Saturday, July 15, 2006
The Sexual Allure of the Dark Alter Ego
Here’s the back story on this blog entry: Yesterday I was Googling for pirate photos (seeking a model for a portrait), and I made a fascinating discovery concerning the actor Anthony Stewart Head. Most Americans know Tony Head as the man who played Rupert Giles on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the Sunnydale High librarian who served as Buffy’s “watcher.” I was at least savvy enough to know he has a great singing voice, from the episode of the show that was done as a musical. But I didn’t realize Tony has been very active in theater throughout his career, including many lead parts in musicals.
I was thrilled to find he had played both Captain Hook in “Peter Pan” and the Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance.” As the character of Giles, Anthony Stewart Head was such a restrained, steady, academic type; by contrast seeing him in these dashing roles was quite impressive. But the even more interesting discovery I made was that he had also portrayed Frank N. Furter in more than one production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
For those not familiar with this character, made most famous by Tim Curry, Frank is a mad scientist from outer space. More importantly, he is a hedonistic transvestite who will and does have sex with males, females, humans and aliens alike. Better minds than mine have tried to account for the rampant sex appeal of such an unlikely character. I tend to think it has to do with the combination of his perfect British diction and his overt sensuality. Frank’s costumes and makeup are designed not so much as convincing drag, but as conveyances of transgender sexual allure. Meanwhile his voice never loses that diction that seems to represent all things restrained and civilized. It’s as if he embodies the fall of the Victorian era.
The sudden sight of the refined, mild-mannered Giles of Buffy fame decked out in a corset, fishnet stockings, eyeliner and lipstick was an even more powerful depiction of that concept.
All of which brings you to me last night, staring at that photo of Tony Head in drag, thinking, “Oh God this photo is hot.” Naturally I had to wonder why.
Let’s see now...while I recognized the sex appeal of Tim Curry as Frank, as far as “Rocky Horror” characters I was much more obsessed with Richard O’Brien as Riff Raff. Meanwhile, I never had a crush on Giles either (I was a Spike girl). Nevertheless, when he spoke I had to savor that British accent, and when he sang in the Buffy musical, I was bowled over by his rich baritone. But at any rate, it wasn’t Frank N. Furter nor Anthony Stewart Head that set me off last night, but Tony Head as Frank N. Furter.
Upon further reflection, I could tell my subconscious was running some little secret scenario in which Giles locked the door of his office in the Sunnydale High School library, slipped out of his tweed jacket with the suede elbow patches and his glasses, and miraculously transformed himself into the Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania. Wow.
Let me clarify at this point that I am not normally turned on by men in drag, nor are most of the people who have obsessed over Tim Curry and other Franks over the years. However, I am apparently turned on by the idea of a repressed British college professor transforming into a sex maniac bent on seducing everything in his path.
This alter ego business is no new trick. Jeckle and Hyde are the most famous literary example of a good guy and his dark side battling it out. Something similar happened to Captain Kirk in an episode on the original “Star Trek.” The upcoming “Spider-man 3” movie will feature the perennially nice superhero transformed into evil (you gotta love that black and silver Spidey suit).
As always, my mentor Carl Jung has an explanation for what is going on with this tendency for alter egos to be so alluring. He believed there is nothing so desirable and attractive to the psyche as those parts of it that are lost by being repressed. We hide away our “evil” or socially unacceptable traits, our dark side if you will, and try to deny it exists. For the most part this is a good thing! But in fantasy we can indulge that dark side, and for the sake of mental health it’s beneficial that we do.
Seeing a person, particularly of the opposite sex, transformed into his own dark side, is powerful stuff. If that dark side has a sexual element (which it nearly always does), the transformation can be erotically alluring in the extreme. This change seems fraught with dangerous, mysterious power. It opens up endless possibilities that were previously unimaginable.
Frank N. Furter’s character is not so much about transsexuality as transformation. He is a guy who completely indulges his dark side and urges others to do the same. To have a refined, civilized champion of good, Giles, become this character without warning really blew me away.
Just thinking about it makes me a little crazy. And isn’t it fun when life throws you something like that?