Now… It’s Over

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Some idiot at MSNBC cancelled Now with Alex Wagner and I’m pissed off. Can one be angry at an idiot who doesn’t know any better? Or is it more appropriate to be p.o.’d at an amorphous thing like a network that doesn’t have any feelings? How much of an effect will that have? Of course, I’ve met a lot of idiots who don’t have feelings so perhaps I’d be better off going with the individual just to make it all feel more personal to me. At least there is some satisfaction in that.

Yes, I realize most of you don’t know who Alex Wagner is or have anything invested in Now. Make of the last part of that last statement what you will. And know that I will explain more about both AW and Now in a bit.   For now, just be aware it’s a mid-afternoon news/talk/opinion show – one of a block of three such programs MSNBC has axed in order to mainstream itself with a CNN-type breaking news kind of strategery. Yes, strategery.

STRATEGERY, my friends

STRATEGERY, my friends

Apropos of that — back to the idiots.

I’ve read this monumentally stupid decision was the brainchild of new NBC News chairman Andrew Lack, who is anything but new. Or news. He actually presided over NBC in its news heyday of the nineties when he helped take its anchor Tom Brokaw from #3 to #1 in the nightly race for ratings among the three major broadcast networks’ Nightly News programs. But does anyone you know watch the Nightly News anymore? (Note: Jon Stewart doesn’t count and in another week he’ll be gone too – waaaaa). Certainly no one reading these words. Or writing them.

No love for Davey?

No love for Davey?

Someone should tell the 68-year-old Mr. Lack that his plan to insert recently deposed NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (Note: Yeah, the guy who was put on “leave” for fictionalizing portions of at least a few more than several news stories he reported on) into the slots occupied by the brilliant and effervescent Ms. Wagner (and others) is akin to me ordering my current film students to sit down in a room and watch Barbra Streisand movies from the 60s and 70s on a loop. Or replacing Jon Stewart with Bryant Gumbel. Well, now I fear I’ve really lost the under 25 crowd. My first instinct was to use the Olivia Newton John or Elton John or even Jimmy Stewart comparison but I doubt any of those would have fared any better.

... and good luck to the over 40 crowd in recognizing this guy

… and good luck to the over 40 crowd in recognizing this guy

I have an unhealthy addiction to what used to be MSNBC and Ms. Wagner in particular because like me they are smart, sarcastic and liberal yet also managed to be surprisingly fair and balanced. Again, make of that last statement what you will but, no, it is not an oxymoron in our current cable news landscape. Also, in Ms. Wagner’s case I suspect she’s a lot nicer than I am. Certainly, she’s more modest. As for MSNBC, up until now they have been one of the few news sources with commentators who are not constantly dumbing down the issues of the day for the “masses,” blanding it down to the point of snoredom or amping it up to the tenor of the Donald Trump parade hosted by Fox News. I was going to say Sarah Palin parade on Fox because I hate to give Trump any more ink at all. But then I realized that evoking Sarah Palin was as relevant as hiring Brian Williams to be the new face of change for a floundering cable outlet. Or giving zzz’s inducing Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd four more hours of daytime programming chores as your second new hosting face.  Kill me now.

Welp... it's about time for my mid morning nap  #snooze

Welp… it’s about time for my mid morning nap #snooze

What did/do I love about Alex Wagner? Well, for one thing she often referred to the 2012 Republican presidential nominee as Willard “Mitt” Romney (Note: His real name) and Donald Trump as the “Teflon Don” (Note: Too nice to be his real name). She could also speak as eloquently about Jay-Z as she could on Zero Based Budgeting, while on that very same show interview everyone from Ron Paul to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus (Note: Imagine being fair with him???) to any bleeding heart liberal on the block with a combination of tough-minded accuracy and good-natured aplomb.

News goddess

News goddess

Oh, and did I mention she’s 37, of mixed race origin and is married to former Obama White House chef, close First Family friend, and now NBC’s newest Today show contributor Sam Kass? Not to be mercenary, but why would you want someone like that anchoring an afternoon chat show on your network in 2015? Instead, let’s contract with more straight, deep-voiced or doughy-looking white men because, god knows, they are the wave of the future. What’s an Obama Coalition, anyway?

I'll have what she's having

I’ll have what she’s having

One might surmise this is less about Ms. Wagner and MSNBC and more about the fact that… the Chair does not adapt to change very well. Hmm, that could be at least partially correct. One strategy to overcome one’s anger – aside from just letting it go – is to welcome change as an opportunity for something better. I mean, the chief message of Pres. Obama to the Obama Coalition was something like: We are the change we have been waiting for. Remember?

Well, that’s a nice thought but in this case it would seem to indicate that the answer to all of this would be for me to start my own network, find another program or, as a last resort, try to figure out a way to hang out with Ms. Wagner on my own. I’m not entirely sure which one is the most doable. Though certainly I could guarantee the one of the three that would be the most fun.

Oh, do not start your own network, honey.

Oh, do not start your own network, honey.

That is, I suspect, the real issue. There is not a heck of a lot of fun in media these days. Or – there is too much of it. It’s entertaining when it’s supposed to be serious/serious when it’s supposed to be entertaining. Is Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly or even Fox News itself meant to be taken seriously? Have you ever tried to watch Fox and Friends? Every so often I tune in to the latter, one of several bizarre series on the top-rated cable network. Last week, when speaking of the surfer who got attacked and nearly eaten by a shark during a competition, one of the geniuses on that show wondered out loud why the surfing area wasn’t automatically cleared of sharks when there was a sporting event going on.

#Dowager4ever

#Dowager4ever

Yet on Ms. Wagner’s final program the Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart got it exactly right when asked about Thursday’s first Republican nominee presidential debate and the emergence of Donald Trump as its inevitable centerpiece. Mr. Capehart offered that the ratings would be high not because of a resurgence in political interest or a worry about the direction of the country. No, he said, it was mainly because it was a great potential entertainment event where you could sit in front of TV with a bowl of popcorn, a group of friends and play the drinking game of your choice as you watched Donald Trump eviscerate a stage full of – well, take your choice on what you want to call them, no partisanship here.

#srsly

#srsly

It is this kind of truth-telling that one seems to only get on shows like Ms. Wagner’s that I will miss. And yeah, I know I might be able to get it elsewhere. And it may even be better. Or it might not and I might be inspired to spend less time nodding my head at the television to people that I already know agree with me and being more productive in my life as a writer, teacher, husband and general citizen of the world.

As Gandhi once famously said – and perhaps this is where Pres. Obama got it from – Be the change that you wish to see in the world. In other words, don’t fight it.

#preach

#preach

Well, that’s a nice thought. But I’m still pissed off at MSNBC, Lack and the whole cabal for their misguided corporate stupidity. As such, in this situation I quite prefer the prose of Dorothy Parker, who many, many decades ago once wrote:

In my youth, it was a way I had,

To do my best to please.

And change, with every passing lad

To suit his theories.

 But now I know the things I know

And do the things I do,

And if you do not like me so,

To hell, my love, with you.

Or, in 2015 vernacular: Bite me, MSNBC.

Terrible Tongues?

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The first time I heard my voice on a tape recorder I thought to myself:

Oh my God, I sound like one of those guys!

Yeah, you know the ones.

I must have been about 11 or 12 and I can’t remember the circumstance. All I can remember is thinking:

You better lower your voice.

Forget about when I was in college and saw myself on videotape (Note: Yeah, videotape) for the first time and realized:

You’ve got to use your hands less!

Well, two decades of psychotherapy and several more decades later, here I am once again – just like I was back then – waving my hands all around, speaking in a nasally, sometimes humorously campy, pseudo intellectual tone for all the word to see. Exactly like I was back then. And they say life comes full circle.

Do I sound gay? Well, certainly.

Duh.

Duh.

Self-acceptance can take decades, a lifetime or well, 12 lifetimes – meaning that if you don’t believe in God, reincarnation or _____ it will never happen. Of course, there are people with normal families who grow up very well-adjusted and seem to have always known and liked who they were. I met one once back in 1968. But perhaps that was more about the sixties.

There is a documentary at movie theatres, streaming and on demand called Do I Sound Gay? that examines the issue of boys who discover they are homosexual and almost simultaneously realize, often to their great shock the first time they really hear themselves speak, that their voices reveal them as such. Its filmmaker David Thorpe uses himself as the primary subject and does a fine job opening up his life and insecurities to us as a way to examine this particularly universal sociological issue. I mean, even if you are not gay, who among us loves how they sound or even sounds like who they think they really are?

Sounding gay in theatres now

Sounding gay in theatres now

Still, the question of do I sound gay sounds positively quaint these days. I mean, who really cares anymore? If one truly wants to reflect on who we are in the context of the times we live in, the real inquiry to make is:

Do I sound crazy?

Or rather, it should be –

Do they sound crazy?

Because chances are if you’re thinking you sound insane you are most probably as normal as the rest of us. Talk about damning with faint praise.

Of course, I write this when we’ve just gotten news that yet another person shot up another group of unsuspecting people in a movie theatre. (Note: Currently, it’s three dead with at least 7 more injured).   Who knew people were that angry? I was going to say – older White people – in light of this latest movie theatre massacre but this had to be adjusted in light of the joker-haired younger white guy who was just found guilty of shooting up many more people three years ago at a multiplex in Colorado. Not to mention the other young white guy who killed elementary school kids in Connecticut. Which leaves out the Muslim shooters of late, who prefer military bases – but that sounds racist and unnecessarily profiling a whole race of people. Though truly, if I were Muslim and living in America I’d be angry, too. Though, like the gay kid I was in the seventies, I’d certainly be afraid to show it.

A caveat for Fox News Watchers: No one here is saying Muslims have the right to shoot up military bases. I can’t even…

"Don't even get me startedddd!"

“Don’t even get me startedddd!”

Donald Trump seems to be the public face of white rage these days. Which is ironic because what the hell does he have to be angry about? We have to listen to HIM. Not to mention, he’s got a job. Sort of. And he’s rich. So he says. Happily married. So it appears. And to a woman much more beautiful than himself. So it appears. On the surface. One supposes he must possess some sort of inner beauty we can’t see. Or, at the very least, is a master of disguises.

Well, we all know how to disguise ourselves when the need arises, don’t we? Sometimes it’s by force of habit – like when you sound gay and don’t want to – and on other occasions it’s when you’re running for president and want to be the one who gets the most votes. So you go into your shtick – whatever you decide that will be – and show the world who you are and how great that can be for them – especially if they choose you to lead.

Our latest cartoon character #2016

Our latest cartoon character #2016

Chris Christie’s the plain-talking working class guy who doesn’t, ahem, mince words. The kind of person you could imagine eating a hot dog next to you at a football or baseball game (Note: No, I am not going for a wiener joke of any kind here). Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum sell themselves with down home, family values religion, Hillary Clinton as the smartest, most experienced woman in the world (Note: I’d have to combine Rachel Maddow and Angelina Jolie to come up with those two attributes in one person) and Bernie Sanders as the commie high school history teacher who you remember fondly as the one individual who told you it was okay to stick your finger into the face of the establishment – preferably the middle one.

There are more candidates and more images but you get the picture.

Trainwreck is one of the top comedies at the box-office at the moment and, among other things, it features the birth of our latest and most certainly and hilariously insurgent new movie star of the moment, Amy Schumer. Not only did Ms. Schumer write the perfect vehicle for herself –- as a slightly foul-mouthed girl who will gladly have sex with you and get you to enjoy it, or just enjoy watching her do it or you even if you don’t want to –- she did it while snidely inverting the cliché male/female tropes of romantic comedy. The guys in her world are all too sensitive and obsess about whether Amy likes them. This is just as Amy and her female friends spend their time bedding every possible male in sight they deem even barely sheet worthy providing they can have them out of their apartment (or leave theirs) by the time the sun comes up the next morning.

You heard right, Lebron!

You heard right, Lebron!

It’s nice to hear a new female star speaking to us masses with a new voice – even if that voice is an old one for her. Or even if it is an exaggeration of who Ms. Schumer really is. Certainly, we will never know for sure unless we all get to sit down in a room with her….and even then…

Still, my favorite Trainwreck character had to be the essentially unrecognizable Tilda Swinton in a small supporting role where she plays the sleaziest magazine editor in N.Y. All spray-tanned, with a blonde-streaked wig, too much blue eye makeup and nail polish and so reed thin that she’d go appropriately unnoticed at even the hottest A-list, gossip-dripping party of the moment (Note: I never know where those are exactly) she is really the ONLY character that seems truly representative of where we are in July 2015. She’s dishonest, smart, crazy, gets to fire anyone she wants at will without suffering ill consequences and yet will surprise everyone when she shows up all in black at a funeral to mourn an employee’s dead relative.   Is it all for show? Does it have nothing to do with who she really is? Who cares? She consistently speaks in double talk and gets rewarded for it and criticizes everyone else for sounding weak yet manages to run her own mini-empire without ever breaking a sweat. Not to mention, she doesn’t seem to ever need food. Even when she is munching down a sandwich at her desk right before you eyes in the middle of the day.

Who are you? Who, Who, Who, Who????

Who are you? Who, Who, Who, Who????

Incidentally, her name is Dianna and she speaks with an indeterminate foreign accent – which means that in some form she’s an immigrant. One wonders if she’s legal, is taking the job of some American and is sane enough to even carry a gun? Our minds would boggle if we got the real answers. The only thing we need to know is that she uses her voice to get everything she wants when she wants it. Whether it’s gay or vaguely authentic – well, that never even enters the picture.

For Your Consideration

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I used to have a poster in my bathroom that read ART OFFICIAL underneath a cartoon drawing of a deceased politician who, among other achievements over his 30 years in office, vigorously advocated for legislation in the U.S. Senate that would quarantine people with AIDS, reinstitute segregation in the South and defund all governmental support of the arts. His name was Jesse Helms and a looker, he wasn’t.  Still, every time I went to the bathroom and saw his face, snarling at me from over the bathtub, I felt as if I were taking a crap right in front of him and everything he stood for. This made me incessantly happy for quite a long period of time during a very difficult period of my life.  Okay, about 15 years.  Still, how many other $9.95 posters can you say that for?

Allow me to excuse myself

Allow me to excuse myself

Many people, including my now husband, criticized me for keeping Mr. Helms around for that long and begged me to take him down.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t relent – even when Mr. Helms started to bend and fade after years of restroom abuse and we were towards the end of the Clinton administration where times had begun to change just a little bit.

Some months after Sen. Helms finally dropped dead at the age of 87 and my test of wills was won I decided it was time to move on.  Still, I sometimes miss that poster (Note:  The original piece was drawn by famed guerilla poster artist Robbie Conal) and everything it evoked – anger, color, sadness, triumph and, in the end, just plain justice.

I have a better idea for some bathroom art.

Perhaps some better bathroom art

Point being, it’s hard to quantify what a poster or any piece of art means to an individual.  What speaks to us, why it resonates, just how good “good” really is or just how “awful” a truly awful creation can be is purely subjective.  Can you really, as the old saying goes, sew a silk purse from a sow’s ear?  Well, for my $9.95 you couldn’t get any more piggish than Jess Helms yet, crossed with the expert purse-spinning of someone like Mr. Conal, you could not have wound up with anything more silken.  My dear husband to this day still disagrees but, fortunately, arguments like those are not relationship breakers.

Which brings us to the announcement of this year’s Emmy Awards.

But before we begin, here’s a photo of Jon Hamm.

hai

hai

And another.

Me again?

Me again?

This man has NEVER won an Emmy Award and yet has been nominated all eight seasons he has brilliantly played Don Draper on the equally brilliant television series Mad Men, which finally ended its run this year.

Yes, Mr. Hamm is the physical anti-Helms and in that sense certainly bears no relation to any sow I have ever seen.  But that is no reason to penalize him for achieving the equivalent of the finest silk etching of one of the medium’s most iconic and certainly-to-be enduring characters.  So if you’re a voter – you. must. vote. for.  him.  And if you’re not, consider joining the Television Academy just so you can make sure that this time justice will be done.  Or simply go through your phone book and lobby someone you love, like or even feel indifferent towards to do the same.

Even I will vote for Jon!

Even I will vote for Jon!

Now, where were we?

Ah yes – awards.  See how totally subjective these types of discussions can be?

For your conveniences, here is a link to this year’s nominees

There is no point going on about every one of several hundred categories and who was left out, included or otherwise justly ignored.  We all have our favorites.  And sows.  Yet here are some salient facts you might not have known:

Sizing up the competition

Sizing up the competition

1. Every nominee in every category must be officially “entered” into the race.  To do this it costs anywhere from $200-$800, which can be reimbursed if you are a member of the Television Academy – though that’s a yearly fee equivalent to the entry fee.  True, the studios or producers will often pay the money but not always.  Not to mention, any time anyone pays for anything that will give the general public pleasure, the cost will somehow funnel its way back to you – the audience – in some form.

Translation: This is not to say that there are not deserving people who win this or any other show business award.  But the next time you become outraged at the unfairness of it all, consider the paradigm on which this is all constructed. (Note: With the exception of any award for Jon Hamm).

2. The rules require most categories limit the amount of nominees from 2-6.  But you might notice that this year some have seven or eight nominees.  That’s because there is a 2% rule which means that if the last nominee who makes the cut is not getting 2% votes more than the next one in line, that BOTH have to be upped above-the-line.  Got that?  I thought so.

Whatever... she is marrying Joe Manganiello  #trophyhusband

Whatever… she is marrying Joe Manganiello #trophyhusband

Translation:  From the point of view of the television business – the more the merrier.  Meaning, if there is any way a network can somehow eke out another nomination it can advertise by getting one or two of its employees (who are often Academy members) to vote for one of their shows or performers or craftspeople they will do it with the hopes that they can land within 2% of the next marginal entry and somehow tip the scales in their favor.  Note:  This is not purely cynicism, though certainly something has to explain why Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been nominated 19 of the past 25 years for playing two very similar characters and Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black finally received her first in three years for a BBC series (Orphan Black) during which she convincingly plays 5-7 very distinctly different people. (Note:  Oh, hiss and boo your own selves – Copyright, Bette Midler – and save your outrage for world peace).

3.  There is similarly no accounting for why perennial nominees are suddenly left off of the list.  For instance, this year Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, a four-time winner and six-time nominee in the Best Lead Actor in a Comedy category, was completed overlooked.  Bill Maher, who has been nominated 18 times for hosting and writing his own show for 20 years (and has never ever won) was passed over entirely this time out.  (Note: He’s probably relieved).  Homeland was back among the best drama series in its fourth season after being dropped from the list last year following two consecutive nominations and one win in that category for its first two seasons.  Similarly, Mad Men has been nominated for best drama series for every year it has been on the air but NOT ONE OF ITS REGULAR ACTORS HAS EVER WON.  EVER.  #itsanhonorjust2benominated?

Will one of these admen (and women) bring home the gold?

Will one of these admen (and women) finally bring home the gold?

4.  A big deal is made each year over “new blood” being recognized during awards season.  This year, the people of the moment the zeitgeist seems happiest about are Amy Schumer for her much lauded sketch comedy show on Comedy Central, John Oliver for hosting a new HBO show that bears his name and Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which scored a series and a handful of guest-starring nominees but none for uh, Kimmy Schmidt – aka Ellie Kemper?  There are no whys in this discussion.  Only why nots.

Hey... look who was on Kimmy Schmidt?

Hey… look who was on Kimmy Schmidt?

5.  It’s one thing to peruse a mainstream publication’s list of Emmy contenders for hits and misses but when you’re looking for something a bit more specific, or at least unusual, research shows (Note: Okay, fine, it’s just my opinion), people turn to blogs.  In this spirit, we’d like to point out that by far THE unique Emmy nominee of 2015 is the nod to Jane the Virgin’s Anthony Mendez as BEST NARRATOR.  The CW show has broken the barrier and become the first ever-scripted series to score a nomination in this category.  Since you’re wondering, this year he goes up against Neil deGrasse Tyson, who narrated National Geographic’s “Hubble’s Cosmic Journey,” Miranda Richardson, who did Nat Geo Wild’s “Operation Orangutan,” Peter Coyote, the voice of PBS’ “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” and Henry Strozier, narrator of Animal Planet’s “Too Cute!” series.  Though the much-hoped nomination for Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez in the lead actress category didn’t happen. #donteventry

6.  Finally, it could be argued that, historically, among the most competitive Emmy category has been lead actress in a comedy series.  Think about it – Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Jean Stapleton, all four Golden Girls in various years and, okay, yes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  (Note:  I never said she wasn’t good!).

However, there should really only be one winner this year and that’s Lisa Kudrow for comic/tragic/comic heroine Valerie Cherish on HBO’s The Comeback.

That girl!

That girl!

It doesn’t get any better than what she managed to pull off as actress, writer and producer.  Will she win against Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler. Lily Tomlin, Edie Falco and, um. J L-Dreyfuss??  If there is any justice, yes.  But as was the case with my under $10 piece of Jesse Helms artwork, sometimes it takes 30 years for justice to prevail.

Finally —

GIVE JON HAMM THE G-D DAMN EMMY!!!

Trumping Mr. Finch

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Human beings lie. This is part of who we are. This does not mean we do not tell the truth. We do to many and varying degrees. But to deny the former is to invalidate the latter.

In other words, it can’t all be good. If it all were, then the very definition of the word good would be meaningless if you took in the actual events of everyday life.

Which brings us to Donald Trump. Did you watch him? See him? Hear about it? I thought so.

Oh.. that guy?

Oh.. that guy?

Relax, this is not going to be about him – though in his alternate reality speak everything seems to be. Or at least told in terms of him. Which is what we all do to varying degrees (Note: See paragraph #1). But it’s all about degrees, isn’t it? And what we say – and to whom.

Harper Lee, who wrote one of the most famous and iconic books of any American author, To Kill A Mockingbird, has a new novel coming out this week – her SECOND at the age of 89. Rather, it is her first book (Note: As far as we know) but her second PUBLISHED novel.

See how tricky this lie thing is?

Suck it 50 Shades, I made books hot again

Suck it 50 Shades, I made books hot again

Ms. Lee’s latest is entitled Go Set A Watchman and she has been getting a lot of flack – or perhaps it’s just press – for daring to take Atticus Finch, the father figure (admittedly based on her own father) she immortalized as possibly the most principled man – certainly lawyer – on the planet in TKAM and portraying him as a racist in her new/old novel.

Now let’s set aside the fact that for whoever he might be based on Atticus is a fictional figure and that Miss (Note: She famously prefers Miss to Ms.) Lee actually wrote Watchman more than several years prior to her most renowned creation – which was first published in 1960. The real question that seems to be eating reviewers, readers of advanced copies and now the general public is:

Has Harper Lee been lying to us all these years? Is Atticus Finch really a….RACIST? A guy who she apparently chronicles in the new book once attending a Ku Klux Klan meeting and then later denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. the Board of Education decision that desegregated the American school system?

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Okay, well, maybe that’s really two and a half questions. But really it all boils down the first – is she LYING to us? For if we cannot believe in the heroism of Atticus Finch, a guy who took on a whole Southern town in the 1930s and dared to successfully defend a Black man falsely accused of raping a White woman then – well – what else is NOT TRUE?

Um, A LOT.

Don't look at me!

Don’t look at me!

And, well, OF COURSE SHE’S LYING. As well as TELLING THE TRUTH.

None of this stuff is simple. The question we should be asking ourselves is: What is the broader truth and how do we recognize THE BIG LIE???

As a writer it amazes me to think anyone truly believes that Atticus Finch was the exact representation of Harper Lee’s real father. He couldn’t possibly be because:

  1. He is a written representation of a flesh and blood person from one subjective storyteller’s (individual’s) point of view – meaning he’s one-dimensional and frozen in place at the author’s whim rather than three-dimensional and able to roam free on his own
  2. He was played by Gregory Peck in the movie… and
  3. The movies are cultural representations of some of our most convincing lies, though not always our biggest ones, and people who win Oscars for these roles cannot possibly be entirely telling the truth since THERE IS NOT A LARGER THAN LIFE MOVIE HERO THAT EVER, EVER, EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD EVER existed in real life as they do when they’re rendered 22 feet tall and 52 feet wide.
Named AFI's #1 Greatest Movie Hero

Named AFI’s #1 Greatest Movie Hero

That we, or so many of us, could truly believe Atticus Finch was indeed real is the secret of the movies and what makes them great, enduring and an art form that will probably never disappear no matter how hard the major movie studios try to make this so with the financial choices they’ve been making as of late.

Yet all the shock and disbelief that a white man of the Deep South who was raised at the turn of the century and practiced law in the 1930s would ever have had a racist thought in his belief system truly does take me aback. Of course, it also surprises me that there are tens of thousands of people across the country who believe Donald Trump when he categorizes illegal Mexican immigrants as rapists sent here purposely by its government who are killing innocent Americans walking down the street en masse.

Interesting form of logic

Interesting form of logic

In the interests of fairness – and we here at NOTES always attempt to give equal time to opposing views no matter how nutty (Note: I didn’t say we didn’t editorialize) – it is certainly true there are among illegal Mexican immigrants a few rapists and others who do kill innocent Americans walking down the street. Mr. Trump, in fact, found one or two examples of such he reiterated to a room of crazed red meat conservatives and libertarians this weekend in Las Vegas at a Freedom Fest Convention. But it is also true that the vast majority of illegal immigrants – either from Mexico or other countries – are NOT rapists and murders. If this were so we would see a spike so high in crime statistics that no amount of real life Atticus Finches could exonerate from our daily lives and minds (Note: That is, if he did ever exist, which, I might remind you again, he did not).

To put it in terms Miss Lee might see fit to approve of – why can’t Atticus Finch be both a wonderful man, father, attorney and humanitarian yet also be a person who, through his life, espoused, hosted or otherwise considered, any number of less than admirable thoughts and views? This does not make him a bad person – simply a real person.

Yet if one were to measure him as a whole person one must consider whether his dark views represented him in the majority or if his life’s work – both professionally and personally as a father – took up the lion’s share of his existence and was not the true portrait of who he was. In the case of Atticus Finch, who among us would not say that even with what we know of him he’s still, when all is said and done, a pretty moral guy. We were not told a BIG lie about him – instead what we got were a bunch of truths that need to now be balanced against, well, a whole group of other, more disturbing facts.

This is not the case with Donald Trump – or at least it doesn’t appear to be given the information we now have about him on hand.

He traffics in THE BIG LIE. The celebrities who win the top prize on The Apprentice are not really hired by him. His proclamations that our Southern borders are the most unsafe that they’ve ever been are not borne out by current day statistics which show that today’s murder rate in a border town like El Paso, Texas, for instance, is at an all-time low. His continual claims that Pres. Obama has failed to create jobs, especially compared to his recent Republican counterparts are also untruths. In fact, the economy has gained FIVE times more jobs than under Pres. George W. Bush and the unemployment rate (5.6%) is below the historical average.

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#nailedit

None of this is to say the economy is absolutely great, Pres. Obama is faultless or that illegal immigration ceases to be one of many issues needing to be addressed in a more efficient manner.

It is only to proclaim that in each news cycle Donald Trump and many others like him (Note: You be the judge of whom – this has nothing to do with political affiliation) do tell THE BIG LIE. They use bluster, emotional manipulation and all kinds of sophisticated theatrical trickery in order to prove ill-conceived points, devoid of or carefully shading the facts to their own benefit and, specifically in Mr. Trump’s case, to advance whatever narrative he’s choosing to publicly spew at the moment.

Ding Ding Ding

Ding Ding Ding

I’m familiar with what he/they do because these are all part of the arsenal any writer uses in his or her work daily when creating compelling characters and/or watchable situations. Miss Harper Lee also knows about this – A LOT MORE about this than I do. But in entertainment – and literature – these are merely tricks of the trade.

For Donald Trump and others like him they are divisive weapons being used to take the reigns of the ACTUAL world by any BIG LIE necessary.

Watch out for them, they’re dangerous. As for Trump himself, well let’s just say he’s no Atticus Finch – no matter which of Miss Lee’s novels you choose to read.

Define Hero

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There are many heroes in the world but there is a certain kind of hero that feels indigenous to the U.S. because of the opportunities that exist here if you have good timing, the right kind of talent and a little luck.

Many have said of late that the United States is on the decline – the inevitable downslide of any #1 World Superpower. Like the Roman Empire and countless others before us, there will be a point at which the influence of the U.S. will not be the primary one in the world. I’m not perceptive and certainly not expert enough to know if we are at or approaching that moment. What I am sure of, though, is that despite this country’s many challenges it still possesses a majority market share of the world’s attention and enough economic rags to riches possibilities that, if managed correctly, can create a certain type of successful individual with just the right blend of superpowers that we deem hero-ic.

No.. No... not you

No.. No… not you

Certainly, the latter applies to the rescue workers of 9/11, the everyday individuals who hold families together, the people who spend their entire lives teaching in a small elementary or high school for what in the corporate arena would be considered a pittance, or the many military men and women who have sacrificed their lives protecting the Homeland.

Those are all a given.

But let’s discuss a different kind of “hero” – the kind of people we often claim as our own American Heroes – meaning they are nothing more and nothing less that a real American success story.

Okay, perhaps HERO is not the right word to use before, after or during the July 4th holiday. One can hear the complaints now – There’s nothing heroic about making lots of money, even if it’s from your talents!! Or — clearly you don’t know any of our men and women in uniform, and we KNOW you haven’t spent any time in a Veteran’s hospital, homeless shelter or cancer ward, because then you’d know our TRUE AMERICAN HEROES.

Oh, please

Oh, please

No one is taking anything away from them. But let’s be honest about what we value day to day and who we lavish our attention on – i.e. the people that we look up to.

Hero: a man (or woman) of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.

The people we most admire in 2015 culture are those with abilities and qualities. Courage is good and nobility is to be lauded, at least on paper. But ability and quality – give us more of those.

Oprah Winfrey

Kim Kardashian

Beyonce

Steve Jobs

Barack Obama

Rod Serling

Jerry Seinfeld

Warren Buffet

Jon Stewart

Hillary Clinton

Now we’re talkin’. And no, I’m not putting Donald Trump on the list. And yes, I have put Kim on. It’s 2015, yo.

Don't worry, we haven't forgotten you too, Miss Tay Tay

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten you too, Miss Tay Tay

When we’re honest across-the-board and through the current generations about those in the culture we consider our American heroes – that’s a cross-section of who really comes to mind. (Note: Of course this is subjective – it’s MY list of what you’re thinking – but try to make a convincing case that on some level I’m NOT right. You can’t).

Show biz, politics, pop culture. And you can’t really be born wealthy to make the list. We like people who came from nothing and made something out of themselves. As if something were at all definable. And sorry those to the manner born. You can be lauded and rich and successful but you’ll never really be who we Americans consider to be a hero. Hence NO TRUMP. As for Franklin D. Roosevelt – he’s long gone (NOTE: Clearly!) and was our absolute exception in that category.

We don’t need to go over the above names one by one. Look them up on Wikipedia, consider the last generation or two, read and/or watch the media and think about the people this country has been known for as of late. There is no REAL Indiana Jones. He was a fictional American hero. Truly.

I want to add another name to the list you may or not know – Nina Simone. Some of you might be saying – huh? Or whom? Well, watch the current and riveting documentary now steaming on Netflix entitled, What Happened, Miss Simone? And then get back to me.

Stream me now

Stream me now

Quick background: Nina Simone was a brilliant American singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist. She had several hit songs in the fifties and sixties, recorded more than 40 albums before dying 12 years ago in France and is generally considered by many in the music biz one of the greatest singer/musicians who ever lived.

Check out her famous recordings of I Put A Spell On You, I Loves You, Porgy, Little Girl Blue, Mississippi, Goddamn and Young, Gifted and Black and you’ll see why.

But what the documentary allows one to learn, or re-learn with a greater impact, is that Miss Simone was born Eunice Waymon in a poor North Carolina rural town in 1928, was a musical prodigy who played piano at 3, and studied relentlessly to be the first Black female classical pianist in the world.

Meaning, she had the talent but was born into the wrong time. So after a prestigious music school rejected her due not to her lack of talent but because of the color of her skin, in the 1950s she began playing piano at small clubs to support her family where she was told in order to make money she had to sing. Which she did – and in a way unlike anyone had ever heard before.

Many young people today are unfamiliar with her work in large part due to her role as a Black activist at the time. She marched with, performed for and befriended the gamut of civil rights warriors – everyone from Malcom X to Martin Luther King to Stokely Carmichael. Disgusted with racism and white America, she eventually chose to leave her country of origin and settle in Africa (Liberia to be exact) and then on to Holland, Amsterdam and eventually Southern France.

The talent was heroic, the activism was more than heroic and the trips and resettlements abroad were necessary – though it makes her no less an American hero for speaking up, singing out and being counted.

She has the requisite personal problems in a show business/pop culture bio – domestic abuse, financial ruin and mental illness. But what this film also clearly shows is a snapshot of someone who could have easily been one of the names on that above list had she been lucky enough to have been born 20 or 30 more years later.

Preach

Preach

Or not. The truth is – we will never know. Perhaps it was really the times that made her what she was (Note: Or any of us) and without that turbulence the right sparks might not have ignited. If so, that makes her journey even more heroic in my mind.

I am currently writing a movie about a man you have probably never heard of – another American hero but, by my earlier definition, someone who would not be on the above list. That is because he wasn’t famous, but instead chose to take on corruption in small town America as the editor of several local newspapers and wound up paying a huge financial and personal price for it. He is one of many American heroes but he’s the unsung kind – the opposite of who we’re really talking about in our heart of hearts when we publicly hold up the ideal of the most outstanding among us.

That is not my prejudice or judgment and it is not good or bad or anything in between. It just is. That’s who we are.   And well, why tamper with perfection, right?

Especially in, on or around our Independence Day weekend.

A Rainbow of Emotions

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In a moment where the nation reels in our own yin and yang versions of pain and pleasure – from the continued assassination of innocent Black people by White racists or the passage of marriage equality by the Supreme Court that ensures LGBT people can now legally tie the knot in all 50 states – it seems reductive to compare life to a Pixar movie. Yet it feels like no karmic coincidence that Disney has just released Inside Out – one of its most thoughtfully psychological animated films ever – not to mention one that in particular deals with how our upbeat innermost emotions must always co-exist with the ever present darker feelings not so way down deep in our soul.

Of course, none of us have the vivacious voice of Amy Poehler to personify our Joy (Note: Perhaps not even Amy herself) nor do we have the gleeful rantings of Lewis Black to substitute for our own virulent misdirected Anger at the world. Or even the pathetically depressing tones of Phyllis Smith, a former assistant casting director who we know as the frumpy, humdrum, monotone-voiced Phyllis on The Office, to so brilliantly express our own inner Sadness.

Lest we forget Mindy Kaling as Disgust and Bill Hader as Fear

Lest we forget Mindy Kaling as Disgust and Bill Hader as Fear

What we do have is real life – which is never as entertaining as the best or even very good Pixar movie. But it can be if we think about it just a little more than we indulge in our own pity or happiness parties (depending on our moods) without a thought to the karmic realities that comprise what we like to refer to as the rest of the/our worlds.

Full confession – I’m more guilty than most of not following the strategies I’m putting forth here for Living Your Best Life (Note: Trademark Oprah).

Say what now?

Say what now?

Not to be a giant buzz kill but on the day SCOTUS ruled on marriage equality most of what I thought about were gay friends who contributed to the struggle but didn’t live to see this day. This was due, in no small part, to the double whammy of the ruling coinciding with the nationally televised funeral for Clementa Pinckney, the senior pastor of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston who was one of the nine assassinated last week by a 21 year-old White supremacist after the latter had spent the previous hour in a Bible study class praying with them in their own aforementioned house of worship.

Pres. Obama eulogized Pastor Pinckney, also a state senator representing Charleston, and led the mourners in his own very compelling acapella version of “Amazing Grace” – certainly a first in POTUS history. Previously he and others have talked about the idea of reaching a state of grace and spreading that out into the world to others. Presumably this includes the forgiveness of those who have done a person wrong and nowhere were those teachings more apparent than from the mouths of the next of kin of the recently slain who only days before faced the accused murderer of their loved ones. Without exception they all forgave him to his face, or at least chose not to dwell in the bile he had elicited by looking backwards at the loss of all their relative or forward to all the blessings that would never be in the future.

This idea of grace, the ongoing struggle, the bright future – no matter what has happened to you and where it lands on the fairness scale – it’s a wonderful and noble thought, one that is an undeniably positive and useful goal. But full confession: It works for me only some of the time, and even then barely. Part of my personal fight is also fueled by anger and the quest for fairness – the idea that one is not roused to action until one – okay, me – is more personally impacted by the issue at hand.

This was a reason to think about all of the dead of the LGBT community, most especially the thousands from the AIDS epidemic, when marriage equality was announced. For, and this is my own personal belief, the movement would not have gained the steam that it had if not, in great part, due to the AIDS epidemic. Certainly, it wasn’t the only motor but just as certainly it clearly sped things up.

What would Vito think of today?

What would Vito think of today?

To be clear: we would all trade marriage equality in a nanosecond if we could wipe away the Plague and bring back those that fell – meaning died – in its wake. Clearly, we can’t. But what we also can’t do is to deny that the fact that this awful pandemic forced gay people to make themselves publicly known, many times against our own will or perhaps choice, and this inadvertently contributed greatly to forcing people to know us – the real us – rather than the sanitized version groups usually choose to present (or not present) to society at large. And that – along with a lot of grass roots work – is primarily what accelerated change and led us to where we are today.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – or Aunt Ruth as I like to call her – said as much in an interview last week – and I immediately surmised, in a moment of total self-indulgence, that these thoughts must ‘run in the family.’ Though I (and perhaps she) have been thinking this for years it’s hardly an original idea. I heard the filmmaker/novelist Clive Barker say pretty much the same thing about gay rights five or 10 years ago on Bill Maher’s Real Time (or perhaps it was Politically Incorrect – who can remember which fabulous liberal spewfest it was) – and clearly he is no relative of mine. The hair, the body, the horror – not a Ginsberg in his gene pool, let’s be honest.

Not a Ginsberg (but he's welcome anytime)

Not a Ginsberg (but he’s welcome anytime)

Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t clear that brother Clive (who has been out and proud for years), Aunt Ruth, myself and perhaps many of you don’t share something. And that is the recognition that the world is very much about the good and the bad each informing the other – the yin and the yang. That just as it seems one’s world is going to end, and perhaps in some ways it does, it is simultaneously the birth of something else.

caglecartoon

‘nough said

One supposes this is just our mutual human condition – one of many aspects of humanness we have in common, though so often we don’t want that to be the case. Still, it’s important to remember when the next big civil rights issue arises – that civil rights of all kinds for all people are intertwined. Charleston, Stonewall, Israel, Iraq, and ad infinitum back and forth through time. How often one writes about this (or performs it or films it) and how even more frequently the message is ignored, the world goes on and we continue with our days as if it’s all new to us or, even worse, in that particular case it doesn’t really apply. Bitchy, twitchy, witchy, kitschy and all else in between.

It’s important to recall our collective history and our mass behavior when one is feeling down – or perhaps even too hopeful. Not in so much a fatalistic, sad way but an inevitably accepting, understanding and eventually life-affirming way. Dark and light, light and dark, dark and light – neither of them lasts – certainly not forever – nor would you probably want either of them to on their own. If you really think about it. The folks at Pixar obviously thought about it for the six years it took to bring Inside Out to the screen and simplified it so even a CHAIR could make sense of it and use it to understand the current events of the day.

Go figure.

Skin Deep

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I used to joke that even though I appeared to be a white, gay Jewish male I was, really, a big Black woman – preferably one who could sing like Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson or, if I chose to go a bit more exotic, Nina Simone. Well, live long enough and any metaphor becomes obsolete and somewhat offensive – or even timely.

Chairy, is that you?

Chairy, is that you?

It’s difficult to know what one can joke about anymore. Certainly, it’s impossible to decide just what is timely. I decided late this week to bite the bullet and write about Rachel Dolezal, the just resigned former president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP who was exposed as biologically White after a decade or more passing as Black (Note: Though there was and is still some debate on just what constitutes being Black). But then the idiocy of our national obsession with Ms. Dolezal was swiftly shifted by the actions of one truly undebatable WHITE 21 year-old Southern male.

When Dylann Storm Roof walked into the historic Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C., one of the first Black churches in the country, and shot nine innocent Black people dead after spending an hour as part of their Bible study group on Wednesday night, the meaning of being Black in America once again became crystal clear.

It is not about releasing your inner Aretha Franklin. It is not about crimping your hair, fighting for civil rights, having friends and family members who are African-American in bearing, or possessing any appreciation or talent for rapping, soul food recipes, community service or the historical nature of oppression.

NoSMDH

To be Black in the U.S. means to be at risk and to always be, in some small or even miniscule fashion, and despite your apparent economic or social status, looking over your shoulder. It means to be in danger even when you feel 100% safe. And, if one makes the decision to survive and live a relatively happy life, it means deciding, given those parameters, to figure out a way to turn the other cheek on all that and – like all the rest of us – play the hand you were dealt to the best you can so you can fulfill your destiny.

On the other hand, what the hell do I know about being Black in America? What can any White person every REALLY know? Not very much. Because on some very, very teeny tiny level being Black in America is NOT yet like being like all the rest of us – as I just so cavalierly mentioned in the last line of the paragraph above. I guess I will have to be on a journalistic learning curve for the time being on that one for, as we now once again know, old habits die hard.

As a screenwriter and journalist I’ve imagined myself as characters in countless scenarios. I have been male, female and various other animals of all kinds of ages, races and heights with extremely moral codes and deadly murderous streaks. I’ve been a Hispanic single mother, a wealthy Black politician, a white female cabaret singer, a nerdy Jewish boy (Note: That one was soooooo easy) and, currently, a very young white newspaper editor from the Midwest in the mid 1970s with a penchant for justice so strong that I am now in the process of risking my job, friends and family for my principals despite all seeming logic to the contrary. (Note: Don’t worry, that character’s story WILL have a somewhat victorious ending. I mean, please – it’s Hollywood).

something like this...

something like this…

All of these imaginations, presumed personalities and dramatic machinations, as a therapist told me years ago, are merely outgrowths of a personal talent for invention, or more precisely, reinvention, that helps the real me deal with life. I concoct stories as a coping method to deal with difficult situations (both fictional and from my real life) and create my very own convincing beginnings, middles and ends around them. But this only works as a way to make me feel better about who I am and the events around me – as I have painfully learned over the years. Although it can certainly be the impetus for me – and perhaps my limited or maybe one day vast audience – for seeing the truth/my truth and creating personal change it is a fiction. In other words, it is not, nor can it ever be, real life. Meaning – it was not reality.

In other words:

One can’t walk in someone else’s skin because we are all born with our own very specific skin.

Marvel Studios made this abundantly clear in a recently leaked Sony email that reveals that in its contract for the Spiderman movies with Sony it is a legal requirement that the movie Spiderman’s human alter ego, Peter Parker, must always be CAUCASIAN and HETEROSEXUAL and that Spiderman himself NOT be a HOMOSEXUAL.

oh spidey....

oh spidey

As if there were ever a chance any of these could ever thus be so.

When a rumor recently floated that renowned British actor Idris Elba could one day be the future and first Black James Bond it created an international Twitter exchange, culminating not only with eventual denials from Elba but a public statement by 1970s movie star and former Bond co-star Yaphet Kotto that the mere idea of that was ridiculous and silly.

And that’s only in the movies. Imagine how uppity it could get in other areas. For instance, let’s take politics. Can you consider that one day that we might actually have…I mean, that there could sometime in the future really be…a Black president of the United Sates?

wait a second....

wait a second….

Oh. Right.

Of course, this says nothing of how Black you have to be in order to be categorized as BLACK. Pres. Obama is half-Black and half-White, which seems to count as being Black. Yet some years ago, it surfaced that Broadway star Carol Channing’s paternal grandfather was Black, making her about 25% Black. Yet this seems to be enough for her to still be considered White, though perhaps that’s just because she’s 94 years old and we’ve always thought of her as such. Still, it doesn’t make it good for the public racial future of Rachel Dolezal. She might have two children with a Black man who identify as Black and several adopted siblings who are Black but now that the closet door has been opened she can never truly change her public face – meaning skin color.

That this would count for anything seems so odd, doesn’t it? I mean, don’t we all require or at least hope our houses and apartments are painted a new, fresh color before we move in? Yes, that color has traditionally been white but lately eggshell, gray, putty or even…well, pick you choice are starting to become popular. Though not yet Black. Can you ever imagine Black walls? I mean, really….

I just can't get behind this...

I just can’t get behind this

My husband and I have just moved into a new home that is set against a hillside. It’s safe but over a three week period we’d noticed more than a small rock or two falling into our patio and decided to hire some experienced people to haul out some of the dirt and gravel and build some small barriers for reinforcement and ensure (as much as possible) the safety of ourselves and our dog.

The head of the crew we hired to do this is not Black but he is Mexican (Note: Let’s call him Walter, just for fun) and over the last few days we’ve bonded over a mutual respect for the machinations of Mother Nature and a shared penchant for somewhat politically incorrect humor. Walter and I have joked about everything from my lack of knowledge about plants and building things to the fact that all of his siblings have advanced and multiple college degrees in various “professional” occupations while he decided to go into the family business of taking care of the yards (Note: In his case it’s usually grounds, he’s slumming with us) of many of these same professional people.

the tao of snoopy

the tao of snoopy

Nowhere was this more apparent to Walter than when his working class self went to his local bank to cash a large (well, by my standards) check for supplies I had written to him personally. No sooner had he gotten to the teller for the deposit than a manager was called over to look over the check. After a few minutes, the guy looked Walter dead on and the following conversation ensued:

Bank Manager: This check looks washed.

Walter: Huh? What are you talking about?

Bank Manager: It looks like a fake.

Walter: Well, I saw the guy (Note: That would be me, Your Chair) writing it from his own checkbook.

Bank: Well, just remember, it’s gonna come out of your account if it’s no good.

Walter pauses, thinks. Then –

Walter: Well, okay, but I mean, I trust the dude.

Bank Manager: Okay, but — remember — it’s your responsibility.

um... what?

um… what?

The first thing I did when Walter related this story – after reassuring him about the money – was to ask him what the heck it meant for a check to be washed. He explained it’s when someone takes a check, washes off the ink and then fills in their own amount. Okay, I thought, that’s nervy and inventive – but these checks are brand new – is there something about my signature or writing that makes them look dirty?

My second reaction, as I thought about it, was outrage. I mean, really? Walter may be a big Mexican guy who lives in the hood, albeit in a nice house with a wife and two kids, and has an accent, but really – he has a business account there and he comes in all the time. Is he really going to pass a bad check?

This guy that questioned you about the check, this really pisses me off, I confess to Walter.

Ah, I don’t let those things bother me, dude. It is what it is.

Yeah, but I mean, I bet if I were trying to cash the check, I wouldn’t have gotten that remark, I tell him.

Probably not, Walter replies. But I’m used to it.

Of course, there are a whole bunch of things he could probably say about me, though it would have nothing to do with whether he’d cash my check.

Yeah, I hear that, Walter says.

One more thing, I tell him. I’ll bet this was a White guy, right? Probably like a middle-aged, middle class white guy, right?

Actually, Walter replied, it was a young Black dude. The Blacks and Mexicans, they got a thing going. But, well — I try not to take it personally.

Well, that makes one of us. I guess that’s some sort of start.  Though only kind of.