Saturday, August 02, 2008

I need some Cliff Notes

Wherein or something else as the Cliff Notes were no help


New York Times story about Dr. Horrible contains the following: "As a Web project, “Dr. Horrible” rates up there with R. Kelly’s 22-chapter musical melodrama “Trapped in the Closet,” with which it shares an over-the-top sensibility and a prominent gay subtext. (Mr. Fillion serenades his own muscles; Ms. Day sings to Mr. Harris, “So keep your head up, Billy ... buddy”)."

Huh? Gay subtext? And he didn't even quote the ""It's curtains for you, Dr. Horrible. Lacy, gently wafting curtains." Which, as long as we're arguing subtext, is all about prison rape.

The Captain Hammer serenade is obviously about his vanity -- no subtext needed, it's all text.

The Billy Buddy is slightly different, though it took a bit of work on my part so "prominent" is a vast overstatement. I'm assuming Mike Hale is equating "Billy Buddy" with Herman Melville's Billy Budd. Someone much more familiar with this than me makes the Melville comparison: "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog seems to reverse the roles a little, but stays true to the themes, of Billy Budd." Now if you Google Billy Budd homosexual, this does reveal a not insignificant amount of scholarship investigating the homosexual nature of Billy Budd. For example, Flesh in the Word: Billy Budd, Sailor, Compulsory Homosociality, and the Uses of Queer Desire. Quoted:
Melville's thesis in Billy Budd (and works like "The Paradise of Bachelors," "Bartleby," Moby Dick, and Pierre, as well) is that all-male worlds are always already doomed. In my view, Billy Budd is the culmination of Melville's ongoing critique of the homosocial--his bitterest and most unflinching assault on the compulsory fraternity of American life. For some, this will be a disquieting thesis--but I think that without a nuanced understanding of Melville's ongoing project, we cannot understand Melville's oeuvre. Because Billy Budd, determinedly constructed as a sexually inviolate and unavailable male, incites male utopia, we must consider the source--the source of his power, and his power as a source, for male utopia.

Where does this leave us (me) with respect to Dr. Horrible? Looks like plenty of people discuss a gay subtext to Billy Budd. And though for pop culture, or even high culture, Melville isn't that prominent and Billy Budd less so, it's hard not to think Melville when Penny sings "Billy Buddy." But I'm still not seeing an argument for a gay subtext to Dr. Horrible and absent other examples, I'm more willing to back Strange Wind's argument.

11 Comments:

Blogger bill said...

There is also the Pink Pummeler. But a gay character isn't subtext.

8/03/2008 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger XWL said...

People search so hard for subtext that they forget to pay attention to the freakin' context.

Also, Melville was a strange one.

He may or may not have been madly in love with Hawthorne, and he may have or may not have utterly freaked out Hawthorne by making a pass at him at some point in their relationship (which had been intense and collegial, and then abruptly ended, mysteriously).

When I took a course on Hawthorne, the instructor insisted any notion of romance between the two was, 'poppycock' (please, don't look for any subtext in the word choice), but when I took a course on Melville (try reading every novel he wrote in 10 weeks!, I dare you), the instructor was as insistent that there was smoke, fire, and lots and lots of hanky-panky.

Go figure.

Melville definitely seemed much more comfortable in homosocial settings than otherwise, though. But for mid-19th Century New Englanders, I can't imagine that being particularly unusual.

We see things today, that weren't meant to be seen when the stuff was written, doesn't mean that some of that stuff isn't present, just means that most of the times, the context is the context, and the subtext is whatever anyone chooses to pull from their own ass.

(and, yes, Melville's novels are all pretty damn gay, at least when viewed through a 21st century lens)

As far as Dr. Horrible referencing Billy Budd with that one throw away line in a song, and somehow being connected to a whole big gay subtext implanted throughout the project, ridiculous.

(but like Melville, all musical theatre type stuff, is pretty damn gay)

(not that there's anything wrong with that)

If you really wanted to analyze this from a classic homoerotic subtext standpoint, you don't need to look for subtle clues, instead the classic MMF love triangle is always (at least according to some) about an unspoken and unacknowledged attraction between the two men, and the woman imbetween is an afterthought.

8/04/2008 02:07:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

I have the urge to erase half of what I wrote and copy & paste your text in its place.

This post is related to another topic I guess I won't be blogging about. I had the idea of taking a couple of the newspaper bits you'd blogged about, taking the Carrie Rickey nugget, and adding in the Weingarten discussion where he quotes his editor as refusing to run a column if it shows drinking didn't affect Gene's driving. This all seemed to be less than selecting and editing to fill a finite amount of space and more about looking out for the reader's best interests while patting them condescendinly on the head (cue the song Institutionalized).

The capper is this brilliantly entertaining essay arguing that disco is really socialist: In Defense of Disco. (@ hit&run)

This just follows the form of "If I believe in B and I like X, it therefore follows that X=B. Because, apparently, holding contradictory thoughts will cause one's head to esplode. Which gets us back to looking for and inventing subtext where none exists.

8/04/2008 08:51:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

Somehow I've never read Melville and the little bit of Billy Budd I skimmed over was interesting. I should probably pick up one of his novels and see how it goes.

8/04/2008 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger Tosy And Cosh said...

I like the Britten opera a lot. That mean anything??

8/04/2008 02:34:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

Do you think it means anything?

Thanks to the google description I think tosyandcosh has identified our subtext:

Perhaps no Benjamin Britten opera so forcefully explores the composer's recurring theme of the destruction of innocence as Billy Budd...

Who wants to inform Mike Hale that we've found his analysis wanting?

8/04/2008 03:37:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

and there's more of analysis that bespeaks of a writer smoking crack in the bathroom:

you may prefer the slacker aesthetic of “Dr. Horrible” to the formulas of network television, but even in the summer doldrums, 45 minutes (after commercials) of “The Closer” or “Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods” is a superior piece of craftsmanship. (And even on its own anti-mainstream terms, “Dr. Horrible” has a ways to go to catch up with “The Sarah Silverman Program.”)

1. Slacker Aesthetic? They did it in a hurry, but there's a lot of professionalism in the finished product.

2. I've never seen "The Closer," so no comment.

3. "'Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods' is a superior piece of craftsmanship." Ouch, I think I strained my eyeballs when they rolled to the back of my head.

4. "own anti-mainstream terms" To me, the only thing nonmainstream about it was the distribution.

5. The problem with catching Sarah Silverman is what do you do next?

The more I think this over, the more it seems Mike Hale wanted something more subversive than a tightly told short story under the cover of an unrequited love musical with super heroes.

8/04/2008 03:46:00 PM  
Blogger XWL said...

The problem with catching Sarah Silverman is what do you do next?

Point out the nearest pile of doody as quickly as possible (she loves the doody), if none are available, strain to produce your own pile and present it as a present.

(there, try and read subtext into that statement!)

(also, my preference of context over subtext, and viewing most attempts at discerning subtext as the worst form of wankery, is why I'll never be an English Prof)

(and the fact that I never even completed my Bachelor's Degree)

Melville is good in smallish doses. His best known work is his best work, Moby Dick does kick a great deal of ass. And you can see hints of what to was follow in what came before, so reading his work chronologically as written can be interesting (suppose you could say the same about most writers, see Stephenson, Neal, for another example). His most messed up work, and in some ways most fascinating is Pierre, but that is dense, gothic, chock-full-a-subtext, and very, very odd.

But thousands of pages, ten weeks, three essays, and two tests on his works makes it all blend together into one incomprehensible pile as the years fade from the initial reading.

Personally, I prefer the more straightforward style of Hawthorne, though he does have a tendency to hit you with his themes as if they were two by fours.

8/04/2008 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

Whedonesque commenters also missed the subtext.

8/06/2008 05:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait, so none of you caught that Neil Patrick Harris is openly gay, and that this is a fourth wall break?

Don't get lost in the minutia.

8/20/2008 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger bill said...

Don't get lost in your assumptions. Yes, Neil Patrick Harris is gay. That doesn't mean that every real and imagined reference to homosexuality relates to him.

If there is a breaking of the fourth wall the most obvious bit would be the newscasters in the 3 episode who sing off with "next up, who's gay?" But this doesn't connect with anything in the story.

Don't get lost in the minutia. That's not us. That's those of walking around thinking every piece of quartz you pick up is a diamond.

8/20/2008 03:39:00 PM  

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