New Mad Beginnings

 

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Beginnings are difficult for everyone – even Mad Men.  Not that the season 7 premiere Sunday night was bad.   But just like the announced passing of the CBS late-night torch to Stephen Colbert from David Letterman last week, it leaves a lot unresolved as to what the final verdict will be.

This is, of course, what great writing, great TV and a great life are all about. What’s the point if from the very start you know what the outcome will be?  You have to take risks, be a little messy and certainly subvert expectations a bit – especially if you want to land at the very top of your game by the time you get to the finish line.

This is echoed no better than in the words of Mad Men’s anti-heroine Peggy Olson – the slightly mousy 1960s gal from the boroughs who has now made it all the way to her supposed dream advertising job of creative director – when she flips out at all the easy-answer mediocrity surrounding her and screams at anyone in the office who will listen:

You’re all just a bunch of hacks!

Never mind that Ms. Olson, who is clearly correct in her assessment, ends the episode crying alone on her living room floor in sheer exasperation at what her life has become.  Please, who among us hasn’t done that at least more than once in their lives while striving for greatness? Well, if you’re not among them then you’re also not a part of the very large group of us who have also bellowed in frustration about the sheer creative laziness of co-workers and/or competition in your industry and the ways in which that type of behavior goes rewarded.

Plus girl can wear the crap out of a pantsuit

Plus girl can wear the crap out of a pantsuit

Count me among both the screamers and the criers AND as a Peggy Olson-esque persona who is damned proud of both.  Not that this is any guarantee of happiness.  Though certainly it does not mean you are sentenced to a lifetime of misery.  All it indicates is that you’re willing to take the chance at following your own path.

This ensures a constant lifetime barrage of new beginnings – of starting over and over again fairly consistently – never sure of what the final result will be but positive that at least you are doing the best that you can.  And that if your best doesn’t work you can always start over once more.  AND that, in the end, you are okay with that.

What’s fascinating is how the reaction to those who live this kind of life credo has not changed all that much through the ages.  For example, though Mr. Colbert taking over the late-night spot held so long by David Letterman evoked all kinds of positive responses last week, there was also an equal amount of hysterical trepidation.  Would Colbert on one of the major networks be de-fanged and become the dreaded kinder, gentler and horribly bland comedian?  Isn’t the late-night big network format in general too old for words, ensuring that anyone with an edge or formerly known for having an edge and now trying to become mainstream, would surely be doomed to failure?  And then there’s my favorite – why can’t we just have The Colbert Report and The Daily Show starring Jon Stewart forever?  Why does television always have to mess with a good thing in search of more audience, much more money and the most in ratings?

and why mess with an EGOT winner anyhow?

and why mess with an EGOT winner anyhow?

There’s only one simple answer to this and all of life’s questions – evolution.

You might think now that you want an eternity of The Colbert Report and The Daily Show but at some point they will seem as dated as the recording of last year’s Blurred Lines is now finally (and thankfully) beginning to feel.  And I know this for sure because I’ve lived through eras when Vanilla Ice, Kirk Cameron AND Arnold Schwarzenegger were all at the very top of their fields and seemed unlikely to ever disappear if the public had its way.

Mr. Colbert is smart enough to know all of the above as well as a lot of other stuff.  That’s why he is who he is and where he is.   He’s not afraid to evolve and his fans should allow him to lead the way.  Besides, how extreme do any of them think that change will ultimately be?  Has anyone watched Late Night with Seth Meyers?  I’m a big fan but much of the first half of his show, especially his monologue, is nothing more than an expanded version of the Weekend Update segments he rose to fame with on Saturday Night Live.  Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show is simply a slightly modified riff on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with a few more mainstream jokes and celebrities and a slightly better set.  Though it is technically 60 years old, the current Tonight Show has evolved into something quite different from those led by the five and a half hosts that came before Fallon (Note: the half being Conan O’Brien).  Tune into Fallon any night of the week and you’ll hear not only a different theme song but see a series of fan-based, softball interviews that have nothing at all to do with what Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson or even Jay Leno did with their guests.

Though I doubt you'd see Johnny playing sticky ball with Harry Potter...

Though I doubt you’d see Johnny playing sticky ball with Harry Potter…

As for Colbert, he will be NOTHING like Letterman but probably more than a little like the fictional Colbert character he played for years on Comedy Central sans the self-reflexive conservative bigotry. That’ll be yet another in a string of new beginnings that, when you look closely at them, are really much needed readjustments and jump-starts moving us (and him) to the next level and the future.

Which brings us back to Mad Men.  It is now 1969 and there is nothing as prescient as looking at one of the most turbulent social upheavals in American history through the lens of hindsight.  Women like the aforementioned Ms. Olson didn’t seem to have a chance back then – except when they did.  But Ms. Olsen didn’t know that and it is this struggle that makes Mad Men so endlessly fascinating even when one fears it is drowning in a series of clichés.

No decade or the music or the clothes it spawns seem trite, corny or overdone at the time.  Which is why everyone should bridle at the all-knowing critiques of the first episode’s portrayal of late 1960s L.A. fashion, housing and slang.  Yes, women wore earrings THAT BIG and skirts THAT SHORT.  Yeah, men in their thirties, forties, fifties and sixties grew out their sideburns, donned love beads, smoked grass and said phrases like FAR OUT.  And if not every young person in their twenties hit their parents with lines like anger can’t make anything better, only love can those that didn’t certainly didn’t find anything out of the ordinary when that kind of thing came up in conversation.

Perfectly acceptable clothes to wear while picking someone up at the airport.

Perfectly acceptable clothes to wear while picking someone up at the airport.

The year 1969 in America is probably one of the most difficult to film and not merely because of Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War, the moon walk (Note:  Neil Armstrong’s, not Michael Jackson’s) and the various other socio-political events of the day.  It is because that year was still full of unbridled idealism about the power of love and the non-violent changes it could evoke.  It was also due to the fact that the world was still filled with bright primary colors that were seen as hipper than hip rather than a silly throwback to the faux lollipop world of childhood.  And, as a west coaster of 30 years I am proud to say it is in part because California was undeniably THE go-to destination city for a front row seat to every last drop of all of it.

Watching an iconically handsome, square-jawed Madison Avenue idea man like Don Draper maneuver through an over-accessorized Canyon home in 1969 Los Angeles is a bit akin to seeing the oil-slicked fish of the Louisiana gulf coast struggling to survive the BP oil spill.  We know something has gone terribly wrong and even though what we’re seeing is true and probably important, in both cases it’s just not very pleasant to watch.   Even when Don goes back to his fabulous penthouse in New York City it doesn’t feel much better.  He’s lost his footing – as most people his age had in 1969 – and the cold cruel reality of change is beginning to literally enshroud him by the end of the premiere episode.  Much like the decade itself, there was little irony to be seen in that.

So where's this all going to lead?

So where’s this all going to lead?

Matthew Weiner, Mad Men creator and the writer of last night’s premiere, as crafted yet another new beginning for a TV series that continues to reinvent itself for every year of the changing decade it portrays while remaining essentially the same at its core.  He knows what he’s doing even when the rest of us have our doubts and that is how it should be.  Artists, like friends, family members and even some politicians, earn your trust over time by living their lives this way – either publicly, privately or both.  It doesn’t much matter whether they fail or succeed with each decision they make or in any given moment they decide to create or even live.  What matters is the overall effect on both the world and on you.  As a die-hard fan of Mad Men and the 1960s who knows all too well the value of new beginnings I’m willing to trust the process for now and go along on the ride.  If things go awry, I can always protest. Or maybe create another new beginning and do better on my own.

 

Adapting the Recipes

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recipe; plural noun: recipes

     1. 
a set of instructions for preparing a particular dish, including a list of the ingredients required.

There are recipes for success, failure and everything in between.  Or are there?  I mean, I can give you directions on how to make the perfect bruschetta (Note:  And I will in a bit if you’re patient) but it might not come out exactly to your liking.  Or you could stray from my instructions and produce something much better and more to your liking.  That’s the thing with recipes.  They need to be adapted to the person or situation at hand.

For instance, last week I actually went to my local movie theatre (imagine!) and saw the new film, Noah.  Never mind that it was about a subject as old as the Bible because it quite literally dates back to a story told in that book that long ago.  This Noah promised to be, well, promising.  It’s directed and co-written by one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers, Darren Aronofsky (yes, I loved Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream still haunts me,  and The Wrestler spoke to me quite personally about a guy in a neighborhood not totally dissimilar from my own).  The film was also rumored to employ all of the newest technology of the day in the service of updating a classic good vs. evil story that spoke to the issues of today.  And, most importantly, many of the extreme fundamentalist right wing nuts in this country were already up in arms about Noah’s heathen-like approach to religion weeks before it had even come out.  So, to quote an old Jewish philosopher and great aunt of mine, what could be bad???

I'm flooded with puns to make here, but I will resist.

I’m flooded with puns to make here, but I will resist.

Well… Noah could.  Though that’s solely my opinion about what seemed like a pretty good recipe on paper.  Still, the film that I saw featured a mumbling and earnestly crazed Russell Crowe doing Bible speak as if it were Shakespeare; CGI’d Transformer-like boulders with glowing eyes pulverizing tens of thousands of starving humans trying to come aboard a large CGI raft made up to look like an arc; and a dull, meandering narrative that precluded any possible thematic resonance to what I see as our contemporary world.

Yes, that’s merely one man’s (Note: this man’s) opinion.  Which is the point.

There is no real recipe for anything, nor has there even been – merely guidelines, suggestions and ideas.  No matter what you’re cooking up, you have to interpret your thoughts and the ideas of others in order to arrange them in something that makes sense to you at the time.  And even then, there is no guarantee of success, or even failure.  Merely a completion of the task that you hope upon hope will work for you and, perhaps, a few others.  And – if you’re really skilled or lucky – a number quite far beyond that.

The Chair on a stool.

The Chair on a stool.

This past week I was at the Finger Lakes Film Festival (FLEFF) in Ithaca, NY and spoke on a panel entitled Diaries of Dissonance: Filmmaking In And Outside the Mainstream.  It was an eclectic group of filmmakers, fundraisers, marketers, writers and educators speaking about the way new work is created, financed and exhibited in an ever-changing global media and political landscape.  That’s a lot of fancy words for questions like: Do you tailor your material to the big screen, Web, smart phone or iPad? How do you raise money for anything but the most mainstream pabulum?  Or – Why is the US trailing so many other countries in state-supported arts programs and how do we shift our value system back to a more community-based, less corporatist way of thinking?

Looking out into the faces of the many young people in the audience I was forced to reveal the answer that no one wants to hear – especially when they’re young.  And that is — there is no sure-fire recipe for any of that.  Nor does one exist for anything else.  Somehow it’s easier to believe that there is THE ANSWER out there rather than to shift one’s thinking to the truth that only educated trial and error amid real thought will get you to where you want to be rather than strict memorization and adherence to a pre-digested formula and/or set of rules guidebook that will guarantee you victory or your money back.

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That is the excitement and the conundrum of working in the arts or doing anything creative.  In math 2+2=4 and in science the world is round and not flat (Note:  It’s  still safe to say the latter, right???).  Those formulas have been proven and do work 100% of the time.  However, the joy of creativity is that there are a myriad of answers to the telling of any one story and none of them are right or wrong.  They…..just….are.

It is particularly important to remember this when critiquing and counter-critiquing the work of the day.  Apparently, there was a media revolution last week with the airing of the series finale of the long-running sitcom How I Met Your Mother.  I know this not only as an obsessive culture vulture but as an observer of many college aged seniors and juniors whose voices angrily raised about three octaves shouting their post mortem horror and disgust at how disappointed they were that the mother was actually (SPOILER ALERT!) dead and their beloved Ted Mosby would probably wind up with Aunt Robin after all.

Sigh.

Sigh.

Yet to me, this seemed to be the right ending – probably because I stopped watching the show years ago right around the time after Ted and Robin broke up and each were moderately successful yet still somehow semi-miserable in their own single lives.  Of course, that could be a recipe all its own – bail years before something is over so you create the ending of your choosing rather than to wait for the real-life one that might displease you.  Ugh, I hope not.

In fact, when I tried to create a premature ending to what seemed like an endless 24-hour commute from Los Angeles to upstate N.Y. this weekend it fell flat miserably.   You know the drill — you get to the airport and your plane is taking off two hours late.  Then you arrive in a big city like NYC and you have a two-three hour layover to make a connection to a smaller city.  But the crew of the commuter plane you’re taking in the next flight has been delayed on its connecting plane and you have to wait another 90 minutes.  Then you’re on the ground in your plane for another hour in airport ground traffic.  Only to finally land in your location several hours late to find the car-rental place you used to reserve your vehicle to take you to your hotel closed at 12:30am and it’s now almost 1:00am.  So you wait in another company’s car rental line, get an alternative vehicle and drive though endless very dark roads in a new car where your lights don’t seem to get bright enough and your GPS suddenly goes in and out on the fritz.

You pray you will get to the hotel you’ve reserved in time and you don’t speed but you do go the speed limit, alternating between shining your bright headlights and keeping them low when appropriate.  After another 45 minutes you can practically see your destination on the horizon when the bright lights of a police car shine on you out of nowhere and pull you over on a highway that is about to end for no apparent reason whatsoever other than to tease you into believing you soon just might be able to rest.   Then, suddenly an extremely short Highway Patrolman with a shaved head, Pharrell Williams-type hat and an accent right out of Deliverance stops his car, leisurely ambles over and barely explains that when he shined his headlights at you back there that you shined yours back.  You quickly realize that clearly he took this as an insult and sign or disrespect when it was just merely a safety measure on your part to make sure that your lights were indeed working properly.

I believe the official name is the "Oh Shit" moment

I believe the official name is the “Oh Shit” moment

Anyway, he then leaves while you’re in mid-sentence in explanation and takes another 10 minutes in his car to write you a $210 ticket for failure to dim (could I make this up?) which you’re actually thankful for because you were sure he was using that time to impound your car and throw you in a rural jail where you would be sentenced to hard labor and never see the light of any highway ever again because you will be murdered in your cell for being gay, or for simply answering someone back in much too sassy a manner (Note: As if there’s a difference).

When you finally do get to the hotel at 3:30 am you notice that the warning at the bottom of the ticket stipulates that, if you attend, your hearing will be held in a criminal court – and that if you plead guilty to this offense you could have your license taken away.  This does not cheer you and will give you nightmares.  Most certainly, it has convinced you that there is, nor ever again will there be, any sure-fire recipe for reliable cross-country air travel.  Ever.  At least not in your lifetime.

Well, perhaps recipes are better left for food items since cooking, especially baking, lends itself a bit more to scientific formulas.  Of course, that might be the case in creating the dish but nothing more.  For instance, an article in the Huffington Post several days ago touted a headline offering The World’s Best Cake but when I clicked on the story I found that it was actually the world’s best cake according to the citizens of Norway and it showed an unappetizing photo of a large yellow rectangle with a heavy cream filled middle, topped with slivered almonds.  This all looked, quite frankly, disgusting.  Forget that personally I’m allergic to nuts but the idea that the world’s best cake could possibly not include — chocolate????  I don’t think so.

Really?

Really?

That being said, the following is the closest I can come to a sure thing.  It is a bruschetta recipe I appropriated from an old Italian cookbook and doctored a bit.  It’s simple and it never fails.

THE CHAIR’S BRUSCHETTA

1. Take three baskets of cherry tomatoes.  Cut then in half.  Put them on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with kosher salt.

2. Roast them in a preheated oven at 250 degrees for two hours.  Then open the oven, sprinkle them with sugar lightly and continue roasting for another half hour.

3. Take them out of the oven and combine them with one additional basket of raw cherry tomatoes, also cut in half, or even thirds.

4. Pour one-third to one-half of a cup of olive oil (or a bit more) over it.  Then add in  a cup or two or chopped FRESH basil, a bit of salt and pepper.  Then mix and let it sit an hour or so.  Then add a bit more olive oil or salt/pepper to taste.

5. Serve on grilled sourdough, French or other rustic bread.  The best way to do this is brush the bread with olive oil on both sides and grill for 2 minutes on each side.  Take the bread off the heat, rub garlic on one side and cut it in slices.  Then spread a little bit of bruschetta mixture on the garlic side of each piece of bread.

Emma-Stone-Saying-Yum

It is FABULOUS.

Yes, there are no sure-fire recipes in the world but this is the closest to perfection that you will get.  Though in the off-chance you don’t like it you can go watch Noah – or better yet, drive an hour from the airport in upstate NY in the middle of the night, and tell me which of the three was the better experience.  Clearly, there are also no sure-fire wins in life, but I’m more than willing to take the above bet.

The Lion and the Lamb

Screen shot 2014-03-30 at 12.51.12 PM Everything is small until it’s big.  No, this is not a metaphor about gaining weight.  Rather, it is an observation about what you DO and SAY as opposed to what you INTEND and MEAN.  Or at least, what you WANT people to think you INTENDED and MEANT once you realize they don’t like your original meaning or intention.

Seldom does anyone mention Gwyneth Paltrow and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the same sentence – except perhaps movie fans in the Trenton statehouse sifting through the credits of Ironman 3 – but strangely enough both have a strong connection at this moment in time.  And that is:

They have each put their feet so far deep down into their mouths this week that even a team of the best surgeons in the world could not remove them without the pair also having to consult a podiatrist instead of an ear, nose and throat doctor whenever they felt a case of laryngitis coming on.  Though in both cases, the latter ailment might be their best prescriptive course of action.

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Yes, we all misspeak, but to use a tennis metaphor in honor of Maria Sharapova’s birthday later this month, these are unforced errors.  The kind of missteps that could have been so easily avoided had they just thought through what were saying or doing beforehand.  Or even, to use a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? metaphor (because why wouldn’t we?), phoned a friend.

To wit:

Oscar winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her rock star husband Chris Martin (you know, that guy from Coldplay) have decided to separate after 10 years of marriage.  That would be a succinct, adequate announcement for the public from two very famous people.

Instead, Ms. Paltrow has decided to bill the dissolution of their marriage as a Conscious Uncoupling, replete with elaborate supporting explanations from her L.A. based doctor/healer/mentor, Dr. Habib Sadeghi, founder of the Be Hive of Healing Integrative Medical Center in Los Angeles (Note: As if we on the left coast don’t have enough problems).

FInal judgement: bullshit

Final judgement: bullshit

Among other things, Dr. Sadeghi explains that because the average human life expectancy was 33 years of age in 50,000 BC and is now 76 and 81 respectively, for men and women, we need to change our concept of divorce.

(Note: Was there even divorce and marriage in 50,000 BC? Wasn’t it more about dragging someone by the hair with one hand under the strength of an ominously large club in the other until death literally did you part?  In fact, I think it might even still be that way in some territories of our 50 United States, plus Puerto Rico)

Not to be outdone by herself, that same prior week Ms. Paltrow also decided to give an interview with E! News expounding on the plight of working mothers and the special challenges she in particular faces in balancing a film career and parenting in comparison to the average Mom who is employed outside the home.

I think it’s different when you have an office job, because it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening, Ms. Paltrow reckoned.  When you’re shooting a movie, they’re like, ‘We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,’ and then you work 14 hours a day and that part is very difficult.  I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it’s not like being on set.”

You mean multi-millions of dollars worth of private planes and multiple months of time off DON’T….SOLVE….ANYTHING?

And you wonder why actors need writers.

Hey Gywennie.. why don't you stick to the things you do know?

Hey Gwyennie.. why don’t you stick to the things you do know?

On the flip side, there was an aggressively indignant and embattled Gov. Chris Christie giving yet another hour-long press conference basically announcing that an internal investigation done by a law firm chock full of close friends and associates he hired and had New Jersey citizens pay for at a cost of $1 million to uncover the true story of his administration’s Bridge Gate scandal has totally exonerated him personally of any wrongdoing. In fact, not only did it find that Gov. Christie did not order the closing of car lanes to the George Washington Bridge on the anniversary weekend of 9-11 – thus creating the largest recorded traffic jam in the history of the world – but it also categorically stated that the governor had no knowledge of it (or did he?) until one of its perpetrators, a close Christie appointee to the Port Authority, casually informed him after-the-fact in a large group of people during the hustle and bustle of the oh so many 9-11 commemorations he attended.

www.usnews

No, in this case and in this report the blame for the lion’s share of this mess was heaped on the much, much smaller shoulders of Bridget Kelley, chief of staff for Christie at the time, who the report positioned as in an emotional state of mind when she wrote the memo ordering the lane closures.   The exhaustive 360 page report then elaborates that what contributed in part to her taking this particular action was Ms. Kelley’s foul mood due to her recent romantic breakup with Christie’s other former chief of staff and campaign manager.

On his own the governor has referred to Ms. Kelly as a liar and has in previous press conferences called her actions stupid despite the fact that he never talked to her about any of the above face-to-face and chose to fire her not in person but by proxy for those aforementioned misdeeds and/or moods.  Yet when questioned by Bloomberg news reporter Terence Dopp several days ago about those findings and why he terminated Ms. Kelly without allowing her the chance to present her side to him live or even across a crowded room, the governor leaned in to him and pointedly barked:

I don’t know if you can’t take notes or you’re not listening.  For you to characterize my last answer as ‘I didn’t want to ask her because I didn’t want to know’ is so awful that it’s beneath the job you hold.

Of course, several days earlier the governor chose a more measured tone in a cozy, at-home interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer.  Perhaps it’s because Ms. Sawyer asked her questions regarding the actions of Ms. Kelley and his other aides in a much softer tone and with a fire roaring the background, though we will never know for sure.

Sometimes, people do inexplicably stupid things., the governor more gently reflectedto DS… And so that’s what makes it so hard then to, as the guy in charge ….. none of it made any sense to me.   And to some extent it still does not. 

…You don’t sleep, you don’t eat, he continued. You struggle. You struggle. But I do believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Wait, what was that?  Is this guy a lion or a lamb?  A tiger or a mouse? Huh?  HUH???

Which one is it, Chrissy?

Which one is it, Chrissy?

Well, very much like the truth, it depends not only on what you say but how you say it, how people ask it and how others choose to see and/or hear it.  Or in this specific case perhaps on the power of the person doing the asking and your particular mood and/or strategy at the time.

Certainly we have no idea what is in the hearts of Gov. Christie or Ms. Paltrow or anyone else except what they choose to share with us. Or even if they have hearts at all.  All we have is what they say and our interpretation.  That’s all that anyone has really, even with people they know and love or those that fall everywhere in between.  Sure, we might understand and feel stuff based on past experiences and our intuition, but it is important to note that even Samantha Stevens on Bewitched often made the wrong choice and she was a witch.  Not to mention Prof. Charles Xavier in X-Men, who also had a pretty much infallible gift of seeing into other people’s brains but whose life could hardly be described as trouble-free.

Oh I feel you, Samantha

Oh I feel you, Samantha

Still, for those who are sick of considering these issues through the all-too American lens of celebrity comments,  it might help to reflect on a few morally questionable actions and statements  I personally encountered this week – smaller than life though they might be:

#1 The Facebook Frenzy:What was Facebook really thinking by arbitrarily switching us all to that annoying change of font and their persistent larger-than-life ads?  Certainly, they don’t mean to alienate millions of users plus everyone on my news feed by cavalierly doing this without asking?  Are there reasons for the actions we’re not seeing other than an insatiable need for expansion and money and a general disregard of every one of the loyal customers who made them?  Or is the outrage I’m feeling really misdirected anger towards Direct TV because I can’t get their movies to stream properly in the upstairs room of my house due to a perpetually weak Internet signal? #1stWorldProblems.

YES

YES

#2 The Slow Roll: Did the five awful people doing that rolling drive thing in the cars in front of me on five different days this week – oh, you know the one, where the vehicle is going 8 mph in a 25-35 mph zone and you pull next to them only to see the other driver TEXTING – really intend to be that selfish and cause my trip to be an additional two and a half minutes longer than it should have been?  Well, perhaps their texts were urgent?  Or maybe it’s what we all think – that each of them deserves to die a slow, bloody and painful death.  Preferably via ice pick.

#3 The Missing Plane: Were the powers-that-be at Malaysia Airlines purposely intending to look like the most incompetent corporation in the history of the planet by merely textingthe probable death confirmations of all the missing passengers on Flight 370 to their friends, relatives and loved ones only mere seconds before the news was announced to the entire world via press conference?  Or did they have some other kinder, gentler plan in place that went awry?  But what could that have been?  Not telling them at all???

10711-Are-You-Fucking-Kidding-Me

The take away from all of this is to watch what you say and do because the smallest of things can become very big indeed.   Yes, one could conceivably believe Ms. Paltrow thinks she’s re-languaging the world and that her declaration of conscious uncoupling is among the noblest efforts of all.  And sure, others may agree that Gov. Christie is convinced that by bluntly insulting the press and anyone else who challenges him with a question or tone he doesn’t like, he is providing a much-needed version of tough love to a sissy society gone soft.   Certainly a case could be made for both

But each also has many, many, many more detractors.  Read the open letter one working Mom posted via the NY Post that has gone viral in answer to Ms. Paltrow’s views on work and motherhood –

Or simply consider my own personal view of Gov. Christie, echoed in some form by pretty much every person I know or have read –  that he is more like an abusive parent who enjoys publicly shaming his “children” as loudly and threateningly as possible in front of the greatest number of people he can muster in order to deflect any sort of blame or personal responsibility off of himself.

So what’s the lesson here? Hmm, as with most things the devil is what is in the details of what you make of them.

Though I prefer the explanation  my once working mother would most certainly give were she still around to speak on it.

On Gwyneth:

Oh please – she just thinks her shit doesn’t stink!

On Christie:

Oh come on, he’s just one mean son of a bitch bastard.

Yes, I am my mother’s son.  Though in some cases,  no matter how you look at it, that’s not such a bad thing to be.

 

Come Back or Go Away!

Screen shot 2014-03-23 at 1.33.30 PMSometimes you just want to tell someone or something to go away.  Heels that aren’t high enough (Note: Teenage Chair is still mourning the loss of platform shoes); pork roast dinners (Note #2: It’s not a Jewish thing, just the sight of it makes me rickety); and hair with so much pomade and/or other product that it won’t move in the wind (Note #3 – Okay, perhaps it’s just flowing locks of any kind that I crave).

If you’re in the entertainment biz there is also slightly more serious fare you might want to give the ol’ heave-ho to.   These would include people who get undeserved studio deals because they have no discernable talent other than one to charm and persuade – which if not talent, is at the very least is a great asset to possess in 2014.

Standing around the Writer’s Guild this week discussing the latter subject, one of my peers concluded that these very same people become slaves to their profoundly clueless perception of their severe lack of talent and that this, in turn, gives them the supreme confidence and ability to soldier on and win at the business of show despite what any measurable mathematical calculation of real creative acumen would allow.

For example, this week doyennes of the fashion world became outraged when the sacred cow of magazine covers in their universe – Vogue – graced two people on it who many readers saw as the symbol of everything they don’t want as their style cover couple:

More like.. #enoughalready

More like.. #enoughalready

Granted, this might be a step forward from paper-thin, meal deprived models wearing half of a dress that would only lie right if it were draped on a skeleton in the front of the room of a 10th grade chemistry class.  Still, one can understand Vogue readers collectively rolling their eyes, sighing or yelling ‘Go away’ as they hurl the Kimye issue across the room and accidentally break a window due to the sheer weight of paper from all of the additional ads the duos mere presence undoubtedly caused to be purchased.

Feeling cynically depressed yet?  Well, don’t be.

On the flip side of this, there are just as many times that collectively we are all as likely to shout COMEBACK! (or Come back!) at a talented person or commodity or thing that we love that has been absent from the spotlight for too long or secretly seems to have just disappeared for no reason.  Though writers are clearly on average the most cynically depressing in the creative bunch (Note: You will just have to trust me on this), it is interesting to note that my aforementioned Writers Guild discussion segued into one where myself and my peers also listed many famous and infamous talents who were too long absent and whose new works we longed for or whose past works we still reveled in.  Plus – some of them were even friends, acquaintances AND people YOUNGER than us who were a lot more successful and wealthy.  While that entire group might admittedly evoke some envy, we also concluded that their every achievement cause us to be hopeful, excited and more motivated than ever to delve back into our own work because they show us what is possible in the best-case scenarios as they move us or make us laugh.  They also seem to push the collective consciousness just a teeny bit more into the kind of world we want to live in.  Rather than take a job away from us, they also inspire confidence that, contrary to what my parents and numerous T-Shirts you can buy on Café Press say, Life IS (or can be) Fair - even if it’s only sometimes.

I know this is all certainly true because the best show on television, Mad Men, is once again returning to the airwaves on AMC beginning April 13.

All Aboard!

All Aboard!

Sure, it’s a short seven-episode season 7 in 2014 with the final seven scheduled for the final season 8 to be broadcast sometime in 2015.  But that gives us a full 12-18 months for MM’s creative outcome to percolate in the cultural zeitgeist and raise the collective bar a little more, much in the same way Breaking Bad did the previous two years.  And certainly, we could use that.  I mean, God knows who else besides Kimye Vogue editor Anna Wintour (aka our Miranda Priestly prototype) has planned for future cover models.

Therefore, in the spirit of all this and more, the following are a list of some of the other COME BACKS/COMEBACKS and GO AWAYS we will look forward to, wish for or…sigh…dread might happen or not happen in the foreseeable future.  (Note:  Certainly any one of the occurrences or non-occurrences will add or subtract from our collective cultural zeitgeist only as we each see fit – rendering our national average impossible to figure out.  If for nothing else other than self-preservation, it’s probably safer that way).

1. The Comeback

We cherish you!

We cherish you!

Literally the best industry news all week was that HBO is in serious talks for a 2015 limited series return of the cancelled-too-early comedy, The Comeback, with star Lisa Kudrow, who co-created the show along with producing partner Dan Bucatinsky and director-writer Michael Patrick King almost a decade ago.  The docu-style, meta reality series followed the adventures of Valerie Cherish, a seemingly washed-up sitcom star from the 1980s who gets a shot on TV again playing the small supporting role of the older Aunt Sassy on a new contemporary half hour show where she often finds herself shunted to the side and mistreated in favor of younger and fresher talent.  To make matters worse, poor Valerie has also agreed for cameras to film every moment of her real life as a potential reality television show documenting the process.

Mere words cannot describe the sheer glee we fans of this much-overlooked gem feel now that one of our favorite programs – unfairly cancelled after a mere 13 episodes – has a chance at a comeba….well, you get the idea.   The mess of Valerie Cherish’s life managed to be hilarious, cringe-worthy and uncomfortably, heartbreakingly real almost all at the same time.  I myself sometimes had to turn away from the screen for poor Val, guiltily laughing at the indignities of show business realities she willfully subjected herself to weekly.  Yet, like most of the rest of us, she somehow always got through it all with a pasted-on smile even as invisible tears of sadness and occasional joy ran down her face.  PLEASE COME BACK!!

2. Brackets

Maybe we should bring Nate Silver in.

Maybe we should leave this to Nate Silver.

 What is with this word???  Every year at this time I read the newspaper, watch TV or read/see on the web bracket this or bracket that with an accompanying list of sports teams.  Now even the President is getting into it and we have to listen to all those crazies once again criticizing Barack Obama for spending time on the same type of foolishness that each one of them appears equally into.  Hmmm, next thing you know they’ll be criticizing him for going to the bathroom just like them instead of tending to the biologically defying duties of the Oval Office.  I mean, how dare he???  Plus, I bet Putin doesn’t go to the bathroom.  Clearly.

Which brings us back to the dreaded bracket.  Will someone please write about what the hell they really are and why we should care when gambling is illegal in the U.S.?  Oh wait, really?  Gambling is illegal in most places where the bracket counts?  Yeah, it really is.  Trust me, I know.  Even if I don’t know what the hell the term bracket actually means.

Finally, even if sports had nothing to do with this subject I’d still be annoyed because to me brackets really only evoke images of buying those metal thinga-majigs from Ikea or the hardware store that I nail into the wall and put shelves on, only to have them then fall apart, usually knocking me in the head or on the foot as they do.  Then I have to hire a handyman to fix the whole damn thing and it costs me a lot more money than if the word had never come up in my life.  So either way brackets are almost guaranteed to be a losing proposition. The verdict?  GO AWAY!!

3. Charlie Kaufman

Where are you??

Where are you??

He’s a screenwriter who is my age, been nominated for the Academy Award three times and won once, and has never written any original work I didn’t like and respect.  And I’m not even jealous or envious!  Even his last film, Synecdoche, New York, which he also directed, was quite brilliant in my humble opinion despite its mixed reviews. (Note: I remember literally snorting in contempt as several couples left the movie theatre at the showing I attended – those mental midgets!)

Still, it’s been five years since Mr. Kaufman has had an original screenplay made.  Yes, there have been talks he’s once again going to collaborate with Spike Jonze, who directed his scripts for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation (Michel Gondry directed his Oscar-winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and that he himself will write and direct a movie called Frank or Francis that has gone in and out of financing.  But so far – zilch.

My guess is our biggest hope lies with a new Kaufman television pilot for FX, How and Why, to star Michael Cera, John Hawkes and Sally Hawkins.  It tells the story of a man who used to be a TV science guy for kids who gets fired and starts a new show in a small town where Michael Cera is his boss and weird supernatural stuff begins to happen (Note: As if the former weren’t enough).  Yes, they had me at Charlie Kaufman but this idea sounds Great. COME BACK!  NOW!!!

4. The New Male Buzz Cut

If he can't pull it off...

If he can’t pull it off…

STOP IT!!  Just STOP IT right now!!!  Especially if you’re over 35.

I’m sorry, call me crazy (and many do) but this is the butt ugliest haircut for guys in the world.  Pretentious, affected, too coiffed and too contrived.  In short, you’re not too cool for the room when you think you’re too cool for the room.  See, Ryan Gosling is not too cool for the room and he doesn’t have the haircut.  He’s just cool.

Oh yeah, you know the one I mean.  Okay, Macklemore looks cool in it but he’s a rapper and he just won a well-deserved Grammy (Note:  Yeah, I’m on team M and not team Yeezus).  But the parade of male celebs who have gone the super buzz route just because their stylists told them to, only to be followed by every other gay guy at the gym and every straight guy who thinks they can have Adam Levine’s love life if they do this same hairdo along with one or several tattoos, is maddening and just plain dead wrong.

Stay away from Leto!

Stay away from Leto!

If you’ve got good hair revel in it cause it won’t last forever.  I say this not out of bitterness, but out of kind-hearted envy and personal experience.  Plus, you will look back at photos 20 years from now and wonder why you were wearing the post-millennial equivalent of a Nehru suit on your head.   GO AWAY!! 

5. Brussel Sprouts vs. Kale & Quinoa

Hello gorgeous

Hello gorgeous

As a child of the sixties and seventies, I grew up thinking vegetables were these soggy sweet, soupy things from a can that were rancid.  In fact, the words Del Monte and Birdseye still literally make me nauseous to this day.

The re-invention of the fresh vegetable as a thing of beauty across America and the many options for its preparation to the masses was one of the only great things to come out of the 1980s, in my mind.  That is, aside from meeting my life partner.  We can thank many people for this, most notably Alice Waters, one of the leaders of the organic food movement and founder/chef extraordinaire from Chez Panisse. (Note:  No, she had nothing to do with the partner and I meeting, but still…)

In tribute to Ms. Waters then, it is with great joy that I wholly endorse a revival of the much ignored but very, very tasty brussel sprout.  Not sure why but they seem to be everywhere these days as the vegetable of choice in restaurants across the country.  They’re good for you (High fiber/low fat) and very easy to make (roast them with a little olive oil and salt ‘n pepper at 450 degrees for 15-20 mins.) and in my mind beat both kale and quinoa into the ground.  Not to say the latter two are bad – just tiresome.  They’re tolerable, even good sometimes, but they’ve become sort of like watching any movie, TV show, commercial or anything else featuring Ashton Kutcher.

7. Hannah Horvath

hateeveryone1

She is Lena Dunham’s alter ego on Girls and I love both the show and the character.  But like any best friend or love partner for life you occasionally need a break.  This is what’s happening these days with Hannah and us.

It’s hard to watch the twenty-something version of yourself at your worst and most insecure slowly destroy your life and every meaningful relationship you’ve ever had scene by scene with that rare combination of extreme narcissism and neediness.  Luckily, there is only half an hour more for this season and Hannah can go away to regroup while we can recall why we are forever grateful to have our twenties decades behind us.  (Note: For those of you who don’t fall into the latter category, our deepest sympathies).  GO AWAY – but only for a while.

8. The Homosexual

Imagine my surprise to read this week in both the NY Times and The Advocate that the word homosexual has been officially deemed an “offensive term” by GLAAD and will be avoided at all costs by the paper of record.  Apparently, this has something to do with the fact that if you take the term gay marriage and call it homosexual marriage it will sound funny – sort of like the equivalent of referring to an African American person as colored in 2014.

Wasn't this enough this week?

Wasn’t this enough this week?

Well, as a gay/homosexual person I am officially confused.  Not in a sexual or lifestyle way – just in an old-fashioned I’m not sure kind of fashion.  And if I’m left scratching my head, I can only image where you must be.  No wonder my transgender friends are up in arms.  Society can barely keep up with the speed in which we’re coming out so you can imagine what it’s like for the keepers of Webster, Wikipedia and Strunk & White.

Here’s my suggestion.  Let’s just call everyone male or female because…Wait, that won’t work either since some people prefer gender non-specifics.  How about human beings?  Too clinical?  What about Mary?  Butch?  Ahh, forget I brought it up.  And you may continue to call me a homosexual  – as long as you’re not Antonin Scalia or Rush Limbaugh – because even if they called me gay I’d know what they really mean.  COME BACK!

9. Super hero movies and 3-D

NO MORE!

NO MORE!

Until you hear otherwise, we here at notesfromachair don’t want to hear anything more about them.    We don’t care that Man of Steel was one of the 10 top grossing movies worldwide in 2013 or that Ironman 3 was….NUMBER #1!???????  

We. Are. Done.  We didn’t see Gravity with those hideous glasses and we still loved it.  We watched Frozen at home and happily sung along to Idina Menzel, not missing a note while the ice in our glass of Diet Coke clinked back and forth.

Yet that same year we were tortured with what seemed like ten and a half hours of a bad Superman reboot that made us long for Christopher Reeve and a multi-million dollar (though nearly unintelligible) cameo from Marlon Brando as his father.  Not to mention the only 12 minutes we saw of our favorite film actor, Robert Downey, Jr. somehow managing to maintain his dignity as he meandered through Iron Man 3.

One day the movie business pendulum will swing the other away and we will hopefully still be able to see and hear. If not, please let us know how it goes.  Until then, do not tell us anything about Man of Steel: Superman vs. Batman.  Isn’t it enough we’re showing you this dumb fake trailer? GO FAR, FAR, AWAY!

10.  24/7 Airplane Travel Disaster Porn

I am planning my first trip to Italy in May and don’t like flying to begin with. So is it too selfish to ask for a moratorium on sensationalizing human airborne tragedy?  My motives for this are not SOLELY selfish, just mostly.    Sheer terror does that to you.  GO AWAY.

11. THE CLINTONS

And we can't stop.. and we don't stop!

And we can’t stop.. and we don’t stop!

Let’s face it, Hillary is running for President in 2016 and will soon be saturating the airwaves.  Bill was dubbed the Explainer-in-chief for the brilliant, powerhouse speech/argument he made at the 2012 Democratic convention that many feel was key in helping win Barack Obama re-election.  Finally, I saw Chelsea Clinton promoting the Clinton Global Initiative this week on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and she is not going anywhere but up.

There is no use voting on this.  They Clintons never went away and they are never going away.  Therefore it makes it impossible for them to come back or to even have a Comeback.  Sometimes life is like that.  And it not only takes hard work, confidence and determination, but real creative talent.  It’s rare but when it happens all the rest can really do is sit back, watch and enjoy the show.  Let’s face it, these days we’ve earned the right to be truly entertained.

When Mute is not an Option

Screen shot 2014-03-16 at 2.15.09 PM

My father seldom scolded me as a child but I do remember there was one instance when he threw up his hands, thoroughly exasperated, when I constantly answered him back on a subject I felt strongly about.

Dad:  You always have to get the last word, don’t you?

Me (in protesting voice):  No, I don’t!

Needless to say, this character flaw has continued into adulthood – as everyone who reads notesfromachair is aware of.

On the other hand, is it really a flaw?

There are many schools of thought on the art of having opinions and knowing when to voice them.  Admittedly, I have learned to zip it through the years if only to conserve the much-needed energy I know I’ll require in order to face the larger fight.  Yes, you find as time goes by that you can’t possibly engage every battle and, even if you could, your overall number of losses would inevitably increase even if the total stats in your win-loss column remains impressive to everyone else.  That alone can drive you crazy, as any fighter of any kind will tell you, myself included.

And when in doubt.. practice makes perfect!

And when in doubt.. practice makes perfect!

Still, what I have not learned nor have any interest in acquiring knowledge of is the ability to remain silent when that little voice in your head tells you it is imperative that you speak.  This is not the same voice that demands that you curse someone out, punch them in the nose or insult their parents, spouse or child when something or someone annoys you.   It is the wiser, more measured voice that implores you to fight back because you know this is a battle that must be fought or a voice that even in small measure has to be heard in order to counterbalance the misinformed, moronic or simply wrong-headed views of another person, group or even nation.

Such circumstances came across my computer screen any number of times this week (as they often do) and I spoke out – loudly, softly, directly, calmly and angrily, depending on the situation.  See, what I’ve also learned is that you can modulate your tone depending on who your audience is and how effective you plan to be in persuading the opposition to your point of view in the argument.  Contrary to what I used to think, that’s not called compromise or selling out your passion or values – it’s simply referred to as– GOOD STRATEGY.  (Or is it “stategery” – GW Bush).

Let’s look at some my examples in a category I like to call:

Nut Bag Fringe & The Religious Crazies (not a band) or The Extreme Right Wing

A common misconception

A common misconception

As a gay person, each day presents numerous challenges in the art of energy conservation and reigning yourself in.  Of course, this is the case for any member of any minority groups fighting for its rights as well as for the friends who love and support them.  But with the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality and the country’s now majority view that members of the same sex have the right to tie the knot, opposing factions have intensified their anger and attacks.  It’s akin to the barely coded and/or totally racist attacks against President Obama and African-Americans at large (Note: Any more comments on inner city laziness, Congressman Paul Ryan?) have had to endure since we elected the first Black man to lead the United States (or in this case – a man who is half-Black) in our more than two and half centuries of existence.  (Note #2: It might be worth recalling that during our first century African Americans couldn’t even vote and were considered “slave property” in many of these United States.  Those in the industry doubting this need merely to pop in their DVD of this year’s best picture Oscar winner, 12 Years A Slave).

Okay, no metaphor is perfect and perhaps I am overstating the comparison here.  I mean, we gays were never enslaved – only discriminated against, arrested, periodically beaten and just every so often killed by our oppressors.   But that in itself is a nice segue into the first of two public statements this past week that needed my answering.

#1: In a nationally-aired radio interview, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (D-MN) tried to defend the just vetoed Arizona bill (SB1062) that would have allowed any business to refuse service to any individuals said business choose not to serve on the basis of religious grounds. Said Rep. Bachman:

There’s nothing about gays in there (the law).  But the gay community decided to make this their measure. 

The thing that I think is getting a little tiresome is the gay community – they’ve so bullied the American people and they’ve so intimidated politicians that politicians fear them – so that they think they get to dictate the agenda everywhere.

boo!

boo!

Now, you can think Rep. Bachmann makes a whole lot of sense or is a whole lotta crazy but the fact remains she is a five-term Congresswoman and has a key position as a member of the House Intelligence Committee (Note: Uh no, not joking) overseeing the CIA and the rest of the United States’ intelligence activities.  She also won the Iowa straw poll in 2012 in her bid to run for the US presidency as a nominee of the Republican Party and speaks for a significant group of religious conservative power brokers within it.  Therefore, any member of any outside group ignores her at their own peril.

What needed answering – as I did on web comments and am doing right here – is Rep. Bachmann’s classic fact distortion about the Arizona bill. Yes, the bill is worded in such a way that it does not specifically name gays and thus allows merchants to refuse service to any people they choose on religious grounds. (Note: As if that makes it any better).  But what she leaves out is the reason for the bill to begin with and the primary cases cited by numerous lobbying groups in support of it.  And that would be Elane Photography vs. Willock – a case in which a Christian wedding photographer was sued for refusing to serve a same sex wedding.  Similar cases involving bakers and florists who chose to refuse gays and lesbians as customers have also been cited.

Don't forget we're also dealing with this logic

Don’t forget we’re also dealing with this logic

This is classic political manipulation akin to pending laws trying to limit early voting, decrease voting hours on Election Day and enforce stringent voter ID laws in states where no overwhelming voter fraud exists or time cutbacks are needed (e.g. Florida, Wisconsin, Florida).  But what is certainly well-known in these states is that the African American and other poor or minority community members – people who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats -  vote early, have limited time on Election Day and frequently don’t have driver’s licenses to easily identify themselves.

Now, as Aretha Franklin once sang, Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

#2:  Here is a story very prominently quoted nationally this week and displayed on a website sponsored by Norman Lear’s watchdog group, People for the American Way:

Oliver North: GOP Must Oppose Marriage Equality Like It Fought Slavery

In an appearance at CPAC today, Oliver North denounced President Obama for treating military service members like “laboratory rats in some radical social experiment” and “apologizing” for America. North insisted that the US “has nothing ever to apologize for, not once” in its entire history.

Later, North said that the GOP must remain firm in working to ban marriage equality and abortion rights just as abolitionists fought to end slavery, warning that “if we as conservatives cease to be a place where people of faith and those who believe in strong moral values can come, we will cease to be a political force in America.”

For those under 30, Oliver North was a key member of Pres. Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council in the 1980s before resigning in the arms for hostages scandal of Iran-Contra and is now a best-selling NY Times author, popular conservative commentator and host of his own television show on the Fox News Channel, War Stories with Oliver North.

Remember me?

Remember me?

When my longtime companion posted the North piece on Facebook this week with an angry comment, one of his Facebook friends, who incidentally is a gay man, commented that “political discourse would probably be less apoplectic if the left didn’t spend so much time publicizing extremist statements by right-wing loonies and if the right didn’t spend so much time doing the same by left-loonies, neither of whom were in positions in power.”

Oh, I so beg and begged in print to this guy, to differ.

OK.. maybe not this aggresively

OK.. maybe not this aggresively

When fringe talk gets national attention and begins gaining national power it is the very definition of political discourse to engage with it – much like a military man like Col. North would do and is doing.  It is imperative.  It is a requirement.  Yes, it’s tiring, but if you are so moved in opposition it is your obligation to answer back and not leave such exaggerated, misinformed statements unchecked.

Rather than dissect each of former Col. North’s arguments point by point, let’s limit it to his comparison of religious conservatives fighting against the right of gays to marry as something akin to the abolitionists who were trying to end slavery.  So the logic goes that allowing gays to marry will somehow enslave religious conservatives?  And those fighting in support of the religious conservative, anti-gay marriage views are akin to those people who wanted to abolish slavery and free the slaves?  How will gay marriage enslave religious people in the same way that African Americans were enslaved?  (Note: Doubters from any industry can rent or download 12 Years a Slave from Netflix and find the correct answer.  Which is:  They will not).

I think the jist is... see this movie!

I think the jist is… see this movie!

See, this didn’t take much time at all.  And it only took me mere moments to answer this guy online with it.  Maybe it changed his mind, maybe it didn’t, or maybe it gave someone else who was on the fence something to think about.

Well, as they say, both Rome and marriage equality weren’t built in a day.  Nor is any cause that gets your goat, or any point the voice inside tells you is worth fighting for or against.  In any arena, playing field, social event or family gathering and on any subject – personal or otherwise – that you know needs your support.  I can’t believe I’m going to end with a sports metaphor but when in doubt think of what hockey great Wayne Gretsky once said:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

…And I don’t even like hockey.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnwDkT0lUWI

We are all Adele Dazeem

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 3.22.40 PMThere are worse blunders in the world than John Travolta introducing a Tony Award winning musical theatre star who has been featured in more than a few movies and television shows, sang this year’s Academy Award-winning best song and also happens to be Jewish, by the fictional, Arabic sounding name of Adele Dazeem at last week’s Oscars.  But not many are more bizarrely fun.

Sure, Idina Menzel (Adele’s real name) might not be an absolute household name, except perhaps in gay households or among rabid fans of the 10 years running Broadway musical Wicked (Note: That in itself might be repetitively redundant). However, you’d certainly think John would at least know who she was.  After all, he did begin his career singing and dancing on Broadway and, well, okay…I won’t mention the rest.

Te he he he

Oh gurl…. te he he he

Still, it was not so much the flub of Ms. Menzel’s name but what it signified that proved to be the perfect metaphor for both the Oscars this year and what movies mean to us.  In a culture of 24/7 news and rabid social media that makes even the most famous accessible to mere Average Joes like you and me, this was just another prick in the mirage of societal “royalty” that has been created by Hollywood over the last century.  This latest little flub exposes the movies for what they are – one endless fake reality.  And the fact that this, rather than any one award winner, is the latest meme of this year’s Oscar show tells us everything about what makes this particular awards program so infinitely watchable even when it’s as boring as hell.

No one mentioned that I dressed like a Civil War general... damn!

No one mentioned that I dressed like a Civil War general… damn!

At their best, movies use contrivance to represent and comment on reality with the philosophy that the ends justify the means.  At their worst they conspire to create a set of ideas that tempt us into buying into a reality that is positioned as something that we want and must have but, in our realities, can never have because it would take an army of 200 technicians of all talents from all walks of life to create it for us in every minute of every day.

There is nothing wrong with reveling a bit in this kind of escape but in hard times that can also be toxic.  As the people of the world become more and more connected movies are becoming less and less about reality, false or otherwise, and more and more about blatant escapism. (Note: With the exception of documentaries, which have created a new commercial subgenre of their own, in part due to the popularity of reality television).  We know this and buy into this but what’s getting harder and harder to buy into are the phony images of the people who star in and make the films we see.  They are now so present in high definition in our living rooms that it’s impossible not to notice that they are nothing but flesh and bone human beings who are talented but not always smart.  Or that they are memorable physical images who often look a bit odd or off-kilter when they appear as themselves and don’t speak the lines that someone else gave them to say.

First let’s deal with the physical:

Of course, there is nothing particularly wrong with attention to physical perfection through whatever technology is available, surgical or otherwise, if being before the cameras is your business or if you just want to look a little refreshed.  There is, however, something very wrong with it if you believe it will permanently freeze you in time at 35 or 45 or, heaven forbid, even 55 – thus creating the illusion that you will never get any older and, in turn, will never die.

Oh Goldie Girl... why?

Oh Goldie Girl… why?

My Mom, fairly unlined without the help of any plastic surgery (thanks for the genes, Mom!), used this as a sort of mantra even after she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 60.  And that way of thinking worked to her benefit for quite a few years before the end finally came.  Yet the only thing we can be sure of in show business and life is that the end will come – to our favorite movie, television show and, regrettably, to us.  So certainly it helps to be able to at least try to separate the fake from the authentic while we’re on the journey before we croak.

This certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t look good while you dream and that you have to live every moment in reality.  I mean, who wants to exist in a 24/7 world with the Ted Cruzes, Kris Jenners, Vladimir Putins or your ex-husband/wife/girlfriend/ boyfriend or family member from hell without some relief?  (Note: Or even could)  On the other hand, to live in the soft gauze of denial as if you were Jean Harlow in a 1930s Hollywood movie won’t do you any good either.  Mostly because at some point the camera and lighting is gone and you will be left as not the lead but, at best, a special guest star with a box around your name at the end of the credits with the word AND preceding it.  Wow.  No wonder Ms. Harlow had the good sense to die at the ripe young unlined age of 26 – even back then.

forever young

forever young

The movie industry is an interesting one in that it’s a dream factory that seems to discard those who can’t consistently live up to the ever-changing beauty and/or ideals of the moment.  This wreaks havoc on not only all of the players in the system since the rules are constantly changing but on us.  Movies confuse us about what is real and true and they substitute a superior, or even inferior alternate reality that can make us feel worse or better about ourselves depending on the film or our moods.  It’s a wonderful escape but it can be equally and awfully sad when we realize our lives will never be as good as our favorite fantasy.

This can and often does cause unbelievable discord on the psyches of those whose chosen lot in life is to be the poster children for our movie fantasies – meaning our movie stars.  And it accounts for all of the plastic surgery or facial injections and hair plugs or fake wigs on many of the female and even male stars, including one of your most famous winners this year.  It also explains the parade of actresses over 50 and 60 at this year’s ceremonies who are barely recognizable remnants of their former selves.

Someone has to say this so I suppose I will:

Do you want to look like Goldie Hawn or Jackie Bisset at almost 70 years old?

Kim Novak or Cloris Leachman in your eighties?

Mickey Rourke or Geoffrey Rush in your early sixties?

John Travolta or Tom Hanks in your late fifties?

If you gaze at the photos side by side you’ll see the difference and note that yes, each pairing are the same or close to the same age.

Here is the dirty little secret no one wants to say out loud.  Even with the best augmentation you can never look as good or vibrant or unlined as someone two decades younger. (Note:  Stand next to the younger version and you’ll see).   It doesn’t fool the cameras or anyone else – only yourself.  The exception is, of course, 76-year-old Jane Fonda.  However, she was born looking like Barbarella, has exercised her body AND HER BRAIN almost every day for her entire life and is, well, Jane.

Bring it, haters

Bring it, haters

Which brings us to the mental:

Actors are given words to say by writers – in the movies and often in real life when they’re out in public.  But sometimes they are still inarticulate and, in the case of the Adele Dazeem debacle, can’t read.  Or, as in the case of this year’s best actor winner Matthew McConaghey’s rambling acceptance speech where he noted that his hero is always himself 10 years from now, revel in the kind of sheer narcissism and gall it takes be a movie star.

When the fakery behind a perfectly poised façade is exposed even further with a classic flub like Adele Dazeem it in turn becomes even funnier and, perhaps, even a little sadly watchable – like when Toto the dog pulls back the curtain to reveal a doughy, human-sized older man pretending to be the larger-than –life, fire-breathing, all-powerful Wizard of Oz

The takeaway from this year’s Oscars and the takeaway you will get from anyone in the movie business who will deign to speak to you honestly about it is this:  there is A LOT you don’t know about Mr. Travolta and Mr. Mcconaughey, as well as Lupita Nyong’o, Jared Leto, Cate Blanchett, Ms. Menzel and all of the hundreds of people behind and to the side of the cameras who made them look good this year.

God Bless the team that makes this hair happen. #pretty #jealous

God Bless the team that makes this hair happen. #pretty #jealous

Though the Oscar selfie Ellen tweeted, and particularly the events leading up to it, did tell us part of the story if you study them closely enough.  Look at the dynamic.  Meryl, the Mom everyone wanted to please; Bradley Cooper the eager and accommodating bro who only wanted to please and take the picture; Brad and Angie, the wealthy, fabulous looking aunt and uncle you haven’t seen in a while who are much less pretentious than you thought they’d be; and Julia Roberts, the prom queen star older sister with the still larger than life smile.  All brought to life by slightly crazy (but not too much) Cousin Ellen, in town for her once a year visit.

Tweet seen 'round the world

Tweet seen ’round the world

Last year the Academy tried something different with host Seth MacFarlane playing the nasty younger brother trying to pull his pants down in front of all the girls and embarrass the family by singing a song called “I Saw Your Boobs.”  It spiked the ratings a bit but didn’t go over with the rest of the clan.  Thus this year’s selfie presented more like a benign version of National Lampoon’s Vacation where every top member of moviedom got to go on a family trip that we got to see live in our own personal reality show type home movie.

Yes, these are ridiculous analogies but no more ridiculous than anything else making the news this week – like Oliver North comparing those fighting against gay marriage to the abolitionists who tried to end slavery.  Why shouldn’t the movies and the Oscar show be reduced to a harmless fun episode of the daytime talk show “Ellen?”  It seems in keeping with the times and what is required to get through them.

All of this posing begs the question of why movies and the Oscars need memes and themes and ultimately can’t simply be about excellence.  Why?  Well, there’s nothing really dreamy about that.  But does everything have to be a selfie or a song parody?  Broadway seems to revel in live performance at the Tonys.  Why must movies become a social media event and not incorporate more, um…film?

What's wrong with a little extra sparkle?

What’s wrong with a little extra sparkle?

More to the point, can’t something just be what it is rather than a meta collection of the events of the day that overshadow the events they are there to honor to begin with?  One might ask why there couldn’t be more of a real tribute to The Wizard of Oz onstage rather than just a wave to Judy Garland’s show biz kids from the audience and Pink singing Over the Rainbow in front of an Oz footage backdrop.  Yes, Pink was great but it was hardly a cohesive tribute to THE classic film of all time.  More like a formula of what to include for commercial expediency.  (Note:  The latter worked by those standards – the ratings were the highest they’ve been in 10 years).

Of course, to do anything else would mean a constant look and flow of boring reality rooted in the past and no one wants to see that, right? The majority of people under 30 would be horribly bored without some social media tie-in or contemporary artist, or so the school of thought goes (Note:  As a college professor who spends a lot of time around this target audience who love movies I’m not so sure).  And you’d lose almost everyone over 40 because they might have to ask themselves if they want the life of their favorite movie star, botched cosmetic augmentation and all, or to switch places with the father, mother or grandmother of the kids next door.

Clearly, there is only one choice in all of this – which is why we will always continue to watch the Oscars, hoping against hope that the dreams or dream people they evoke will one day be our reality.  Even if everything about them is slightly askew and even though the chances of it all happening are the same as one day waking up to find our selves in the merry old Land of Oz.