Hello Dolly!

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This week Sony Pictures announced it has closed a deal with Mattel for what it believes will be the movie studio’s next big global franchise: a live-action comedy film built around —- BARBIE!!

This is not a joke.

Here’s a quote from the film’s producers, Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, whose credits include: Men in Black, Gladiator, Catch Me If You Can, and Sweeney Todd.

Barbie…is a cultural symbol whose career choices have been as unlimited as her wardrobe.  She is about empowerment, but never at the expense of fun. Our hope is to capture all of these aspects of Barbie in a modern take of the character that can appeal to moviegoers of all ages.

Yes, because nothing says female empowerment better than a…Barbie doll?

I think I might have heard Gloria Steinem say that once but I’m not sure.  Though I’m positive that Barbie, smart gal that she is and certainly much more intelligent than myself, could remember.

Hey Babs, where's your medal?

Hey Babs, where’s your medal?

You can talk yourself into anything, especially in the movie business.  That’s one of the classic mantras learned by those who survive at the top of the Hollywood executive heap for decades on end.  Though it’s more than just talk.  On some level, you do really have to believe what you’re selling.  That’s the moment when the logic gets twisted to the point of an intricate uber-pretzel where, when you make your final announcement, it really does all sound exactly right.  Though not always for the reasons you’ve advanced.

Meaning Barbie: The Movie is much more about financial empowerment than anything having to do with women – young or otherwise.  Not that the two are mutually exclusive.

Someone's gotta pay the mortgage on the dreamhouse...

Someone’s gotta pay the mortgage on the dreamhouse…

I do believe that Mr. Parkes and Ms. MacDonald really believe what they’re selling.  As does the very talented Sony Pictures chairperson Amy Pascal, a veteran executive who was mentored on her way up by writer-director Nora Ephron, one of the first women in the business to write and direct big successful studios films.  Would Nora have taken on Barbie for the big screen?  Well, we’ll never know that.  But…did Nora happily play with her Barbie dolls as a little girl, so galvanized by her message of female empowerment that she would enable young Nora to climb to the top of the Hollywood heap as one of its most successful creative talents?

Uh, somehow I doubt it.  More likely she galvanized Nora, who was neither blonde, 11.5 inches tall or as traditionally beautiful as Barbie, to figure something else out.  Not to put arguments into her mouth against her will, but adult Nora did once famously write in regards to her decided lack of shapely, Barbie-like breasts: If I had them, I would have been a completely different person.

Oh Nora, we love you just the way you are.

Oh Nora, we love you just the way you are.

Not only did Nora know that but I know that.  And Amy knows that.  And Walter and Laurie might or might not have known that but, for the reasons I’ve stated above, probably no longer know that.

Yes, it is true that young Nora did grow up in a different time and Barbie has evolved to a lot more than the size of her breasts.  But there is still a general theme here that holds true.

The Barbie doll has been courted for years by film studios that were eager to turn her into a cash cow for the big screen.  And why not?  She’s known as a multi-billion dollar brand and has been around since the late 1950s – which seems a perfect time for the birth of an almost one foot tall female with perfect features and luxurious blonde wavy hair who has a centerfold’s figure, doesn’t put on weight and never, ever ages.

Some of the best reporting on the Barbie Movie was done by Deadline Hollywood.

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The website reveals that a major factor in Sony taking on Barbie over many other studio suitors was the story pitch the producers brought in with screenwriter Jenny Bicks. Ms. Bicks is well known for her work on female-centered comedies with a twist, including the television series Sex and the City and The Big C, as well as the big-screen What A Girl Wants, starring Amanda Bynes.

Apparently Ms. Bicks’ winning pitch was a contemporary tale that “allows the character Barbie to use her personal and professional skills to step into the lives of others and improve them, almost like a modern-day Mary Poppins.”  She will also be alternately surrounded by her many friends, including her boyfriend Ken (as if he wasn’t already a living doll!) and various Mattel-franchised cohorts.   Deadline goes on to say this will enable the casting of a new young actress to play the title character as well as other unknown or established stars as friends and family.

We live in a time of irony.  You can make anything ironic.  Even something iconic.  But does anyone really think of Barbie as a Mary Poppins who goes in and fixes other people’s lives in even a non-ironic or even ironic way?

Don't drag me into this!

Don’t drag me into this!

Isn’t Barbie a kind of a…well…blonde bubblehead stereotype with a fabulous body and the perfect man?  Even when she was a brunette?

No?  Oh wait – I get it.  In this movie Barbie will be insecure deep down – fixing other people’s lives but never really paying close enough attention to her own. But then one day, through fixing other people’s lives she realizes: Hey, wait a minute, maybe my own isn’t so great?  Ken is a bit of a jerk airhead and really the slightly less attractive guy is the one for me.  And all those clothes I’m known for – maybe I’m going a bit overboard and should really stop dressing like a, well – Barbie Doll – and start behaving like an empowered woman.

CUT!!  Wait a minute.  I said, CUT!  Um, I don’t think so.  There is NOTHING ironic about that.  Certainly not from Mattel’s standpoint.  And it’s very retro 1970s speak. This is Barbie.  You can’t fuck with the franchise.  Barbie is cool.  Everyone wants to BEEEE  Barbie.  So – how do you do a movie like that and cause Barbie to change but maybe have it be more like Clueless or Legally Blonde.

Didn't Anna Faris already make this movie?

Didn’t Anna Faris already make this movie?

Oh  wait, no.  I see —  Barbie doesn’t change.  Not really.  Barbie is not IRONIC – she’s ICONIC.  So it’s all about the world making assumptions about her and changing the WORLD, right???  Barbie has to change the world to her way of thinking.  She’s gonna glam it up – and fix people’s lives – like a millennial Mary Poppins.  And earn RESPECT.  That’s right, respect.  People look down on blondes and even some brunettes (Note:  Barbie now has various hair colors) with perfect figures – especially when they’re 11.5 inches tall and have the perfect ass, boobs, man,  uh  — hands!

Barbie will show ‘em, though.  Like Elle in Legally Blonde she’s not dumb, she’s just been judged.  And like Mary Poppins, she’s practically perfect in every way.  But she’s going one step beyond both of them. Only the naysayers don’t realize it.  So she’s gonna show them and change the world – or at least the lives of the people who need her and, oh hell – let’s go for it – the whole town they live in.  Heck – let’s make it bigger (it’s a tent pole), the entire city who needs her.  Wait – how about the State?  Country?  C’mon – go biggest or go home – SHE CHANGES THE UNIVERSE!!!!!!

Are. They.  Kidding???

Watch out Mars!

Watch out Mars!

Okay, I suppose you can make anything entertainingly and acceptably ironic.  It’s all in the point of view and execution. But is this really the best we can offer young women nowadays? On the other hand, maybe this is THE best argument for having Hillary Clinton as president in 2016.  Which will probably be the year Barbie comes out.

(Note:  Oh no, dear – Barbie isn’t gay.  She’s not THAT ironic).

I mean coming out as in – gets released at movie theatres.  Hmm, maybe it will become a campaign issue for Hillary (Side Note:  Why do we always call her Hillary but Pres. Obama is never Barack and Boehner is never John?).  And what will the future La Presidenta think of the Barbie brand of feminism? By that time Hillary Clinton will be a grandmother for almost a year so clearly we’ll need another issue to discuss with her on the campaign trail rather than whether she can balance her babysitting duties with getting back into the political workplace or even if she really wants to or even should at this point in her life.  What could be better than the Barbie-ization of today’s world?

I could think of a few better things...

I could think of a few better things…

Yes, Barbie now not only has blonde, brown, red and probably several other colors of hair (not to mention races) but there is now Architect Barbie, Zoo Doctor Barbie, News Anchor Barbie, Rock Star Barbie, Race Car Barbie and even…Presidential Candidate Barbie (look out Hillary!). It’s been that way for some time and she has more careers (130 at last guestimate) than you can shake a stick at.

OF COURSE, I KNOW THAT.  But in all of those variations, she still basically looks the same – a plasticized, perfectly proportioned version of femininity that can only be achieved using carefully engineered parts produced on an assembly line.   (Note: Contrary to what we’ve been seeing in Beverly Hills lately, medical science has not quite achieved that in real life – yet).

It hasn't?????

It hasn’t?????

Some of it is about what we teach young people about perfection.  The social upheavals of the 60s and 70s questioned and changed what we were teaching the new generation, particularly young women, about expression – until they didn’t.  Strange as it might seem to the advocates of Movie Barbie, there was a time when I was growing up in those social upheaval years where Barbie had begun be thought of as ridiculous – as ridiculous as Playboy bunnies or GI Joes.  Men killing people and women with perfect bodies rocking a pert ponytail were not seen as something to aspire to.  And then, somewhere along the way, it became more tolerable.  And then, well – a choice.  You could have a great body but you didn’t have to be an idiot – although even if you chose to be one it would be okay.  You didn’t necessarily want to kill people but you once again could – under the right circumstances.  For example, if your country was really threatened.  Because after 9/11 all “give peace a chance” bets were off, right?  We all now kinda like a GI Joe machine cause we know there are reasons we will have to fight on these shores and better to be prepared at the very least.

Here’s the studio thinking in all of this.  Well, it’s not exactly this but it does go something like this:

Of course, you can do a Barbie movie outright – all blonde and sort of, uh, bouncy – but that will probably/mostly have an appeal to red state America. 

How about presenting it with irony – that will also appeal to the snidies in blue state America.  The red states won’t necessarily see the irony but the blue states will so it can be optically correct, intellectual AND fun for both demographics. 

And the young people?   Well  – they’ll just see it.  It’s not up to us to tell them what to think.  We’re just trying to entertain the masses – not educate them.  As Samuel Goldwyn once famously said, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union!”  Yuk yuk, yuk.

It doesn’t much matter how much anyone bitches and complains (NOTE: Except for me) we will have Barbie: The Movie.  But let’s be real about Barbie and not try to hide it in a bunch of horse dung about the feminist twist blah, blah, blah.  Sony’s publicists either got to Jezebel very early on or they’re not as savvy as we all thought because even they are saying ‘oh, girl power, Jenny Bicks, Sex and the City, truly funny concept, blah, blah, blah, Amy Pascal, female empowerment, blah, blah, blah, bah, blah.

Seriously?

Seriously?

Sorry Jezebel, ain’t buying it.  Don’t promise me chicken fingers and deliver tempeh.  To my way of thinking, that’s like spending tens of millions of dollars on an ad campaign to convince the world that the top 1% of this country are all job creators and not mostly just ultra-rich people.

Words have meanings.  Say what you mean.  Don’t bait and switch. Or buy the bait and switch.

Yes Sony, you are making a movie about Barbie – who is a doll version of a girl with flawlessly proportioned girlie features that almost no real life woman possesses – or if she does now she will eventually not possess them.  What does it say about young women who are less than that when they always have to be shown the light by the perfect-looking ideal they will never be?  Mary Poppins – Miss Practically Perfect In Every Way – was one of my favorite films in 1964 – when I was under 10 years old.  And it was made when Barbie still WAS the ideal.

.. and maybe that carried on through 1968. Right Jane?

.. and maybe that carried on through 1968. Right Jane?

It is truly ironic that Barbie is being remade into some kind of new aspirant and that we can’t think of any way forward other than to go backwards.  It’s also interesting the first letter in ironic is “I” because dolls are about the id and traditionally Barbie –with her appetite for new wardrobe and hairstyles – has always taught girls to be, on some level, all about the “I” – themselves.  Not to change the world.  At least the real world.  That would be the pervue of a Susan B. Anthony doll.  Or the Marie Curie doll.  Or perhaps even the Hillary Clinton doll.  But then again, they’re not 11.5 inches tall with perfectly pert bodies and a ponytail of practically perfect hair.  No, you can’t have it all forever.  Not if you are human and don’t have a plastic surgeon and toymaker stylist with you 24/7.

In 1993, there was a famous group called the Barbie Liberation Organization.  It was a rogue guerrilla organization whose mission it was to reduce gender stereotyping and the way they went about this was to perform “surgery” on 300-500 Barbie dolls and switch the silly girlie sayings she spoke via the tape implanted in her backside with the more macho expressions used by G.I. Joe.  The group then put the dolls back on toy shelves where unknowingly customers bought them for their kids, who quickly recognized the supposedly genderless remarks they were unintentionally  (or perhaps intentionally) being fed were anything but since the opposite doll as saying them.  The group caused a bit of a stir, but Mattel never responded publicly, the times changed and finally, they disbanded.  Here’s a video of what they did and how they did it.

These days there is a famous young Ukrainian model and “breatharian” named Valeria Lukyanova who subsists on “cosmic micro-food” in order to maintain her Barbie-like figure (and face – check it out!) She hopes to one day be able to nix food altogether and survive on nothing but “light and air.”  Not to mention Justin Jedlica, a young man who has had more than $150,000 worth of 100 cosmetic procedures to look like a human-life Ken doll.  Don’t believe me on that either – lookie here.

AHHHHHH!

AHHHHHH!

Certainly movie studios are free to do as many mass market, franchise films as they like.  It is also understandable that they like to do this a lot given the fact that the way they stay in profit is not so much from their property’s theatrical release but through all of the ancillary revenue outside of that release that enables them to exist as a profitable corporate entity.  Hence, dolls are the PERFECT subject for a feature.

What is not acceptable, however, is the lie or the massaged untruth.  If the parents of young girls want to empower their daughters there are innumerable sources of entertainment, art and other cultural and intellectual endeavors that will enable such behavior.  Watching Barbie: The Movie will not be at the top or even middle – or probably even at the bottom of the list.  In all likelihood, given the infinite possibilities, it would not even be on that list at all.

Changing Landscapes

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It’s interesting how things come to your attention.

I know what I’m going to write about here 50% of the time – it becomes clear mid-week.  Something moves me or demands to be spoken about.  I see patterns to experiences that make sense and they get grouped together in my mind – like the items in a grocery cart that when looked at as a whole are uniquely you whether you like it or not. (Note: Yes YOU – do NOT put back that box of Skittles or step away from the Oreos).

Another 25% of the time there’s a breaking news story, entertainment scandal, or offensive thing that begs for attention.  Whitney dies; the Oscars happen; Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has a brain freeze mid-debate during his misguided quest for the presidency; or Transformers 32: Robot Drone Wars makes $732 million in its opening weekend at the box-office when I’m 97 years-old and the world’s final ironic middle finger in my direction demands I hold off on all the meaningful words I had planned to say in my last blog in order to actually write about the universe of crap I’m sadly leaving behind.

A glimpse at Grampy Ginsberg

A glimpse at Grampy Ginsberg

Luckily then, there’s the other 25% of the time.  Who knows what hits you.  It could be anything at all or perhaps even nothing.  The latter is when Holly Van Buren, my dear friend and inveterate notes editor/image chooser, will point out that thing to me that nudges it all in the direction of a certain subject I might speak of.

That’s what happened this week.   But not in the way either of us thought.

A middle-aged man owning his widowhood.  (Note:  Middle-aged?  Was she trying to tell me something?)  Actually, it’s a great article in a blog called Modern Loss and was written by an editor at St. Martin’s Press.  Very heartfelt.   A little sad.  Like most writers this man is working out his feelings through honest words – in this case losing his longtime, uh…partner… friend… …lover(?) of 25 years.  Okay, but does that mean that Michael Flamini can’t call himself a widower, even though both he and his fella, Gary Lussier, each rather hilariously turned down the others’ marriage proposal (even when it finally became legal) during the space of that quarter of a century?  That is the question that is asked, and then answered there.

It does not denigrate Michael’s essay in any way to say that what is most significant about his essay at this point in time for me is not his story in particular – and his story could certainly be mine with a few revisions, we’re within the ballpark of the same age.  Rather, it’ s about the person who casually gave it to me.  And the fact that it was casually given at all.

Holly is in her late 20s and a dear friend (editor’s note: this is generous, she is mere months from 30).  She knows I adore her and she also knows I respect her talents for many things, the least of which are putting together the captions and photos for NFAC and for helping to edit it when I’m not quite making the sense I thought I was.

Why thank you, Chairy.

Why thank you, Chairy.

Holly was also my student briefly in the previous decade, and then worked with me at school and co-taught several writing classes with me where – together – we worked with any number of students even younger than she is. I’ve also remained in touch with many of these students long after graduation and more than one or two have also become personal friends while the rest remain in my life in various other ways.

What makes that all meaningful to anyone but me is that any one of these young people – all in their twenties – would be just as likely to forward this article referencing a gay man’s widowhood to me.  Not to mention the likelihood that others of their peers I haven’t heard from in a while but might be just as likely to drop by – might also decide to send it.

There would be no hesitation at all about subject matter.  No judgment on lifestyle.  No consideration of crossing a line of any kind.  No thought at all, in fact, that this couple were really any different than their parents or peers or any other two people who had decided for whatever good, bad or indifferent reasons, to love each other and cohabitate for more than a night or two or three or more.

How the millenials see it

How the millennials see it

We in the gay community, or any minority of your choosing, tend to believe that true change comes in the form of the right to be married or to receive equal pay to others who do the same job we do.  We might also think it arrives in the form of membership to a former exclusive neighborhood or country club or perhaps being the first of our kind to achieve something else in some other arena.

All of the above is certainly true.  These are much needed evolutions of laws and opportunities in society – not to be negated by any means.

But if you want to know what real change and acceptance looks like – it is the change I see around me everyday in the faces of Holly and those younger than Holly and the casualness of her, or them, passing on that article to me.

It is the faces of young kids enjoying their 2 Moms, or their 2 Uncles from West Hollywood or even, and most especially, from Peoria.  It is that moment when you hear that over 60% of evangelical conservatives under the age of 35 are pro-gay marriage and are fighting to rid the Republican Party platform of anti-gay language.  It is the strange look on the faces of older White men who were once virulently anti-queer when they find out one of their children or relatives are gay, lesbian or transgender and, rather than shun them, do a total about face publicly of beliefs they had always assumed were intractable.

homosexual-lesbian-edgy-cool-gay-pride-month-ecards-someecards

It is the mere fact that Holly and most other straight people in their twenties can identify with the pain a gay person twice their age might feel at the loss of their significant other.  It is that disconnect they have when they see this gay couple treated differently than any other couple they know.  And it is the anger and sadness they express when they realize this couple does not have the same rights that other couples, or even other single people, have in more than half the states in this country. They truly don’t understand it.

This is what change looks like.   In small gestures that often go unnoticed, as well as larger statements in public life that draw the spotlight of everyone’s attention.  But is it the former that begets the latter or the other way around?  Hmm, I wonder.

As great as all of this is – and it is great, have no doubt – it should not give activists or any one of us any reason to rest.

???????

I’m fortunate enough to be a double minority (at the very least!) – gay and Jewish.  Granted, I’m a bit of a lapsed Jew considering last week I ate Chinese food on the first night of Passover (no matzo rolls, included) and made pizza on the second night for my partner and me.  Still, I am and forever will be Jewish.  It’s the way I was raised – the feeling I have about justice, education, polyester knit pants suits and yes…food.   More specifically, it is my love of all things chicken – soup or otherwise – in addition to a constant craving for lox, bagels, black and white cookies, and yes, Chinese take out food, especially on Sunday nights. (Note: Okay – maybe the latter is for the very specific subset of NY Jew).  Not to mention my lifelong affection for Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler, despite whatever missteps they might make (Note #2:  Fine, the latter also has something to do with my other minority – though perhaps it may not).

All this said, imagine my surprise this past week when I also happened to read the story about the town in east Ukraine where newly installed pro-Russian forces were ordering Jews on the street via official government pamphlet that they are ALL required to pay a $50 fee to register as Jews at an official government building and to submit a detailed list of all the property they own. And that failure to do so would cause immediate deportation and a surrendering of all of their possessions.

(Note:  Several people in the local Ukrainian government did question the authenticity of the story for several days but it was then later confirmed by many other international news sources).

Does any of this sound familiar?  Well, it should – for many reasons.

We know that the last place this happened to Jewish residents of a country so publicly was in Nazi Germany – or, more rightly, in the plethora of movies and TV shows depicting Nazi Germany that have been seen by those of us who didn’t live through that particular hell in the many decades since.  Yes, there are numerous individual anti-Semitic outbursts worldwide, even in this country (Note:  Like last week’s incompetent former KKK member who went on a Heil Hitler shooting spree near a local Jewish facility in Kansas and managed to kill only three non-Jews).  But nothing so insidiously Nazi has so publicly happened in the context of an in-progress, power-shifting government takeover (Ukraine) by one of the three leading military powers in the world (Russia).

One’s initial thought, particularly as a member of said minority, is merely another version of what was said by the Ukrainian naysayers.  And that is 

– Pshhh, this kind of thing doesn’t happen in the civilized world anymore.  It’s been so condemned worldwide that no one would dare do it again or be dumb enough to think they might even be able to do get away with doing it again.  Certainly not by a superpower like Russia that just so publicly (and victoriously?) hosted the Winter Olympics on the worldwide stage, right? 

– Though wait…didn’t…um…Hitler’s Germany also host the Summer Olympics to much fanfare on the worldwide stage in…uh…19….36???

– Wait, if they did it then – who is to say that in just a few years there won’t also be….uh…..what????  Nah….  Wait, what?????

Are we carrying the torch?

Are we carrying the torch?

This is what it’s like to be part of a historically persecuted minority.  There is always some tiny part of you, if you’re alert or even half-conscious, that is looking over your shoulder to make sure all is okay.  You want to let down your guard, and sometimes, perhaps not often enough, you do.  Yet there are always events like the happenings in that little eastern town to bring you back to reality again and cause you to question just how much change is really possible.  I myself will admit to thinking the Ukrainian news story was actually a piece written for The Onion when I first saw it – that’s how willing I’ve been to chill out and be California mellow these days.

Often times people tell me I shouldn’t answer back a right wing crazy at a dinner party, or even more publicly.  Or post the latest incendiary homophobic statement made by a fringe member of Congress like Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) on Facebook.  That it calls more attention to a crazy position that might otherwise go ignored.  But this is exactly why I do it.  To nip this sort of thing in the bud.  To stop it before it can fester any further.

This is why I’m so touched by Holly, her peers and those coming up right behind her. They make me confident through even their most casual behavior and/or actions that the world has changed for the better, at least temporarily, and that it won’t be as easy for the baddies to get a footing because the belief system is just…well, different on the part of many people than it has been.  Though not nearly enough or in nearly enough places.  Like anything else, we’re all a work in progress.

Like all things in this country, it takes time

Like all things in this country, it takes time

As Chris Matthews once said in a popular MSNBC commercial (yes, I’m gonna go there)  —

American history is about…a battle between those who want to extend freedom, opportunity and rights and those who want to restrict them. In the end, those who fight to enlarge our liberty tend to win.

Let’s hope that he’s correct and that this also applies to world history. And that the next generation keeps leading us in a progressive, rather than regressive, way.

On the whole, from the chair I’m fortunate enough to sit in at the moment, it looks pretty good.  But I’m still gonna watch my back.

New Mad Beginnings

 

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

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

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

You’re all just a bunch of hacks!

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

Plus girl can wear the crap out of a pantsuit

Plus girl can wear the crap out of a pantsuit

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

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

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

and why mess with an EGOT winner anyhow?

and why mess with an EGOT winner anyhow?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where's this all going to lead?

So where’s this all going to lead?

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

 

Adapting the Recipes

Screen shot 2014-04-06 at 11.55.54 AM

recipe; plural noun: recipes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chair on a stool.

The Chair on a stool.

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

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

oP69xVh

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

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

Sigh.

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really?

Really?

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

THE CHAIR’S BRUSCHETTA

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

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

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

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

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

Emma-Stone-Saying-Yum

It is FABULOUS.

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