Oh wow! Have the writers/producers discussed this arc? So fascinating!
Thank you for pointing this out! I was thinking more of 1980s programs, but it’s fascinating that True Blood is doing a story arc considering that AIDS is not as much at the forefront of the public imagination/the media as it was during the 1980s.
I had never heard of Captain Planet before, so thank you for focusing on this series in your post. I’m impressed that this episode exists and aired across the country. Even though the episode carefully sidesteps any overt LGBT themes, I agree that there is plenty of queer (sub)text. Do you know any other children’s shows that had episodes on HIV/AIDS?
Our posts echo one another very nicely and we didn’t even plan for that!
I like your reminder that normalcy was once a radical thought. That’s easy to forget considering how widespread and nearly stifling the call for normalcy is today, especially in media representations.
I hadn’t noticed the different formal characteristics of the various sex scenes, so thank you for pointing out those differences. Your observations remind me of Philadelphia, which only has one very fleeting scene of gay intimacy (a flashback in which Andy recalls sex with another man in a movie theater), which is also filmed in a dreamlike, distancing way.
I’d say the reason why certain aspects of gay culture don’t count as normal today is precisely because they were reinforced as deviant during the AIDS crisis in the ’80s.
I own this movie but haven’t yet had a chance to watch it, so I’m glad you posted this scene that I believe you talk about more in your excellent book “Banning Queer Blood” which everyone should read. The kinds of histories media tell are necessarily simple, but unfortunately sometimes that leads to an historical account that leaves out so much and dramatizes what’s left. What I think is most interesting, and perhaps most personally fraught, is that as a gay man, I’m biologically wired to love Lily Tomlin, even when she’s telling my people to shut the hell up. :-)
Thanks for this really interesting post, Taylor! I never knew about this Captain Planet episode and am curious to watch it in its entirety.
As you allude to in the post, it’s fascinating to juxtapose this episode with the “think of the children!” conservative rhetoric that framed so much public discourse about HIV/AIDS during this period. This episode may very well be thinking of “the children,” but in a way that’s entirely different from the way moral majority pundits were framing the issue. Also interesting to think of this episode in the context of the “Knowing is half the battle” PSAs that made animated cartoons like G.I. Joe so famous.
A scene very similar to this, as you indicate, plays out in The Normal Heart. I really appreciate your focus here on those forms that seem most likely to guarantee “truth.” Its especially interesting in light of the fact that at least two of those forms (journalism and science) were slow in responding to the crisis.
The term retrospective foresight nicely captures something I was trying to explore in my piece later his week. Its interesting to take these texts that were produced in the moment AS history — as speaking the “truth” of the moment — rather than as historical documents — on among competing voices and stories that were trying to make sense of a crisis unfolding. Here, these communicative forms come to stand as testament to what was “really happening/happened.”
Oh, and also, the syndication ad campaigns, which suggest that Captain Planet is available to “strip” five days a week also seem to be a bit of a wink wink to its male erotics.
A couple of notes here:
1. I have obviously heavily edited this episode to focus on what I consider its most interesting and/or queerest elements. You can watch the entire episode on YouTube.
2. I’m constantly struck by the way Captain Planet so consistently eroticizes the bodies of its male characters with hyper-masculinized musculatures. There’s also some hyper-heterosexualization in this episode in particular that makes it lend itself so well to a queer reading because the display of heterosexuality is so heavily performed. For example, the make out scenes, and the pinup-model posters in Todd’s bedroom.
3. I will say more about his episode and the importance of it as a syndicated text in my dissertation. Until then, I think it’s useful that this episode was programmed without the specter of dayparting hanging over the producers’ heads. Broadcasters decided what hour they thought this cartoon was especially well suited to which means it was watched by the Saturday morning kids audience and just as reasonably, the gay clubbers audiences watching it on syndication that Saturday evening.
4. I have no idea what kind of regional vocal affectation Elizabeth Taylor was going for, but you can be sure it was shared by none of the rest of the cast.
What I think is also really striking about the horror dimension is not only that figures like vampires or zombies become AIDS embodied, but also that, as “monsters,” they’re mediated villains who are not only capable of infecting, but whose mission is to deliberately infect. I’m thinking here about a few TV examples, notably MIDNIGHT CALLER, SOUTH PARK, or even the mediated culture of “bug chasing/giftgiving”. And then there’s the comic character Hemo-Goblin “a vampire created to help a white-supremacy group eliminate non-whites. He is notable mainly for infecting members of the New Guardians with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.” That was in a 1988 issue.
On the flip side, when AIDS is discovered infecting “normal” people, the way media coverage turned to “innocents” in children, whose sexuality can never be manifest, (juxtaposed with these sexual monsters) is also incredibly telling. Some examples are MR. BELVEDERE, THE EQUALIZER, GO TOWARD THE LIGHT, THE RYAN WHITE STORY, and SESAME STREET.