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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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Creepy-Ass Scrapbook Is Creepy.

12 Mar

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Found this odd little thing over at All Things Beautiful. The $25 asking price was pretty steep, but it definitely caught my eye. It was about 100 pages long, and nothing but near-contextless cut out magazine photos of babies and toddlers. But why tho?

To be honest, it kind of reminded me of the “Memory Lane” scrapbook from Misery. Creepy.

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Awesome Gory Re-purposed Ceramic Dolls.

17 Jan

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Art blog Hyperallergenic posted about an awesome collection of re-purposed ceramic dolls turned into gory nightmares created by artist Jessica Harrison. They were part of an exhibition entitled Body & Soul: New International Ceramics  at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.

THINGS THAT MADE ME GAY: Freddy’s Nightmares 0102 “It’s A Miserable Life”

19 Aug

TRUE STORY: Over a decade or so before Hedwig and the Angry Inch came out, I was having nightmares about John Cameron Mitchell. Specifically, the image that haunted my dreams was this:

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I found this terrifying because I was 11 years old, and 11 year-olds are stupid.

Back in the days when The Simpsons was a sketch on the Tracy Ullman show, FOX was that weird UHF channel you sometimes had to balance your rabbit ears precariously in order to pick up. People remember sitcoms like Married With Children, but few people remember that after 10pm it was all cheezy horror movies all night. The first time I saw films like The Gate and My Bloody Valentine, it was by staying up after the rest of the family went to bed and tuning in FOX. And a few years before I was old enough for my parents to let me see the actual Nightmare On Elm Street movies, I was obsessed with the tv spinoff Freddy’s Nightmares. Again, this is because I was 11, and 11 year olds are stupid.

nightmare30Even for the time, these were not good special effects.

This is the episode I’m talking about, which first aired on Oct 16, 1988:

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This episode introduces the character Bryan Ross, a young man preparing to escape his small town hell and his father’s fast food legacy by going to college. And of course he’s a strapping heterosexual dude, as evidenced by his drive-thru window fantasies of Whitesnake music video extras:

nightmare25“Oh man, I am soo straight… I’m so gonna have dude sex with your lady junk. So straight.”

And his other drive-thru fantasies of getting shot in the face by burly dudes in leather wait what-

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His dad arrives to let him know he has to work all night, which causes him to cancel a date with his totally convincing girlfriend that, for some reason, he can’t kiss without flinching:

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“So straight…”

All this character development or whatever finally builds up to the arrival of Freddy Kreuger to fuck shit all up, because the show is named after him. It was kind of a payoff moment in each episode, since they couldn’t actually show violence. So the big initial reveal comes and it’s  this:

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Do not adjust your television set. That really is Freddy Kreuger, sassily emerging from a vat of french fry grease. Like, for real actually. Seriously. They thought this was such an amazing idea, they actually use the image in the commercial bumpers for the rest of the episode.

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All items on menu are cooked in low-fat nightmare fuel, rather than oil.

So anyway, deep-fried and smelling disturbingly similar to the kitchen of a Chik-Fil-A, Freddy proceeds to wreak havok with Bryan’s psyche.

WARNING: From here on out, it’s all spoilers for a 25 year old television show. If you wanna watch this episode, there’s currently a version uploaded on Youtube here.

So cool, shut the fuck up and  let’s move on.

The fucked-upness goes into overdrive as we explore the intricacies of Bryan Ross’s identity. We see that his father’s temper is, literally, explosive:

nightmare7“Um dad, you want some help?” “No, son, I just had THE BEST IDEA EVER.”

And his mother is, literally, frigid:

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Subtlety wasn’t really a hallmark of this show.

In fact, just earlier when Bryan confronts his mom over her emotional distance, she first turns into a June Cleaver stereotype and then makes out with him:

nightmare13also known as the “Eddiehaskell Complex”

And if you haven’t properly achieved Freudgasm yet, after emasculating him and siding with his parents over his desires for self-agency, his girlfriend does this:

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Ok, come on. They pull this EXACT trick in Hedwig.

And to continue beating a dead horse, by the end,  this happens too because whatever:

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“Get it? The gun is your penis and something something super-ego and FUCK IT YOU’RE DEAD”

I feel the need to take a moment here and point out that the entire plot of this episode actually breaks Elm Street canon mythos in a big way, even for a series that pretty much pulls new powers for Freddy out of their ass every single movie. As far as I know, this is the only instance where Freddy indirectly “kills” someone through the actions of someone else (the guy on the motorcycle shot Bryan in the face). If you think about it, Freddy didn’t really do anything to contribute to Bryan’s death at all besides latch onto his disintegrating ego as he passed away, much like one of the devouring angels from Jacob’s Ladder. Total dick move on his part.

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THINGS THAT MADE ME GAY is a tongue-in-cheek series about suspiciously or snarkily inferred homoerotic content in shows and other media from the 80s/early 90s told through the approximated viewpoint of my younger self. This post is also listed under  STUFF THAT SCARED ME AS A KID because yeah.

So, Like, What The Fuck, Coloring Book From My Childhood?

18 Aug

When I was a kid, I used to have this huge coloring/activity book with an elephant on the cover. It had connect-the-dots and word puzzles, and of course pictures to color. Most of them were nursery rhyme or holiday based, or had some sort of lesson involved. Then, about 3/4 of the way through it, you’re confronted with this ugly motherfucker out of nowhere:

monsters1Just no. Oh my fucking God no.

For something that doesn’t have a visible penis, the look on it’s face gives the impression that it would very much like to show you one.  It’s like some creepy Vulcan harassment spider, and it needs to be on a sex offender registry, not in a kid’s book.

Go fuck yourself, Willowy Walkathon.

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Every part this dude is designed to slap that smiling face right into that tree,
and frankly that can’t come soon enough.

Seriously; there is literally every possible way that moments after this picture takes place something fatal will happen to this horrible thing. Either snapping those impossible twig legs, or colliding face first into tree bark. There is no evolutionary advantage to swinging around via a prehensile appendage on the top of your head.

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NOPE

Just nope.

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A lot of these creatures seem to only have hands in order to not have any clue what the fuck to do with them. Get a job, douchebag. Get a hobby or something. You look stupid.

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Oh for fuck’s sake.

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Looking at this jerk makes me feel kinda bad about insinuating that Willowy Walkathon was a sexual deviant. AND WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ITS HEAD. I think I’m gonna be having flashbacks to childhood nightmares after posting this.

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With a build like that you better be gentle, Sailor.

I think when it comes down to it, the eyes on these things really push them all into uncanny valley territory. Maybe it’s the distinctly adult features on creatures that are intended to be whimsical. Either way, these things scared the shit out of me as a kid.