Failed Mystics (Ep. 114: Buffy, X-Men, He-Man, and Lwaxana Troi)

This Week's Guest: Anthony Oliveira

Have you ever been lucky enough to enjoy the sensation of villainy? My guest this week is Anthony Oliveira, who you might also know for his incisive tweeting as Meakoopa. Anthony's always felt a sympathy for monsters and villains -- or at least, the figures assumed to be monsters and villains -- even before he was old enough to realize that he might be considered one himself.

This Week's Recommendation: Bowser

Thanks again to Anthony for joining me and for his neverending stream of excellent tweets, which you can find at meakoopa. And that brings me to this week's recommendation -- not a book or movie or song or any kind of text, but a character. Specifically Bowser, the king of the Koopas, and an unlikely gay icon.

Let me explain.

Bowser's been around since 1985, and for those early first few years, he was depicted as your standard pixelated 8-bit monster. But as games moved into 3D and we started seeing him rendered in more detail, Bowser seems to have caught the eye of a certain fandom. He's big and burly, with leather spiked cuffs on his forearm and a perpetually wide stance. So of course, as Bowser entered his thirties, along with his earliest fans, he's become something of a heart throb.

This reached a sort of a peak in 2014, with a commercial where he was depicted in a cute polka-dot jacket with hipster glasses, and then again earlier this year when he was depicted as a responsible dad. 

As a result, it's now easy to find loving fan art, ranging from the chaste to the filthy, lovingly portraying Bowser as a sort of perfect boyfriend. My favorite is when he's styled as a "nerd dad," wearing dorky square glasses and a blazer, a tough-looking hunk with a secretly tender heart. But if you want something more explicit, I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding that, too. 

I'll always love when a character gets queered, but I'm particularly delighted by the queering of Bowser -- not just because big nerd dads are my type, but also because making him a dreamboat is about as queer as it gets. In his original incarnation, he was a literal monster, a mindless avatar for evil and fear. Turning him into various admirable gay tropes, from leather daddy to porn star to cool gay uncle, subverts every rule about what a bad guy's supposed to be -- namely, bad.

And if there's a sexy queer future awaiting the fire-breathing lizard as he matures, well, there's hope for any of us.

Clips of Stuff We Talked About



Parisian Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

I Was About to Lose my Mind - (Ep. 113 - Dave Holmes)

This Week's Guest: Dave Holmes

My guest this week is Dave Holmes, who you might know from the podcast International Waters, or his articles in Esquire, or his book Party of One. I first saw Dave on MTV, in a proto-reality show competition to become a VJ back in the late 90s. On screen, it was clear that Dave was the most qualified, most knowledgable, and most engaging contestant, with an encyclopedia knowledge of music and an infectious passion for talking about it. But what nobody who was watching could know was that for Dave, entering that competition was an urgent bid to change the course of his life before he went absolutely crazy.

This Week's Recommendation: Mame

Thanks again to Dave for joining me. Check out his podcast International Waters, and his book, Party of One, now out in Paperback. The book's a memoir, structured around 21 songs that were pivotal in his adventuresome life. And as he mentioned, those adventures nearly didn't happen, since he grew up believing that his passion for art and culture and expression was something that had to be put away as an adult.

For my recommendation this week, take a look at the movie Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell, later remade with Lucille Ball. I think the original non-musical version is more fun, but the important thing is the message of both -- that famous line, "life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death."

Mame is a flamboyant New York socialite, the kind of woman who knows where every good party is happening because she's it's not a good party unless she's there. Her nephew Patrick is tragically conventional, and the story unfolds we see Mame's indomitable spirit gradually overtake Patrick's cringing conventionality, singlehandedly stoking the family's optimism and excitement for adventures that might lay ahead.

Like Peter Pan or Puff the Magic Dragon, Mame's a guardian to a world of imagination and curiosity. But unlike them, she doesn't shut the door to that world when you reach a certain age. Life doesn't have to stop being a banquet when you become an adult. And even through growing up does require some measure of responsibility, growing up doesn't have to mean giving up.

Clips of Stuff we Talked About



Parisian Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Beauty in Trash (Ep. 112 - Bruce Vilanch)

This Week's Guest: Bruce Vilanch

Have you ever surprised yourself with what you were able to get away with? This week's guest is writer and comedian Bruce Vilanch, who's been slipping sly queer jokes into our entertainment since before some of us were even born. Starting out as a writer for great divas of the 1970s and then moving on to variety shows, the Oscars, and a notorious holiday special, Bruce provided a subtle queer infusion into American showbiz for decades. And this week we'll talk about how he managed to get away with it.

Bruce's big showbiz break came when Bette Midler came to town. As an arts reporter in Chicago, he reviewed her show -- and was surprised to get a call from Bette thanking him for his coverage.

"You should talk more," he told her.

"You got any good lines?" she asked. He did, and she hired him.

From there, it was on to Hollywood, where he was delighted to slip subtle gay innuendo into programs like The Brady Bunch variety specials. The Star Wars Holiday Special was a particularly bizarre assignment, coming to him with outlandish requirements that he did his best to accommodate and that have now elevated it to cult status. 

"Did you feel exasperated that you couldn't say gay?" I asked him during our chat.

"It was challenging," he replied. "It wasn't frustrating because it hadn't been done. ... That was a couple years off."

Nevertheless, he still delighted in the sly gay references he was able to place in shows like Hollywood Squares. "It was 'inside,' we called it," he said. "The ones who get it will laugh and the ones who don't will say 'what was that?' Because you knew that, you had to apportion what you did, you had to pick where you did the jokes."

This Week's Recommendation: Rose's Turn

Thanks again to Bruce for joining me for what was an extremely enjoyable chat. I recorded this interview on a brief trip to Los Angeles, a city that has a reputation for conversations that are not always entirely straightforward. So I really appreciate how unguarded and open Bruce was when we spoke.

Personal honesty of any kind can be a challenge -- especially when taking stock of your whole life. For this week's recommendation, check out Bette Midler in the 1993 version of Gypsy -- and pay particular attention to the show-stopping song Rose's Turn, the culmination of a life spent repressing desires. Without giving away too much, Gypsy is, to me, a show about women with dreams that aren't always apparent to those around them, and the different ways that those woman answer or refuse the call of those dreams.

When Bette belts out her meltdown in Rose's Turn, it comes with a fury of having spent a lifetime denying herself, breathlessly realizing that denying herself has been torture not just for her, but for those around her who are ultimately driven away.

There are various ways that different productions of Gypsy have concluded: some bleak, with Rose's growing madness, and others optimistic with the possibility of reconciliation. The Bette version is my favorite, I think because it suggests that there's power in catharsis, in honesty, and admitting out loud the things we've always been scared to hear ourselves say.

Clips of Stuff we Talked About


Parisian Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0