Because We Can?

Definitely not kosher.

Definitely not kosher.

There’s a famous scene in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives where the brilliant Judy Davis plays Sally, a recent divorcee who terrorizes the unlucky new guy she is about to leave with on their first date when he tries to reassure her that not all men are, essentially, cads.

Davis, sneering with the authority of a jilted Medea, turns sharply to him and, after a long scary moment, ferociously roars: Don’t defend your sex!  It’s true!

Judy Davis is not in the house tonight (which is too bad for so many reasons), but I couldn’t help feel those words reverberating in my head many times almost every time I came across a news story this week.  If you’re an adult male of, well, any age, it’s pretty hard to stick up for the peanut gallery of ass hats who have been making it so much more difficult for all of the rest of us deeply flawed males in the world to hold our heads – well – not even high, just upright.

Who knew of these three Spitzer would come out smelling like roses?

Who knew of these three Spitzer would come out smelling like roses?

1. NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and his serial sexting.  Oy.

2. San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and his serial gropings (not to mention female headlocks). Oy vey.

And even:

3. Fox “newscaster” Geraldo Rivera posting a shirtless (naked?) photo of himself on Twitter declaring:  “70 is the new 50.”   Oy, no.

This should help get Geraldo out of your head.

This should help get Geraldo out of your head.

This is not to even mention in the last several weeks:

4. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signing a bill that REQUIRES all women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to undergo a mandatory ultrasound in order to bond with the fetus and potentially save it.

5. Texas Governor Rick Perry and his mostly male cohorts in the state legislature passing a law that will not only close 37 of the state’s 42 women’s health clinics but will also require all females to get their doctor’s approval before being allowed to obtain full doses of the morning after pill.

And even:

6. Virginia Attorney General (and current gubernatorial candidate) Ken Cuccinelli desperately trying to resurrect an old edict that outlaws sodomy, oral sex and just about any other kind of sex aside from the missionary position (could I make this up?) in the state.  Note: Certainly this is not so much anti-female as anti- human, not to mention what it will do to tourism, but it bears inclusion nevertheless.

They might want to reconsider motto.

They might want to reconsider this motto.

WHAT.     IS.       GOING.       ON????????????????????

Okay, so I’ve taken a survey and this is what I’ve come up with:

A. The intellectuals reason that this is the final expected retro grasp of the white male heterosexual patriarchy trying to expel its last burst of ever-dwindling authority over the rest of us.

My reaction:  Too glib.

B. The liberals blame Weiner and Filner for being idiots and blame the rest of this stuff on bigoted, hypocritical Republicans who want to require all of us to go to the Church of their choosing and re-institute school prayer (and Ayn Rand), as we await the Rapture.

My reaction: Too easy, not to mention impractical. 

C. And finally – The women I know, ALL of the women I know (which is many because, after all, I am a homosexual) are just plain disgusted.

My reaction: The correct response.

Though they are thinking about bringing back castration.

My reaction to that:  Uh, sorry ladies – the wrong response!!  

But still  —  who could blame them????

You should be sweating!

You should be sweating!

I haven’t seen such a motley group of guys since high school gym class – a class I, granted, did not attend much but one in which I was able to observe behavior on most days I was in attendance because I did little other than observe while I was there.

Weiner: I’m not gonna say he’s a dick because that’s too easy.  What I will say is that in the first go ‘round I didn’t understand why everyone was making such a fuss about a guy who liked to send naked pictures of himself to women who showed some interest, and occasionally pleasured himself over it when his wife was away.  I cared more about how he did his job, not what he did in bed (or out of it, or even standing up).  Also, like most native New Yorkers I began to resent the outcry from the morality police in the rest of the country (as if they’ve never done anything tawdry – and if they haven’t they certainly couldn’t relate to most of the rest of us), so I decided I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and show my support out of sheer Big Apple spite.

Field day is putting it mildly.

Field day is putting it mildly.

However, there comes a time – hard as it is for me, a Scorpio, to admit – that even spitefulness has to give way to common sense.  Suddenly, we now get online pix of the Full Monty Weiner.  Then we’re treated to a spinning press conference where his highly intelligent spouse, Huma Abedin, does a millennial generation version of Hillary Clinton standing by her man as she bares the details of her personal life to the world in an attempt to defend a flawed guy she happens to love who clearly and very desperately wants to remain in the politically relevant limelight.

Okay.  But then, just when you thought it was over, there are more naked Wieners revealed, as well as rolling admissions by the candidate of there being “6-10 women” he’s met online as recently as six months ago, though he can’t be sure of the actual number since behavior that is immoral is a matter of personal opinion – the implication being his opinion is that he has done nothing else wrong with #’s 11, 12, 13 or more….

It wasn't me, it was Carlos Danger!

It wasn’t me, it was Carlos Danger!

Yuk.  I think I need a shower.  Don’t you?  Not because I give an Instagram about whether Mr. Weiner is, indeed, a large tool but because he has become an impossible public figure to govern what is perhaps the most important and complicated city in the country – primarily at his own hands (pun intended, sorry).

Addendum:  Recently, I was shocked to learn that Mr. Weiner was 6’5”.  As a Jewish guy from New York, I’d always assumed he was closer to around, say, 5’7”.  My height.  It just goes to show what I’ve always secretly hoped – bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better – especially when it has to do with wieners.

Filner: Any 70 year-old man who has, with the women he employs, chosen to:

  1. Put them in headlocks
  2. Grope their asses
  3. Asked them to come to work not wearing underwear
  4. Forced them to hug him, kiss him and tongue him and
  5. Rinsed and repeated on all of these behaviors many times over —

SHOULD. GO. AWAY.

Do Not Pass Go and go directly to Jail

Do Not Pass Go and go directly to Jail

Instead, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner gave a press conference Friday where he announced he was entering a two-week program in behavior counseling for…well, something – WHEN his microphone cut out the audio and we couldn’t hear what it was he was actually going away for.  One wag tweeted that “even the mic didn’t want to hear,” but this didn’t stop the mayor and his staff from getting him another mic and podium so he could restart his mea culpa from the beginning (Oh, goodie).  And speaking of staff, just after the revelations of sexual misconduct towards women came out days before – the San Diego city attorney announced that as an interim measure the mayor, who still refuses to resign, would no longer be allowed to be alone in a room with any female who worked for him.  At all.  This was particularly fascinating since that same press release also stated that Mayor Filner had just hired yet another woman to replace his exiting chief of staff. Certainly it gave new meaning to the term team players for everyone else nearby.

By the way, the fact that both Mr. Weiner and Mayor Filner are Democrats is meaningless.  This has nothing to do with political affiliation as current Republican Louisiana Senator David Vitter (you know, the former Congressman who was kicked out of office in the prostitution scandal, then reelected) and current Republican Congressman Mark Sanford (he’s the former South Carolina Governor who a few years ago disappeared to Argentina with his mistress when his aides told us he couldn’t be reached because he was out camping – the gayest excuse I’ve ever heard a straight guy give) serve as only two of the most recent analogous examples of sex scandals from the other side.

Who knew Animal House would be so right??

Who knew Animal House would be so right??

No, what this all has to do with is this:  When it comes to the penis, and everything it connotes for them – some men have remained in permanent adolescence.  Sexual compulsion/addiction; it’s about power, not sex; generational shifts in mores; they’re all just the extreme examples; blah, blah, blah –  I get it.  But as a guy, I gotta tell you – there has been too much of this kind of stuff in the news lately to intellectualize it away.  There’s something going on with some of us men out there and it’s not pretty.  Or even handsome.  Actually, it’s kind of abhorrent.  And unless the rest of us guys stand up to the bullies it’s not gonna go away any time soon.   I’m not talking about what guys do in the privacy of their own – well, you know.   I’ll be the first one to fight back against anyone who says we have to stop doing any of that.  I’m talking about – well, you know what I’m talking about.

Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley pondered a variation of all this in his Oscar-winning screenplay, Moonstruck.  Faced with the knowledge of her philandering husband, Olympia Dukakis (the Mom) spends her time surveying various opinions of the other characters on one particular question:  Why do men cheat?  Finally, one person, the biggest philanderer in the film, gives her the only answer that ultimately makes sense:  Because they fear death.

Interesting answer.  But it’s movie dialogue.  As it applies to the mistreatment of today’s women via sexual scandal, which is not about so much as cheating but behaving like an immature idiot – the answer in the real world is more like: Because we can.

Though just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  That might sound like a response from someone’s mother.  But maybe it wouldn’t hurt to think about it that way.  After all, Mom’s a woman, too.  And us men, we’re just wieners.

OMG Stop!

96_frayed

Did you ever have one of those weeks where every big issue in the news and pop culture is annoying?  No, the answer is not every week – even if that is the case.  If you live your life perpetually annoyed then you are not annoyed at all – what you are is a malcontent curmudgeon.  What I’m talking about is a convergence of issues in one weekly cycle of what’s what that has you weighing the possibilities of turning it all off, packing up a slew of books and going underground to become a survivalist.

Since the latter won’t happen to me in this lifetime in that I need to call in experts to hang a picture properly and recently failed twice at reading Proust (it was me, not him), I have made peace with the fact that I will forever dwell in the weekly cycle.  And perhaps you have also.  But that doesn’t mean we have to live here happily during each seven-day period.  In fact, it might just be that weeks like this – particularly SUCKY periods that are so annoyingly dumb and cloyingly stupid – actually make us appreciate all the other wonderfully happy ones.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself right now.

Again, perhaps you are too.  After all, misery loves company.  And remember, it isn’t real misery if it only happens once every few months.  Think of it more as a healthy cycle of intellectual binge and purge.  Or the alternative to living in the woods for a year with several boxes of classic literature and enough food and water to get by.

I've got a spare bedroom!

I’ve got a spare bedroom!

As much as you might think that’s appealing, how much Proust or even Shakespeare can you read in a row while eating prepared vittles from a package or can?  Not much, that’s how much.  Plus, a world where you literally had no one else to complain to could be even worse than this one.

So let’s review those things that had me in a snit… and made me want to scream OMG STOP IT!

1.   ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE COVERS ARE NOT A NATIONAL ISSUE

The twitpic seen round the world

The twitpic seen round the world

One of the top news stories this week is Rolling Stone’s cover photo of Boston Bomber (do we need to say suspect?) Dzhokhar (Jahar, to friends) Tsarnaev – all tousle-haired, doe-eyed and sporting the come-hither look and dark chin scruff of a teenager stoner.  Mr. Tsarnaev is, indeed, all of those things, and also, as the magazine clearly identifies him in very large black type, THE BOMBER.

I have actually read the 11,000 word article that the cover promises is about how a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.  It’s a very good read, a simultaneously awful and fascinating story – which is what good magazine writing is all about.  Does it answer all of the questions its headline promises?  Well, as much as most magazine or even newspaper pieces fully do.  Which is to say mostly, though not exactly.  And, in the world of journalistic reportage, which is always left open to interpretation, that’s sort of the point.

So what’s the problem???  Well, the Mayor of Boston says using this picture is “insensitive” to the people of Boston and still others claim that the story, placement and accompanying image makes Dzhokhar a sort of — rock star?  Never mind Rolling Stone has used images of Charles Manson and O.J. Simpson as cover draws in the height of their notoriousness.

The entire point of the article is that what makes this kid particularly scary is that he has the non-descript visual image of a sort of iconoclastic cool kid.  Hence, the cover image, which has been used on the cover of the New York Times previously, would seem to be the right one.  Would it be more appropriate if Jahar had a long beard, a turban and was wearing white robes?  Well, it’d obviously make many in the US more comfortable.  Among that group are corporate chain stores like CVS, Rite Aid, K-Mart, Stop ‘n Shop and Walgreen’s – all of whom have not only removed the current issue of Rolling Stone from their shelves but have refused to even sell it in its stores.

Here’s what would make me comfortable.  How about K-Mart refusing to sell guns in its stores?  Yes, I know Jahar and his brother didn’t use K-Mart rifles to set their homemade bombs off at the Boston Marathon the way the teenagers in Columbine did.  But at least it’d be one small actual step to curbing future domestic terrorism.  Refusing to sell a magazine, one that chooses to do a timely story that some people might disagree with, is not.

 Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

–      George  Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

Pump the brakes!

Pump the brakes!

2.    KATEWAIT – WHEN A ROYAL BIRTH IS A ROYAL PAIN

Insert terrible "crowning" pun

Insert terrible “crowning” pun

It’s a Boy!  But admittedly, I will never understand the fascination with royalty.   You’re bowing before a person born into privilege who wears a diamond studded crown or fantasizing about having millions of your own subjects who want to touch your garment because of your innate talent or ability to….do what exactly?

Now before you take away my chair (throne?) or refuse to ever let me use the word queen again, let me explain.  I have the utmost respect for the service that the Royal family of England gives back to their country and to the world.  It’s worth admiring.  But why are thousands of reporters from all over everywhere camped out in front of Wills and Kate’s home/castle/car/palace/estate and speculating about a birth, and then a name, that has a 50-50 chance of being either male or female? (Note:  Okay, I suppose they could choose the name “Pat,” but instead went with George Alexander Louis.  How dull.  I mean, my parents even came up with Faith Bari for my sister!).

Yes, this is what it has come to.

Yes, this is what it has come to.

As Holly, my cohort at notesfromachair, pointed out to me several days ago – NBC’s Today sent Natalie Morales to London several weeks ago for KateWait and she had been reduced to knitting on camera waiting for the baby to arrive.  Not only was this not a good strategy for boosting Today’s lagging ratings, it did little to honor the service of the Royal in question. If you’ve ever known a pregnant woman – and all of you have known at least one – do you think her idea of fun is to have gaggles of photographers and supporters surrounding her as she tries to maneuver her enlarged self out of the house and onto the hospital delivery room table?  That was, and is, a royal pain in its truest form.  And it’s not even unusual or salacious – two of the essential elements for news coverage these days.

To repeat: a boy – George Alexander Louis – 8 lbs., 4 oz.  That’s it.  I’m done.  Any further questions…

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3.    EMMY AWARDS ARE FOR SISSIES*

What do I have to do here to get nominated for a goddamn Emmy?

What do I have to do here to get nominated for a goddamn Emmy?

In the last few years of her life Bette Davis enjoyed posing in full makeup on a couch, next to a pillow that said, Old Age Ain’t No Place for Sissies.  Being a sort of gay icon she can use the latter word, as can I* (no – most of you cannot).  As for the Emmy nominations announced this week, the term should be used to describe some of the TV Academy’s choices this year in several categories.

There are lots of omissions but let’s cut to the chase – no writing nomination for the best-written show on television, Mad Men.  By eliminating the series that has been nominated every other of the six years it has been on the air (including four wins), the blue ribbon panel of choosers or perhaps other writers who nominate are saying what – that this year Mad Men wasn’t even the fifth best written drama series on TV?  Haha – that would be as funny as you telling me that they’re going to actually let Kim Kardashian’s mother host a new television talk show in 2013, or…..oh – never mind.

Kander & Ebb famously wrote the lyric: …Everybody loves a winner… for the song Maybe This Time from Cabaret but that’s actually not quite the case in the entertainment industry.  It’s actually more: Everybody hates a winner who wins too many times the way Mad Men creator Matt Weiner has.

Trading her switch for an Emmy?

Trading her switch for an Emmy?

Which is to say nothing of the fact that the most Emmy nominated series this year, American Horror Story (17 nods and one of my favorite not so guilty pleasures) is going against the very overpraised and retrofitted Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra in the best miniseries and movie category.  AHS is likely to lose, because as we established in our previous #2, this country and the world can’t resist a queen. (and yeah, I can say that, too).

Emmy night is Sunday, Sept. 22.  Look for all of my Steven Soderbergh DVDs (including Magic Mike) flying out the window in the hills of Los Angeles at the very moment this injustice is announced – that is if you’re interested in some free and only slightly damaged swag.

You said it, John.

You said it, John.

4.    PRES OBAMA IS NOT A RACIST FOR SPEAKING OUT ABOUT RACE, YOU MORON

Trayvon_Obama

The country is in uproar because a mostly White female jury in Florida found an adult male carrying a gun, who stopped and eventually shot and killed a Black teenager armed with nothing but a bag of Skittles and some iced tea, a. not guilty and b. back onto the streets with the eventual return of the gun he used in the killing.  We have a Black (well, half-Black – which, fyi, means he’s also equal part White) president and a country with a really checkered history on racial issues.  What’s He supposed to do – say nothing?  What year is this – 1923? ‘33? ‘53?

All our Black (or half White) president did several days ago was try to explain the reason for the outrage about the verdict among the African American community by noting said verdict needs to be seen in historical context when he said: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

Uh, does anyone doubt this is true or truly thinks that this is a controversial statement?   Then why is he getting pillared for it?  And why is Fox News letting people like Sean Hannity tell millions of viewers that Trayvon Martin was stoned on marijuana the night of the shooting and clearly capable of aggression (not munchies, dude – like, fighting) when that whole theory has been clearly debunked.

Why Barack Obama wants to bear his soul on this issue to the inevitable vitriol of a vast right wing machine/conspiracy is beyond me – and probably the reason this hopeful guy should be President.  It’s just that…well…when exactly did it become wrong for the president of the US to open a conversation on sensitive issues?   And not even a Liberal conversation.  There has not been a real liberal in the White House in at least 50 years – which should make one wonder if perhaps we could do even better.

The night before Pres. Obama made his remarks I had dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel where I spotted an overly made up middle aged woman with dyed blonde hair and too much jewelry sashay out of her milky white Bentley (approximate cost: $200,000) as she handed her key to the valet.  Taped to the inside passenger side window of her vehicle was a large printed white sign with black lettering that read: OBAMA SUCKS.   This, alone, tells you what he’s up against.

make-it-stop-o

SMALL ANNOYANCES ADD UP TO ONE BIG ONE

1. The barrage of incessant news from Comicon is working my last nerve.  Isn’t it enough you’ve taken over the movies? Why, oh why, are Superman and Batman going to be in a new tent pole film (sans Christian Bale) directed by Zack Snyder?  And why do you need to rub it in all our faces, over and over and over again.  Wake me when its 1968 again.  Please?

Whisk me away, Jon

Whisk me away, Jon

2. The Way, Way Back is the kind of movie I should love, love, love.  It’s a coming of age piece about a nerdy but too smart for his own good kid being raised by a divorced, single mother.  And it’s got some of my favorite quirky film actors – Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, etc.  So why, why, why was it turned into an actor fest of predictability with characters that felt written and not real?  I don’t know the answer to these questions any more than I know how the television works or why the earth is round and not flat – though all have been explained to me numerous times.

A rerun discovery

A rerun discovery

3. Cold Case is a television series that ran from 2003-2010 that I thought I was too superior to watch until several weeks ago when I was looking for yet another reason to procrastinate on some writing. It was created by Meredith Stiehm (she wrote for Homeland and now does The Bridge) and each week tackles a decades (sometimes many decades) old unsolved murder – alternating seamlessly between period flashbacks of then and now in genuinely compelling fashion.  Well, guess what?  This was a pretty freakin’ great network television series.  If you haven’t seen it, catch up with it in reruns on your DVR because it’s not available on DVD due to its music budget – the largest ever for a TV series.  The producers were smart enough to realize that even with good, taut writing and acting, nothing can bring back memories of the decades past than actual recordings from Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, the Police, Journey, and Cyndi Lauper, just to name a few.  Maybe one day the movies will start to do this again, or better yet, try to discover someone or something exciting, original or even new.  At this point, I’d even settle for a group of the studios to STOP and simply take a long hard look at what they’re doing now – and how it bodes for their – and our – futures.    Like the president…

I can dream, can’t it?

The Absence of Logic

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Do we now live in a country where we can decide that if a teenager looks suspicious based on skin color, clothing and stance we can follow him against police orders, approach him with unwarranted questions and then, when we don’t receive the response we want or are met with hostility, shoot him in “self-defense?” Apparently yes.

I don’t get it.  Why is an adult like George Zimmerman carrying a gun in the first place?  He’s not a police officer.  He’s a neighborhood watch guy who wasn’t even on duty when he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a Black boy who was carrying nothing more than a cell phone and Skittles at the time. And forget the legal right to bear arms argument.  Use logic.  What is the point of carrying a gun with you when you live in a gated community and are going on an errand?  To pretend you’re an action star?  To derive some sort of gleeful macho joy, or booster confidence shot?  Or maybe it’s just that little bit of an extra upper hand when you’re trying to make a point and the other kid, I mean guy, is not listening to you?

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Skittles and broken dreams

I decided not to become a lawyer in my third year of college when I realized that legalese, memorization and cleverness in word twisting often trumped logic.  So I’m going to simply state it this way:  When Mr. Zimmerman called the police about this questionable kid they told ole George not to follow him and wait in his car.  But instead ole George got out of his car and tailed him, grumbling that these “punks always get away.”   What happened after that is anyone’s guess.  Except that one was a white person with a gun and the other was a Black kid just walking home, minding his own business.  Do the math.

Mr. Zimmerman’s defense attorneys loved pointing out that there is no law against getting out of your car and following someone.  Well, okay.  But if you’re walking along and being followed for no reason and are carrying a licensed gun, does that mean that you can then shoot the person following you?  What is harassment anyway?  Who has the right to shoot first?  Is this the Wild West?  Or just a Florida suburb where racism rules the day not only on the streets but also in court?  I’m not talking about law.   I’m talking about logic.

I am SOOOO tired of people saying race has nothing to do with this case.  It has EVERYTHING to do with this case.  White people think tall Black teenage boys and young men are suspicious and potentially menacing.  In fact, when I was a teenager, in the late sixties and seventies in New York City, it was often thought that if you saw one of those guys on the street and they approached you they’d either rob you, knife you or, worst case scenario, rape your girlfriend while pointing a gun at your head.

Flip the script.

Flip the script. Trayvon and George.

Except not always.  Not if you didn’t choose to think that way.

True story.  I can remember as a 13-year-old walking home from school in Jackson Heights, Queens one day when a Black teenager a couple of years older walked up to me fast and demanded my wallet, sort of motioning through his coat that he had either a knife or a gun.   The weapon in the coat looked a bit suspicious but I reluctantly gave him my wallet anyway because, well…you never know.  But then something funny happened.  I was compelled to ask him if he really wanted my wallet, since there wasn’t a lot of money in it, and how come he was taking it.  He replied that he needed money.  I told him okay, that I didn’t think he was a bad guy and asked how come he picked me.  He looked at me and said he didn’t know.

Queens tales

Queens tales

Then something even funnier happened then.  He didn’t run away.  He kept on walking with me.  So we continued talking.  He asked me where I went to school and I asked him stuff about himself.  He didn’t answer all my questions but I felt, as I walked home a few more blocks, we were getting to know each other a little better and I was proving that I wasn’t a racist – which was the worst thing a Jewish liberal kid in NY like me could be in 1968, or so I thought.  Also, I Just didn’t think this guy was so bad.  He didn’t have a killer look in his eye.  Nor did he have, it turned out, a gun or a knife.  Certainly he didn’t have a cell phone – though he might have had some candy that was the equivalent of Skittles.  In fact, I’m almost certain he must have.

I’m not any kind of young hero for making these choices because, as my mother later screamed in my ear when I told her this story: “YOU COULD’VE BEEN KILLED! WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU??!!!”  (Note: I was smart enough to not tell her this story until many years in the future so I suppose I do deserve some credit for intuiting that).   Rather than heroic, I simply think of myself as someone who, even though I was young, was mature enough to take the temperature of a tricky situation and approach it with calm and logic.

Calm, logic and maturity is something we should all employ when faced with potentially tricky, or difficult, situations.  Even when there is some risk involved.  You don’t stop an ant from eating your picnic food with a rifle.  Nor do you shoot the neighborhood dog chewing on your rose bush by blowing him away with a lit cannon.  Or stop the guy trying to steal your car, even if it is a Porsche, with an AK-47 and a round of 10,000 bullets.  It’s a machine, for god’s sake – not your sister.  Or someone’s son.

One more story.  About 15 years ago my boyfriend/partner/lover/not yet husband and I park our car in Beverly Hills and are walking a block towards the Writers Guild Theatre for a movie screening.  Suddenly, a group of young guys drive by in a revved up car and YELL at the top of their lungs, FUCKING FAGGOTS!  It all happened so fast that there was no time for reason, bitchy retorts or violence.  All I remember is that I was about to scream back at them – a scream that they probably wouldn’t have heard (but still…!), when my partner grabbed me and looked me in the eye, as if to say:  Why?

Why, indeed?  This is the first question I’d ask George Zimmerman if we were family, or even friends, something I know we will never be.  My second question would then be: if he saw the 17 year old gay boy me in the locker room at the gym while we were both changing and thought I looked at him the wrong way, would he start questioning me, too?  And what if I started yelling back at him?  And then a fight started?  If this were a Florida locker room, somewhere that I likely would have never frequented (but still!) would he be justified in shooting me too if things got heated and I defended myself from his harassment? (Uh yes, gay guys are frequently known to be shot dead for a single inappropriately bitchy retort).

This is not stretching the metaphor.  It’s all the same metaphor.  You can’t profile someone because you’re suspicious of their race, or sexual preference, or height, or gender, or weight.  No matter how many times you might have been challenged by a fat kid, or a short kid, or a gay kid, or a, well, colored kid.

I don’t give a shit what a jury said, what the law says, or how well a team or grandstanding, self-satisfied lawyers argue the case.  It makes no logical sense.  And it’s wrong.

Oh, coda to the wallet story.  Before he left, the kid gave me back my wallet, with my money inside.  Again, that doesn’t make me a hero.  But it does make me, as a 13 year old, a hell of a lot smarter than George Zimmerman.  Not a high bar, granted.


Background Check

Pull up a seat in the spotlight

Taking a seat

People go into the entertainment business for all sorts of reasons and who’s to say if any one reason is right or wrong.  Talent, fame, and communication are the top ones.   Equally compelling are: aversion to 9-5 employment, fun, sex, glamour, and money.  And finally, there’s my favorite – because it’s the only thing I’m really good at that I don’t hate.   Doubtless, there are still more.

I have heard any and all of these from my students – inspiring artists that they are – and none of them surprise me because I’ve also heard every one of them from one other person very close to me…myself.

Yes, aside from knowing early on I had some writing ability, I was also drawn to the biz that is show for lots of unsavory reasons that I suppose I’m not proud of.  Except, I sort of am because after decades in and around this world I know I’m not alone.  Who of us isn’t occasionally bowled over by the glamour (even when we realize there is a lot less of it than we thought) and reduced to the 9-year old fan we once were or perhaps still are? Is there anyone among us who didn’t at some point want to be heard or noticed in some small way so they could stick their middle finger up at all the doubters or other people who discounted or ignored them?  And I can’t imagine there is not a person here that has or will not at least once enjoy certain carnal pleasures and/or attention available to them because of this particular show-y world they chose. (And for those who haven’t cashed in on the latter…oh come on – you know you have!).

None of this negates one’s talent and creativity.  The passion for one’s art.  The wanting to not only be heard or listened to but – yes, lofty thought – in some big or small way ultimately change the world for the better through what you say.  I’ve felt the latter more than once or twice and, especially when I was younger, was absolutely sure that these dreams would indeed come true.  And anyway, who is to say they haven’t?  It’s not always evident how change happens or who contributed what to the mass success of a project or an artist with even a casual comment or specific creative contribution along the way.   You might indeed be famously heard and change things yet you also might never know how much, nor will the many people in the world know.  But, I mean – does that negate what you’ve done, your talent or you?  Does that make you a failure?  I don’t think so.  And – for your sake – I certainly hope you don’t think so.

Every now and again, it's ok!

Every now and again, it’s ok!

The biggest and smartest talents among us know this and quickly, even routinely, credit other people for helping them along the road to success in very significant ways – sometimes proclaiming that person or persons were partly (or even in some measure equally) responsible for it.  And I actually suspect even the most ego-crazed, conceited nightmares of stars deep down know this too because there is nothing that fuels the egomaniacal fool more than the fear of the world finding out that deep down inside they indeed have been fooling everyone all along and, when the curtain is pulled back, they will be revealed alone as The Emperor’s New Clothes.  In other words – nothing.

All of this and more are covered not only in my bi-weekly psychotherapy sessions but also in Twenty Feet From Stardom, a new documentary about some of the most famously unknown background singers in the business.  These people, mostly women, sang the most prized choruses or riffs or actual vocals of some of your favorite songs from the 60s through today.  In fact, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Luther Vandross, Sting, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner and many, many more are more than happy to let you know (well, to a point, that is) that parts of their records you are singing to (especially the hook/choruses) only really work because they or their producers or managers had the good taste or cash to be able to hire these “unknowns” to add their ample abilities to their final creative project.  A project that, ironically, none of these background singers are ever really known for by anyone but this select group.

There used to be this new agey question they asked in the seventies that might just still be around today and it goes like this:

Are you the star of your own movie?

Correct Answer (If You Live in the Real World of Show Business):  Well, it depends on what you mean by “star” and “movie.” 

Loving Darlene Love

Loving Darlene Love

Remember the timeless sixties hit: He’s a Rebel, sung by The Crystals?  Uh, that was really background singer Darlene Love singing lead but record producer Phil Spector decided that The Crystals were more marketable (and controllable) so Darlene’s name got erased.  How about the gal who famously dueted with Mick Jagger on Gimme Shelter – a song that feels as if it has been used in every other trailer for a Martin Scorsese film in the last 25 years?  That gal would be gospel diva Merry Clayton – who memorably wailed the chorus: War, Children – It’s just a shot away, It’s just a shot away! while she was 8 months pregnant and in curlers at 3 am because Mick Jagger and the Stones needed a female belter in their middle-of-the-night recording session and she was game when the call came in an hour before.

There are younger singers like Lisa Fischer, who for decades has sung on many of the most famous records and live performances of Sting, Luther Vandross and Tina Turner, and people like Tata Vega, David Lasly and Charlotte Crossley – names you probably don’t know but whose vocals you remember if you ever heard anything by James Taylor, Bette Midler or Stevie Wonder.

Know any of the Pips?

Can you name the Pips?

One watches the singers in this film and audibly gasps that any creative person with that amount of talent could possibly be what the biz routinely labels as an unknown. How does that happen?  Well, in the same way other people are known.

But rather than reviewing the film, perhaps its best to cut to the bottom line two questions here:

Q1: Who makes it in the business and who doesn’t? And why?    (Ok, that’s already 2 questions)

A1:  A small group if you consider the larger percentage. And for many reasons, some of which were stated above.

Q2 (or Bonus Question for those really counting numbers):  If I work hard enough, believe in myself and am also super talented by professional standards, as well as my own, doesn’t that guarantee I will make it too?

A2:  Well, if making it means becoming commercially successful, famous, a household commodity, or even a wealthy (or financially comfortable) artist who, at the end of the day, is revered by your peers, the answer is, quite simply — No.

Not all all.  There is no guarantee, or even likelihood, of anything.  At all.

Though (and here’s the killer) it is possible.   Confusing?  You bet it is.

I once heard Joan Rivers address this question of who makes it or not in an interview and she incorrectly stated: The cream always rises to the top.  Well, that might be scientifically true in a coffee test kitchen but it is simply not the case in show business, much as we all would like it to be.

Clouds in my coffee

Clouds in my coffee

This is not to say those successful are untalented.  But there are usually others far worse but also better than they are.  Sting graciously put it much more eloquently in the movie when he answered the question:  So many factors – luck, timing…

It is indeed a bitter pill to swallow that you might be much more talented than others in your field and that yes, somehow the dream never happened for you.  Oh, you know the one.  It’s different for everyone but basically they’re all the same.  Getting your work seen and being rewarded accordingly; the recognition; the success, whatever it means to you or others – yada, yada, yada…

No one should suffer under the delusion that the answer lies in fairness because the world SHOULD be fair.  It isn’t all of the time.   Sometimes it is.  Maybe it is all the time and you’re spiritual (which I’m not) and believe none of us can see the true bigger godly picture.  But for the rest of us mere mortals – wow – sometimes it really does not seem right or just or, well – happening the way it should.  That’s okay.  That’s the way that it IS.  And there is only one true real response.  To keep at it, to keep doing your work – without result – as much as possible, while keeping it real – the best that you can.

I find myself occasionally getting stuck just like everyone else – in the morass of expectation and disappointment and unfulfillment and yes, occasional bitterness.  But seldom, at this point in my life, can I stay there long.  I know better.  I know the truth.  That all I have now is all I had when I came in – my talent and what I have to say and that determination to do so.  No one can ever take that away from me.  But myself, I suppose.  Which is the true irony, don’t you think?

I’m reminded of a great scene in the movie Quills – based on Doug Wright’s play.  The Marquis de Sade, a controversial writer in his time of sexually explicit material, was finally thrown in prison for his work and all writing instruments (his quills) and paper were taken away from him.  What did he do?  He opened his veins and used his own blood to write on the prison walls.

No, I wouldn’t advise this.  It’s a dramatic illustration. (Sort of like the Bible, but that’s the subject of another discussion).

Although, it would be Dexter approved.

Although, it would be Dexter approved.

You are going along with your own worst enemies and destructive powers by stewing in your own soup of bitterness and resentment.  True?  Absolutely true.

Everyone can be a writer and filmmaker and pretty much any kind of artist today.  Anyone.   Thanks to the accessibility of technology.  Plus, there are so many more places to be seen.  Though ironically there seems less of a chance to reach a mass audience because so many more people can and are trying to with the help of social media and the digital revolution.  Why does something go viral?  Or hit it big?  Or get bought in mass quantities?  It’s all sort of the same answer it always was, isn’t it?  Because it does.  Talent?  Sure.  But as Sting says, luck and timing?  Absolutely.

Some of the odds might be changing in the more traditional real world.  For the longest time mainstream Hollywood movies were made mostly by white people – older white males, to be specific.  Not that there weren’t women, people of color (and other, ahem, minorities) in various positions helping them.  But if you look at the percentages you will see it hasn’t been too encouraging.

There are, however, recent signs of inclusion from that most exclusive and perhaps elitist of show business organization – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  This select, invited group of several thousand men and women not only make up the industry’s top movie professionals but they also vote each year on the Oscars – the awards everyone likes to say don’t matter but the awards (and show) that most people, in some way, pay attention to.

Diversity?

Diversity?

Right now, women comprise just 23% of all Academy members, but this year 32% of the 2013 inductees (88 of 274 people in all) were women.  In addition, this year the total inductees of people under 50 also rose to 35%, which should hopefully begin to equalize the voting power to more contemporary tastes (too bad Brokeback Mountain and Crash aren’t competing next year), since right now only 14% of the total membership of the Academy is under 50.  There are even more people of color being invited in, too.  The Academy is about 94% white at the moment.  But this year only 71% of its new members will be Caucasian.  (Okay, that does need to be worked on, but still….)

Clearly, none of us have crystal balls that work or else we wouldn’t have gotten stuck this summer taking a chance on films like The Lone Ranger or Man of Steel (If you haven’t gone – really, you don’t have to).  But what is absolutely also known is that if you are not producing material (aka using your talent) you have absolutely no shot at luck or timing or reaching anyone or anything (aka your full potential or desires).

Once when I pondered about taking a job I didn’t really want to do after a long, painful round of unemployment and self-pity, a more experienced person dared to quote this cliché to me – work begets work.  Years later, I finally got what was being said.  Work of any kind, is a road to something productive and positive and will take you somewhere.  Which is better than nowhere – the place where you are now if you’re not working.  I loathed discovering this, particularly since I saw it as a little too Power of Positive Thinking for my hip tastes.  Still, that doesn’t make it any less true. Then or now.