obsession by having less than five drinks a month, watching my diet, and hitting the gym for at least one hour-five days a week.  As for my brain, I do crossword puzzled (badly), write (badly), do research, and read the occasional book.  I just started reading a new book.  I figure to have it completely read in about six months (yes, I am sloooooowwwww).   During that same six months I will have consumed at least 500 hours of television.  Yep, that’s averaging 3 hours per day. 

Now, granted, a good portion of that is spent watching the same episodes of The Simpsons, Family Guy, and The Big Bang Theory that I have seen at least five times each.  Seriously.  Sometimes they play in the background as I surf the web, but they are on all the time (syndication / TBS / Cartoon Network).   And if there is nothing else worthwhile (does that adjective apply to ANY television programming?) on, I will find one of those stations that plays the latter two shows mentioned ad nauseam and tune in (or out, depending on your point of view). 

Oh, and confession time… the real reason I wanted to write about television?  So that I could post pics of the hottest men on television.  When possible I tried to find pics without shirts… but, honestly, some of them really should keep their shirts on.  I mean, I find them hot, and would love to get naked with them, but some are not take-your-shirt-off-in-public hot, if you know what I mean.

For better or worse, here is a brief summary of the hours and hours spent NOT watching The Simpsons, Family Guy, and The Big Bang Theory:

Things I Watched:

American Horror Story: Asylum
 Hmmm. I lost interest mid-season, but then came back for the final three episodes.  To be honest, the moment the aliens landed, I bailed.  Like that was necessary?  Really?  What with demons, Catholicism, a corrupt insane asylum, a guilt-ridden nun, a Nazi war criminal performing biological experiments on the patients and creating his very own Island of Dr. Mureau, a lesbian reporter being held against her will, to say nothing about the multiple serial killers running about (Santa, Bloody Face, Bloody Face the Sequel) – did we really need to go… there?  Oh, and I forgot the angel of death in the form of Francis Conroy – beautiful, but under-utilized. 

Okay… let’s face it, there was a lot going on in this show.  It was the horror television equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting.  I mean, splat – let’s have an exorcism,  splat – let’s turn the tables on Jessica Lange, splat- let’s bring back Dylan McDermott and have him chase around and kill that dude from Maroon 5 (something I would not be totally against). 

Bottom Line:  Okay, so here is the surprising thing.  I just checked out a list of all the episodes and guess what – I never missed any.  It just felt like I did.  That demonstrates just how much they crammed into this season.  Did I like it?  Probably.  I guess I am now plot weary where this series is concerned.  Will I watch next season?  Probably.  But I really am plot weary.   And I must confess; there was one thing they didn’t put in this season that they should have – and that would be more male butt.  Seriously missed Dylan’s buns, man.  Those motherfuckers really should be given their own series.

Suburgatory
I continue to enjoy this show.  But something is amiss.  While I am enjoying the romance between Tess and Ryan (which may be coming to an end, because there is no such thing as a three-day away game), I am not enjoying George’s current fling with Dallas.  Dallas is too out there, too surreal, and makes George look and seem like a stupid monkey man.  Which is a shame, because George is so hot.  It’s not working.  I continue to like the Shay’s.  And, as I suspected, they have regulated Mr. Wolfe to gay cliché’ land.   But Carly Chaikin as Dalia Oprah Royce remains a national treasure.  Nobody can deadpan like that be-yotch.

Bottom line: The show has lost it satiric focus.  It now seems content to make all the characters whacky as hell and that… is sad; because without the heart and critical eye, it just ain’t very interesting, y’all.

Happy Endings
So, last year, this was the one I thought would be this year’s runaway hit.  But they got screwed on their time slot and I also feel like no one is minding the children.  Remember that intoxicating high the casts’ banter gave me during their first season?  Yeah, well, now it comes off as shrill, desperate, and unpleasant.  In fact, I can honestly say that I do not like ANY of the main characters any more. They are awful, stupid, selfish, self-absorbed people.  It took me several seasons of Seinfeld to reach that same conclusion; this show managed to do that within three episodes of their second season. 

Bottom Line:  I gave up.  I surrendered.  If I want to feel the way this show makes me feel I will just huff some spray paint, rub my skin with a brillo pad, and stick my head in a blender.   Which is a damn shame, because the show has one of the few gay characters that I approve of and like.

Community
Wore out its welcome with one, too many, really, really ‘special’ episodes.  A damn shame.  There were some talented folks involved here.  But you can only fuck with the reality of a sitcom for so long before people stop watching.

Parks and Recreation
This has become one of the most enjoyable shows on television.  I love the cast, and the addition of Lucy Lawless hit just the right mark.  Best ensemble on television.  Incredible writing.

30 Rock
Fading away right on schedule.  It’s over.  And this season has proven that.  Plays well in syndication; though it will not be added to my The Simpsons, Family Guy, and The Big Bang Theory shows-in-syndication trifecta.

Bob’s Burger
The best animated series out there right now.  I love the characters and the writing is spot on.  I have yet to walk away disappointed.  The kids remain a major highlight, with Tina coming into her own this season, but the adults have grown on me a lot, especially Linda, Bob’s musical-theatre, life’s a party, nerd wife.  She’s a hoot. 

Raising Hope
So, Sabrina and Jimmy got married.  And this season there has been a lot more ‘My Name is Earl’ winky-winks.  Burt and Virginia remain reliable and enjoyable and Cloris Leachman continues to steal the show when allowed.   A likeable cast.  A likeable show.  So… why do I want more of… something?  I can’t even put my finger on it, but I think it has to do with character development.  I want to learn more about their lives and could do without all the whacky plots. 

Cougar Town
Yay… it came back (TBS).  And it is still firing on all cylinders, getting great mileage out of what worked the first time around.  It will go down in history as one of the worst titled series of all time, but other than that… what’s not to like? Lots of sexy men.  I even find the sexy in Bob Clendenin.  This season we have been privy to a lot of past history stuff, which has helped add dimension to the characters.  They so zany!  They so wealthy.  They so white!  So, I am waiting for a bit more reality to seep its way in, but otherwise, dive in, the water is fine.

The Middle
If Raising Hope is My Name is Earl, then The Middle continues to be Malcolm in The Middle.  But those were great shows and so are these.  The Middle may actually be the best show on television!  It is really well-written and the cast seems to have found their stride.  Sure, Patricia Heaton remains less than convincing at times (she’s a sitcom veteran, and it, unfortunately, shows) – but the cast has found a way of making her stagey/stiltedness work.  This season?  I am fascinated with Sue Heck and her new, budding romance.  Eden Sher is a knock-out performer.  Credit the writers for finally giving her more to do than pratfalls.  Neil Flynn and Charlie McDermott are also standouts.

P.S. – Where’s Chris Kattan?  I know she doesn’t work at the car dealership anymore, but – he was pretty involved with the family.

New Girl
I still hate Zooey Deschanel.  Watch her closely: she cannot deliver a single line without pausing in the middle of it and checking herself to make sure she’s being ‘quirky’ enough.  Or maybe she’s just a horrible actress.  The rest of the cast is first rate.  The writing has greatly improved.  This replaced Happy Endings in my viewing schedule.  And no one is more surprised than ‘moi’.

The Mindy Project
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS SHOW?  WHY IS IT MY FAVORITE SHOW?  WHO THE HELL KEEPS DRESSING MINDY IN SUCH A CLUELESS MANNER?  FIRE THAT STYLIST.  THEY MAKE HER LOOK LIKE SHE IS A 400 POUND DRAG QUEEN. WHY DID I WRITE THIS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS?  BECAUSE THIS IS THE BEST/WORST SHOW EVER.  And I really like the cast.  And I want it to succeed.  Because two of the men on the show are really hot.  And I want to have their babies.

Left Behind (or Below):
South Park
Awkward
Workaholics
The Walking Dead
The Fashion Police
The Soup
Tosh2.0
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Things I was ‘Supposed To’ Watch, Which Made me ‘Not Wanna’:
Breaking Bad
Downtown Abbey
Mad Men

The Romance Is Now Over Award:
Modern Family
The groove they are in is so deep it is now officially a rut.  Sure, Phil is still good for a goofy laugh or two, but the rest?   Claire bounces between being shrill and being stupid.  Gloria flits between being shrill and a horrible racial stereotype (making fun of ‘thee Eeeeng-lesh’ is only funny so long).  Jay is a curmudgeon with a heart of gold (blech) and Cam and Mitch seem trapped in a ‘gay is cute’ cliché.  Cam, in particular, needs a good kick.  Putting him in a ‘Cats’ costume?  And then having him sit in a tree?  OH… I get it now.  Oh, Lucy, you so funny!  At least the kids are interesting.  Kudos to Lily, Manny, Luke and Alex.

Currently, the writers seem content to present these characters as one-dimensional beings – which is the height of laziness.  Take some god damn risks!   This is the only half-hour sitcom that feels likeit’s an hour long – and not in a good way.  That said, I really like the French Bulldog.  That dog should get a lot more camera time.

The Romance Is Still Over Award:
How I Met Your Mother
Have baby.  Baby go boom-boom.  Show go belly up in the water.   Robin and Doogie Howser are getting married.  Ted is about to meet ‘Your Mother’- finally (although I bet they drag that whole thing out for two more seasons – and then the actual courtship and wedding for two more ).  And I do not care anymore.  I don’t like anyone on the show anymore.  I don’t care about them.  Blech.  Hate this show.  It’s Friends, without the good common sense to go off the air.

Is This Still a Thing? Award:
Two Broke Girls
Whitney
 Do I even have to explain why?

Should Never Have Been a Thing Award:
The New Normal
Partners
To be fair, one (Normal) tried a lot harder than the other.  Normal at least attempted to bring homophobia to the foreground in the form of a really-in-fine-form Ellen Barkin.  But for every one step forward the writers seem to take, they take at least two steps back.  Not helping?  Justin Bartha’s and
Andrew Rannells’ portrayals.  Do these two even know a real gay person?  Could someone please inform them that it is not 1982 and they don’t need to ‘act’ that way to be considered ‘gay’?

But as bad as The New Normal is, Partners seems trapped in its own particular brand of sitcom hell.  Again, what year is it?  And how are these even remotely believable, ‘funny’ portrayals of gay people?  Sorry , this is nothing more than a gay minstrel show and should really be outlawed.

Can’t Seem To Watch You… At All:
Up All Night
I really tried this year.  I caught like five episodes.  I hate babies.  I hate sitcoms about how difficult it is to be a parent.  I do not relate.  I like everyone in the cast.   I do not like this show.  I will not be watching this show any more. 

It’s The Same Old Song Award:
The Simpsons
Family Guy
I keep waiting for the episode where Grandpa Simpson is a robot.

A Horrible, Horrible Song that Someone Must Put an End to Soon Award:
The Cleveland Show
Could the writers of this show get any lazier?  I have watched three episodes recently and been appalled by the lack of a basic original thought or idea.  They now seem to get by doing riffs on old movies and having fun with history.  The worst?  An episode where - I guess - I mean, I couldn’t really tell what the intention was, but they kept dropping the characters in different racial cultures, or something.  It was just awful; painful to watch.  And offensive on a levels not even achieved by Family Guy. 

It’s as if the writers no longer want jobs.  As if they are trying to kill the show on purpose because they, too, hate it.  If that is the case, please, by all means, let them succeed.

Thing I Watch that I Will NOT Admit I Watch:
Judge Judy
I LOVE HER.
She should run the world (and knock some sense into it).

I Miss…
Jeffery & Cole Casserole
Logo, do the world a favor and put this back on the air.  I know it ended in 2010, but it was brilliant, refreshing, never boring, cheap to make, and oh-so-fucking-hilarious.  I miss these kids.  I really do.

That’s a Wrap…
There’s a lot I don’t/won’t watch.  So if your favorite isn’t here (RuPaul’s Drag Race, anyone?), sorry.  I can only consume so much television.

I wish that were true of food.


2013/02/22

Acquired Tastes, XXXIV: Gay Erotic Illustrations

Introduction:

You know how someone will say they want  Mexican food?  What do they really mean?  Are we talking Taco Bell?  Zantigo?  That place down the road called LaCasita that is pretty much on par with an Applebees?  Or something really authentic?  Family-owned?  More adventuresome? 

See the problem? 

You say one thing, but that one thing encompasses a whole horizon of variety in terms of quality, authenticity, style, etc.

I’ve run into that same issue when it comes to writing about Gay Erotic Illustrations.   I knew what I thought I was going to write about… or wanted to write about.  I like those black ink drawings with the giant bulges, pointy nipples, and bulbous, outrageous asses.  And I like those drawings on the pulp novels I remember seeing in adult bookstores in the early 1980’s.  I also have a thing for those crude, homemade cartoons that sneak onto websites and are found in odd, less-than-professional looking publications.

So I started doing research on my topic and… wow.  Talk about having define your terms!  I actually had quite a struggle coming up with information about this particular subject separate from the artists themselves – as in ‘a history of’.  It seems there are a number of sub-genres; a variety of styles and types that encompass a wide range of images in terms of quality.  Wading through it all I had to constantly ask myself – what exactly did I want to talk about?  Can you lump the work of Mel Odom, Bob Ziering and Attila Richard Lukacs in with the work of Michael Kirwan, Mike Kuchar, or Touko Laaksonen?  And what of all that delicious anonymous stuff floating out there?  There’s a crudeness – an overt sexual element - found in one, but not present in the other. 

Although I am sure a number of art galleries and museums have done retrospectives on this particular type of gay erotic art, this Acquired Taste does not pertain to the type of art typically embraced by the mainstream or featured in most LGBT Gay Erotic Art retrospectives.  I would like to look at the type of art typically illustrating various works of fiction, be it as the cover of pulp novels or as an illustration accompanying a graphic, short story in one of those small ‘letters’ type publications. 

There is something indelible about this type of art.  Perhaps it has a lot to do with our first exposure to it.  It is forbidden.  Enticing.  Highly stylized.   And oh, so dirty.  Sometimes it is done with great flair, other times it can be quite crude.  With the advancements in digital technology, many of these images have a kind of glossy veneer that works from an earlier era could not possibly attain. 

The one thing they do have in common?  Gay sex.

So, let’s steal out to the garage, sneak down into the basement, or pull the blinds in our bedroom, reach into our secret stash of pornographic images, and take a good, hard look at just what is so appealing about….

Gay Erotic Illustrations

Scope of Activity:

An appreciation for highly stylized gay male erotic drawings, the type typically found on the covers of pornographic gay pulp novels or used as illustrations for fictional stories about sexual exploits. 

May include everything from Tom of Finland to that anatomically correct (and erect) drawing that you did at the age of twelve in your bedroom that was meant for your eyes only but that your mother found in your trash can, reconstructed, and left on your bed for you find and die a million tiny times of embarrassment and shame (thanks, Mom).  Hey, at least I labeled all the parts, so it did have a legitimate educational foundation (I tell myself to this day). 

For this entry, we will limit our scope to drawn, static images; typically done in black ink or pencil, with and without color added.  Although I’m also going to touch upon digital images, watercolors, oils, etc.

The Official Line:

Artists of Note:
Touko Laaksonen (Tom of Finland)
Carl Corley
Oli Frey
George Quaintance
Michael Kirwan
Bob Ziering
Attila Richard Lukacs
Mishima Yukio
Mike Kuchar
Mel Odom
Patrick Fillion
…and countless others.

Genres:
Anime
Superhero
BDSM / Fetish
Leather
Cowboys
Athletes
Twinks
Bears
Fantasy / Mythology
Cartoon
Cartoon Strip
Blue Collar
Office
Sci Fi
Fan-fiction
…among others

Websites to learn more/see more:

Psychological Aspects:

From Wired:
Psychology of Cartoons – Part 1: Scooby-Doo by Curtis Silver 2/14/11

Cartoons are an ingrained part of our culture. We grew up on cartoons, and the lessons found therein. As I got older, and the cartoons seemed more like cartoons than reality I started to notice the inherent humanity presented in the characters. They weren’t boilerplate; they were designed a certain way, with certain problems that we – as children – may have absorbed into our subconscious. As we had a habit of dressing up or behaving like our favorite characters, if the influence was great enough, some of us may have taken away more from their behavior than we may realize.

Psychology of Cartoons – Part 2: Sociology of The Smurfs by Curtis Silver, 4/19/11

Growing up in my generation (1980s) and prior, going back to the advent of the television, it was inevitable that our young minds would be shaped by the world around us, including the Technicolor world of television. While what we learned wasn’t always the most beneficial to our development (Roadrunners recognize and can escape elaborate traps funded by the ACME Corporation) there were plenty of items that weaseled their way into our general psychology and helped shape our views of the world. It couldn’t be helped. You are a product of your environment…

My point for using these articles?  To help illustrate the effect idealized drawn images have on our collective psyches.  Reread the above and substitute ‘cartoons’ with ‘gay erotic illustrations’ and ‘childhood’ with ‘adolescence’ or ‘young adulthood’ and I think you see where I’m going with this. 

As adults, we appreciate those highly stylized drawings of male sexuality and anatomy in the same manner that we appreciate the cartoons of our youth.  Those images helped formulate our expectations regarding sex.  They help form our likes and dislikes.  Because they are drawings and not photos – they mimic reality and help create a kind of ‘safe’ distance.  That distance - between fantasy and reality - allow our psyches to consider sexual acts and activities outside the norm without the slap-in-the-face of something like hard core porn.

There is also the factor of unattainability that comes into play.  It helps create a safe distance allowing us to be more open to exploration and consideration.   The downside of these images is that no one lives up to them.  If we base our sexual desires upon the personal meaning we inflate these images with, can we ever be truly satisfied with what is to be found in reality?  Take the highly stylized depictions of male sexuality, male physiology, and male anatomy as found in the work of Touko Laaksonen (Tom of Finland).  Yes, we can perhaps find something close to it in real life, but… really?  If those images are what we base our sexuality and sexual expression and expectations on, we are in for some major disappointment.

My Experience:

I remember my first trip to an adult bookstore – it was owned by Ferris Alexander and found on the corner of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis.  It was filled with dated, early 1970’s style porn, most of it straight.  Paying limited attention to the straight stuff, I stumbled upon the gay mags and, feeling overwhelmed with feelings of lust and shame, I stood and gaped at the racks of smut. I ended up buying a bunch of magazines… I think they came bound in a plastic bag, three for $9.99.  In my way of thinking, if I bought a lot at once I would never have to walk through the doors of this store again.  Those images have stayed with me long after I shamefully dumped them in a neighbors trash bin in the middle of the night, and action that, of course, meant I would have to return to said bookstore (many times). 

The other thing that has stayed with me, my fascination with the tiny pulp books that filled another rack in the gay section – and it wasn’t because of the stories contained between those covers, it was the art that adorned them.  It was a mixed bag of pseudo-bondage, blond twink beach love, smart lustful executive three piece suits, bears, gym/locker room/sauna encounters and redneck lovin’.  I wanted to buy them all, but I was on a limited income and the black and white pictorials that I purchased instead promised to have more visual impact (as well as nice sized pages to spatter many a load of cum – or page cement, as I came to call it).

Those cartoon-like images fueled many a masturbatory fantasy.  They also introduced me to all sorts of kink in a manner that was easy to digest and process. 

To this day, I love looking at this stuff.  For me, these images are as iconic and potent as the old VHS boxes in the gay section of my local video store (also owned by Ferris Alexander).  Whenever an image happens to tickle my fancy I download it and save it on one of my memory disks.  These days, my appreciation has more to do with the workmanship involved or the energy created in the image itself, rather than as a tool for self-gratification.

Bottom line: I think it’s best to simply allow the images to work their magic and speak for themselves. And so, I will…

My Conclusion:

I bet it goes back to cave drawings.

And, yes, I’ve overthought this topic and probably under-researched it at the same time.  In relation to so many of these images I wonder: who drew that?  What was their inspiration?  Does that crude, skillfully drawn depiction capture the illustrators psyche?  His needs, wants, desires?  Background, development, and childhood?  What does the drawing before me, depicting a hirsute, dark-haired giant with massive muscles and a pre-cum spewing, oversized erection contemplating the ass of a twink-ish boytoy wearing a scout uniform presenting on all fours, say about the man holding the pen? 

In the end?  It’s a dirty picture.  Smut.  Porn.  J.O. fodder.

But it endured. 

It was drawn by an individual and then replicated until it found my eyes.  Therefore, it must have value; it must have meaning… because it survived. 

If an alien being came down, and these images were all that they were allowed to see in terms of what gay male sexuality was all about… what would the think?

Yep, I’m all about the questions.  It’s that curiosity that fuels many a fetish, many an Acquired Taste.  I think it’s important not to assign too much meaning to the trivial.  But I also feel it is important to determine what meaning something holds for us as a culture – especially something as enduring and iconic as the images found in the world of Gay Erotic Illustrations.