If It's Gay, It's Gotta Be Good, Right?

Dante's Cove cast

Dante's Cove isn't the only piece of gay schlock to be embraced by the gay and lesbian community – we're quick to latch on to almost anything gay-related and rally around it, no matter how bad it may be.

The time is the 1840s. An evil witch walks in on her fiancé engaged in sweaty, thrusting, lusty sex with his studly, well-hung butler, and she gets revenge on them both. Flash forward to present day, where we meet Toby and David, who will soon find themselves caught up in the wicked games of the scorned witch and her unfaithful suitor.

However, when we first meet Toby and David, Toby is performing oral sex on his boyfriend in the backseat of a cab. They then lay on the beach for about five minutes before heading to Toby's house for writhing, pulsating, steamy sex. But alas, they argue and break up, which, of course, sets up their clawing, clutching, throbbing, moaning make-up sex.

Check the time; we're only 25 minutes into the DVD, and already there's been more nudity than you'll see on the entire run of The Sopranos. Amazingly, this isn't the beginning of the latest porn flic on the market, but the opening half hour of Dante's Cove, here!tv's smash supernatural soap opera, now through it's fourth season.

In short, the show is bad. Poorly written, stiffly acted (no pun intended -- well, yeah, intended), and choppily directed, the only thing that Dante's Cove has going for it is sex, sex, and sex. And not just gay sex; there's svelte and sensual lesbians having sex, and supermodel straights doing the horizontal deed. All weakly tied together with a jumbled supernatural good vs. evil storyline.

Yet, some greet the arrival of a new season of Dante's with such excitement that one would think that the show was subliminally broadcasting winning lottery numbers. Bloggers exalt the series, and gay magazines herald each season, although some admit that the show's main attraction is the sex scenes. To be critical of the show can draw a hysterical, Chris Crocker-type of "Leave Dante's alone!" response from die-hards.

Dante's Cove isn't the only piece of gay schlock to be embraced by the gay and lesbian community. We-re quick to latch on to almost anything gay-related and rally around it, ready to face down any outside criticism. And that can be good. Who else is going to look out for and support our own artistic endeavors if we aren't first in line to do so? Supporting gay films, businesses, and artists is an important part of forging our identity in a culture. But being supportive and loyal becomes a disservice when it makes the community at large look ill-informed, self-obsessed, or hypersensitive.

Take, for instance, Mike Jensen's response on to two Super Bowl ads. His editorial, "Anti-gay Violence in Super Bowl Ads Still Not Funny", was widely linked to and made the case that ads for Bridgestone Tires and Prison Break featured violence towards homosexuals.

The latter ad featured the show's villain, T-Bag, being clotheslined by a professional football player. The Bridgestone ad showed a speeding driver swerving to miss both a deer and Alice Cooper, but contemplating running over Richard Simmons. Jensen argues:

Now it's true that Simmons has said many times that he isn't gay. Okay, fine. But everyone assumes he is anyway, thanks to his flamboyancy and effeminate demeanor. And the whole point of the ad is that someone with those characteristics is apparently worthy of being run over.

However, Jensen fails to point out two things in his article. First, everyone wants to run over Richard Simmons -- and it's not because he's gay, or "gay seeming", if you will -- it's because he's Richard Simmons. Most of the people I know would take a shot. For all the good he's done for the overweight, he's devoted as much time to being a celebrity caricature, and nobody makes more fun of Richard than he does himself. As for T-Bag, he may be gay or bi, but he's also a sadistic murderer who deserves any misfortune that comes his way.

The second thing Jensen fails to note is that there were a lot of violent commercials on during the Super Bowl. Ads for the films Zohan and Leatherheads were extremely violent, with presumably straight men beating the daylights out of one another. Poor Justin Timberlake got slammed around like a Raggedy Andy doll in a Pepsi ad, and ran an ad appropriately called "Death Match". Still, no one assumed that Pepsi's ad was advocating or approving of the abuse of pop stars.

To be a part of society, the gay and lesbian community is going to have to accept the positive and the negative depictions of "our people". We can't always be the good guys; sometimes, we will be the killer in the movie, the villain, or the victim. We've reached a point where there are enough positive portrayals of us in the media that being the brunt of the joke or the character everyone hates isn't necessarily an indictment of every gay or lesbian person. What was portrayed in the Bridgestone ad was far less hateful than some of the things I've heard gay men say about Richard Simmons -- are we the only ones allowed to be in on the joke?

Jensen's hypersensitivity was also showing in his reaction to Brokeback Mountain's surprise loss of the Best Picture Oscar a few years ago. (I don't mean to pick on Jensen, who is an excellent writer.) Writing about the occasion, Jensen said:

The question remaining then is why did the Academy pass over Brokeback for Crash? Given the facts, there seems to be only one answer: good old-fashioned homophobia, or at least Hollywood's fear of being perceived by Middle America as too tolerant of gay people, which is another kind of homophobia. ("The Brokeback Mountain Oscar Snub", 7 March 2006, AfterElton.



And he wasn't alone in his assessment. Newspaper articles quoted angry gays -- "It's an outright sign of homophobia in our country" -- and bulletin boards filled up with enraged gay film fans' posts, "It's all part of what homophobia is about." But suppose, and I may lose my gay film fan membership card for saying this, suppose that a significant number of Academy members thought Crash was a better movie? I know I did, and so did Roger Ebert:

I chose Crash as the best film of the year not because it promoted one agenda and not another, but because it was a better film. The nature of the attacks on Crash by the supporters of Brokeback Mountain seem to proceed from the other position: Brokeback is better not only because of its artistry but because of its subject matter, and those who disagree hate homosexuals. ("The Fury of the Crash-lash", 6 March 2006,

Ebert goes on to note that those who disagree with Brokeback Mountain's loss focus on why Crash should not have won, but ignore any discussion of why any of the other three films nominated that year should have lost, also. They operate on the assumption that the race was Brokeback Mountain's to win, which it easily would have done if not for the liberal homophobes throwing their feel-good vote to Crash. However, if the largely Jewish Academy was voting by agenda, wouldn't Munich, about the murder of Israeli athletes, have won?

These charges of homophobia are not entirely baseless, especially when Academy members such as Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine put their prejudice out for the world to see by declaring their refusal to even watch Brokeback Mountain, an act which should have disqualified them from voting. Still, it's difficult to sustain a charge of rampant homophobia when Brokeback Mountain received eight nominations and three wins, including the prestigious directing and screenplay awards.

That same year, Phillip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar for playing the outrageously gay Truman Capote in Capote, and Felicity Huffman was nominated for playing a transgendered person in Transamerica. And the Oscars have rewarded numerous gay individuals with awards over the years, including this year's winning producer Scott Rudin, so the argument supporting a homophobic response to Brokeback Mountain by the Academy sounds more like bitterness than a well-reasoned proposition.

Among the many honors it did receive, Brokeback Mountain managed to pick up a well-deserved GLAAD Media Award. Unfortunately, not all GLAAD winners and nominees are as deserving. In an effort to "fill out" categories, GLAAD regularly nominates films, tv shows, and CDs that are far from being award worthy. For instance, in its outstanding comedy category, such dribble as So NoTORIous and The War at Home have received nominations, while teen soap opera Greek has been nominated for best drama. The infantile Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby was nominated for best picture.

Granted, the awards that GLAAD gives aren't for overall excellence, but for positive portrayals of GLBT individuals; still, rewarding Will Farrell movies and Tori Spelling series is hardly a way to establish credibility. Just because a film or series has a nice gay character doesn't mean it deserves accolades. Ironically, until this year, the organization dedicated to defending gay and lesbian individuals has excluded gay-niche programming, films, and journalistic writing from consideration, instead honoring less worthy efforts intended for straight audiences.

Years ago on Saturday Night Live, Mike Meyers portrayed a character who steadfastly declared "If it's not Scottish, it's crap!" Far too many GLBT individuals and organizations have adopted a similar attitude -- "if it's not gay, it's crap!" -- as well as an attitude that if it doesn't exalt all things gay, it's crap.

Well, that's crap. When there are genuine insults threatening the GLBT community daily, do we really want to waste our time swatting at imaginary gnats and charging windmills? The Snickers ad from last year's Super Bowl was a true slap at who we are; the Bridgestone ad is not. The rhetoric of Rick Santorum and Fred Phelps is homophobia; Brokeback Mountain winning only three Oscars is not.

It has taken decades of struggle to reach a point where, but for the rabid haters still holding out, homosexuals are no longer considered the scourge of society. We can be seen in all forms of media, our artists sell out concerts and art shows, and we occupy seats in the halls of government.

So it's OK if every little thing gay or featuring a gay element isn't the best possible. We can look at shows like Dante's Cove and admit, "Hey, this show is crapola. Hot, sexy crapola with more eye-candy than you can fathom, but crapola nonetheless."

from So NoTORIous

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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