“Daddy and the Muscle Academy”
The Mystique of Tom of Finland
For most gay men, Tom of Finland is a household name when thinking about biker gear and leather regalia. “Daddy and the Muscle Academy,” a documentary by the Finnish filmmaker Ilppo Pohjola, shows us the dedication of Tom’s fans. He influenced both fashion and fantasy and this documentary tries to show why he became so important and recognizable.
The film spends most of its time studying Tom’s drawings and analyzing the elements of Tom’s mystique. Because of the explicit nature of his art, he used a pseudonym. In his early years, he tended to go for images that were wholesome men but this eventually led him to his idealized erotic images for which he is best known. These included friendly, muscular men who “share many forms of sex and companionship, always in a spirit of affectionate ease.” The film shows us hundreds of these drawings and it seems that each is each “more acrobatically and anatomically miraculous than the last.”
Beyond providing a showcase for Tom’s trademark-worthy version of the male pinup, director Pohjola gives some minor analysis. He points out that Tom’s men favor boots, sideburns, mustaches and motorcycle caps and that they often smile engagingly even in the midst of group sex. Tom’s fascination with military and particularly fascist iconography (swastikas appear in some of his work) his work is actually becomes an effort to sexualize images of power. Unfortunately the film’s analytical and biographical aspects are shallow and hover over everything else
While the name Touko Laaksonen is not a familiar one, the pseudonym of Tom of Finland, is known worldwide. Long before hyper masculine male sexuality was seen in public, Tom of Finland was among the first to present gay male sexuality as “uncompromising, unapologetic and undeniably masculine.” The film does provide some intriguing insights into the man and his work. Tom said, ” I took all of the properties that I myself did not have and put them into this comic figure,” and here we see the difference between the man, his fantasies and the type of men he idolized. His robust, handsome and refreshingly forthright male figures gave positive role models for confused adolescents as well as adults.
Tom’s men don’t appear to be even remotely conflicted by their “deviant” sexuality and they come across as adjusted individuals who thoroughly and shamelessly indulge in and enjoy their same-sex activities. According to Tom himself, his “work stems from the school of photo-realism, characterized by extremely meticulous depiction of detail.” He exaggerated the male genitalia and this became one of his trademarks. Tom of Finland’s major innovation was to subvert the macho image and this has had profound effect on pop culture. I did find it to be disturbing to learn that Tom of Finland discovered his sexuality with German soldiers during WWII, and he admits to the influence Nazi propaganda had on his artwork–a provocative but understandably controversial factor that was unexplored by this film.
Tom himself is interviewed, shortly before his death in 1991 at the age of 71.