This is from a collection of short sketches that I produced, back when I was pursuing painting and photography more then writing as creative outlets. It was first written in the late 70s long before "Who Killed Roger Rabbit" rekindled interest in old and new animation. Good new animation is being produced all over the world now, and the old cartoons are actually being preserved, and given the respect they've long been due.
But commercial television, though it has once or twice, and with great trepidation, pitched a few ads to it's Gay and Lesbian audience, still largely treats us as if we aren't out there at all. Love Sidney was shoved firmly back in the closet after it's initial episode. An episode of Thirty-something that showed a gay couple in bed was pulled from syndication and has never been seen again. While heterosexuals frolic in the surf on Baywatch, the ground breaking Ellen series was canceled after it's lead came out along with her character, for being 'too gay'. As I write this, the character Will, on the series Will and Grace, a sexually neutered representation of Gay man, is being touted as the break through network Gay TV character Ellen could have been, if she'd only hadn't come out of the closet...so much...
In short, Not much has changed on TV since the late 70s when I first wrote this little sketch, and wondered if my television would ever start treating me as though I were part of it's audience too...
by Bruce Garrett.
It is late in the afternoon and the light coming in the window beams quietly over two young men sitting next to each other on the living room floor. One sits with his back against the sofa, his arms around the other. In the glowing daylight they seem full of life even though they sit together motionless. Apart from the sofa, there is only a bookshelf and a television set for furniture, but the room hardly seems empty. Hanging on the walls, dozens paintings and drawings look down upon them, filling the room with bright cheerful color. But another light shines on them just now; a pale electric light wash from their television set. Chris' hand reaches up and lightly caresses Jeremy's hair. He has just come home from his new job in town. They are watching cartoons.
Jeremy laughs. His dark eyes sing to Chris. On the screen the brightly colored figures of Buggs Bunny and Elmer Fudd are locked in combat.
"Look! Look!" He says, leaning forwards a little. "Look at that! See how the figures move around. Three hundred and sixty degrees. Nobody does that kind of animation anymore." There is an explosion. The screen turns fire red for an instant casting dark shadows behind them.
Jeremy laughs and rocks backward into Chris's arm. Chris draws him close. "It's too expensive now," Chris says; "and anyway, everyone's lost their sense of humor".
"True..." says Jeremy, and the cartoon is over.
On the other side of the glass, cartoon fantasy dissolves into advertisement reality. Down a bright mountain slope dart two skiers. They ride the snow waves without visible effort, trailing white plumes. They glide up to the camera and stop.
Jeremy and Chris lean against the sofa. They are silent. Jeremy touches the arm around his waist. He looks through the bay window at the fading light. "Do you think it will snow tomorrow"?
"Good. We can take our sleds up to George's Mill."
Chris sighs gently. "I have to work tomorrow. So do you."
Jeremy sighs, and says nothing. In the electric world before them, two-dimensional figures discuss affairs of the heart. Chris has seen this commercial before. The reason you can't get the girls to look at you, my man, is that you have acne. Loads of it.
They both sit quietly, voices stilled as though by a mute button. They wait for the advertisements to pass. Absently Chris passes his free hand through Jeremy's hair and down his neck. Jeremy's eyes close.
Eventually the perfectly handsome young skier has an entourage of girls gliding down the slopes with him. They are followed in turn by a down in the dumps housewife who has run out of ways to please her husband at dinner. A friendly little leprechaun-like fellow introduces her to a remarkable new meat extender that will not only make her dishes taste better but will also make her meat go further.
"You know that stuff costs almost five times as much as ground beef per pound?" says Chris, and Jeremy chuckles.
Then a brief advertisement for local Army recruiters. It's a slick production with picture and sound in perfect precision drilled synch. Pictures of young men and women fade quickly one after the other, their bright vibrant faces echo the voice-over which talks of moving into a world of high-tech achievement, service to country and pride. "Be all you can be," sings the chorus.
Then reality dissolves back into fantasy. "I think I've seen this one." says Chris.
"I think I've seen them all by now." reflects Jeremy. "Maybe one or two I might have missed. You know, they're starting to censor them?
Chris snorts. "I can believe it." he says.
"Every now and then I notice they've cut a chunk. I think it's this violence in TV kick or something. It drives me crazy. Animation is a dying art and all they can do is hack the classics to bits".
"That's not all they can do." Chris mumbles.
Chris hugs Jeremy. For an answer he buries his face in the soft hair behind Jeremy's neck, kisses him and whispers; "The Visagoths are coming with scissors instead of swords. Beware. Beware."
They laugh together and as the cartoon unfolds the room echoes with more bright careless laughter.
"Did...Did you see that."
They hardly notice the end. As fantasy dissolves back into reality the room grows quiet again. They settle against the sofa in a position of comfort and trust. For a moment the length of a cartoon short, they were lit by an energy only partially due to what they were watching; more, from their response to each other. Now as they watch the advertisements, their faces slowly loose the visable emotion their bodies still betray.
The spot shows a famous Hollywood actor and his family, extolling the virtues of their new "Family Sized" automobile. "Yes, there is one car maker who still keeps families in mind. Cars may have become smaller but," he says, "families have not. But somebody thank heaven is still looking out for the family man who just wants a good life for his wife and sons." Following this is an ad for bathroom tissue. A perfectly adorable baby in diapers unravels a whole roll of paper all over the living room, proving once again that "... our brand not only goes further but is also gentile enough for baby's skin."
Chris watches silently. His eyes are tired. A woman comes on the screen to talk to her daughter about how to properly bake a birthday cake for her father. This particular ad is being saturated on all the channels because it represents a new line of cake mixes, and Chris has already seen the woman's face half a dozen times today. Jeremy has rested his head on Chris's shoulder. His eyes are closed.
Then the station ID, and a short promo for the news department, the theme of which is "Building a better world for us all." It shows short vignettes of people from all walks of life engaged in "purposeful work", or "joyous play"; with the "... News 5 Team always there to cover the stories which shape our lives." They are young, old, rich, poor, black, white, families; old marrieds celebrating their 50th, young lovers, the pastor from the little church on the corner, the fireman and his cute little son in his daddy's helmet.
Finally, a public-service spot; an appeal for funds for the local community collage. A bright young man sits at his desk and looks at the camera. "My father worked hard to put me through college. He took a part-time job just so I could have the books I needed. I don't want to let him down; he means so much to me. When I get my degree I'm going back to help him in the family business. But every year tuition ..."
Chris turns off the set and suggests they go out and get something to eat. Jeremy agrees. They are both restless.
They move to get up. Chris, as he sometimes does, rises just a little after Jeremy, keeping his eyes on him, for the pleasure of seeing his body in motion. Jeremy turns to find his coat and catches the tail-end of the look Chris was giving him. He smiles into his lovers' eyes instinctively.
Within moments they are both in their coats and Chris is casting a final glance around the apartment to make sure that everything is secure. As he glances at the television, a thought, like a tap on the shoulder, begs his attention. But he is in no mood. They could, if they wished, eat at home from the supplies they have on hand. But they are both anxious to leave.
Chris checks his pocket for his keys, and then closes the door. Their footsteps echo in the apartment hallway. They are escaping into reality. Leaving behind the uncanny sensation of their television talking past them, as though to an invisible audience that was in the room with them.
Rockville, Maryland. 1978