The antique being shown on the Movie Channel was "Jungle Manhunt." It was made long ago as part of a kid-targeted series of cheapie Jungle Jim movies starring Johnny Weissmuller as a jungle guide who, despite wearing clothes, was only slightly higher on the food chain than Tarzan, the role he played for 16 years.
If you were a kid watching "Jungle Manhunt" at a Saturday matinee in 1951, you learned that rivers, not just oceans, contained large schools of huge man-eating sharks (not true) and that chimps were always lovable, cute, benign little tykes (also not true). Silly stuff.
What you also learned, however, was that indigenous jungle natives (presumably they were African, although their headdresses looked decidedly Latin American) were essentially mindless buffoons who had no meaningful culture and required the superior wisdom of whites (i.e. Jungle Jim) to survive the perils of the bush. And you learned that an urban American woman (played by Sheila Ryan) would happily dash her own dreams and sacrifice a pile of money and the comforts of home for the opportunity to live a rugged life in the jungle with her loincloth-clad man (played by pro football player Bob Waterfield). He may have been a real lox, but he was her guy, and a gal always followed her guy.
Compared with "Jungle Manhunt," "Indecent Proposal" looks like a treatise on militant feminism. Such were the indecent messages of ignorance that Hollywood seeded in pliable young minds during that era, cinematic attitudes that continue to resonate in 1993, thanks to television's hunger for old movies.
However, kids seeing "Jungle Manhunt" and its equally hokey, fun-to-watch companion films on TV today at least have the benefit of living in a relatively enlightened age that exposes them to ideas and information that rebut many of the ignorant stereotypes that Hollywood perpetuated in the past.
\o7 Relatively enlightened\f7 are the operative words, for, in many ways, it's still a jungle out there.
The difference is that some of the ugliest stereotypes spewing at America these days--as the debate over lifting the ban on homosexuals serving in the military intensifies via television--have the look of a gay hunt. And this time the mindless buffoons are in a position of power.
This is occurring even as TV's intelligent depictions of gays are largely on the upswing, from the calm acceptance of a lesbian character on ABC's "Roseanne" to a recent "60 Minutes" segment about the peaceful inclusion of homosexuals in the Dutch military.
If nothing else, however, television is a medium of clashing images. What's so striking about the Senate Armed Services Committee's hearings on the gays-in-the-military issue is the deftness with which that panel's chairman, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), has commandeered television for his own purposes. An outspoken foe of President Clinton's stated plans to lift the Pentagon's ban on homosexuals in the military, Nunn has proved himself a shrewd media manipulator, doling out photo opportunities, for example, that television has been unable to resist.
The most vivid came last week when TV cameras captured members of the Senate committee visiting the Navy's Norfolk, Va., naval complex and eliciting comments from sailors and Marines about lifting the ban. It was quite a media spectacular and hardly a forum--speaking on national TV in front of one's buddies and commanders--that encouraged dissent from the military's support of the present no-gays policy.
So Nunn got largely what he wanted, along with pictures--of sailors squeezed together in their bunks--that surely fed wild, irrational fears and panic about straights and gays serving together in close quarters.
The anti-gays-in-the-military crusade didn't begin this month. As early as last January, as Clinton's infant presidency began sinking in controversy over his vow to end the ban, a fundamentalist church in Lancaster began widely distributing a nasty video titled "The Gay Agenda," featuring public nudity and vivid descriptions of sex practices ascribed to gay men. Also being readied for distribution is another anti-gay video called "Our Military Under Siege."
It's no wonder that gay activists have begun counterattacking. Hence, video wars.
"It was something we felt we had to do," said Julian Siminski, co-producer of "To Support and Defend," a 28-minute video supporting the rights of gays to serve in the military. Like "The Gay Agenda," "To Support and Defend" has been distributed on Capitol Hill, and Siminski and co-producer Rob Wilson are also hoping to raise enough money so that their video can be aired on TV as an infomercial.
Introduced by Cybill Shepherd, "To Support and Defend" is strictly soft sell, propaganda at its most honorable, consisting mostly of testimonials from gay, and also some straight, military personnel.
Says lesbian Capt. Pam Mindt, an Army veteran and currently a member of the Minnesota National Guard: "I'm someone's daughter. I'm someone's sister. I'm someone's aunt. I'm a therapist. I'm a director. I'm a writer. I'm willing to die for my country. How threatening is that?"
Heterosexual Vietnam veteran Bruce Graner, who serves under Mindt in the Minnesota Guard, notes the gays whose names appear on the wall in Washington memorializing those who died for their country in Vietnam. "I wanna know who's going to start chiseling names off," he says.
His words are a poignant counterpoint to gay stereotypes.
We're bound to get smarter. So it's likely that in 40 years we'll be slapping our sides and laughing as hard at these stereotypes as we now do at the cartoonish ones in those old Weissmuller movies. The homophobic earthquake isn't as funny, however, when viewed from its epicenter.