I Need A Hero!: The (Fabulous) Power of GrayskullBy Shawn Baker / Wednesday, September 12th, 2007
Outing. It’s not just for politicians, celebrities, pro athletes, and your dad anymore. You don’t even have to be three dimensional to have people wondering which way you swing.
Cartoon characters are facing the same laser intensity of gaydar as anyone else in the public eye.
What was the deal with Snagglepuss? Did little Jonny Quest have two daddies? Were Vanity and Hefty the gayest of the already queer manly commune known as the Smurfs?
And didn’t The Peanuts‘ Peppermint Patty and Marcie seem different than the frillier girl members of the Charlie Brown posse? On some level we’ve always suspected that the tastes of Scooby-Doo ‘s Velma Dinkley leaned more toward Josie & The Pussycats than Thundarr The Barbarian.
Few characters elicit the amount of near-unanimous speculation as the Reagan Era phenom He-Man does. For grade schoolers in the 80s more taken with Dick than Jane, He-Man & The Masters of The Universe was weekly catnip. Years later we’re sure the series meant to present us with a robust action hero who could teach us valuable life lessons. What we really appreciate it for are the curvaceous bodies- rotoscoped over actual bodybuilder models- swaggering toward the camera, the brazen flexing, rippling limbs grappling in combat, and shots being framed from the back between clenched asses and gigantic thighs.
Promotional campaigns like an overwrought Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float, a Meet ‘n’ Greet Universal Studios event, and the spectacularly campy He-Man Power Tour musical extravaganza gave us the chance to see tanned and bleached musclemen enacting the real thing. In every audience there were gay kids connecting their Underoos-concealed erections with the sight of a bulked-up blond in a chest harness who was probably doing double duty as a centerfold in Blueboy or Stallion. Even the misfire 1987 movie adaptation had the sole grace of groin-tingling Swedish hard body Dolph Lundgren. With all this corporate-sponsored beefcake being fed to us during our formative years, is it any wonder that the new wave of 90s Gays came flooding out of their closets with a collective battle cry of defiance against the values of Reagan America?
The world conjured up by He-Man plays like a sexed-up Oz, that fabled Gay Mecca drawing misfits from the dreary Heartland we’re all supposed to love but can’t wait to get the hell out of. Eternia is a colorful place where everyone owns a Bowflex and the universal form of dress is a fusion of Greco-Roman Centurion meets Modern Primitive Fetish Gear. Stephen Colbert memorably named the beloved The Wizard of Oz as one of his condemned “Movies That Are Destroying America” for its shameless furthering of the Gay Agenda. Eternia-as-Oz jives with his hilariously ironic tirade against the film. It’s a non-conformist fantasy land populated by ethical scientists, independent women, immigrants, single adoptive fathers, environmental activists, queer talking animals, and a gay savior with a Prince Valiant hairstyle uniting them all.
He-Man’s alter-ego Prince Adam can be christened the Son of Dorothy/Judy. His mother is an intrepid redhead astronaut blown off-course by an asteroid storm who crash lands on a strange world and ascends to the throne as Queen rather than opting to return to boring sepia-toned Earth. Adam- “a headstrong teenager with a nose for trouble” and privy to “fabulous secret powers”- is regarded as effete and ditzy in his mundane form. Certainly Adam’s costume is a main source for debate regarding his likely orientation: a petal-pink vest, white body-hugger tunic, lavender tights, and fuschia boots come off like neon signs to mark him as a total violet. As He-Man, he’s a colossus with a West Hollywood make over, gym-built and perma-tan to epic proportions.
He-Man’s cadre of friends mirrors Dorothy’s trusty gang of oddballs. Amazonian Teela is the Scarecrow, the most existential and in-search-of-herself, the doer of the group. Armor-clad Man-At-Arms fills the role of the sturdy and pragmatic Tin Man. Adam’s sissified cat Cringer stands in for the Cowardly Lion and like Adam he receives the anabolic treatment to become the fearsome Battlecat. Little wizard Orko is the Toto-like mascot whose loyalty tips the scales in the heroes’ favor. When in need of counsel, the group is aided by the benevolent Glinda-esque Sorceress and her sage advice. Add to that the gang’s encounters with an insecure wizard, malefic witches, a diminutive people called the Widgets, and hostile flora and all you’re missing is a gingham loincloth and a pair of ruby-studded thigh-highs for our hero. That leaves Arch Villain Skeletor- equal parts Darth Vader, Dick Dastardly, and Vincent Price- to chew scenery as the Wicked Witch. When he isn’t gazing evilly into his crystal ball or unleashing his flock of flying robots to menace the land, he’s circling Castle Grayskull in his air cruiser that might as well be skywriting “Surrender He-Man!”.
It’s the dual identity aspect of the Superhero mythos that draws gay fanfare. He-Man and Adam are a dichotomy, one respected and adored, the other scolded and marginalized. Angst is key; Adam longs for his father’s approval and can only get it as an idealized man of valor, while He-Man desires to reveal his vulnerable self to friends and family in the hopes of being accepted. He’s effectively “out” to only a small close-knit support base who can empathize with him and keep his confidences, a metaphor for the fractured roles gays often assume just to get by in a bitterly callous world. Even the most courageous Superhero dreads the alienation of judgmental family and friends. Their lives like ours come with a heavy price tag for daring to be who they are.
And so He-Man has been adopted into our ranks in the New Millennium as he’s followed us into adulthood. Cartoons and gays aren’t exactly strangers anymore. The Ambiguously Gay Duo, Queer Duck, Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, South Park, Drawn Together, Family Guy, and The Simpsons all feature openly gay or “wink, wink”-style characters, some even daring to boast gay kids. The Moral Majority may joke derisively or lament the corruption of another childhood icon, but even as kids we sensed he was with us- someone who spoke to our experiences. If you’re out and about in a major city on Halloween or Gay Pride Day you just might cross paths with a buff specimen sporting a blond pageboy wig and poured into his barely-there He-Man get-up. Better yet if you can meet one who’s willing to don the outfit anytime you ask him to so that you can plunder his Castle Grayskull with your battering ram. In a dark age wherein the Legion of Doom known as the Bush Administration plots to imperil the gay citizenry at every turn, a shining gay champion standing on our front line is fast becoming as much a necessity as he is a nostalgic wet dream.
One of the most-requested DVD titles in recent years, “He-Man & The Masters of The Universe” has received the banner treatment courtesy of BCI Eclipse and is now available in a four-volume collector’s set boasting pristine picture and sound. Special features include: an expansive documentary with the series’ creators and animation team, DVD-Rom episode scripts, character profiles, animated storyboards with episode comparisons, select episode commentary tracks, and collectible art cards.
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