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Gay Characters? Disney Channel Needs a Lesson from Buster Baxter

15 Feb

AfterElton has a fascinating interview with Disney Channel President Gary Marsh, on the topic of gay characters on Disney Channel shows. The topic is introduced by this quote from Marsh, from 2008:

“Well, just to speak sort of in the 30,000-foot level first, we don’t deal with sexuality on the Disney Channel in general. That’s just sort of not where our audience’s head’s at. They’re really a pre-sexual audience, for the most part, and so sexuality is not how we look to tell any kind of stories.”

I’ll echo AfterElton’s sentiment: It’s not meaningful to talk this way about same-sex couples. For example: How is it not sexual for a kid to know he has parents of opposite sexes, but somehow sexual for him to know that some other kid has parents of the same sex? And hey, why isn’t it sexual when Zack and Cody are ogling all those girls?

The article goes on to make it clear that Marsh is okay with characters on the Disney Channel being widely interpreted as gay, but that those characters won’t ever be coming out in any way.

We leave it up to our audience to interpret who these characters are and how they relate to them. It’s great that this child has interpreted [Shake It Up! character] Gunther [as gay] and that it speaks to him in a way that makes sense for his life. And that’s what we’re trying to do — create a diverse cross section of characters on television that kids can have different access points and entry points to connect with.

It’s like the Hays Production Code all over again: You can have gay characters, they just can’t be identified openly. (Of course, Disney’s moved quite a bit forward from Hays, in that gay characters don’t have to die horribly at the end of the story, or suffer in silence — they can go on to Julliard instead.)

I can’t imagine the Disney Channel budging on this issue anytime soon, due to what I’m sure they perceive as market pressure. So, is it better to have coded gay characters like Ryan Evans, who’s widely interpreted as gay but may convey the message that it’s not okay to be out? Or is it better to only have clearly heteronormative characters on kids shows? I’m not satisfied with either option.

When my home state began recognizing same-sex marriage, many people felt that the world would fall apart somehow. But as the years have rolled by, it seems like less and less of a big deal (except, of course, for those whose marriages are now recognized, for whom it is enormously important). If mainstream television networks like the Disney Channel had an openly gay character now and then, perhaps the social order wouldn’t really be rocked for all that long? After all, glee‘s been pretty darn successful (in some part because of a fabulous openly gay character), and many parents already shun Disney Channel for being a bad influence on their kids, and ban it from the living room (just look at these google search results).

Yeah, an openly gay character on the Disney Channel would probably make executives and stockholders a little nervous. But I can’t help but wonder if people were nervous when my grandfather was lobbying for Bill Cosby to be cast in a leading role in I Spy. Sometimes change makes you nervous. Too bad.

And hey, if you’re looking for an example of an excellent (and thoroughly non-sexual) portrayal of lesbians in a children’s television show, this clip from Postcards from Buster is for you:

“Boy, that’s a lot of Moms!”

What I Learned on My December WDW Vacation

16 Dec

A foggy morning at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Last weekend’s trip to the December fan meets at Walt Disney World will surely be fodder for many blog posts! But for starters, let’s just highlight a few of the lessons learned on this trip:

The Wine Room at the Cali Grill is a bad place to sit if you want to hear Jimminy Cricket announce the fireworks. But it’s hard to imagine a better view of the electrical water pageant.

When your best friend gets engaged, you’re gonna cry for joy, even if the only way you can get confirmation is sitting in your office listening to the WDW Today live feed. You might just get choked up all over again once you see the happy couple in person.

Celebrations at Cali Grill are to be recommended!

Folk wisdom speaks the truth: Everything tastes better when Len’s buying.

The Walgreens on SR535 has gone way downhill. Better check the CVS at the intersection with SR536, next to the 7-11. Be sure not to accidentally leave a bag behind at Walgreens, because they’ll swear you took it with you.

I may not draw the best Pluto ever. But I have a darn good time doing it.

My own artwork, from the Animation Academy

If you’re staying at the Sheraton Vistana, you might consider picking up some butter and syrup on the way from MCO, in case you’re greeted with a welcome packet of buttermilk pancake mix.

You should always remember what size boxer shorts you wear, in the case of a tray of drinks being poured up your shoulder at Le Cellier. You should also be prepared for the possibility of showing up at the Yee Haw Bob meet dressed as a representative of the Canadian Tourism Board and carrying a lovely new handbag, thanks to the No Strings Attached wardrobe enhancements provided by the Walt Disney Company to substitute for your beer-soaked attire.

Wardrobe provided by the Walt Disney Company

Don’t expect much backstage magic on the Segway tour at Epcot. Do expect people to push strollers out in front of you. And we’re just not even gonna talk about the two ladies in ECVs.

They see us rollin', they hatin'.....

The toy guns at Walt Disney World seem now to be available only in primary colors. Which would be a good thing if it actually made people safer on the streets.

Display rack near Indiana Jones Adventure

You never, ever know when a Cast Member named Carlos might make your fan meet just a tad more interesting by jumping in with trivia questions. And you might feel bad about hurrying him along, but you might do it anyways. Especially if people look like they’re itching to get along to Peter Pan.

The s’mores dessert at Prime Time is, in fact, delicious. Just keep those elbows off the table. While some would pay big money to be shamed in public, at the Prime Time it’s just one more service included in their low, low fee. Also, you can still join the Clean Plate Club even if you still have green beans left.

Shame! Shame! Shame! No elbows on the table!

If you eat just one more green bean, you can have dessert

I thought High School Musical 3 Pep Rally just couldn’t feature a cheerleader with pigtails wearing tight black PVC and knee socks. And I was wrong.

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Ryan in the Kilt Arrives from Virginia!

7 Apr

Some things are just impossible to put into words.

How, for example, can I possibly explain my state of confusion when my BFF texted me, “Emergency! Do you have Ryan in the quilt?” Or my speechless joy when we finally sorted out that, in fact, it was a kilt Ryan was wearing, and she had found him in the wild, at a K-Mart in Virginia?

Words fail me.

Ryan with Pal Mickey

But yes indeed, my BFF had found the doll I’d been looking for. That same doll that I could not believe existed when I first found it online, for which I hunted in every WDW gift shop and my neighborhood big box retail establishments. And yes, I could have bought it online (using my own Amazon store, no less), but it would not have been the same….it had to be an authentic sighting in an old fashioned brick-and-mortar. And there he was.

Ryan's legsOf course, I couldn’t keep news like this to myself, and I wanted to keep it a secret from my son until the package arrived in the mail, so I sent mail to a friend and fellow queer High School Musical addict, who asked the truly important question: What do his legs look like? Now, this would have seemed like an odd question, did I not know that some speculate this unexpected kilt-wearing Ryan doll is in fact just leftover schoolgirl dolls recast into our effeminate friend. But no, I’d say the record suggests that this doll was, in fact, originally conceived of as male. Which still leaves open the mystery of how on earth this doll came to pass, and whether there was some alternate “everybody’s Scottish!” ending that will someday show up in the bonus features section of an HSM multi-disc compilation.

Ryan's class ringI can’t bring myself to open the box and see whether Ryan’s class ring might fit me. And usually I’m not one of those collectors…none of my Beanie Babies have tags, thank you very much. But this time, the packaging is as much of a thrill as the product itself. Without the packaging, one might just think I myself cross-dressed a Ken doll, and where’s the subversive thrill in that? Plus, who knows, maybe Ryan in the Kilt will be the future Growing Up Skipper?

Actually, another friend has reminded me that Ryan in the Kilt does indeed have spiritual kin in our historic Barbie lore. I speak here of Earring Magic Ken, perhaps the gayest doll of all time. The Man Behind the Doll tells us more:

Image credit: Wikipedia

Image credit: Wikipedia

…Ken’s entire Earring Magic outfit looks like three-year old rave wear.  A Gaultier purple faux-leather vest, a straight-out-of-International-Male purple mesh shirt, black jeans and shoes.  It would seem Mattel’s crack Ken redesign team spent a weekend in LA or NY, dashing from rave to rave, taking notes and polaroids.

That same page tells us that Earring Magic Ken was apparently a huge hit with the gay community:

Originally priced at $11, Earring Magic Ken now sells NRFB for around $47 on the secondary market.  By Christmas time in 1993 most stores were completely sold out of Kens, largely due to the Gay community’s interest.  Earring Magic Barbie and Midge were left on the shelves without a partner.  Earring Magic Barbie was also available at Radio Shack that included software.

Hello, Earring Magic Barbie and Midge left without partners?

I’d love to think that kilted Ryan dolls have simply been scooped up out of stores by savvier shoppers than I, but an eBay search for “ryan hsm3” turns up nada.

And no, I am not particularly ashamed that I have now written three entire columns about this doll, and that I’ll be talking about it again on an upcoming episode of Those Darn Cats. So there.

Excuse Me, May I Have This Gradu-Dance?

30 Oct
Spotted on the exit door at my local HSM-friendly movie cinema

Spotted on the exit door at my local HSM-friendly movie cinema

Embarrassing: Going to see High School Musical 3 by myself, especially since I was so sure I wouldn’t.

Humiliating: The kid behind the counter insisting on giving me the senior citizen discount.

Ahem. I am in fact 42 years old, I swear it!

I do wish they’d stuck with the title Gradu-Dancin’. It would have been perfectly in keeping with the vibe of the film, the big snazzy dance numbers, the seductive look on Ryan’s face as he gives that attractive half-shirtless man a quick second look in the “Everything” number. This isn’t a movie about plot, or character development, or any particular statement….it’s all about the shiny hot pink pants (yes, on Ryan), the basketball-themed dance number, the familiar strains of “We’re All in This Together” showing up at the predictable, right moment. Tonight, I wanted to see somebody live happily ever after, and I was not disappointed.

I must say, though, that I was more than a little irritated by the final dance number, “High School Musical,” which simultaneously begged the audience not to abandon the franchise as Troy and Gabriella move on, and promised yet more sanitized teen drama. And every now and then, I wished I had a fast-forward button. Mostly during Gabriella’s and Troy’s big dramatic solos and duets. And, um, given the theme of “I’m okay, you’re okay” that weaves through HSM and HSM2, why did we have to have a nerd as the butt of jokes? Doesn’t everybody deserve a little crème brûlée?

But mostly, it was harmless campy fun. I’ll still look forward to the DVD release, since I lost count of Ryan’s hats during the first big-budget dance number (that was such a fun game in HSM2!). And maybe when that DVD comes out, I can get my nieces to come over and watch it with me. And hopefully they won’t be bringing my AARP membership card.

Megaplex Mixup: “Sex Drive” Shown to “HSM3” Audience

29 Oct

From Deseret News:

Friday night, managers at the Megaplex Theatre at the District, 11400 South Bangerter Highway, switched one of the showings of “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” to a larger auditorium to accommodate more people. They forgot, however, to switch the movie that had previously been scheduled for the room.

So rather than the family-friendly, G-rated “High School Musical 3,” the beginning of the very nonfamily-friendly R-rated “Sex Drive” came on the screen. The opening minutes of the movie include nudity.

Via Obscure Store and Reading Room. Hat tip to Mr. Broke Hoedown for the headsup.

High School Musical 3 Ryan Doll in Drag?

27 Oct

Perhaps too weird to be true, but it does seem to be for real….check out’s listing for a Mattel High School Musical 3 Grad Ryan doll, which is apparently wearing a skirt or kilt. Gotta love those knee-socks too!

This news brought to you by Can I Please Just Say, via John Frost’s shared RSS items.

HSM3 Gayer Than Ever, Says Prince Gomovilas

26 Oct

This morning’s email brought me a link to Prince Gomovilas’ review of High School Musical 3, which he says is the gayest flick in the franchise. It’s almost enough to get me to reverse my curmudgeonly reaction of yesterday morning….or at least, it makes me look forward to the DVD release date, even if only to see whether I agree with Gomovilas’ analysis of the film’s queer allegory.

The gay allegory of the first two movies—the masculine jock “comes out” and embraces his love of theater—continues in this third installment, but on a grander scale. Troy Bolton (Efron), the high school basketball star, must choose between two colleges: his father’s alma mater, University of Albuquerque, where he will play hoops and be the manly man his dad expects him to be; or New York’s prestigious performing arts school, Julliard, where he will be able to revel in the fabulousness of singing and dancing to his heart’s content.

University of Albuquerque (a stand-in for heterosexual identity) represents a life that’s being thrust upon Troy against his will. “It’s hard to admit,” he pleads with his father. “U of A sort of chose me.” Later, he continues to struggle with what his dad (society) wants for him because it’s not necessarily what he wants for himself. He muses, “Maybe I don’t see my life as a ballgame anymore.” That’s because, frankly, he’s starting to see his life as a “balls” game.

At one point, Troy confides in his drama teacher, “I’m confused.” Indeed. Every young man who has ever struggled with his sexuality has needed someone as understanding as Ms. Darbus to nudge him in the right direction. Sensing Troy’s longing for outside approval, she says encouragingly, “The stage can be a wonderful partner in the process of self-discovery”—the theater once again being a stand-in for gay identity. (A character earlier even makes reference to a “theater fairy” that submitted Troy’s application to Julliard.)

I’m also swayed by the fact that a couple of my buddies from MagicMeets really liked it. Hmm. For the moment at least, it’s still not enough to get me out of the house to see a tween movie on my own, given tight schedules and lean pocketbook. But, hmmm. I wonder how long it’ll be in theatres.

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