I See You, You See Me

A dear friend told me months ago to watch the new short form Netflix series Bonding because I had liked Special, another short form Netflix series, and that this one, too, struck similar coming-of-age chords for LGBTQ people like ourselves.

Of course, I never did because, well, who has the time? There is too much white supremacy to not look away from, too many racist Twitter feeds to respond to (Note:  Because if I don’t, who will???) and far, far too much programming already backed up on the DVR that I’m already pretending that I’ll get to but know I never will.

I promise I’ll get to you Sandra… PROMISE!

Nevertheless, a stolen August weekend several hours away with still other dear friends frees you up for all kinds of things.  These include: philosophical talks, ocean views, good food and wine and…bonding.

Both kinds.

One of the coolest things about being an LBTQ young person these days is that you get to see yourself more fully represented in films, television and elsewhere.  Though not fully acknowledged, you are at least not relegated to lurking in the corners of the big and small screen as a coded center box on The Hollywood Squares or as a closeted and/or severely depressed third act revealed killer in some edgy Hollywood detective movie.

or you’re Liberace.

That is pretty much what I experienced as a 17-year-old gay kid and a big part of the reason why I now find shows like Bonding to be such a delight.

Why does a 13-18 minute per episode/seven show season about a NYC female psychology grad student/dominatrix and her aspiring stand up comic gay male assistant/best friend from high school resonate with me so deeply and, well, queerly?

There are many reasons.  So many, many, many.

Oh, calm down.  It’s not even barely remotely about the S&M, at least not in a sexual way.

Chairy, give the fans what they want #hehehe

Nor is it because it is set in NYC and has an absence of heteronormative-espousing straight male white supremacists controlling the narrative, though that helps.

Instead, it is because during its very short season Bonding managed to reflect back to me a version of myself in both its male and female protagonists.  I got to see the pain, the struggle and the triumph of getting beyond the scars of childhood wounds with characters whose sensibilities reflected the types of thoughts and challenges that I actually experienced at the time in my own world. 

This is me.

It didn’t matter that I was their age decades ago or that the world in which they now live in is a very different place than it was way back then.  What does matter is that the smart, somewhat nerdy gay guy and his female best friend (who sort of have sex on the night of the senior prom but don’t) now have the kind of loving, oddball relationship that is/was me.

No, I never donned a leather mask and urinated on…(oh gosh, never mind!) for money.  Nor was any one of my friends bold enough to be a sex worker in leather even though I can recall one or two gals I know meeting up with men they don’t know in weird places where they proceeded to…well, never mind again.

You’re leaving us hanging!

Still, by using this as a setting and embracing the gay of it all and single white female sex of it all and the general insecurity and uncertainties of one’s twenties and all, without being leering or exploitative AT ALL, something happens.  We, the audience, get beyond the window dressing of what at first glance make these stories feel rarefied and extreme.

These are two people.  They date and go to school.  They live in the kind of small and/or drab unenviable apartments most of us did/do in our twenties.  More importantly, they are plagued by the same existential questions of:

1. How will I fit in and forge enough of my own path where I don’t sell out my soul?

2. Will I find love or am I even capable of it?

And, most universally —

3.Where is home and how do/will I even begin to know how to get there or recognize it if it ever arrives?

Srsly, watch Bonding. #plug

These are the ongoing tasks of not only every young person but of every member of a generation no matter what age they are or will become.

What’s different in 2019 is that audiences get the opportunity to take these journeys with LGBTQ characters in the leads, with Black, Brown and Yellow people in the leads, and with members of either sex of any age or non-binary disposition in the leads.

And play to audiences who will WILLINGLY go along for the ride.

Euphoria is also on my DVR. Don’t at me.

There was a moment not so long ago where you’d get feedback at a writers’ pitch meeting on stories such as these like:

  1. Why does this character HAVE to be gay? Or –
  2. The people in this world feel really specific rather than relatable. Or –
  3. There isn’t enough of an audience to justify spending time with two leads who are so fringe and, too often….unlikeable.

Yeah, you might still get some of that.  But more often than that it’s –

  1. Wow, that’s an original voice we really could respond to in this format. Or –
  2. Is that based on a real story? Because that will be a real plus in reaching out beyond yours, and our, niche markets. Or –
  3. We need it now. Yesterday.  YES!

At the end of the day commercial storytelling is still a business.  But right now we live in a time when a weekend of entertainment away can also mean finding yourself seen (and heard) not only in areas where you didn’t expect to be but on platforms where you were previously very much being silenced.

It’s not everything but for today…….I’ll take it.

“This is Me” – The Greatest Showman

 

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Revolting

Any era but this one seems to be the mantra of the day and who can blame any of us?   If the world isn’t falling apart, or at least regressing, well, it’s doing a pretty darn good imitation.

This is where nostalgia comes in because, well, when things seem this bad who can blame us for wanting to escape to the gauzy dreams of pre-selected luxurious times gone by?

This is where artists come in and in Hollywood there is no higher art than being a creator in film and/or TV.  Or is that TV and/or film.  It’s so confusing these days as to which medium gets first billing.

Don’t ask this guy what Netflix is… #spoileralert #heiswrong

But let’s table that discussion for now.

Much has been made about Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood in recent weeks.  Everyone seemed to love the recreation of the period but many balked at the context.

Are we really supposed to look back nostalgically at the 1969-era machismo of a nearly washed up leading man of TV and spaghetti westerns and his loyal, impossibly handsome stuntman?  Well, when the almost has-been is Leonardo DiCaprio and the sweet natured uber-hunk is a delectably shirtless 55-year-old Brad Pitt…come on, we all know the answer to that.

That’d be a YES MA’AM

And anyway, I dare you or anyone to look away when Brad peels his vintage tee off on that roof.  Because you won’t.  And you can’t.

But why spend all this money revisiting the Manson family murders for the umpteenth time, bathing Margot Robbie in impossibly flattering sunshine and white go-go boots as Sharon Tate?   Is presenting her in this new Tarantino-esque light (Note: No spoilers here) really worth all the trouble?  And who the heck is Quentin to take it upon himself to do that, anyway?

The latter is the real issue for critics of the film and its nostalgia.

Mary McNamara, the LA Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critic, went so far as to call out Once Upon A Time… as nostalgia porn, likening it to the equivalent of a cinematic MAGA hat for its narrow, reductive and mythologized view of a world that didn’t exist.

Girl said whattttt?

That is unless you were a member of the white, male, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, culturally conforming, non-addicted, mentally well, moneyed elite.

Okay but….what film world really does exist???

Every artistic project is told through the lens of its maker, for better or worse.  The worse is that there are not enough non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-heterosexual, non-able-bodied, non-culturally conforming, non-money, non-elite making the highest profile content in order to round out the picture.  (Note:  I purposely left out non-addicted and non-mentally well because it’s show biz and, well, who are we kidding?).

I was driving in the car with my husband the other day listening to an old John Mulaney comedy special (Note: Yes, we do that sometimes) where Mulaney did a hilarious bit about all of the illogical characters and plot holes in the classic Back to the Future. 

In it, the comedian muses at how any mainstream studio could green-light a film where a teen travels back in time and almost sleeps with his mother, one where his only real friend is a man in the neighborhood three times his age who he meets with secretly AND is a crazed, criminal loner of a “scientist.”  Not to mention a thousand other twists of logic and convenience that were as likely to happen as not anything ever.

I HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR 3 DECADES!!!!

Now I can’t tell you how long I have been waiting – okay, THIRTY PLUS YEARS – for someone, anyone, to bring up these and many other moments of silly suburban wish-fulfillment contained in the script pages and prized cinematic moments of all three Back to the Future films.  Cause as a gay kid from the boroughs of NYC all they ever offered to me was a twisted Leave it to Beaver on steroids non-reality that I could never relate to or imagine ever truly existed.

Where is/was MY Back to the Future, I used to wonder?  Well, until someone creates a gay, Jewish superhero kid who is befriended by an eccentric Holocaust survivor down the street, I guess that it doesn’t exist.

I would see that movie #doitchairy

Sure, I’m being a bit flip but the truth is that is some small way, I am STILL waiting for it.

Thinking about all this and more led me to recently begin writing a period piece all of my own.  In doing so, I discussed the idea with a female friend and former student/now colleague who suggested I watch a one-season now defunct but very fine Amazon series that took place in a similar era entitled Good Girls Revolt.

Now how is that I, a journalism school grad who majored in magazine writing and came of age (and came out) in the seventies could have missed a show about a group of twenty-something gal magazine researchers who were aspiring to be writers in the 1969/early 1970s era?

feeling that Mad Men-esque energy #whereisjonhamm

If they couldn’t have been me they certainly could have been the older sisters I never had or the more experienced mentors I wish that I had met and related to at the time.  Because god knows I wasn’t getting very many breaks or invitations to hang out after hours from the straight guys in power.

Well, the fact is, gay or not I’m still a guy and the title, I don’t know, it seemed strange – like one of those borderline offensive Girls Gone Wild  vintage videos.  And with so much out there I guess it wasn’t a must see.  I mean, much as I don’t run for the macho stuff do I really go out of my way to look for shows with four female protagonists??

I guess not, since once I started my binge and got into the show I began to vaguely remember having heard more in its initial run about it, the book it was based on and the real female writers who wrote and created both based on fictional and real characters, some of whom even I knew about at the time.

Boo for me for not paying attention..  Like – BOOOOOOO, boo, boo.  What kind of typical faux macho…guy….was/am I?

I am ashamed.. so very ashamed

But more to the point, why was there only ONE season of this very fine and, for me, unusually period accurate depiction of a world that, after watching, I couldn’t imagine millions more wouldn’t be fascinated with?

After all, this was an early streaming series on Amazon, a service that wanted to take chances.  And it was female-centric (a key demographic), got good reviews, great audience reaction and respectable ratings in comparison to other Amazon renewals at the time.  Well, a lot of factors worked against Good Girls

#1 was that its premiere was two weeks before the 2016 presidential election, a time when a significant number of males in the country were rebelling against anything too female-centric, especially if it was on TV and let off even a whiff of women’s lib. (Note: #Hillary4Evah).

Me, thinking about November 2016

More importantly and #2 –

The head of Amazon at the time was Roy Price, a guy who didn’t get the show and at one second-season story pitch asked the show runners to use the actresses’ names when proposing future episodes because he hadn’t taken the time to learn the names of the characters they were playing.

Of course, little did he or any of the rest of us know that in less than a year he would be forced out of his job amid accusations that he harassed, this time sexually, Isa Dick Hackett,  not a character name but another real female show runner of another Amazon show, The Man In The High Castle.  Coincidentally, Ms. Dick Hackett is an out lesbian who also happens to be the daughter of Phillip K. Dick, the novelist who wrote the book on which the High Castle series is based on.   (Note: A play on words based on the surname of both the novelist and the show runner were among Mr. Price’s more noteworthy utterances reported during that time period).

This, in turn, was followed by the many revelations surrounding Harvey Weinstein from his accusers and the emergence of what we now sometimes all too glibly refer to as the #MeToo era.

There’s nothing glib about the story of the cancellation of a promising show like Good Girls Revolt, of course, most especially when it’s considered in light of all the attention a film like Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood is now receiving.

The only IT girl of the moment

Sure, I admittedly very much liked the Tarantino film but after watching the one season of Good Girls and learning of the circumstances of its cancellation, and my own initial indifference/ignorance towards it, it’s easy to see why so many are currently so publically over the whole Tarantino/DiCaprio/Pitt of it all. (Note: And not only women).

The fact is, until many more diverse voices get to create material with actors and directors from their communities who are every bit as bankable as a Tarantino, DiCaprio or Pitt, an inequity of point-of-view that is as world worn as the nostalgia those names so often propagate will dog their every achievement in the zeitgeist.

That’s not so much an objection to their POVS but to the fact that so many of us don’t get to see ourselves and our worlds reflected back at us at a time when being seen and heard is no longer a luxury of entertainment but a necessity for our very survival.

“Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell

Hackety Hack Hack

No one wants to be labeled a hack but what’s even worse these days is being hacked.

Or so we’re told.

But is it?

A hack is generally thought of as someone who is not great at what they do.  It’s often an insult hurled at artists, particularly writers, but over the years has been broadened to apply to anyone whose work or even personage we (or they) find inferior.

What????  He/she’s a hack! 

You think so?

Absolutely, did you see __________?   Or the work they did on _______________?  And look at them.  Do you want to be around that all day? You can feel the mediocrity dripping off them from here!

No, to be called a hack is not a good thing.  Worse yet, is actually being one.

I could hand out quite a few of these

Yet none of these insults or categorizations even comes close to the fear of being hacked.  If it’s never happened to you (Note: Though likely it has) that will surely feel worse than maximum-security prison.  Perhaps not quite a death sentence but possibly one where you have only a 50-50 chance of being commuted.

So change your privacy settings.  Quickly! 

Do you know how many people can see all of your data, the pictures of your kids, maybe even your credit cards and….bank statements!!!?? 

Oh My God, I have to keep me and my family safe!!  Here’s what they say to do. First, I’m gonna change all of my passwords every month to a series of numbers, letters and phrases I can’t remember.  So I’ll make a list I’m not gonna store on my computer, because that’s not safe.  I’ll print it out and hide it in the house in a place only you and I will know…

…And likely not remember.  Which is when your real troubles will truly begin.

Me, resetting my passwords

Only someone who has been hacked numerous times has the right to make light of this.  And you are reading them.

For two years running someone filed fake federal income taxes under my name.  My ATM card has been pilfered three times in the last six years and accrued charges I didn’t make.  Several months ago someone even opened a credit card under my name through Alaska Airlines and bought a Cuban cigar that was delivered to my house in a skinny clear plastic bag.

One lonely little cigar. #notmine

And no, I wasn’t held responsible for any of them.  And yes, all of the companies were understanding of the problem and have whole departments devoted to fraud.  Sure it was bit of a pain in the ass but far less painful than changing every one of my passwords and expecting my brain to scroll through a list that multiplies quicker than the Duggar family in the nineties.

This is certainly not an endorsement or minimization of identity theft.  Nor is it a plea for us all to try to maintain some sort of private life if for no other reason than to prove to ourselves that even though we don’t post our bareass on Instagram it really does exist and is dropping.  Though not quite as badly as we might think.

No, this rant was brought on by….

Our daily national revisiting of Russia’s interference in our 2016 election…

Its widespread hacks into our voter systems in all 50 states just released by the Senate Intelligence Committee and…..

The general thud or hair on fire response it has all gotten (Note: It depends where you live) all across the country.

My eternal reaction

We all should be greatly concerned about a foreign adversary tampering in our electoral process and panicked that our voting systems are still unprotected and, well, more than hackable.

But let’s be clear about our concerns.

If our digital voting systems are actually hacked and people’s votes are changed, or folks are de-registered from their precincts, we’re f-ked but not irretrievably so.

It worked out OK on Scandal #spoiler? #oliviaweneedyou

Sure, many states do not have back up paper ballots but if this is a REQUIREMENT OF FEDERAL ELECTION LAW we have a year and a half to put this in place and well, yeah, there is still time.

If the banks and credit card companies all managed to set up effective fraud investigation departments so as not to lose money on piddly stuff like the illegal single Cuban cigar purchased under my name it seems that the same amount of effort on our government’s part to save our democracy might actually be doable.

Which brings us to the bigger issue:  How much responsibility will each of us United States citizens take to not live our lives as HACKS?

21st century aspirations

This weekend I watched The Great Hack, a Netlfix documentary that spends two hours diving deeply into the indisputable avarice of Facebook and the inarguable danger of data mining political consulting companies like the now defunct Cambridge Analytica.

That’s the British based company that basically had access to the personal information, purchases and intimate thoughts and desires of many tens of millions of us (Note: 87 million Facebook users, according to the doc) and used it to specifically put Trump in the White House.

Well, not literally.  It seems that Cambridge Analytica had a lot of help. It was hired by the Trump campaign for a ton of cash, bought off Facebook and its private info to the tune of $1 million per day in ad revenue during the hottest months of the campaign, and coordinated its activities both with Russia and Wikileaks on behalf of its client.

Allow me to scream into the heavens: ZUCKERBERG!!!!!!

Yet as nefarious as this sounds, none of this would work without the single largest group that helped Cambridge Analytica and Facebook put Trump over the top.

US.

Not any of these companies.

Not any of the personal information they pilfered.

And not any particular member of the Trump family, tempting as it is to blame them all for everything.

Those Trumps do like the penthouse #icantevenlookatthem

See, the way election influence works today is at its heart no different than what I learned in the Electoral Politics class I took back in the seventies when I was a senior at Queens (ahem) College.

First, you scour the voter rolls and find out as much about the personal tastes and lives of the voters as possible.   Second, you don’t spend your money on the ones you already have.  And third, you totally ignore the ones you know you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting to vote for you.

Then those who remain, based on the data you’ve accrued, become your most persuadable group.  And once you’ve determined who they are you fight like hell to get them.

Not shady at all.

Take for example ads that scare the beeJesus out of “them:” Reagan’s rants on “welfare queens” taking your money; George H.W. Bush’s ads about a Black convict named Willie Horton who was given a prison furlough and raped a white woman,  and so on and so forth, etc. etc.

All of these and many more before and since were the precursors to the most recent fake Black Lives Matters type rallies brainstormed by Steve Bannon and Cambridge A in places like rural Pennsylvania and/or suburban Florida.  Or the made up from whole cloth Crooked Hillary is corrupt and a child molester to boot memes promulgated in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin’s various towns by various other propagandists, including the candidate, who wanted to do anything they could to gain power and reshape the world order with themselves and their minions as close to the on/off switch as possible.

The most dangerous button in the world

Their ability to HACK into our lives and micro-target us as never before has simply supercharged their mechanisms and super-powered their abilities to spread disinformation but the essential play book is exactly the same.

Thus, the question we all need to ask ourselves in this seemingly new world, is this –

Will we continue to behave as hacks and be hacked into submission?  Or will we rise up by paying closer attention to what is true and false, fact and fiction, real or unreal??

Preferably yesterday

You can’t convince someone of what’s in a report if you don’t read it, or at least a summary of it, yourself.   In a vetted news source.

And heck, for those who don’t believe there is such a thing, you can order the audio copy from Amazon or listen to it online for free.

For those who didn’t serve in the military, think of those hours as an alternative to public service.  To those who did serve and think of themselves as patriots, do it for the love of your country.

Or forever remain a hack.

The Police – “Every Breath You Take” 

Sneer and Loathing

We all have our personal reasons for loathing Donald Trump, those of us who loathe him, that is, of which there are many.

There are so, so many reasons to so, so loathe a man many of us have never met that narrowing it down to a single one is a mind-boggling, mind-numbing task.

And if I didn’t know in my heart of hearts that overwhelming his foes with outrageous, ego-driven, hate-filled actions was his way of neutering them and getting what he wants, I wouldn’t bother writing about him or it.

How many hours do you have?

But that’s not the world we live in.  We live in a world, nee a democracy, where each and every one of us is obliged to speak up and out against a clear and present danger to the freedoms we hold dear and those that threaten to take them away.

This, sadly, brings us back to the overfed, over-oranged and over-indulged temporary occupant of the current White House, as many things do these days.

So let’s play a game.  What is the single reason you choose to loathe him for???

…..Okay, I’ll go first.

It has always been – the racism.

Probably the best place to start

As I’ve said and written many times before, I grew up in the boroughs of New York City in the sixties and seventies and knew more than a few adults who thought like Trump.  They exuded an ugly kind of east coast racism that differed radically from the over-the-top southern lynching and beating form often depicted in the movies or on TV.

Their type promulgated the idea that the Blacks and Puerto Ricans were different, inferior, lazy and not like us.  As a kid I overheard countless times by numerous white adults that they didn’t respect their communities, weren’t educated, couldn’t hold down jobs and, when push came to shove, were generally shiftless and perhaps violent.

where to even begin?

Having attended integrated schools since kindergarten this didn’t compute for me and seemed just plain, well, mean, stupid and misinformed.  It probably helped that my parents didn’t espouse these views but nor were they the kind of people who liked to make waves.  When I’d hear these statements made by a handful of their friends or in the neighborhood they would just shake their heads and say don’t listen or just change the subject.

Their reaction angered me and as a teenager I began to speak up and eventually got into screaming matches with some of their friends, one of whom in particular reminds me of Donald Trump.  This ignoramus claimed to work with the “schvartzas” (a pejorative Yiddish term for Black people) and fancied himself as an authority on the kind of people they were and weren’t.  When I’d bring up examples of famous Black and brown people who didn’t fit his stereotype he’d claim they were exceptions and even went so far as to mention one or two Black people that he liked.

This kind of justification makes me crazy

I can’t tell you how much this reminded me of Trump bringing Kanye and Jim Brown to the White House or the news stories of the last few days where he said to the prime minister of Sweden that he’d be willing to vouch for the black rapper A$AP Rocky, now being detained in that country while assault charges against him are being investigated.

Like they’d be friends.

This, of course, is the same Trump who went on TV in 1989 to campaign for the death penalty for the five teenage boys falsely accused and convicted of raping and beating a woman in Central Park.  The same guy who spent approximately $82,000 for full-page newspaper ads imploring the city to change its laws to kill them.

That stupid effing signature

The same guy who once called Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) a fat little Jew and yet spent the better part of last week lambasting four Democratic Congresswomen of color who criticized him as anti-Semitic, that is, after he initially tweeted they  go back to the countries where they came from.

Never mind that three of the four were born in the United States and the fourth is a naturalized citizen who emigrated here with her parents legally from a war-torn country.

… and said congresswoman has been a citizen longer than the first lady #justthefacts

Filmmaker Ava Duvarney’s searing four part Netflix miniseries, When They See Us brilliantly depicts Trump’s rabid mindset en masse thirty years ago as she unfolds the gut-wrenching story of what can happen to young people and their families when they cross paths with the I know better fast-talking Trump-like racist mindset born and bred through the white privilege of the boroughs I came of age in.

soon to have a lot more emmys than some washed up reality show star

It is a mosaic of injustice for others promulgated by people like our Electoral POTUS, who watched and participated as his very own father presided over his very own real estate empire that for decades redlined most Black and non-white people from his apartments until they were eventually taken to court over it.

It therefore shouldn’t be surprising to any of us how Trump is trying to do the very same thing on a grander scale to the entire country by scapegoating immigrant families, especially young children and babies, and locking them in cages for days and even weeks on end without proper food, water and hygiene.

In turn it might then even be expected that the next up would be duly elected non-white representatives in Congress, or even those on the courts or in public life HE didn’t like.

DO NOT COME FOR CHER

It’s easy enough to brand them all as anti-American, aliens or even murderers, especially when he has at least a handful of public face acquaintances and/or supporters from pretty much every ethnic persuasion at this point.  Yet there are few if any of these people supporting him in Congress, none of them are in his immediate family or small circle of friends and very very, very few are granted membership in any of the Trump-owned country clubs.

I know this double talk, this white speak and this blowhard misogyny of Trump’s cowardly brand of street-fighting because it harkens back to the type of immoral, misinformed racists who inadvertently taught me to fight and argue in the first place back in the day.

Deal with it

What I didn’t know and never expected was that I’d be having this very same argument with so many of them and their spawn five decades later and that they would all have a de facto leader temporarily occupying a Chair in the Oval Office.

So from one Chair about another, here’s how you deal with them and him.

You call them out at every turn and racist trope and challenge them and it over and over again.  Then you bring along other members of your extended families and friends and urge them to do the same.   Then you keep at it, day in and day out, week after week  (Note: Or at least every time you see them) and, eventually, they will be outnumbered, retreat, pipe down and age out.

#over

That’s we how we did it back in the day and they and their hate speech went cowering back under the rocks and into the private residences and chat rooms from which they came.

Sadly, every few decades we need to do it again, and the time for disinfectant is now.

Gil Scott-Heron – “Home is Where The Hatred Is” 

Stranger Things in Stranger Times

…I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday…

–“Me and Bobby McGee,” Music & Lyrics: Kris Kristofferson, Singer: Janis Joplin

Nostalgia is in the air.

You can see it every time another superhero movie has a HUUUUUUUUGE opening. I’ve seen it as a college professor for more than a decade with my film students’ almost universal, fanatical fascination with all things Star Wars. 

I thought growing up meant I’d never again have to feel marginalized for the big yawn I felt whenever a friend tried to tempt me into the Marvel or DC comic world.

Little did I know the pressure would be compounded by a perfectly enjoyable but to my mind not particularly deep 1977 film that would not only refuse to die but haunt pop culture for the rest of my life on planet Earth.

Me, talking about Star Wars #overit

Yes, I’ve always preferred the real world to a fantasy from the past.

Look away or backwards for too long and you might miss the danger right before you in the present.   Or the pleasure.

In that sense, you could color me realistic.

But realism is not so popular right now in particular.

You can see this in our politics.  Like it or not, Trumpism is a banshee scream to right the ship (Note: Literally) and make things the way they used to be in the good old days.

It is nostalgia for a past that is simpler, more prosperous and a lot more black and white.  Though to my mind it’s really white and black.  Meaning White first, and then, well, maybe just a little Black, for what remains.

For what else is one to think when perusing what America realistically was in what we now recall as the good old days.

Nostalgic for nostalgia? Hey, it could happen.

Though in fairness, this phenomenon is not alone limited to the U.S.  A new brand of White Nativism – which sure, some scholars refer to as nostalgia – has spread all throughout Europe and beyond.  So much so that one day, generations from now, the future scholars will surely look back to the first half of the 21st century as a time when the world had to choose between embracing the past or vaulting into the future and chose —

_________________________________.

Well, that remains to be seen.  But I, like you, have some very real thoughts on the matter.

This is why it surprises me at just how big a fan I am of the recently dropped season 3 of the ultimate nostalgia machine, Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Scale of 1 to 10, it’s an 11. #yuckyuck #illseemyselfout

As a Chair whose taste runs afoul of mythic pasts and the heroes who triumph in them, how is it that the greatest relief I’ve found from TrumpWorld in the last year is following the exploits of a group of kids from the type of suburban neighborhood I never lived in during what I consider the absolute worst decade in the history of my life thus far– the eighties???

I’ve been considering this all week and have not yet come to an answer.

There was really nothing much fun about the eighties.  Just look at the fashions and you can see how much we hated ourselves, and each other.

This was heartthrob hair. For real. #ohBilly

It’s one thing to go to a costume party today with giant shoulder pads and too short short-shorts but it’s quite another to be expected to put them on every day after you’ve teased and moussed up your hair into a humidity-defying frenzy.

What sane human being who lived through those times would crave that?  What kind of insane population would ever popularize that?

These are questions much too big to resolve through the enticing world view we’re given in ST’s third and best season.  Though through a strict storytelling lens, it’s pretty clear.  The appeal of the latest ST incarnation is that in its own small way it manages to evoke the best of nostalgia, fantasy AND reality.

Oh god that mall. That 80s mall.

The world of monsters and evil foreign/governmental villains might steer the overarching plot but what we really relate to is the stunningly imperfect humanness of the characters the Duffer Brothers created and the behaviors of each actor playing them.

Every one of its principal characters is on the surface central casting for the non-hero supporting role in any movie or comic book adventure.  Each in their own way is either neurotic, ill-tempered, phony, depressed, bookish, dumbly amusing or just plain unappealingly awkward.  In short, they are a group comprised of the last ones chosen for any sports team combined with the first ones suspended from every sports team.  (Note: And I wonder why I relate?)

And yet, in watching each of them get their moment as they’re thrust center stage and dared to become heroic, we find ourselves somehow rooting for them in what could objectively be considered the most ridiculous of circumstances.

Steve and Dustin’s handshake alone. #thesetwo

To create tons of believable scares when you’re being chased in a _________________ by a giant gooey _________________ is a tough enough hat trick to pull off.  But to do it in a decade that is already an overused sad parody of itself and get us to actually believe any of those people could actually exist is something else entirely.

And yes, there will be no spoilers here. 

oh thank god!

That is, for the handful of readers who have yet to tune in.  For the launch of ST’s season 3 has set a new record for Netflix, attracting 40.7 million household account viewers in its first four days, almost half of which were viewed on TV screens on its launch over the Fourth of July weekend.  The only show on TV that was more watched during that time was when real-life superhero Megan Rapinoe lead the US women’s soccer team to victory in the Women’s World Cup.

QUEEN #thatsall

Though I was not one of those who watched ST in it first four days, I will cop to binging it in two perfect four-hour sittings over two nights a week later on my big red sofa with tortilla chips, guacamole and my dog in my lap.  For me it was not so much nostalgia as it was pure decadent escape from the continuous loop of a news cycle that at times has become simply unbearable.

Which, even more strangely, probably puts me at the center of the very definition of nostalgia – a longing for a past or a place with happy associations.  It might not be exactly my past or my place/town onscreen but, well, facts are facts, even in today’s world.

Gosh, I hope not.  Since my husband just walked in the room and, hearing I was waxing nostalgic about nostalgia, reminded me that a Swiss physician first coined the term back in 1688 as a psychological disorder similar to paranoia, except that the sufferer is manic with longing.

For what exactly, I’m not sure.  Nor, I suspect, are most of the rest of us.

Janis Joplin – “Me & Bobby McGee”

Red, White, and Bette

American icon, star of stage and screen, all around badass — these are all ways to describe the Divine Miss Bette Midler. It’s been a hard week for the Chair, so in lieu of his musings on all things politics and pop culture, we defer to the brilliance of Bette’s twitter feed. This week she has been particularly sharp — telling off trolls, skewering Electoral POTUS, and just being the Bette we all know and love.

A sampling is below — but if you aren’t following her, consider this the Chair’s highest recommendation. #BeBette

LOL

Bette Midler – “Friends”

The Elephant on Broadway

Try as we might, we can’t get away from the elephant in our country.

You know what I mean.  Or whom.

Not only is it Trump this or Trump that, it’s how will we fight Trump, what will happen if we don’t defeat Trump or, my favorite at the moment – um please, we have a rule tonight, there is no talking about Trump.

On that latter point in my house:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Of course, the latter is misguided for so many reasons.   But mostly because even when you don’t talk about IT, it’s there, lurking beneath the surface, ready to rear it’s ugly head just when you thought you’d put it to bed.

Not unlike the trauma you buried from your childhood or the pretending you do every time you toss off that rehearsed carefree smile at your ex.

Or the murderous rage you suppress whenever the driver in the car in front of you is going 3 mph because they’re texting.

Or the searing pit of bile bubbling up in your stomach when that person in the market, elevator or treadmill next to you speaks as loudly on their phone as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio did on the stage at the first Democratic debate this past week.

Point being that totally ignoring a problem only makes IT bigger and you smaller.

Last week I snuck off to NYC for a few days to ostensibly forget the Trump of it all.  I did this by paying what would amount to the price of a small used car for orchestra tickets to three of the hottest shows on Broadway.

Think of this as the gay male equivalent of binge eating with a chaser of middle-aged entitlement because I deserved to see the original casts of this year’s big Tony Award winners since the world is shitty, I’m getting older and who knows how many years I or any of the rest of us have left.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject: HAPPY GAY PRIDE 50, everyone!!!!!!!

Cheers Queers!

In any event, and to be more specific, another way to put this is that I sat front and center for: 

Hadestown, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Oklahoma!

Yes, they were all truly brilliant, a word I hate to use but find that when it applies there is no other.

Yet what I found even more surprising is that while these three shows couldn’t be more different – certainly they were all written decades, even centuries apart – they all, in their very artistically eclectic ways, very much addressed exactly the same subject:

Trump/IT and Trump America.

Hadestown is about making a pact with the Devil for your soul in order to get what you want.  But in this case the Devil is a con man AND a BUILDER who seduces you into believing he will take care of you and, once he owns you, does anything but.

His suits fit a little better

Since it’s based on a Greek myth they call him Hades but when you watch it, well,  you will likely feel the urge to substitute….oh, some contemporary name of your choice.

Especially when during the first act curtain song entitled “Why We Build A Wall” at the Friday night performance you attend you realize Hillary Clinton is sitting directly in front of you three rows to your left. (Note: #Swear2God/Hillary).

Let’s just say I experienced a range of emotions

Then there’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a story about a 1930s southern white small town lawyer who deeply believes in justice and yet just as deeply sympathizes with the enraged, poor, white working class neighbors all around him who feel like they never get justice and have been left behind by the system for far too long.

A very different Atticus

So much so that he agrees to defend a young man of color for a crime he clearly didn’t commit knowing FULL WELL that said system and his neighbors could NEVER convict him, and certainly wouldn’t KILL (nee lynch) him, when all rational EVIDENCE points to the contrary.

This brings us to Oklahoma!, a show we mostly know as the vintage Technicolor movie musical of the same name about the infinite joys of the American heartland.  (Note:  Oh, come on – Surrey With The Fringe On Top??  Oh What A Beautiful Morning????).

Who knew all this time that what this story was really telling us was how quickly the people inhabiting our heartland would turn their backs, and very American guns, on the most unfortunate among them and literally erase them with their own bullets when they are unable to make lemonade out of the very real sour lemons life has handed them – AND jump for all the joy in America while doing it.

More like WOKE-lahoma!

If it seems all three of these are of a theme simply because my taste verges on the, well… angry, timely and political – not really. (Note:  Though, admittedly, yes they do).

I had to be dragged to Oklahoma!, a show I never liked or related to in the least, kicking and screaming.  Nor was I at all interested even a little in Greek mythology or up to revisiting the racism of the Depression era south by way of The West Wing.

At least initially.

Proving once again that every seemingly distant, dystopic time period produces valuable work that in some way (okay many ways) directly reflects what’s going in the streets and hearts of those inhabiting it… and well beyond.  Because if done particularly right a handful of these works will live on and the truth of their stories will get reimagined and reinterpreted in countless forms as both an artistic expression and, perish the thought, teaching tool and salve for future generations.

And they will seem as timely as hell while doing it even when, in the case of Oklahoma!, not one single word has been changed.

ummm.. what?

How can this be????

Because especially great art comes out of experience, passion, pain and point of view.  And paying attention.  Often it’s born from the ashes of despair or a twisted take about that which deep down sticks in our craws, inflames us and/or seeks to destroy us.

A very wise mentor once told me early on that there are only a handful of stories out there – it’s all in the way you tell them and just how much truth you are telling.

Amen!

As artists, and for that matter, citizens, we reconfigure our handful of stories with dark and light magic that not only reflects the contemporary world around us but is also informed by it.

To watch these events then play out on a stage after they’ve played out in life, or even in the political arena, at a time when all we want to do is to turn away, is one way to know that —

1. We are not alone

and

2.  The recipe for catharsis is never to live in a pretend world.

Rather it is to face our demons (aka reality) en masse through another set of eyes able to express it differently.  It’s through that very kind of  group camaraderie that we can  go from desperately hopeless to happily hopeful in the space of just a few hours.

2019 Mashup from Oklahoma