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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!”

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.


Does Russia Needs Its Own High School Musical?

27 Feb


What would I do without my friend Danielle? Without her, I might have never heard about the Russian rip-off of High School Musical, First Love: It’s the Music!

The trailer’s fabulous…you gotta read the subtitles as you go along, even though they’re easy to miss in their tiny little boxes. “It’s easier for the horse to start when the woman gets off the cart.”

And no, it’s not just a random copy-cat…according to IMDB, it was co-written with Bill Borden, with plenty of High School Musical credits to his name. Idolator has more commentary for your reading pleasure.

Engrish: Troy Bolton, Hottie Superbum

25 Feb

Of course, any HSM fan will notice the other funny thing about this badly-translated item from Engrish.com is that Gabrielle is not the person on this page most likely to comment on the likability of jazz squares. Puh-leeze.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Chad and Ryan!

12 Feb

I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the subversive tree, now does it? My son (aka the Watchamacallit) created this adorable Valentine’s Day Obamicon/Luvicon:

Missing the reference? Not an HSM2 fan? I’ve got a Jentasmic! column over at StudiosCentral to get you in the wise: Show You How I Swing: The Hays Production Code.

And on the off chance that any of y’all watch Death Note (which, by the way, totally 0wnz J00!), I’ll share this one with you too:

Jentasmic!: Ryan, Race and the Red Kilt

13 Jan

One might not expect a simple shopping expedition for High School Musical merchandise to require discourse on race and childrearing. But nonetheless, it does. I explore all this and more in last week’s Jentasmic! column at StudiosCentral.com. Here is how our journey begins:

I’ve learned a bit about our world in December, while shopping for High School Musical merchandise.

The first thing I’ve learned is that America might not be ready for a boy doll in a skirt. At least, that’s the only plausible explanation for the fact that no matter how many brick-and-mortar stores I check, I can’t find the HSM3 Ryan Graduation doll, in which our young hero is inexplicably dressed in a kilt and schoolgirl-style knee socks. (I would think this was some sort of strange interweb hoax, were it not for the  pictures of that same doll featured on the back of the other HSM3 Graduation dolls, which I did in fact find everywhere.)  And no, Ryan doesn’t wear that outfit at any point in the film; I watched carefully, both times.

[update 12/17/09: Since the original column is no longer online at StudiosCentral, I’m reproducing the whole column below:]

Ryan, Race, and the Red Kilt

I’ve learned a bit about our world in December, while shopping for High School Musical merchandise.

The first thing I’ve learned is that America might not be ready for a boy doll in a skirt. At least, that’s the only plausible explanation for the fact that no matter how many brick-and-mortar stores I check, I can’t find the HSM3 Ryan Graduation doll, in which our young hero is inexplicably dressed in a kilt and schoolgirl-style knee socks. (I would think this was some sort of strange interweb hoax, were it not for the  pictures of that same doll featured on the back of the other HSM3 Graduation dolls, which I did in fact find everywhere.)  And no, Ryan doesn’t wear that outfit at any point in the film; I watched carefully, both times.

I scoured stores at Walt Disney World for days, looking for Ryan in a kilt, until a friend suggested that perhaps the stores weren’t stocking these dolls because they just couldn’t explain why he was wearing a skirt, since he never wears that outfit in the movie (and, she added, if he were going to wear a kilt it would be a far more fashionably-cut piece, perhaps by Gauthier or D&G rather than the JC Penney look he’s sporting). It had never occurred to me that stores might not be stocking it because they couldn’t explain it….but it is much likelier than imagining that they’ve simply sold out. And somehow I can’t bear the notion that they might have pulled the dolls from the shelves, so let’s not even go there.

I learned, too, that the sales staff even at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is not likely to know HSM3 as well as the aforementioned friend and I. A charming and helpful Cast Member looked for a Ryan doll, and it quickly became clear that not only was he unfamiliar with Ryan, he could not differentiate between Chad and Zeke, even when said dolls were packaged along with their prom dates (Taylor and Sharpay, respectively). After we showed him a picture of Ryan in the kilt, he speculated that perhaps the boy’s “just really in touch with his culture.” I don’t think he meant that Ryan was Scottish, so I agreed.

But those Zeke and Sharpay dolls bring me to the second thing I’ve learned: While racism in America is far from over, there may be hope for us yet, and I’m not just talking about our next President. You see, Sharpay is white, and her prom date Zeke is African-American, and shoppers don’t seem to be batting an eye. I’m only 42 years old, but I do believe that in my entire life I have never seen an interracial couple packaged for mass consumption in this way. It was always assumed that white Barbie would go to prom with white Ken, and that their African-American counterparts would not only date amongst themselves, but also lack name recognition. After a lifetime of this mono-racial imagery, seeing Sharpay and Zeke together on the shelf is a very small thing, but it gives me hope. (I also find it interesting that my spellchecker has no problem with biracial, but none of the references I checked could find me an antonym, so I had to cobble one together myself.)

The toys we as a society choose to produce, and in turn the toys we as individuals choose to put in our children’s hands, tell our children what they should expect the world to be. A mother recently wrote into the Boston Globe to say how grateful she is that her 5-year-old son will grow up taking it for granted that an African-American man can be President of the United States. I hope my kid takes it for granted that he can date whomever his heart chooses, and select his wardrobe with similar freedoms. And if he wants to wear a kilt, I just pray it’s not from JC Penney.

Would You Miss Ryan on Day Without A Gay?

10 Dec

Today is the first ever “Day Without A Gay!” Queer folks and our allies have been encouraged to “call in gay” to work, and instead spend the day volunteering at their local gay-friendly organization. Maybe it’s a local chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or maybe it’s a homeless shelter….any local organization qualifies, as long as they welcome volunteers who might happen to be gay. Day Without A Gay will “fight the H8 with love.”

We’ve reacted to anti-gay ballot initiatives in California, Arizona Florida, and Arkansas with anger, with resolve, and with courage. NOW, it’s time to show America and the world how we love.

Gay people and our allies are compassionate, sensitive, caring, mobilized, and programmed for success. A day without gays would be tragic because it would be a day without love.

If you’re not actually gay but want to support the event, the organizers have given everybody a free “Gay for a Day” pass. You can participate even if you can’t miss work today.

And, well, I’d take a gay day, but I’d already taken a vacation day today….I’m heading to Walt Disney World for MouseFest! So instead, I’ll just take a moment to reflect on what the Disney company might well look like without gay people. Actually, no, I don’t even want to think about it! I’ve already written for Jentasmic! about how sometimes Disney is just so gay.

Instead, let’s just try to imagine the High School Musical series without Ryan Evans. Puh-leeze! And it’s not just that Sharpay wouldn’t have a convenient foil for the best line in HSM3 (“he’s doing some kind of crazy Fosse yoga thing!”), or that we wouldn’t get to watch his character evolve over the franchise from mindless Sharpay minion to Julliard scholarship winner. It’s also the fact that the series just wouldn’t be as much fun without him, without the drama queer that so many of us knew in high school, that many of us were. Where would we be without his brave fashion sense, his willingness to challenge Chad to a baseball/dancing duel, his sarcastic cynical edge at the start of HSM3’s  “I Want It All?”

But a recent conversation with my husband brought me back to the real point of Day Without A Gay….gay people aren’t just styling our hair, choreographing our Broadway shows, and decorating our interiors (ahem), as important as all those tasks may be. They are also delivering our FedEx packages, removing our appendixes, teaching our science classes, writing our Web 2.0 databases, working in our factories, flying our airplanes. Animating our favorite films. Delivering our Dream Fast Passes. Serving our Scopa Special at Le Cellier. Driving the Magical Express (oh, that last one sounded kinda off-color, didn’t it?).

My life is richer because I was one of those queer drama geeks, and because I have plenty of them in my life today. If you’re a Disney fan, I’ll bet your life is richer because some of those queer drama geeks have produced, performed, and supported movies and park attractions you enjoy. So even if you have to go to work today, feel free to use that free “Gay for a Day” pass anyway…we’re all in this together.

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