The big news this week was that Tim Gunn – America’s Teacher and longtime Project Runway mentor and defender – finally went off on one of his designer contestants for the first time in 14 seasons and 11 years. Confronted with endless excuses and Swapnil Shinde’s admitted laziness despite his obvious talent, Mr. Gunn told him his behavior and excuses were a bunch of bullsh-t, adding what is the f-cking point of doing anything if you’re not going to commit and give your all.
If someone else had ranted this – from me on up – it would have been just another day at the workhouse or of trolling the web. Certainly, it’s de rigueur when it comes from the mouth of The Republican Apprentice – who now ranks as America’s top GOP presidential candidate by a lot, to use his exact words. But when a beloved nice guy or gal explodes in your face it’s a lot different.
There is nothing like the unexpected – especially when it goes from nice to naughty – to jolt us into temporary attention and perhaps submission – if not shock, awe and/or revulsion. Remember when Tom Cruise jumped up and down like a madman on Oprah’s couch? Or when we found out that NY Congressman/nice Jewish boy Anthony Weiner was really Carlos Danger, the secret online seductor? How about when Disney’s own Miley Cyrus stuck her very elongated pointed tongue in and out and towards a man twice her age on television at MTV’s VMAs? The country went absolutely, positively apoplectic.
It could be a partial explanation for our preoccupation and fascination with the phenomena that is The Republican Apprentice – or at least it was until recently. It’s scary to write this out loud but yesterday I found myself saying over dinner to a handful of very smart people who asked me that I now actually believed for the first time that The Ole RA might very well be the presidential nominee by next year’s GOP. What was once shocking and unique has now suddenly become establishment and imaginably viable. Plus, there’s no denying several months of double-digit poll numbers.
But back to Mr. Gunn, for whom who I have always held a soft spot. He was on to something when he spewed out his tough love truths in a desperate attempt to deliver one final wakeup call. Think of it as a gay Hail Mary pass to a competitor possessing the clear ability to win the game but who lacked focus, discipline and respect for not only himself but the entire competition in which he voluntarily chose to participate in the first place. As a teacher myself I can tell you there is nothing more infuriating. You mean you have the goods but are just…. lazy… scared…. stuck in your own drama…. unwilling to move just three more steps…. prefer instead to… play??? Seriously??? See your less-talented colleague over there, the one who works 24/7? Don’t come bitching to me (or anyone else) in 20 years when you wonder why what they do has gotten the response they have – be it in either money or creative praise or both. It just doesn’t happen out of nothing. You have to put in the time in order to perpetrate the crime that you now see as success. They did. You didn’t. Now suffer the consequences.
Of course, this isn’t all there is to it. All the hard 24/7 work in the world doesn’t guarantee victory nor is the converse true. There are those in the minority who through timing, luck or extreme talent can stumble into a kind of momentary success despite all of their best efforts to NOT make it so. Still, on the whole it really is the hard work, the push back against the most desperate straits and all evidence to the contrary in those dark moments of doubt, that produces something unique or even spectacular. At least on any sort of consistent basis. Whether the world recognizes it or not is never the point. The real victory is when you know you’re leaving it all on the stage – as they say in show biz. Or on the field – as is noted in sports. Or in/on the ________, as people tell you in whatever is your chosen field of labor and/or desire.
The fifth season of American Horror Story premiered this week and has gotten royally raked over the coals for — well, I’m not exactly sure what. It seems as if it is to some degree on this very subject. Have Ryan Murphy and company finally jumped the shark and delivered something so dull or gratuitous, as many culture vultures have so GLEEfully pointed out, or have we (meaning THEY) all just grown all too used to it? As a longtime fan of the series I am the first to admit that it occasionally lacks a certain story sense or too often than not falls victim to an overindulgence of style, sexual subversion and violent perversion. But jeez, isn’t that part of the fun of it all?
The brilliance of the whole concept is that there is nothing quite original in the storytelling, look or manner of the show in itself. The point is that it takes every subject trope of its season of choice – be it haunted houses, insane asylums, witches or carnivals – and ribaldly steals from every movie, television show, play or short story every executed on the subject. Then it throws it all together in some bubbling stew of camp, pathos and politically unacceptable (Note: Or acceptable depending on whether you’re me or everyone else) morality where it emerges with something if not new then unique unto itself. Its strength lies in its overall execution and what often becomes two handfuls of truly memorable moments over the season. Yet it is those moments that make the parts of the whole that fall flat work – which is more than I can say so far for either The Republican Apprentice or this season of Project Runway. (Note: Although Mr. Gunn did give me one of those in this past week’s episode meltdown so there is that).
Watching Lady Gaga and Matt Bomer portray what amounts to millennial versions of Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie in 1983’s much under-rated The Hunger as they executed deadly sexual games with another couple in their all-too-stylish boudoir on the premiere episode of AHS: Hotel more than worked for me. As did the creepy kids skulking around a la The Shining and The Innocents. As did loveable Max Greenfield’s gay, blonde hair-dyed heroin-injecting pretty boy burnout being sexually violated by a dead ghoul with a power tool. Yeah it was gruesome, but it was also Grand Guignol ridiculous. The gay positive sensibility of the series puts this sort of thing in the crazy context of just one more form of mindless brutalization the AHS word offers, rather than serving to cast a specific retribution towards a member of one specific minority group the creative forces behind the scenes don’t cotton to.
One wishes The Republican Apprentice, the entire GOP field or any number of religious organizations across the world would take note before they choose to scapegoat their next real-life victim(s) of choice. They’re dealing with real life choices not the creative ones in television and Grand Guignol theatre. Or are they? Well, if nothing else, at least they’re committed. Or should be.