When watching Brian Jordan Alvarez’s Youtube web series ‘The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo’, I witnessed the allowances of this medium utilized twofold. While each episode ran on the long side in terms of web series (around 20 minutes), all were filled to the brim with backstory, character nuance, and intricate details from the relationships each character held with the others. It is hard to explain the manic-y paced tempo of the series, each episode flowing jauntily through its narrative, with missing scenes and no transition shots to account for. But it is through that uneven tempo that the show shines, its unpredictability only adding to the ambience of restlessness while the viewer is forced to strap themselves in and watch for every detail. All of the characters' lives are masterfully entwined, a difficult feat considering how many moving parts each character has within their own identities, yet ‘Caleb Gallo’ somehow manages it. The fast paced fluctuation of the characters and plot is what gives the show its queer-friendly eye, never stopping to fetishize nor question any of the characters’ queerness is what centers queerness as the hegemonic undercurrent of the show. The show’s distinct rejection of the hetero/homosexual binary is what allows each character to be read as queer, as queerness is exemplified by each characters’ ability to travel through and unsettle that very binary.
‘Caleb Gallo’’s use of queerness as both backdrop and centerpiece hands over power to the queer, and therefore hands over power to all.
This video essay examines what Queer Visibility means to me using The Gay and Wonderous Life of Caleb Gallo
Edited and created by Matty Hodgkins.
An excerpt from my written statement:
The history of queer representation in media is one of perseverance and pride. Pride in their our sexuality and culture is what makes the LGTBQ+ community so inspiring, and the thought that there was a time not long ago when any implication of queerness in film was considered illegal is almost unfathomable. Today, more diverse queer stories can be told on a variety of different platforms, from major studios and networks for television/film to independent groups operating mainly through public streaming sites. The stories themselves have evolved and changed over the years, with the normalization of queers due to increased representation resulting in content that can focus on more specific and unique aspects of the diverse culture. The Gay and Wonderous Life of Caleb Gallo is the result of all that has been accomplished throughout the history of queer media. At first glance, the show is simply just a five-episode limited web series on YouTube that not many people know about. Compare this show to some of the content created by major networks and there is a sense of insignificance. However, The Gay and Wonderous Life of Caleb Gallo tells a very unique and special story about relationships and queerness that would not exist in any previous time period. The reason I chose this series to reflect on is that I honestly do not believe I would have seen it or understood its significance had I not taken Queer Film and TV at Lewis and Clark College.
For this video I decided to use a more poetic style to focus on one component taken from my broader written essay, the queer space of the ocean, and the way the film eroticizes water.
Excerpt from essay:
Describing its phallic penetration and sensuality, April Wolfe, in a Rolling Stone retrospective of the film, writes: “there is, arguably, no sport that is more overtly sexual than surfing” (np). Certainly this film leans into that sensuality; rarely, if ever, has the art of surfing been captured with the elegance––and eroticism––of Bigelow and DP Donald Peterman. Much can be made of the way Johnny gapes at Bodhi as he watches him surf for the first time (this is further eroticized by a shot where Bodhi’s penetrating of a barrel wave might be described as “making love to the ocean” (Wolfe, np)), and further the game of football they play on the beach shortly after being introduced. Inexplicably (on the surface) desperate to take him down, Johnny plows through a near endless horde of muscular surfers, chasing Bodhi far beyond the bounds of the game, and finally tackling him into the ocean. This brings our attention to one potential queer reading of the film (there are many), which sees Bodhi, and by extension surfing, as representing the tantalizing world of homosexuality, seducing Johnny despite his resistance. In an early scene Johnny uses an FBI database to find information on Tyler (Lori Petty), a local surfer and his heterosexual love interest. (She will be discussed in greater depth later.) Learning that her parents are both dead, and attempting to force a connection with her, he lies, telling her that he, too, lost his parents. He gives Tyler a speech about how his whole life he has done what his parents wanted him to do (including pursuing football, and law school, two things we know Johnny did, indeed, do) and now that they are gone, he feels like he has not lived his own life. So he has come from Ohio to the coast, and finds himself drawn to the ocean, and to surfing. We understand that Johnny is trying to manipulate Tyler into helping him, and we know for a fact that he made up the death of his parents. Watching the film without the knowledge of what comes after might further lead us to presume that this entire monologue is false as well––and likely, in Johnny’s mind, at this point, it is. But in fact, whether he realizes it or not, this moment holds a lot more truth than it initially suggests. Johnny's attraction to Bodhi and the surfing lifestyle suggest that the FBI, law school, college football, etc, may not be the life he truly desires to live. We know nothing definitive about his parents (except that they are alive), and we cannot say for sure that they did indeed influence Johnny’s life path in such a way, but it is certainly more than likely that Johnny’s “lie” is based at least in a modicum of truth. This scene indicates Johnny’s uncertainty of his status within the world of the FBI (which in this reading we understand to be representative of heterosexuality/heteronormativity, the enforcers of law, i.e. convention, in opposition to the free-spirited, criminals, i.e. queer, surfers), and a feeling of being drawn, a desire toward the transgressions of Bodhi and his crew. Crucial to this understanding of Bodhi’s lifestyle is the orgasmic delight that Johnny experiences as he learns to surf, and similarly as he accompanies Bodhi on more adrenaline-chasing expeditions, like skydiving.
Since the removal of the Production Code in 1967, there has been an influx of denotatively queer characters within the media. In regards to television, there have been a number of successful primetime shows such as Will and Grace, Glee, Modern Family, and Brooklyn 99, that have featured complex denotatively queer characters that play important roles within the series, unfortunately this normalization of queerness is particularly lacking within youth-oriented media. This absence is because the representation of queer lifestyles often gets flagged or categorized as ‘adult content’ and because of this youth audiences are rarely ever exposed to denotative queer characters (Schieble, 208). Even though there has been a lot of progress towards embracing queerness in today's society, there is still an abundance of viewers who hold more conservative values. For example, in 2014, ‘Good Luck Charlie’ would become the first show on Disney to feature an openly gay couple. While the couple only appeared in that single episode, many viewers were outraged and the network received plenty of backlash for depicting a queer relationship. A conservative watchdog organization by the name One Million Moms, had a big issue with this episode and began an email campaign prompting Disney to avoid ‘complex’ and ‘controversial’ topics such as homosexuality because they felt that the adolescent viewers would be too young to understand.
The consistent coding of witches as queer means a few things for queer visibility. On the one hand, like discussed above, depicting witches as queer is not as challenging or high-risk as coding human, central characters as queer. Coding witches as queer can be seen as a way to avoid potential anger from audiences or networks because previously marginalized characters may not be as important to these audiences. On the other hand, witches are everywhere. With shows like Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch being rebooted, it shows that audiences are enjoying witch content. With more witch content comes the possibility of more queer characters in movies or on mainstream television. This means more opportunities for well-rounded presentations of queer characters that don’t die or kill.