Thursday, March 24, 2011

I hate Jane, and I'm not alone

You know who royally annoys me? Jane from the Tarzan novels.

What did she ever do to deserve him, anyway? Apart from being the first white woman he ever saw.

The character suffered character-defining irreparable damage in the very first Tarzan book, Tarzan of the Apes, when she was confronted by a lion and fainted. That was one of the first really stressful situations she was ever introduced to, and that was how she was introduced to the audience. There were other books later on where the author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, tried to repair his obvious mistakes by making her a "little toughie," but never, really: Tarzan's sidekick Mugambi, a guy that unlike Jane was an interesting character the book series never did anything with, practically sacrificed himself to save her useless hide in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. There was even one book where Jane, finally, got an opportunity to help a safari, and that worked out about as well as you'd think it would. Apparently, there's nothing Jane can't ruin.

Jane's sense of privilege kept Tarzan from the things he loved. Tarzan was a misanthrope that hated civilization and its hypocrisies and would rather be away from it in his wilderness where he had the one thing he wants most in the world: freedom. But Jane was too much of a high maintenance Princess to live in trees and whatnot, and insisted that Tarzan wear human clothes like a gentleman and live with her in a giant estate house in Africa. Obviously Tarzan wasn't totally happy but he did it because it pleased her.

This isn't some unfair slant or reinterpretation of perfectly innocuous events. This is exactly what happened!

And it gets even worse! In Tarzan's Quest, Tarzan and his allies obtain the secret of immortality from a race of white savages. Which means she'll live forever and he'll never be free of her while more worthy mates for Tarzan grow old and die alone without him.

Thankfully, I'm not the only person in the world that hates Jane. I'm in good company: Jane Goodall was a big fan of the Tarzan books growing up and thought "she'd be a better mate for Tarzan than that other Jane." This is actually on her website, incidentally. Wow, and I thought I hated Jane. I find a lot of characters irritating but not enough to insert it into my official biography! Actually, Tarzan hooking up with an anthropologist and scientist is actually a really great idea and I'm surprised fanfiction never did anything with that.

(How about it, real person fic writers?)

Not only do I not like Jane that much, but neither did her creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs! Now that's really saying something, isn't it? He actually really wanted to kill her off back in Tarzan the Untamed, when Germans attacked and destroyed Tarzan's home (during the First World War). The whole book was about Tarzan getting sweet revenge on the Germans, history's great villains. However, there was an outcry from the audience (seriously?) and Burroughs revealed her death had been faked and she was actually a prisoner of the Germans.

This was awful, as there were many other women in Tarzan's novels that would have been worthier and more interesting: Bertha Kirschner, a competent, cool German superspy mystery woman that was a match for Tarzan. Because no good people could ever really be working for the Germans in these kinds of stories, she turned out to have been a double-agent all along. (For some unknown reason it's entered into Tarzan fans' heads that Bertha had these Princess Leia buns despite the fact her hairstyle was never really described. Talk about "fanon!")

Then there was La, who is every Tarzan fan's favorite character: a powerful queen of a lost civilization, she was a rip-off of H. Rider Haggard's She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, but this is not unique. An entire library could be filled with rip-offs of She, Dr. Fu Manchu, and Sherlock Holmes. As proof of La's popularity, I submit that I looked up La of Opar on google image search and found approximately five billion pieces of fan-art. Apparently, Frazetta's legacy is alive and well.

And why not? La adds ever-popular bondage dominatrix human sacrifice stuff to a series and concept that is already drenched with sublimated sex and hormones. That's what I always found interesting about Tarzan, that made him different from other squeaky-clean adventure characters: there was an element of sexuality and passion about it all that was made even more interesting by the fact it was all below the surface. The fact the Tarzan stories passed muster as young adult stories through censors despite the fact they were filled with bloody savage violence and barely controlled and not-explicit sexuality is a tribute to how dysfunctionally insane censorship laws are, and how neurotic American culture is on these subjects. Naked women performing human sacrifice on bronzed naked jungle studs is alright as long as no dirty words are spoken.

In one novel, Tarzan loses his memory and decides to live with La, something every fan wants to see. Naturally this was too good to last and the status quo was restored. Amnesia is one of those illnesses that happen a million times more frequently in adventure stories than real life, like Multiple Personality Disorder. Though it does happen in reality. Steve Wozniak, inventor of Apple, got amnesia after a plane crash.

There were strong implications La was, like Ayesha, an immortal. In fact, there were rumors of a legendary crossover story in the 1950s, licensed by the Burroughs estate, called Tarzan on Mars that would have featured Tarzan on the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs's other less famous and less interesting creation, the dying Mars of John Carter. Tarzan On Mars was unfortunately never published, but supposedly it would have revealed that La was from Mars, which would have explained her tremendous longevity as Martians live over a thousand years.

I even liked how the recent animated Tarzan series based on the Disney Tarzan movie made use of La, but it was a thrill to see her. She had outright magical powers, which was irritating. One mistake made in the Star Wars prequels was that the Jedi, who previously rarely used their abilities to the point they had real mystique, had so much less coolness and subtlety when the special effects budget meant they now could hurl rocks with their minds. Though I did like the way they merged La with the Leopard-Men, a cult of African witch doctors that wore leopard skins for murder, an idea that was fascinating in concept but was doomed by being in easily the worst of all the Tarzan novels.

Finally, there was Nemone from Tarzan and the City of Gold, a horrible queen followed everywhere by an evil lion she feeds human flesh. Obviously she was too evil and unredeemable to be a serious mate for him but it is proof positive when I say these books were horny and sex-filled: Tarzan's enemies overwhelmingly tend to be powerful women that want to have sex with him. These books, passed on for generations as popular wholesome adventure literature for boys and girls, are the greatest joke ever played on censorship lovin', uptight American parents.

Incidentally, I always had a fan theory that Nemone's lion was her daemon, like in the His Dark Materials books, a person's soul on the outside of their body. The horrible, bloodthirsty lion reflected who this glamorous but savage woman was at the core. And it would explain why she instantly died when her lion was killed.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Denis Sergoviskiy sighting!

Unlike most Americans, I didn't watch the Superbowl. Not just because of my workload for my masters thesis, but also because I was far too heartbroken about the Jets crashing and tripping right on the finish line that I couldn't bear to watch.

Starting at 0:20, however, there's a Kia commercial featuring Denis, where he plays some kind of wealthy yacht-owning supervillain. He seemed to have slimmed down a bit, which is a shame. Muscular and humorless, Denis would make a fantastic action movie supervillian, opposing the likes of underdog heroes like Bruce Willis.

I'm trying to figure out what the message of this ad is. If you own a Kia, people will try to steal it? They're trying to brand the Kia with adventure and excitement in our minds, all the while avoiding discussions of the car's actual attributes. Because nothing says adventure like a low-end car juxtaposed with the sea-god Poseidon.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Only I know what's wrong with bodybuilding today!

I found this video on YouTube a while back and it blew my mind for many reasons.

It brought to mind several points I've had about bodybuilding as a spectator sport for a long time.

1) Female bodybuilding is generally more interesting to watch than male bodybuilding, because of costumes, panache and so on.

2) Bodybuilding in many foreign countries is more interesting to watch than the totally dead and lifeless North American stage, because they supplement their routines with non-flexing, displays of athleticism, dance and gymnastics. Also, the choices of music are more interesting in foreign countries. It blew my mind to see Asian bodybuilders flex to classical music as opposed to Iron Maiden. And bodybuilders from Russia like Denis Sergovisky also double as acrobats with state-sponsored circus and athletic training.

The problem as I see it, with bodybuilding is this: it's booooooooring.

For my American readers, remember the Superbowl a few years ago? It featured the undefeated New England Patriots, a team that got off Scott-free when accused of cheating, the most hated team in sports since the heyday of the Oakland Raiders. The unvanquished Patriots played against an underdog team. And not to spoil it for everyone, but the underdogs beat 'em while the whole country cheered.

That's what's missing from bodybuilding today: unpredictability. This is why people just don't care about bodybuilding.

At the Mr. Olympia this year, I rooted for the underdog Kai Greene. I always thought he was the best looking heavyweight, and a bit of a nut, a real genius eccentric with a lot of likability. But he wasn't going to win ever, so what's the point of my rooting for him? What's the point in even following? Yawn.

A while back I wrote about how in the early 1990s MacMahon created the World Bodybuilding Federation because bodybuilding itself was unbelievably dull and a lot of people were just not happy. What blows my mind is how nothing really changed in 20 years, and attendance crowds for bodybuilding events are dwindling. Don't quote me on this but I strongly suspect that female bodybuilding will evaporate in at least a decade because it has all the problems of a hard to take seriously woman's sport mixed with the problems of bodybuilding. This is a gut-level intuition, but I strongly suspect figure classes are being introduced to eventually replace true female bodybuilders.

When was the last time that a nobody came from nowhere and won a bodybuilding championship? Bob Paris comes to mind - I understand he was homeless at the time of his first victory at 24 years old. Perhaps Finland's Kike Elomaa (remember her? Yeah, I don't either...though she beat Rachel McLish and I understand is something of an object of a cult in her native Finland).

The problem is there's no drama in many ways to bodybuilding contests because it's based on hard work on the run-up to a contest. Bodybuilding contests are often decided weeks before the fact, since it takes years and years, possibly decades, to develop a contest-worthy, winning body. Someone that couldn't win one year is unlikely to win the year afterward because the pace of gaining mass and proportions is so damn slow.

In many ways, bodybuilding reminds me a little of poetry, in the sense that more people write poetry than read and publish it. Most people who follow bodybuilding want to be bodybuilders themselves or work in the fitness industry in some way. I remember an interview with Theodore Sturgeon where he complained about getting fan mail from people wanting advice as aspiring young science fiction writers.

"I don't have any fans. Just 700 people that want my job."

Finally, the last factor that makes bodybuilding hard to take an interest in the fact it's a judged sport and therefore has all the subjectivity problems of judged sports like figure skating. Except even in figure skating there's at least some excitement because of the possibility of someone tripping.

Take a bicep that comes to a point or a peak. This is a genetic thing, and some have it and others don't. Would that add points or subtract? It depends on the judge's definition of the ideal male body.

And then there's the corruption and the role the Weiders play in defining the sport. Every sport has its share of laughable corruption and rigging, from Major League Baseball to the notoriously crooked FIFA, but that's made all the more outrageous and enraging because of the subjectivity and lack of transparency in bodybuilding judging. Cory Everson is a great athlete, beautiful woman and ambassador for the sport, but she won all those times because she was in the Weider's back pocket. No one, realistically, was ever going to beat her for that reason. Then there's the famous and slimy story about how in 1980 the great Serge Nubret was denied his one great chance at the championship over a puffy Schwarzenegger that had looked better and wasn't really prepared.

Finally, I've made the argument before so I won't repeat it in full here, but because bodybuilding has become a niche market, it's started to speak its own language and no longer relates to the greater world. You can see that with magazines like Muscular Development which are all about wink-wink non-endorsement endorsement of juicing. In the beginning, bodybuilding was about having an ideal male body that even outsiders would admire. Something went seriously wrong when it became all about mass as opposed to proportionality, which scares people off (like women - imagine that, right?).

If Ron Coleman's bloated pregnant belly build is what's wrong with male bodybuilding, the problem is a billion times worse with the women. If male bodies that are blocky and massive as opposed to Steve Reeves-esque sleek and attractive are not that great on men, it's much worse with women. I have no idea why Pumping Iron II: the Women isn't more commercially available because it's a documentary that shows the exact moment that women's bodybuilding took a wrong turn. Bev Francis, who came from a powerlifting background, set the worst of all female bodybuilding precedents by being a mass monster, when no woman bodybuilder had ever been that big before. She made sheer size more important than aesthetics and women's bodybuilding has never entirely recovered.

At the end of the day, bodybuilding is about aesthetics as opposed to sheer size, about the ideal male and female body. And in the case of women, the ideal body can't necessarily be confused with size.

(Incidentally, I fully expect most of the responses to take exception to this point as opposed to my saying bodybuilding is boring to follow, because that's pretty much inarguable.)

The bottom line is that if a sport is dull people won't follow and it won't be any more than just a niche. MMA fans, I hate to say this, but your sport will never get a wider audience because it's just plain dull. MMA emerged from full-contact kickboxing, which came out of the dissatisfaction a lot of Martial Artists had with traditional contest judging, which valued form over power and effectiveness. So they married a lot of Eastern martial arts training to Western techniques like boxing footwork and weight training. But the end result of this is just dull to watch because, like most real fistfights, MMA fights tend to end on the ground in a grappling match where nothing moves that resembles nothing more than really bad gay porn. Thirty seconds of explosive movement followed by 15 minutes where you might as well just get up and go to the concession stand.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Paul Wynter, "L'Ercule Noir"

Handsome, symmetrical Antiguan-born Paul Wynter was, along with Serge Nubret (from Hercules and the Rebel Slave), one of the few black bodybuilders in Sword n' Sandal pictures. Paul Wynter's trademark outfit was his leopard-print bathing suit that called attention to his ethnicity...a gimmick that Scary Spice would later borrow during her pop years in the gay nineties.

Like his fellow Italian Sword & Sandal muscle star Alan Steel, Paul Wynter was also pretty short and it got downright unintentionally funny how the directors and others went out of their way to avoid demonstrating his average height. What Paul Wynter lacked in height he made up for with what is easily one of the most devastatingly chiseled and symmetrical physiques ever.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, Paul Wynter played Maciste's brawny sidekick and ally in what was quite possibly the weirdest and campiest of the Maciste films, "Son of Hercules Against the Mole Men."

He was also the very dramatic heavy against Gordon Scott in "Atlas in the Land of the Cyclops," which incidentally, also featured scenes with a baby that would later grow up to be Fabio. Yes, that Fabio.

As an aside, I always wondered why more Peplum films didn't have muscular enemies for the heroes to fight on equal terms, like Godzilla vs. Mothra. As with Westerns made in the same era, one of the problems with Peplum as a genre is that the villains were never as compelling or interesting, and they are very seldom threatening or powerful, especially compared to the handsome muscle hero downright assured of victory against scheming, craven and downright bad foes. At least Paul Wynter's physique gave Maciste a credible, villainous threat.

Typically, it's good storytelling advice that if you want to be a slacker, ignore your hero and concentrate all your industriousness on your villain.

There are some counterexamples to this. For instance, Paul Wynter's leopardskin baddie was more interesting than the hero, and there was the vampiric, shapechanging Kobrak from Goliath Against the Vampires, and the race of identical Atlantean clones made from the blood of Uranus (don't ask) in classic MST3K fodder in Hercules and the Captive Women, who were at least powerful and credible enemies that could mop the floor with Herc. Perhaps it was the power and shock of their introduction, a surprise in an otherwise predictable movie.

Incidentally, Paul Wynter recently received a major award in his native Antigua from the Governor-General. Being of Cuban descent, I know exactly what that's like: little countries do everything in their power to honor anyone that makes it in the bigger world. Us Cubans for instance, never shut our traps about Dr. Carlos Finlay, who cured Malaria during the Spanish-American War.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

WBF - World Bodybuilding Federation

The single most brilliant musician friend that I ever knew wanted to be a pianist, but she loathed the very idea of being a concert pianist, with the two-tailed coat and the white gloves. She wanted to play in t-shirts and jeans and show how piano and classical music could mean something to ordinary people without all the forced, phony conventions that come along with concert music, that it could be something fun and for everybody.

The mentality of a lot of classical concert fans can best be summarized by the sentence "hey, stop having fun, guys!" In fact, come to think of it that could also apply to the dull and stodgy world of bodybuilding.

I was reminded a little of that when I heard about the WBF - World Bodybuilding Federation, a bodybuilding league and competition created by Vince MacMahon, the panache filled huckster and showman responsible for the WWF (and more applicably, the XFL - a better metaphor for this bodybuilding league). A detailed history of the league, and one of the best blog reads in some time, can be found here.

The WBF was an insanely surreal carnival version of broadcast bodybuilding with bodybuilders adopting weird personas. For example, Tony Pearson had been an actual pilot and so his "character" came out with pilot goggles and gloves and so on as he did the usual bodybuilding flex and grind. There were catwalks that glowed, lots of arm candy girls, fireworks, and smoke bombs detonated in the background. Everyone had a "persona." The professional wrestling school applied to the WBF, where lots of effort was made to turn bodybuilders into not just athletes but superstars. And then there was the narration, which can best be described as YELLING, the kind of color commentary expected of Professional Wrestling. It's so different from the two stodgy dweebs in a booth prattling about "symmetry."

Tony Pearson I must admit, was something of a sensation. The narration insisted that he was "drug free," a claim that is usually worth a belly laugh and not much more. Though I am inclined to believe it in the case of the WBF for the same reason I believe it in American Gladiators: they're under far too much scrutiny to not play conservatively.

I hate to admit it, but I kind of like it all. I've often admired bodybuilding in other cultures like Korea because they don't just do the usual, graveyard-boring "stage where people flex to speed metal."

The WBF had a grand total of two competitions, in 1991 and 1992 and Gary Strydom won both. Here's an area where professional bodybuilding and this bizarre carnival converge: people win not so much because they are necessarily the best but because they have the connections. Gary Strydom was approached to wrestle by MacMahon, who had charisma, but Strydom turned him dwn. This is not too different really from the situation in "real" bodybuilding. Cory Everson is a great athlete but she only really won all those times because she was in the Weider's back pocket, after all. In that sense WBF is more like "real" bodybuilding than anyone would care to admit.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Statue criticized for having an enormous penis

In Jamaica, the "Redemption Song" statue is dedicated to the end of slavery. Instead of chain-breaking and other cliche imagery, the statue chose to show the awe and relief of freedom.

But the guy has a gigantic dick.

Reporters have really filthy minds when they dedicate themselves to it, and they really like to play games...even in the super-serious British press. The first time I realized this was way back with discarded Senator Rick Santorum, who because of his famous anti-gay sentiments received the honor of a gross sex fluid named after him. Man, it was downright hilarious to see newspaper articles work hard to slip in double-entendre phrases like "frothy" and "worked into a froth." It was like the reporters were playing a game with each other: who could put in the most sex references to Santorum without actually getting caught.

The coverage of the statue, when it was unveiled, focused entirely on the immense penis. It was like the reporter was constantly having to hide a giggle.

The thing that makes this so beautiful is that the statue's prudish critics can be accused of penis envy. Count the number of times the word "inadequacy" is used.

For the most part, the controversy surrounding the statue at its opening has died down and it's a regular part of the city, on every tourist brochure. No one really cares anymore.

Despite the laid-back reputation of Jamaicans for sex, sun and pot-smoking, according to the Guinness Book of World's Records, Jamaica has more churches per mile than any other nation. It doesn't surprise me that the most sexy and interesting monument would come from a culture that at its heart is conservative. There is such a thing as being too casual about sex and bodies, so that all the fun is taken out of it. Ever seen Norway's Vigeland Sculpture Park? There's a nation that is comfortable about sex and nudity that its art is entirely boring, unidealized and straight-up square, with old women and fragile old men.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Visit a Photomanip Blog

I generally don't like photomanips for the same reason that I don't like most muscle growth themed art: a lot of artists don't quite understand that the best kind of photomanips, the most believable sort, are small, subtle twists for more pleasing proportions, and "extreme" level photomanips fall into the "uncanny valley," where something is obviously fake and your mind rebels against the idea.

Also, with the near-universal availability of programs like photoshop, there are a lot more bad photomanipulators than good ones.

With the blog BigDudes, the very best photomanips are the most recent ones where he just tweaks them for masculine dimensions instead of inflating them grotesquely. It's actually possible to see him improve: the first few images are unrecognizable masses of grunting overstuffed bulges, whereas the recent ones are sleek, unbelievably massive and well proportioned. Perhaps I don't "get" photomanips as well as others do, but I like to think for a woman I'm more visual about sexuality and attraction than normal. However, it is true that with any celebrity or photographed figure, the more they're airbrushed the worse things get.

Special emphasis should be paid to some of his more robust muscle posteriors and backs. This blog is definitely one to watch for.