Gay Car On the Freeway, or, the Eternal Return of Glen A. Larson

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Knight Rider fans, rejoice: Harvey Weinstein has delivered you from exile. Michael and KITT will ride again, on the big screen, in search of whatever it was they were always in search of. I never actually watched an episode of Knight Rider, being at best a lukewarm fan of David Hasselfhoff (or as a high school friend of mine used to call him, in a South Jersey drawl you had to hear to appreciate, "Harry Hasselhoff"). But in one of Suck.com's finest hours, Mark Dery decrypted the sexual orientation of HAL-9000 (it's hard to believe that as recently as the late 1990s there was still great sport to be had in spotting unnoticed gay subtexts); and in the process he gave a very special supporting role to Michael Knight's longtime electronic companion:

But even if we "prove" that HAL is gay, what's the significance of outing a fictional supercomputer, outside the context of extreme sports for semioticians? Most obviously, gay machines such as HAL and his descendants—among them KITT, the campy RoboCar in Knight Rider (of whom The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows straightfacedly writes, "It was love at first sight between Michael [Knight] and KITT," who was "peevish, a bit haughty, but totally protective" (of his hunky rider)—prop up the sagging machismo of male heroes whose derring-do, in the Computer Age, consists largely of sitting in a chair, pushing buttons. This is the glaring irony that renders Star Trek's Perma-Prest Captain Picard and his beefy sidekick, Lieutenant Riker—torchbearers for a rock-ribbed masculinity—unintentionally funny: In the final analysis, they're overgrown gameboys in pantsuits, jabbing at touchscreens in an earth-toned rec room. Prone to hissy fits, sissified machines such as C-3PO, Star Wars's fussy, high-strung Felix to R2-D2's Oscar (with the femme-butch subtext that implies), reaffirm the rugged manliness of these armchair adventurers, by contrast.

Glen A. Larson, one hopes, will continue to be our chief resurrector of homoerotic subtexts. When will we see the Magnum PI movie, with its mustachioed hero tooling around in his short-shorts and Hawaiian shirt with his pals T.C., Rick, and the fussbudget Higgins? For that matter, when will William Daniels portray an Adams again? He's never played Henry.

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  1. The voice of KITT ended up Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World. I don’t really know the significance of that, but I wanted to put it out there.

  2. DAMMIT TIM! I read that as ‘the eternal return of GARY Larson.’ Way to let me down.

  3. William Daniels was the gun toting patriarch of the vacationing Quantrill family in The President’s Analyst. That movie predicted post-cold-war fascism in America as well as the violent overthrow of the Telephone Company.
    It also gave us hot hippie chicks, and the greatest pre-coital pillow talk ever.

    When you think about it, all great male heroic characters are handsome, well-groomed, in shape, prone to get their shirts ripped on a regular basis, usually have a younger male supporting character, and have well-decorated homes. Bruce Wayne goes to the opera. James Bond drinks martinis. Indiana Jones is well-versed in ancient vases and trinkets. Kirk regularly quotes Shakespeare. James West rides around in a train car patterened after a Victorian whorehouse with a guy who likes to play dress up.

  4. Mr Cavanaugh, I suggest that you devote less of your time to brooding about “homoerotic subtexts” and GET TO WORK. Perhaps we all might be better off.

  5. I’m not gazing at the taut muscular buttocks of the Treadmill Swimmer or Carpet Humping Guy as the work their bodies.
    (Knight Rider theme starts to play in is head…)

  6. That’s Lt. COMMANDER Riker.

  7. Thank you, Joe. Riker gets no respect.

  8. Isn’t there a Miami Vice movie hitting the theaters? Surely Magnum P.I. will follow.

  9. So now science fiction movies and TV promote homosexuality. Bad enough that Heinlein is blamed for the Manson Murders and Asimov is pinned as the inspiration for Al Queda and Aum Shin Rikyo and cops joke that most child murderers have Star Trek memoribilia in their homes.

    I’m gonna go gather together all my pictures of the women of Farscape and Serenity and give myself a good tugging.

  10. Riker doesn’t deserve respect, but he was a full commander.

    With all of the babes flowing through the Magnum P.I. series (young, hot Sharon Stone, anyone?), I’m thinking that any weird homoerotic interpretations have a lot more to say about viewers that see those themes than about the people making the show.

  11. Asimov is responsible for al Qaeda? I’ve heard something of this, but I’m not seeing it. Are robots or psychohistory part of the al Qaeda charter somehow?

  12. HAWAII 5-0!!!!!!!!!

  13. “Asimov is responsible for al Qaeda? I’ve heard something of this, but I’m not seeing it.”

    The Manchester Guardian, IIRC, had a lengthy article on this back in 2001 or 2002. Although “al-Qaeda” is usually translated into English as “the Base,” another translation is “the Foundation,” because the word doesn’t mean “base” in the sense of a place from which one operates, but rather in the sense of that which supports something else. The name “al-Qaeda” is also reportedly unusual for an Islamic terrorist organization because it isn’t a Quranic reference or otherwise related to Islamic theology. It’s just an Arabic word. Bin Laden is also, of course, fluent in English and (given his engineering background) may have been interested in science fiction, although people who knew him before his travel to Afghanistan apparently can’t recall what his reading habits were.

    I don’t particularly find it credible myself, but there you go.

  14. I’m sorry, *what?!*

    I can’t believe I have the wherewithal to argue about this, but I really fail to see how computers with effete and vaguely suggestive vocalizations a) even suggest a machine is “gay”, unless said machine actually made a pass at a human, and even so, b) reaffirm the manliness of these “overgrown gameboys in pantsuits, jabbing at touchscreens”, when c) are they REALLY such? And if so, is this really of interest to ANYONE BUT bored semioticians?

    This, my friends, is why SUCK went under in the first place.

  15. Maybe he was referring to Muad-Dib’s secret Fremen name, Usul, which means “base of the pillar”. Dune’s got a fun jihad and other Muslimish features, after all.

  16. it’s hard to believe that as recently as the late 1990s there was still great sport to be had in spotting unnoticed gay subtexts

    Man, Television Without Pity makes a business out of rooting out HoYay (that’s Homoeroticism, Yay!) There’s really no other reason to watch Smallville than to spot the Gayest Look of the Episode.

  17. You have only to speak and the mighty IMDb responds!

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0384254/

  18. With all of the babes flowing through the Magnum P.I. series (young, hot Sharon Stone, anyone?), I’m thinking that any weird homoerotic interpretations have a lot more to say about viewers that see those themes than about the people making the show.

    That don’t befront me, but I caught an episode of Magnum a few months back, and believe me: Selleck looks like fucking Freddy Mercury in his Magnum getup.

  19. Theodore J. Flicker? Why have I been laboring under the misapprehension that The President’s Analyst was a John Frankenheimer joint? I guess it’s too much to expect one guy to make two masterpieces (TP’s A and Seconds) in two years.

  20. Come on, Tim, it was Hawaii. In the 80s. Heck, I wore the occasional pink Polo oxford back then, and I’m a lifelong member of the heterosexual club. Besides, as someone whose very own mother thinks Tom Selleck is the end-all, be-all of maleness, I’m thinking there may have been another reason for his short shorts and the like.

    In that regard, I’m hoping that Salma Hayek will be playing Magnum in the movie. In period dress, of course.

  21. This, my friends, is why SUCK went under in the first place.

    ZZZZZZ! Suck lasted another four years after the above article was written.

  22. Come on, Tim, it was Hawaii. In the 80s. Heck, I wore the occasional pink Polo oxford back then, and I’m a lifelong member of the heterosexual club.

    Possibly, but the whole point of good subtext is that the creator isn’t aware of it. That’s why there’s no good gay subtext anymore-because even the straightest of straight arrows is in on the joke. Even Selleck ended up playing gay in some movie, and the whole point of gay material is that it never has specifically gay content. That’s why Jarhead is a gayer movie than Brokeback Mountain.

    Maybe Ellie’s right that Smallville has a good subtext. I’ve never seen it. The title sounds like something that would make the Men On Films exclaim, “Hated It!”

  23. “Besides, as someone whose very own mother thinks Tom Selleck is the end-all, be-all of maleness….”

    I’ll bet she thought Rock Hudson was the bee’s knees, too.

  24. Come on guys. Everybody knows nothing gets a boy’s cheeks to clench’n like blood and sweat drenched Romans.

  25. What are you saying P Brooks? Don’t destroy my poor mother’s last fantasy. Besides, I though Selleck was married and stuff. Like, to a woman person.

    Tim, I see your point. Still, I prefer to watch movies, old TV shows, and animation to figure out which actor was engaging in relations with which other actor. Homer was totally doing Maude Flanders. In real life, I mean 🙂 I used to think that Sulu and Uhura had a thing (in between Roddenberry/Uhura), but subsequent events have proved me wrong–oh, my.

  26. How can you invoke William Daniels without mentioning Captain Nice? (Scroll halfway down the linked page to the comic-book cover and just get a load of that codpiece…)

  27. So, how did Heilein get blamed for the Manson murders? I thought he wigged out over the Beatles’ “White Album.” I don’t remember anything from Heinlein or anything from “Helter Skelter” that could remotely connect the two. I’m guessing it was the group sex thing, but weren’t there lots of people advocating that sort of stuff in the late 60’s?

  28. Karen, I did some light Googling on the Heinlein-Manson connection. Sounds like it might be an urban legend, but the idea was that Manson liked Stranger in a Strange Land.

  29. I’m gonna go gather together all my pictures of the women of Farscape…

    Our hot little peace-keeper chick looks awfully butch to me.

  30. Tim, I’ve had an epiphany. Top Gun was a movie with an unintentionally gay subtext. Well, maybe it was unintentional. I friggin’ hated that movie, gay or otherwise. Neat plane-shootin’ effects for the time, though.

  31. I rooted for the First Foundation. Was I supposed to?

  32. Due to its suspicious popularity among foreigners (cf. German-language comics at knightrider.de) I find this heralding of the revival of authentic ’80s culture, gay or otherwise, questionable at best

    I will not dignify this Magnum P.I. cant except to note the realism/integrity differential between “An Innocent Man” (’89) and the first episode of “Oz” (’97)

  33. I don’t buy Hal as gay. KITT and C3-P0, sure, but if any women had been awake on the Discovery, HAL would have been creepily zooming in on the closed shower doors. He had that stalker vibe.

  34. IMHO, both HAL and KITT were asexual. I recall reading, in “The Making of 2001,” about (HAL voice) Douglas Rain’s artistic decisions in coming up with HAL’s vocal mannerisms. The point, IIRC, was to create a neutral — basically neuter! — voice, devoid of personality or emotion, which would not be threatening to either men or women. Ironically enough, Rain’s success in this was necessary to create the sense of horror you get when HAL is lying or obviously at work to harm the humans. The viewer gets the creeps from KNOWING something is up but being unable to get any clues from HAL’s speech patterns.

    I actually thought KITT should have had a woman’s voice, on pragmatic grounds. It’s been known since the days of the old, monolithic AT&T (lampooned as TPC in “The President’s Analyst”) that female voices are more understandable, especially when distorted or in high noise situations. There’s lots of noise in a souped-up car, moving at high speed. Whether intentional on the part of Daniels or not, KITT’s occasional prissiness may have increased his audibility on the road. Perhaps KITT didn’t get a female voice from the start because nobody wanted comparisons with “My Mother The Car.”

    As far as “gay subtext”: some people see gay subtext in rorschach ink blots. I think the declaration of “gay subtext” usually says a lot more about the beholder than the thing beheld.

    Although I was a fairly regular viewer during the original series run, I don’t recall anything about Captain Nice’s codpiece. And please don’t refresh an obviously repressed memory. If the assertion here is true, however, would that make CN the “Ambiguously Gay Single”?

  35. Angainor, how can you not like the First Foundation? Screw the Second Foundation and the Old Empire. And Gaia, too.

  36. Screw the Second Foundation and the Old Empire. And Gaia, too.

    Of course, but didn’t Asimov want the reader to believe in the Seldon plan and cheer the Second Foundation on?

  37. KITT: Yet another 80’s icon revived by a TV commercial.

  38. Is there a gay subtext in The Hunt for Red October?

  39. So the story is, Manson got ahold of a CD player and a CD of the White Album. After he listened to it, he said, man, the audio quality on these things is amazing — I guess they weren’t talking to me after all!

    Be here all week, thank you.

  40. I don’t think they could’ve used a female voice for KITT because I remember, as a kid, of the jokes about the show being too much like “My Mother, the Car”.

    And the best homo-erotic movie, of all time, is “Road House”. Period. People, you must buy the DVD. In the final fist-fight, the bad guy is wearing mascara, and he utters the finest line in movie history (to Swaze):

    “I used to fuck guys like you in prison!”

  41. William Daniels was also “Captain Nice”

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