Last Saturday I saw the wonderful Andrew O’Neill‘s History of Heavy Metal comedy gig, and you should too! His fantastic riff on the influence of queer subcultural fashion on metal bands, via Rob Halford’s closet, struck a chord (pun intended) with anyone familiar with certain children’s cartoons too… For those of you not sat in front of your televisions religiously between 8.30-10am on a Saturday morning in the late 80s and early 90s, here is a rundown of the heroic characters I grew up on, and their Muscle Mary aesthetic.
First up, on our tour through the Hall of Gloriously Masculine 80s Heroism ™ , He-Man. Tiny pants, bare chest and boots will become something of a theme in this post. (as will overly cute sidekicks of dubious origins, but that’s another post)
Another classic outfit in this genre modelled by the heavily blowdryed Lion-O, of the Thundercats.
That’s a very manly pose right there, hand on hip, fist aloft. I have to ask, is the six-pack window an attempt to create a masculine equivalent to the ‘boob window’ of DC’s Powergirl fame?
Next up, something for those who appreciate a man in uniform… and a horse who bears a striking resemblance to Dave Lee Roth. (who is obviously very, very straight… no really, he insists, loudly)
This was Bravestar and his sidekick Thirty-Thirty, a talking horse he sometimes actually rode upon. Honestly, I have no idea how much that horse is or is not wearing, given the colour scheme, but it’s all made of metal and leather.
Speaking of leather, check out Modo, Vinne, and Throttle: The Biker Mice from Mars. Definitely an aesthetic specifically designed to appeal to a mainstream female audience right?
Whilst this is all hilarious to my current queer eye for the hero guy perspective, I do actually have a point to make here. I am actually very glad that this visual trend happened. Yes, really.
Whether we chalk this up to adorable naïveté on the part of many graphic artists, or come to the conclusion that certain genres were simply dominated (fnar fnar) by gay male creative directors, a whole generation of young people grew up viewing this aesthetic as heroic, and overwhelmingly positive. Though adults in this period were often busy decrying ‘the homosexual lifestyle’, see Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, they somehow failed to notice the wonderful ‘propaganda’ broadcast to small children.
There are many reasons that a hypermasculine aesthetic of exposed muscles and leather hardware became associated with gay subculture, but I can’t see how it made the leap to heroic cartoons for children. Does anyone else have any good suggestion?