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jeudi 24 novembre 2011

INTRODUCTION: Excerpt NUMBER TWO from "My American Family - In One Era, Out the Other" by BillyBoy*

“BillyBoy*, artist and cocksucker” was, infact, a statement written at some point in bold Helvetica on one of my business cards. I am a cocksucker, that part was easy. Hard cock was always a real pleasure for my oral fixations, I was an abandoned child after all. The artist part however took a while to understand and develope. I was manufactured and came out on the market in the year 1960 on March the 10th. Double Pisces, extrême and psychic, créative, intuitive, if not focused on interested can be a wreck and highly, for better or worse emotional or if not dead cold indifferent. This story also is a bit of proof for the Chaos Theory they use in meterology. My birth, my adoption, is such a big fat and hard to understand story for me that to this day I have little to go on about my real origins, parents, family and even place of birth. Supposedly, it's Vienna, technically, it is address unknown. I have almost no recollection of actual beings, besides my in and out glamorous aunts and uncles (most were supposedly real, but all men were uncles, all women were aunts) and if my childhood memories could be compared to a sport score, it would be humans nil, objects and toys one hundred points. The title of this book, refers to the objects which became my family. I have such poor memories of my adopted parents, all I can recall them as is Female Parent and Male Parent. I know they must have loved me, they gave me so much. I am pretty sure I loved them, I think. I was born without roots of any kind.

Cocks, frocks and crooks, the wonderful lie of the 1960s, early in life there was to be a fairly quick introduction to a cavalcade of such. Thank you to the era I lived in. It was a peak moment for the 20th-century (a year in which the only drawback was that Howdy Doody was taken off the airwaves). I was literally, as Miss Diana Ross sang, a "Love Child" and it was the moment when the beatniks would become Wishniks and the next twenty, thirty, forty years would produce a culture (pronounced CULL-TYOUR) that would conservatively be called wacky, and influence the entire world for generations to come and turn everyone gay. As early as four years old I would, like a hell bent amoeba, absorb the Mr. Potato Head philosophy of the times and pounce and ingest anything that came on the idiotbox TV in the, as I paraphrase Harvey Fierstein, “fictional” city in New York State, where I grew up. The Flintstones, Gumby, Cecil (not Beaton, but a clearly homosexual green sea serpent in a relationship with an odd young boy named "Beany"), and Madison Avenue ad exec's imaginings (that would end up as animated films of cajoling phallic-symbol hotdogs and clitoris-shaped popcorns with smile-y faces at drive-in movies) were all blended together to become a memory that I call "My American Family". The sixties and American pop culture were very homo. It has been a love/hate relationship from the day I landed there.

I am quite sure that a number of people can admit to having been seduced at a young age by that colourful, plastic, young, and fresh World's Fair atmosphere of childhood in the 1960s and have not been able to shake it. I’m talking about the Western world, the occident, notably the USA and Europe. Some of the world’s leading young designers, artists (that word!), and writers have evolved their style from an era that was so vastly different from anything prior - not just in the amazing fast forward technological "achievements," but the mix 'n' match morals that went along with them. What we call fashion and culture today is thanks to some of those who grew up in the 1960s. Those morals. Well, at least they seemed like morals at the time - or were they only television commercials? It's so long ago, but, why, it seems like yesterday! The babyboom, likened to an atomic one, was an era of quirky perfection. It was the only era when a bourgeoise nightmare Barbie doll could have been invented and exist, when "those who think" were the only ones who were acknowledged as thinking beings. Barbie was a dangerous message for me. She fucked with my mind. For a long time. Where the rest of the unthinking world were, well, that was not discussed.

In spite of this unclear expression of morals, the advantage in it was the dream it gave the whole world, and the residue of this fantasy actually was turned a number of decades later into a true expression of a way of life - sometimes bitter, sometimes nostalgic and reassuring. The 21st-century generation of these former babyboom children, in spite of the drawbacks of the false images of perfection they were weaned on, can undeniably be seen projecting and reiterating these images over and over and over. Although the psychiatric term “neurotic” is no longer a valid definition of a pathology, I think the neurosis of the 1960s are still extremely well-felt and present in 21st-century behaviour, just worse thanks to internet and cellphones and text messages.

My earliest recollections, as a naïve and sortof gay Gerald Mc Boing-Boing, are those of Spic 'n' Span commercials, which I'd confuse with the opening of the Felix the Cat cartoon. "Your heart will go pitter-pat" was somehow received as "your heart will go Spic 'n' Span". And what did Spic 'n' Span mean? I suppose it was those biomorphic mirrory gleams around the smiling bust of Felix that, in their oppressive joy, I would imagine as the physical proof of cleanliness.

Cartoons are clean, it's true. Spic 'n' Span was the way everything should be. "Whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks..." I was sure that we could all do that. Instant cleanliness. Moral Number One: always be clean or always seem to be clean. People always seemed clean. I believed EVERYTHING! Take Mr. Bubble for example. Friendly, happy, ethereal Mr. Bubble, a bubble you could trust, a bubble that was pure goodness, pure love. Not at all like mercenary Ajax Scrubber bubbles with their bubbleland über ales rantings. Even though they were cute, they were a teensy bit too aggressive and narrow-minded. Mr. Bubble was the quintessential embodiment of the spiritual, all that was pious and NICE (the key word here!). "He has a bubbly face and a bubbly nose, Mr. Bubble. He’ll bubble you clean wherever he goes, Mr. Bubble. He'll bubble your face and bubble your chin. It's much fun when you're in Mr. Bubble!"

One of Bubble's earthly messengers, Mr. Clean (who looked like an obsessive Yul Brenner) spread the joy, the power, the pleasures of the gospel of such devices of goodness as was Crazy Foam and Fuzzy Wuzzy Soaps. Mr. Bubble spread the word, and he sure knew how to sing. He represented the fluid, moving, and ever-changing structure of the cosmos, of all that was, is, and that will be. The fact that he was a product made very little difference to me. As a matter of fact, it made him closer to home, more accessible, familiar and not so scary. It was ATTRACTIVE. It was a really heavy trip. Obviously, it was to embark on a long, weird, and clean adventure.

I remember one of my first "products." In a time when consumerism wasn't a dirty world and right before the concept would blossom into the ultimate experience, I, like any healthy-minded child, craved products, or reasonable facsimiles thereof. My handle on reality was a very realistic miniature washing machine. White plastic in the perfect image of Raymond Loewy's dream machine, it glowed with the presence and significance that only an objet d'art could. Deep in meaning, the Maytag school, like the Motorola, Kodak, and Zenith schools were contemporary leitmotiv. How happy I was with my product. My very own product.

At the 1964/65 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens (one of the most significant memories in my life along with the movies Barbarella and Casino Royale), the General Electric Hall of Appliances captured my imagination totally - the vista of "easy living" conveniences of the near future held all the mystery and magic imaginable. I was thrilled by the smell of rubber and the sound of enamel against enamel as gussied up housewives' lacquered nails tapped at refrigerators and electric ranges with a sort of sceptical admiration. The flourescent lighting, not yet disturbing, glided to a halt against Formica's newest shades, better known as "tones”.

It was after my initiation into the joys of industrial design that I became hooked on it. "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?" I needed more products. It'd stare endlessly into a local toy emporium's window at a tiny hand-sized Hoover vacuum. It became almost sinister. Lurking around, stealing glimpses at this temptation with aerodynamic lines, I craved it. I fell into a depression of desire. So not to pine away, I was offered the diminutive mechanism and was literally "left to my own devices" A pattern emerged and soon followed a miniature faux electric can opener (with small Del Monte cans and their plastic lids), small Brillo boxes, a small electric range where I'd create delicacies with "Silly Putty" and a self-defrosting refrigerator with ice-cube trays.

Easy-Bake Oven allowed one to make one's own junk food - baked by the heat of a light bulb and industrialized by pans which slid through the oven like an assembly line. I had a bunch of Suzy Homemaker toys, like the stove, the iron to burn holes in my clothes, the fabulously dangerous but very appealing Sweet Shoppe set which let you make lollipops, chocolate bars, flavoured ice shavings in cones and malteds, and the rest of the kitchen units. I was, surprisingly, even given a Suzy Homemaker vanity table because I was as the ads on tv said I could be the “queen of your home”. Sitting on the plastic pouf and looking at myself in the three-way mirror of the cream plastic 18th-century-ish form of the vanity, I’d use Male Parent’s vaseline to slick my hair back like the gayboy I was should. (The smell of vaseline to this day brings these moments back to me, though, I don’t get to smell it often and infact when I saw it recently at a chemists I bought some just for nostalgia's sake). I had these toys all right, but somehow, the sissy name Suzy Homemaker and the bilious turquoise green of most of the toys somehow, bizarrely, did not appeal to me. I like the Hasbro Frosty Ice Cream Machine (I think Cazwell did too) as well which was very boyish compared to these girl-y kitchen things. Nonetheless, I preferred my fascinatingly bright-coloured Colorform's Miss Cookie's Kitchen whose off-register pots and pans I'd bring to my first school in a candy tin and a small piece of costume jewelery. And Miss Cookie’s Playroom and Miss Cookie’s Moon Kitchen blasted me off into orbit. How normal was that? It clearly was gay.

The very first year of the 1960s was a tumultuous one and the decade came in with a bang or at least the threat of one - a big one! America was atom bomb crazy. Known as the "A" bomb, it is parallel to an "A" party in its impact and long-lasting effects. It was feared, revered, and commercialized, as was every nuance of the new decade's young culture. Bomb shelters were the "in" thing, or rather the thing to be "in". Perhaps America was taking need of the company Fred Flintstone worked for, the Rock Head and Quarry Cave Construction Co., whose motto was "Own Your Own Cave and Be Secure." Suddenly, everyone claimed to be having plumbing repaired and underground lawn sprinklers installed. As many as one thousand shelters a week were reportedly sold by late 1961. "If the Bomb Falls" pamphlets arrived in the mail, advertising a purchasable record of the same name giving the impression that just like in grade school, bells would ring everywhere and everyone would drop everything. Solemnly yet efficiently, all would run, just like Dorothy's family in the The Wizard of Oz to an underground waiting room.

The big bomb was thought of in as stylized terms as Wall Explosion by Roy Lichtenstein. People had the fantasy that they would all go underground for weeks. (Which was about as long as food and essentials that were stored could hold out), play Parchesi (games and amusements for children were an actual Fallout Shelter equipment recommendation) and eat yummy canned food. They expected then, like butterflies, to emerge into an enemy free-world. An apparel shop sold "bright, warm, comfortable things" to lounge about in and suggested "gay slacks and a dress with a cape that could double as a blanket." Waiting in the shelter took on the mood of a mere inconvenient interruption of daily life, which, like waiting for "Fire and Ice" nail polish to dry, was necessary but annoying. The "duck and cover" routine became a sick game in schools and as entertaining as the Mexican Hat Dance during school assembly pageants. The peculiar yellow and black triangular bomb shelter logo might as well have been a Robert Indiana painting or a companion to the"Woolmark" label by Francisco Saroglia. Designer shelters made the important point, "Be Comfortable...why be drab about your shelter when it costs no more to survive in style?" And if that were not the ultimate, absurdity was taken to exquisite new heights when in these odd sort of "wreckrooms" on the shelves behind the Velveta cheese spread and the Del Monte canned turnips were polaroid-lensed harlequin glasses to "watch the blast". In a campaign against Barry Goldwater, the little girl picking the petals of her daisy one second in Lyndon Johnson's TV commercial of 1964 was vaporized a few seconds later by THE bomb, leaving one with the thought: "Why wasn't she in her shelter with her glasses, watching?"

Highlights for Children though, didn't precaution you for what you might see. Radioactive waste was a mythical substance, often imagined as a greenish fog and considered as harmful and at its worst in such epics as "The Horror of Beach Party" where teenagers turn into hideous creatures in bikinis (appropriately enough considering the origins of the name "bikini" for the "end of the world" attitude of the previous generation's atom bomb-fearing fashion victims). It didn't really seem so bad. At least it was not bad enough to stop "twisting the night away" on the very beach where the monsters dwelled according to the film. Other notions of radioactive fog seemed to affect vacationing suburbanites by diminishing their size along with plot credibility as in The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Actually any dimwit knew radioactive matter was a dust that you could simply brush away or vacuum up carefully. How could the public (let alone children) understand the sheer magnitude of radioactivity when in 1962 the world understood war as it was portrayed by Roy Lichtenstein with Takka Takka, surging destruction was a colourful, enthusiastic group participation project which, as with the accomplishment of the scientists on the Skip detergent box, joined men together, like a bunch of homos. The last World War's physical destruction for most Americans was simply something one read about over the morning's bacon and eggs. Surprisingly though, in less than two decades, America was resigned to passively accepting the idea of another war, and with the popularity of television war shows like "Combat!" and "The Rat Patrol" to think of it in big, old-fashioned, and romantic terms. These last years, comment.

G. I. Joe doll was a hero to most little boys. Playing with G.I.Joe was as exciting as getting to “home plate” with a girl - whatever that means - (even sex was made competitive and aggressive). The 12" plastic figure prepared little boys for all the "thrill of victory, the agony of defeat” and was a meaningful as the first time Dad sends sonny-boy to the local bordello. War in the early sixties was as glamorous as Marilyn Monroe and attracted just as many men. War was still a tremendous sexual turn-on and as convulsive and beckoning as it had been twice before in the century. War also made men gay (if they weren’t already).

One of the discoveries of the fallout shelter period was a darling little process known affectionately as "irradiating". Scientists, well-meaning folks that they are, came up with this idea during the time when the atoms were constantly on their minds, and the "Atom Ant" cartoon debuted on network television. They assumed there were fabulous things to be done with the new-found energy source (but of course we all now realize that this was just a holdover fantasy of their’s stemming from their days as children watching Buck Rodgers and Robby the Robot - both totally gay by the way. Irradiation was a system of exposing food to small doses of radiation which would destroy bacteria and spoilage-causing germs. In theory this would keep food fresher and preserve it longer. Ultimately they would be able to sell more of it and eliminate the waste of unsold perishables. Once again a brilliant example of profit-oriented experimentation with human lives, a twisted attempt in the ultimate direction of Jane Jetson's curious "foodarackacycle", a device which whipped up food instantly anytime and served four people, activated only by the simple gesture of a push of a button.

In 1963 The Saturday Evening Post enthused, "most experts agree that irradiated foods will be a part of the American diet within ten years. Refrigerators will continue to be a popular piece of kitchen furniture... but when it comes to steaks and chops, oranges and lemons, ‘atom fresh’ could become the slogan of tomorrow." So, with all that said and done in the media, the Food and Drug Administration allowed the United States Army to serve irradiated food to the U. S. troops, starting with bacon and fish. By 1968, though, they realized that radiation in food causes cancer. The FDA withdrew their AOK and thus irradiating became a thing of the past. The army and the Atomic Energy Commission put up a bit of a fight, as the money-saving and publicity would be missed. They would just have to settle for the references to atoms in furniture design and "Prell concentrated radiant shampoo”. In any case, I kept my 1964 World's Fair irradiated dime surrounded in cheerful blue and white plastic as a souvenir.

It was with the same sort of authority which invisibly loomed over you and dictated whether or not your food was irradiated or whether you should make a mad rush to your bomb shelter that media penetrated your daily life. Cool, calm, and nearly parental visuals and audio made you feel reassured and at the same time instilled insecurity in the weak-willed. Booming at you from all sides were narrators in documentaries, cartoons, commercials, and sitcom opening themes. The voiceover reigned supreme. Often they were purring, cloyingly feminine, other times, the acme of intelligence or manliness. Sometimes they just sounded gay.

Let us not forget deep baritone, authoritative voiceovers. Shouldn't everybody have their own voice-over, or at least musical accompaniments? Muzak Corporation would make a fortune with this idea. Just imagine if we could hear the appropriate musical accompaniments for our daily routines, think of the problems we could avoid. We all know what strident violin strings mean: a ghoulish, slimy monster is just about to grab you, or of course, the “Sunrise over Bedrock" flutes mean everything will be OK. Forget it when you hear that creepy "Twilight Zone" theme.

America has a great voice culture. That is to say, the voices on TV and radio project with urgency values within the society. One of the leading examples of this phenomenon is the soul, so-to-speak, of Judy Jetson. As Hanna-Barbera's 1960s futurama-esque moon maiden and typical teenage daughter of George Jetson exclaimed, "OOooo, Oom, Eep, Ork, OoOo," she typified the exuberant era. This vocal mastery was done by a friend I knew briefly Janet Waldo. The characterization has brought to American culture an ambience that not only was a success at its inception, but also later, as she became a cult figure with the cartoon's renewed popularity on Saturday morning with the kiddies. When Lisa Douglas at the end of each "Green Acres" episode plugs away at the Great American Dream with "This has been a Filmways presentation, dahlink," one realizes immediately that America is truly a so-called "melting-pot" of culture, and that this message is projected through the total infiltration of various accents. Bucolic twangs, such as Granny Clampett's screeching ("Jed, Jed!") juxtaposed nicely with her slightly English-sounding snob neighbour Margaret Drysdale ("Milburn, those dreadful Clampetts!")

Gary Owens, from "Laugh-In" to any number of commercials, has had an authority and a command that sets forth and instills cheery willingness in any listener to "believe." Don Pardo drives it home as far as any game show guest was concerned (viewers too!) as they opt for anything he enthused about. Bert Parks, Bob Eubanks, and Bob Barker have "it" (this "power") as well.

What was reality for a child in 1965 was hardly recognizable as reality to most young adults at the very same time. First, around 1965 and 66 there were all the pre-Sesame Street Muppet commercials: Frito-Lay “Potato Crisp” Muncho’s, RC Cola, La Choy Chinese Food, the extremely funny and violent pre-Kermit Wilkin’s Coffee, Wilson’s Franks and Meats, McGarry’s Sausages, Pak-Nit, C&P telephone etc. Ed Sullivan had Muppets once in a while too. This was before Muppet Mah Na Mah Na totally thrilled me beyond words. Heeeee-larious! Then, there was Sally Field as Gidget in full-colour by Pathé tv. Divine. Soooo many cute outfits on her, and so many cute boys in bathing suits. Hair on boys chests, the endless male bodies though I don’t recall any totally latin hairy boys, just smooth ones with the occasional chest hair within limits. I particularly recall the episode called “The Great Kahuna” with Martin Milner as the studly surfer king, (who looked like the first Ken doll as all the television male studs looked like at the time). In this episode the Gidget gets worried about him becoming interested in the “creepy suburban dream” which struck a bizarre and conflictual cord in me though my mind blipped back into fantasy when she breaks the fourth wall and agrees with Plato, “Life is a gas!”. But inspite of the distraction of Gidget, the sexed-up Kahuna, Plato and the beach scenes with mod bathing suits, the controlled body hair, I was still quite mesmerized with kitchens and appliances. In spite of my obsession with all that had dials and the cool glow of practical handy-dandyness, I hadn't realized these machines worked by a systematic and mechanical series of reactions and motorizations. Master image-makers and children's brain manipulators, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera had a lot of do with this. Wilma Flintstone's vacuum was a tiny elephant, attached to a crudely fashioned trolley, her record player was a needle-nosed bird who, accompanied by a hamster on a tread mill played a slab of slate record. Airplanes in their hometown Bedrock were pterodactyl birds with cabins strapped to their backs, and cars ran by foot power. Fred Flintsone's big, Cro-Magnon three-toed feet revved them up and pushed them along ("Let's ride with the family down the street, through the courtesy of Fred's two feet...").

The Jetson family, a sort of inverse situation but "typical family" nonetheless had equally baffling devices. Set in some time that was neither the far flung future or tomorrow, the world of the Jetsons was more time warp than anything else. It was Tupperware party visits Metropolis, or "Leave it to Beaver" on "Forbidden Planet". Plastic tubes propelled visitors and family members alike to destinations throughout the universe as well as the local orbital shopping mall or to the Cogswell Cogs factory. In addition, the sense of time was completely distorted. It took a whole twenty minutes to get from Earth to a Spacely Sprockets franchise outlet on Jupiter. Naturally, they had Bubblecars and television phones and moving sidewalks, but this I understood...the World's Fair had these things. It was their robot maid Rosey that really shook me. I needed to know what was it she ran on if not hamster power?

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