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A Cannibalistic Dissection Of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

28 Oct Rocky Horror Picture Show

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A week before the writing of this, FOX aired a remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, subtitled Let’s Do The Time Warp Again. I’m not averse to the idea of seeing it, but I’m not going to go out of my way either. Not for any particular reason politically, just simply because the original is so clearly and deeply rooted to a particular time period it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to update it. I’ll have more on that in a moment.

The main (and only) thing I need to know about the remake is that it showcased front and center a black trans woman, on the same channel FOX News is broadcast from, during a time when the right wing has dedicated themselves to a war against trans bodies. Regardless of any other merits or flaws in the project, I still find that deliciously subversive in a way the original never dared.

If you were hoping for more talk about the remake, I do apologize. There are plenty of other people talking about it, I swear. I’m not writing yet another thinkpiece about how problematic or transphobic or whatever the movie is. Plenty of other folks covering that ground. I’m not interested in RHPS creator Richard O’Brien’s bizarre and absurd notion that he can decide how much of a woman he is but nobody else can. Just yet another tired old has-been queen desperate for attention and latching onto trendy notions of “edginess” and “anti-political-correctness” as far as I’m concerned. The fact that he hates the remake makes me want to enjoy it out of spite tho.

What will I be talking about then?

Well lets start by talking about the Hays Code (and later rating systems) and the role of pulp sci-fi on queerness. Stories of alternate sexualities and gender explorations were all over the place in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but due to publisher restrictions had to be formatted in a certain way. It was honestly surprising how far they were capable of going, as long as they didn’t directly show intimacy and all queer characters were punished at the end for their transgression from conservative mores. Here’s a sex-change sci-fi story from a 1953 comic book that covers the bases pretty well, with an exception I will elaborate on in a moment.

Rocky Horror Picture show even opens with the song “Science Fiction/Double Feature” which waxes nostalgic about shiny underwear and phallic Triffids, name-checking classic titles and names from films that would have been staples of a sci-fi obsessed 1975 audience’s childhood. Self-aware nods to these tropes echo throughout the film.

Lets line them up and see how the beats play out, shall we? We have aw shucks traditional protagonist(s), an audience insert for voyeuristic heterosexuals or questioning/curious queer folk:

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The protagonists find themselves stranded from the values and culture they took for granted, in a lawless anything goes environment:

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This leads to an awakening where deep, transgressive desires are brought to light and actualized… but at what cost?

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And at the end all transgressions are punished and the moral is driven home that some doors should never be opened:

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The spectre of conservative Americana glares disapprovingly at the dissolution of traditional values throughout the film. Not just figuratively, but directly and literally symbolized by multiple repeated vignettes evoking the sullen stoic gaze of the iconic Grant Wood painting American Gothic (a now campy and frequently satirized artwork that history forgets incited Rural Iowans to send the painter threats of violence).

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However, you will note that there is something missing from this one-to-one comparison between the sex-change comic book and Rocky Horror Picture Show. This is because in sex-change stories, the antagonist is the clothes or the transformation itself. This is as true in Glen Or Glenda in the 1950s as it was in The Danish Girl in 2015. This story has an antagonist with a distinctly more visceral presence, a hyperqueered fantasy to Brokeback their mountains and tempt them away from their traditional lives.

Enter Frank.

Frank is a transgressive nightmare, a culmination of everything feared about the sexual awakenings of the late 1960s/early 1970s. It goes well beyond the crossdressing and sexualization; Frank was meticulously designed to provoke. He literally hunts down, murders and later cannibalistically devours Eddie, a symbol of naive notions of 1950s “safe rebellion”. Eddie’s entrance, to the song “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul“, reflects an entirely different sort of nostalgia filled with sock hops instead of gruesome horror movies. Frank nonchalantly eulogizes Eddies murder by his hand as “a mercy killing! He had a certain naive charm, but no… muscle.”

Indeed.

When Frank displayed a pink triangle on his labcoat, the symbol was still viscerally shocking and radical. The book The Men With The Pink Triangle, documenting homosexual men’s experience in Nazi concentration camps, had only come out a couple years before. The infamous Paragraph 175 of German Law under which those men had been imprisoned was still on the books.

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Frank also dons a Lewis Leathers Aviakit Plainsman biker jacket adorned with badges from the Hell’s Angels and other recognizable biker gangs (including patches with the distinct Nazi Deaths Head and Eagle iconography of the Angels). This wasn’t the “making toy runs for sick kids” Hell’s Angels, this was the “locked Hunter S Thompson in the trunk of a car for several days” Hells Angels. This also presents contrast to Eddie’s sanitized pompadour-and-motorcycle schtick as the corny posturing it was.

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Frank’s fawning over his Frankenstein Atlas, Rocky, was another uncomfortable tribute/unmasking to the underlying homoeroticism in body-building culture, a subtext simultaneously acknowledged yet dismissed within said subculture. With Rocky as the dense and sweetly naive foil to Frank’s sexual innuendo, it’s presented as yet another affront to the values of yesteryear.

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Enabled through Frank’s brazen transgressions, the protagonists find themselves freed from convention to explore their own desires. This is illustrated in the floor show scene where the players vocalize their inner conflicts onstage. Columbia is full of regret and heartbreak, Rocky and Brad have newfound sexual urges that neither can quite figure out, and Janet feels empowered by the whole experience. Shortly afterwards, Riff-Raff and Magenta stage a mutiny to topple Frank as leader. Riff-Raff’s accusation says it all:

Frank-N-Furter, it’s all over
your mission is a failure
your lifestyle’s too extreme

Ironically, after forty years of cultural advance, a film that sought to deconstruct stifling tropes and liberate expectations has for the most part been relegated to yet another formulaic exploitation. It has a historical place, as a love-letter to the queer-coded villains of Hollywood’s golden age, but at this point Frank has joined them. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a fun ritual for voyeuristic straights, closeted drama club queers and assorted connoisseurs of camp and kitsch and likely will be for at long as movie theaters continue to exist. However, the cultural critique is a bit toothless and obvious now, the references collecting dust, and subtext lost under performative rote.

And maybe the ritual is the point now, a sort of mystery cult initiation for average folks looking for an excuse to buy a corset. But I believe an occasional reminder of what it all means couldn’t hurt either.

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Is Kylo Ren Queer-Coded? Well, Yes And No.

14 Jan

kyloren0Image from this comic by Andi Espinosa.

Since finally getting to see the new Star Wars movie about a month after everyone else did, I’ve found myself immersed in the surrounding discussions of it. Like, why the fuck was Han so excited to use Chewbacca’s weapon for apparently the first time in the decades they’ve been friends? How come in 30 years has none of the computer tech advanced past 16 color raster graphics, blinking lights and LEDs? Also is Kylo Ren technically yet another Disney queer-coded villain, and how awful are you for empathizing with the Nazified little shit in a queer way?

kyloren5Okay maybe I’m participating in different conversations than y’all.

I’ve been seeing a lot of talk lately about how Kylo Ren is the modernized face of impotent nerd rage. He’s like a one-man Gamergate, without all the Nazi imagery… oh wait. And, honestly, many of the traits that could be read as queer have been gradually integrated into uneasy heteromasculine posturing the past few decades, as addressed by fans and critics thinking of him as “emo“. There is a lot to be said about imagery of nerdbro ego projection and predation in many of his actions as well.

kyloren8Above borrowed from this comic strip.

And yeah I get that. I’m sure even more can be said in that regard. I’ve personally been humoring the idea that Kylo Ren’s encounter w/Han Solo is a commentary on neo-masculinity. Like Han represents old-guard swagger and grit and “benevolent sexism” and is a masculinity relic… he’s literally a cowboy. An artefact of a different age of manhood. Kylo Ren represents the new face of such: internally tortured, confused, with wildly inappropriate idealizations and bad posture. Watch Kylo Ren walk around uneasily in his uniform next time you see the film, see how forced his movements are. Kylo’s nervous stilted gait represents the new guard carrying the torch for men’s advocacy. Kylo winds up doing what he does (SPOILER: murders his dad) cuz of his misplaced interpretation of how masculinity works: aka a compulsive desire to “prove himself”.

But we’re not actually suggesting that Kylo Ren is queer. Or at least I’m not. But we have to keep in mind what queer coding is. We also need to differentiate queer coding from queer-baiting, a more modern trope of hinted sexuality, which also appears in the film.

kyloren1And how.

Spoiler alert, but I’m gonna be hammering on and on about this sort of thing over the course of several upcoming articles (not about Star Wars tho). In this case, I believe whether Kylo Ren is queer-coded or not may mean different things between folks older or younger than 30. Folks like us grew up with less media representation. Some of us may be a bit more sensitive or in-tune with the “nod-nod wink wink” aspects of this than folks growing up in an era where a character can actually be queer without also having to be a mass-murderer to satisfy some garbage moral clause.

To me Kylo’s unmasking scene in the torture chamber more than a little bit resembled when Ra unmasks himself in the first Stargate movie. The hard, cruel gray and black immobile feature-obscuring mask giving way to reveal a soft androgynous face and sensitive eyes. In the case of Stargate, particularly, strategically revealing the face of the actor that played a trans woman in The Crying Game just a couple years before, one of the most iconic and recognizable trans characters in film (for good or for bad).

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And it’s not like we haven’t seen the “prissy evil son in the shadow of an impossibly badass father whose shoes he may never fill” dynamic before.

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Also, this is Disney we are talking about. The company that pretty much wrote the book on queering up their baddies.

kyloren4Coincidence? I think… actually yeah probably coincidence.

The thing about Star Wars movies, however, is that just by existing they change the face of  everything they touch. While doing so, they completely reinvent the visual language surrounding such, from fashion to archetypes and of course special effects. These changes become so widespread because damn near everyone winds up seeing them.

kyloren7Well everyone that matters, anyway.

Perhaps this really is a calculated narrative side-step to replace tired Hollywood Golden Age homophobia with biting commentary on evolving male ego. If so I have to admit I’m impressed.

LET’S PLAY (And Overthink): Conan: Hall Of Volta Apple ][ #Retrogaming #AppleII

15 Mar

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So first of all, I’m not writing about this game because it’s good… Oh Sweet Lord Satan No. But this game was a (incredibly vexing) part of my childhood, and it means a lot to deconstruct it. See, first of all it was the mid-to-late 1980s and I had a very serious fixation on hella buff dudes in loincloths for some reason.

conan8Let’s face it, at no point in my life was I ever heterosexual…

So anyway in one of my classes, along with the expectable classics like Oregon Trail, Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego, and Karateka, they had a copy of this game. I made a copy to take home.

conan7The schools copy was “cracked“, by the way. Don’t Copy That Floppy!

Conan: The Hall Of Volta is a computer game by DataSoft, originally written for the Apple ][ and ported to other platforms. It was released in 1984 alongside the second Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan movie, although it has characters and scenarios independent of any canonical Conan The Barbarian storyline.

conan9One of the main characters is a bird, for instance.

It’s a pretty straightforward one-hit-death side-view platform puzzle game, one of the first of it’s kind. Adding to the replay value, there were stage-specific death messages when you game over.

conan5They were also terrible, just terrible, “puns” most of the time.

Getting through the stages takes some practice to get the timing right, but once you know what you’re doing, the game can be finished fairly quickly. Stage One gets you used to everything:

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You climb the ladders to go up, and you kill the Giant Bat (1) as soon as possible because it has access to the whole inside of the castle and has no qualm with killing you first. Once you reach the top of the castle, jump over to the tree (2) for a free life from your bird friend. Any time you see him throughout the whole game means a free life. Stage 2 introduces a new element (keys), but keeps up the same pace as the first and doesn’t have any monsters.

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You grab the key (1) to unlock the door (2). Pretty simple. You can also grab a free life from your bird friend (3) by jumping up to touch him at the end of the stage. Stage three brings in the third primary gameplay element (gems and gem holders) and is distinctly harder than the first two, the beginning of a difficulty jump that continues for the rest of the game.

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In stage three you use the teleporters (1) to get the gem (2) to place in the holder (3). Once the gem is in the holder, a bubble forms in the lava(4) that you can use to jump to the end of the stage.  Your avian friend is also here for the last time (5) to provide a free life, and keep in mind that the scorpions and ants on this level (6) are too low to the ground to hit with your weapon. The ants can also use the teleporter, which can seriously screw up any timing you were having for jumps and moving around the level.

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In stage 4, the length of time you can spend at this stage is completely random. You grab gems (1) as they randomly appear, and once you put two in the holders (2) you get access to the key (3) to open the door. Extra weapons (5) appear on the stage randomly as well, and you should keep an eye out for (6) the fall-away white parts of the platforms as well as the middle platform that periodically rises from the geyser beneath it. You can also snag extra gems on this stage if you’re patient, which makes the next level slightly easier.

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Stage 5 is a bastard. No way around it. Basically the best way to go about doing it is standing right around where pictured in (1) and shooting the dragons (2) until you get a key and gemstone for the door(3) and holder (4) on the top level. It might take a few tries to get it where you weapon comes back and you don’t lose it. With the gem in the holder, you get access to the other key (5) which you can use to unlock the door out of the stage (6). Hopefully the absurdly overkill number of gems (7) on the bottom level are clue enough that it’s a trap.

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Almost over… To get through stage 6, you need to kill the floating eyeballs (1) until the ladder (2) appears that gives you access to cut down the chandelier (3) that will smash the power generator (4) allowing you access to the door to the final stage (5). Also, you can get your weapons restored on the bottom level (6) if you need to.

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Final stage, and there is quite a bit going on. Your bird friend is in a cage (1) captured by Volta (2). Volta has some sort of device next to him that spits out gems and then turns them into green and purple magical bolts. Basically you wanna hit the green bolts with your weapon, which turn back into gems, and place them in the holders (3). With three gems in the holders, your bird friend goes free, throws Volta into the lava pit (4), and then flies you to the door at the end of the stage (6). If any of the bolts reach the lowest level, they can release one of the dragonflies captured there (7) which travel back and forth on that level. Also there is a pit in the middle of the stage (8) which drops you back to stage 6. Good if you’ve run out of weapons, not so great for any other reason. After this stage is the ending.

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For some reason, the Apple ][ ending features a knight in full armor instead of the barbarian. This is possibly a throwback to the first draft of the game, when it was called Visigoth. You can also see initials of the game designer and programmer snuck in the background as well (bottom left in blue and on the right in green). Later versions included a character much more recognizable to the theme of the game.

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This ending would have no doubt better satisfied the “burly barbarians in loincloths” fix I desired so much as a child “for some reason”.

conan19Seriously, who the fuck did I think I was fooling back then?

Fabulous Youtube Playlist Of Packed Club Dance Floors 1986-1987

5 Mar

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Wound up stumbling across this awesome playlist of packed 80s dance clubs. And just wow. Some of them take a few watches just to try to catch everything going on. Seems like a lot of the places were New Wave-centric, because the crowd seems more goth/punk than one would expect. A lot of gangly guys in eyeliner and oversized jackets doing lopsided Napoleon Dynamite dances, a lot of regrettable hairstyles, but also some really amazing style… and some seriously hawt mohawk action going on.

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