Twenty First Century Films

popcorn

Movies aren’t what they used to be.

This is the GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION!

Movies suck.

What did you binge watch lately?

There is NOTHING to see at the movie theatre!

Can I borrow your Netflix password?

Movies, in general, have taken a critical bashing as of late and it’s not entirely unwarranted. Let’s face it, the Suits are drunk with sequels and superheroes and don’t really give a hoot what makes sense or doesn’t if it can deliver millions of bodies in potential theme park rides, sequels, spin-offs and merchandise.

Oh how the mighty have fallen #TeamJen #Argowho?

Oh how the mighty have fallen #TeamJen #Argowho?

Films have taken on the business school lingo of a precious asset – a property that exists not solely for its financial value at the theatrical box-office or, heaven forbid, its creative content. Rather, they are seen in most of the top towers and executive suites as a commodity to be leveraged into many, many smaller and larger off-springs –much like a Triple Crown winning horse that is put out for gelding after it serves the greater good.

That’s fine. For them. But it’s not the entire story of 21st century film.

Quite randomly last week I came upon a new list put out by the BBC. NO, DON’T STOP READING! This list actually applies to you – the moviegoer. Or more broadly, the movie fan. Instead of surveying critics and audiences to compile a list of the 100 greatest movies of all-time, or some such subset that would spotlight drama, comedy, action or presumably, even porn or snuff films in the future, they tried something novel. (Note: No, not an actual novel, as in reading – we all know no one does THAT anymore).

Why read when you can see Emily Blunt in the movie version? #duh

Why read when you can see Emily Blunt in the movie version? #duh

Yes, the Brits had the tenacity to compile a list that I, Mr. Movie Fan, had never seen before. That would be the top 100 films of the 21st CENTURY.

Huh? What is that – a list of 10, or maybe 20 movies, most of which none of us have ever seen before? Or want to see? No, surprisingly not at all.

Okay, technically the list is of 102 films and it does stem from 2000-2016 which means the first year it charts is technically not a part of the 21st century – which began in 2001 (Note: Apparently 2000 was an irresistible film year one couldn’t turn away from). But who really cares? The point is, this is a very narrow period where 177 film critics from every country in the world (Note: Antarctica was the exception, which brings up the whole question of climate change and access we don’t want to get into) actually agreed there were 100 plus movies, many of them AMERICAN, that are actually worth watching, remembering and…wait for it…HONORING.

Believe it Olivia.

Believe it Olivia.

In case you are wondering – no, there is not a sequel in the bunch.

In case you are further wondering – yes, there is exactly ONE superhero film in the bunch and you probably have already rightly guessed which one is indeed The ONE. (HINT: Uh no, it’s not The Matrix. Plus, Neo is not really a superhero and anyway, he first appeared in 1999. As for the 2003 sequels – well, let’s not go there).

Which is the pill that helps me take a nap?

Which is the pill that helps me take a nap?

What this list reminds us of is that – WAIT, there are lots of movies I’ve enjoyed in the last 15 (okay 16) years. Sure there are too many clunkers, or cynically made assets. But maybe, just maybe it’s worth forgetting the Netflix password every once in a while and instead go out to an actual theatre before the art form, as we know it, dies altogether. Or worse yet – becomes solely a corporatized asset.

Please be good. Please be good. Please be good. #clingingtohope #heygirl #lalaland

Please be good. Please be good. Please be good. #clingingtohope #heygirl #lalaland

A complete list will be shared below but how about just the top six right here?

  1. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)
  2. In The Mood for Love (2000, Wong-Kar-wai)
  3. There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas-Anderson)
  4. Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki)
  5. Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater)
  6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry and written by CHARLIE freaking KAUFMAN, OKAY?)

All of them original, beautifully made and meaningful. Are they my top six or your top six? Perhaps not. But they are inarguably as good as many of the classic movies from decades before.

Added bonus: This phrase being added to our world.

Added bonus: This phrase being added to our world.

Certainly, any LIST inherently has its head-scratchers and personal duds and this one is clearly among them. Notice I stopped at six because #7 is Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which you couldn’t pay me enough money to endure five minutes of ever again. Perhaps this confirms the long held belief that I am a philistine, but that is not the point. We all have our personal Trees. And in fact, I’d pay to watch other glorious Malick films such as Badlands and Days of Heaven over and over if you didn’t bring up the subject of #7 ever again.

That dinosaur sequence though. #neverforget

That dinosaur sequence though. #neverforget

As for some others The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men and Inside Llewyn Davis ranked #10 and #11 respectively. David Fincher’s Zodiac was #12 and Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant Children of Men was #13.

 You want less, well, pretentious? (Your word, not mine). Pan’s Labyrinth was #17, Mad Max: Fury Road was #19, The Social Network was #27, and Wall-E was #29.

Favorites of mine like CHARLIE freakin’ KAUFMAN’s Synecdoche was #20, while Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation was #22, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was #24, Christopher Nolan’s Memento was #25 and Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her came in at #28.

Let’s also give separate credit to The Dark Knight at #33 because, well, think of the odds against the whole thing working the way it did when there was merely a blank page and no real concept but a history of…ASSET. 

See Ben, this is how it’s done.

See Ben, this is how it’s done.

As I continued down the list I came across any number of films (40, in all) I hadn’t seen, some I really didn’t care for (Okay, I admit it – I’m too old for Wes Anderson) but others I had forgotten had come out in the not so distant past. Of the latter how about: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, City of God, Brokeback Mountain, Melancholia, Moulin Rouge, Inglorious Bastards, The Great Beauty, The Hurt Locker, Her, Amelie, The Pianist, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, Spotlight (Note: I have a very short memory) and Requiem for A Dream.

What pleased me most about this list is that it coincided with the first week of the fall screenwriting class I teach.  The list of top 100 films on everyone’s mind are usually the 1, 2, 3 classic movie punch of Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Casablanca. Certainly, these are all great, timeless movies – as are many of the others on that usual classics list.   But for young people – as well as for some of the rest of us – consistently remembering these as the best of what the big screen has to offer can’t help but feel a little depressing at some point. Because it evokes a golden age that is long gone and, very likely, will never return.

Le sigh.

Le sigh.

This is why the BBC did Americans and moviegoers worldwide – not to mention the future of film – a great service by compiling this new grouping of films. Perhaps it doesn’t evoke a new golden age (though maybe it does) but it does prove the movies are alive and well and can be for some time to come. Though only if we get out our pods and mosey on down via our people mover of choice to check some of them out. Judging by the newly motivated faces on some of my students perusing the list, this will continue to happen in the near future. But at the very least, we could give them a little help.

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UGH… White Guys

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Do you know what the hardest thing about being a white guy in America is these days? No, the answer is not NOTHING – though I know more than a few of you have already responded that way. The correct response is – OTHER WHITE GUYS.

We’re just awful with international white American male privilege this week. Truly, it’s off the chart. There’s the swimming doofus savant Ryan Lochte getting away with stupid drunk behavior at the Olympics in Rio and then going on TV to lie about it, thus ensuring the lie would mushroom into an international incident that pulled focus away from all athletes participating in the last week of the Games.

DING DING DING

DING DING DING

How about Kurt Metzger, actor and a writer for Inside Amy Schumer, who posted a bunch of snide, nasty rape joke/remarks on social media this week, not only sparking outrage from the entire comedy community but thus ensuring he will never write for Ms. Schumer again. Nor anyone else – at least in the near future.

Lastly, there is The Trump we call…well, many things. Making a major pitch to African Americans across the country to vote for him this week while speaking to an almost ALL-WHITE audience in the small (and almost all white) town of Dimondale, Michigan. Asking for the vote “of every African American” he tried to sway the Black community with phrases like “ …What have you got to lose? You’re living in poverty” when only 27% of US Blacks are in poverty and just 9% are, in fact, even unemployed.

Snow knows

Snow knows

See, there is no way to make up for this. None. Nada. I could work at the Sisterhood Bookstore in L.A. (if, indeed, it was still open – or if neighborhood bookstores even still existed) for the rest of my days and it would never counteract the mess Metzger continues to perpetrate.

If I volunteered to live in poverty in every thriving Black neighborhood in the country for the next 10 years it wouldn’t matter to any Black person I know nor would it change how insulted and marginalized most non-Whites I know are by the Orange Genius of Nothing but Himself.

As for swimming, there aren’t enough years at the gym, in the water or on a lobotomist’s table, that would allow me to substitute myself as a dumbass punching bag for elite athlete cliché behavior that would even approach Lochte himself.   The guy is millionaire several times over and couldn’t even get someone to dye his hair blonde the first time without turning it some bizarre tinted shade of green? Unless that was on purp…. OK, let’s not even go there.

Gurl.... NO

Gurl…. NO

I used think as a gay guy I was partly exempted from the white male privilege thing because, after all, what we’re really talking about is patriarchal STRAIGHT white male privilege, right? Yeah, but then I heard about that douchebag Milo Yiannopoulos who trolled the fabulous Leslie Jones online spouting a bunch of racist, sexist bile at her and the reboot of Ghostbusters that got him banned for life from Twitter. A writer for Breitbart News and a self-proclaimed cultural libertarian, Milo publicly reasons that he can say anything he wants to anyone and not be labeled a racist because he’d be “the first black-d*** sucking white supremacist in history.”

Nice. Not to mention Stephen K. Bannon, chairman of the entire Breitbart News website, was just named Orangina’s new campaign manager. That is just how incestuously awful this has all become. (Note: Aaargh, apologies for even using the word incestuous).

unsee, unsee, unsee, UNSEE #HELP

unsee, unsee, unsee, UNSEE #HELP

Listen, we white guys of any sexual persuasion can also be as likeable, seductive, and as fun as anyone else. I have met more than a female or two who publicly and privately confessed to be willing to overlook the fact that Flipper Ryan has been arrested twice for public urinating and disorderly conduct prior to his most recent arrest in Rio because there is “just something about him.” Sure, we all know what that is and it’s not the glossy black Rolls Royce Ghost he owns which is often seen with him driving behind the wheel in the gated community where he lives in Charlotte, NC.

Ugh. It gets worse.

Ugh. It gets worse. #isthisarequirement?

But these are exceptions to a rule of order that seems of late to be spreading like wildfire. Why just this past week I was appalled to see a Facebook posting from a very funny female student of mine who professionally lives in the comedy world. It seems that some “bro” who didn’t think one of her videos was amusing enough decided it would be appropriate to write to her and say: The ONLY thing you have going is that you’re cute. Zero value other than fuckability.

Rage Meter spike

Rage Meter spike

I was appalled. But the best I could do was comment that he was a sad, little boy. I considered trolling him back since I did have his contact info but you can’t reason with privilege. You can only hit them in the pocketbook/wallet or their nether regions and neither seemed likely from my vantage point. Though I have been and continue to be encouraging towards her – as if that makes up for anything.

Movies have tried to tackle this issue in roundabout comedic ways. Some Like It Hot, Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire all require white males of privilege to act as females in an effort to narratively prove to them in the end just how good they have it. In 1970 pioneering director Melvin Van Peebles did a movie called Watermelon Man centering on a bigoted white insurance salesman who wakes up one day to find out he’s Black. Heck, in 1964 there was a studio film called Goodbye, Charlie where blonde and beautiful Debbie Reynolds (Note: That’s Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia’s Mom) plays a chauvinistic womanizer lost at sea who is somehow reincarnated as a woman.

Really not sure how this would play to today's audiences #relic

Really not sure how this would play to today’s audiences #relic

So clearly, none of this has done any good at all.

What will make the difference? Hell if I know. Insight means nothing if it doesn’t happen to the right people. Which doesn’t mean conservatives, necessarily. Given the world we live in, all of us could stand to learn some lessons in understanding that however you were born you likely have some privileges over someone else.

Which begs the question of how I, a white male of privilege, will proceed through my remaining years of privilege that, every so often, seem anything but. How do I avoid playing the world’s smallest violin and indulging in too much whiiiiiiiiine? Well, I can’t, entirely. The best I can do is say on behalf of all of the other asshats in my tribe – I’m sorry. It’s not much but it’s heartfelt. Which, now that I think about it, is yet one more typical response from a male of privilege – thinking that a mere apology will do.

Inspiration Points

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If you’re in the entertainment industry and are particularly depressed about your career beware of the following thought as you tumble further down into the abyss:

I had hoped to inspire A LOT of people.

It’s embarrassing to admit one has these thoughts but, well, there it is.

The business part of show business is nothing if not about the accumulation of the A LOT – from audiences, to money, to attention, and to things, some of them even human.

Oh sure, we all have our own self-destructive reasons and the therapy bills that have unearthed them. But to simply inspire – maybe that’s not such a bad goal? And to some extent it is one of the almost guaranteed fringe benefits of the territory.

Just be sure to fact check those inspirational quotes!

Just be sure to fact check those inspirational quotes!

If you’re an art practitioner of any kind, anywhere, trust me at some point you will (and probably have) inspired someone – and probably more than one. You might not mean to but if the work is done right – or sometimes even wrongly – it will happen.

Of course, it might not be your work itself but your work ethic. Your determination and commitment to get things done. Though it can simply be just your output.   Whether or not it’s famous or you are. Which does not mean the famous aren’t inspiring. It’s merely to say sources of true inspiration come in all proportions and to various degrees – and in all sorts of sizes and shapes – from misshapen to minuscule to oversized. For in reality, to be or create an object of inspiration it is ironically really more about letting your work or you just be what or who it is.

I realized this long ago as a teacher and it admittedly satisfied the dark side of my “inspirational” desire. This is not conceit. Most, or at the very least, MANY teachers inspire. If you’re even halfway decent at it, it comes with the job. Usually you’re older and more experienced and your students are many young people whose specific task in those weeks and months is to learn – from YOU. It is inevitable that you will inspire one or two or more of them over the years. (Note: Which doesn’t make it feel any less good when it happens, by the way.)

Ok well we all can't be Mr. Keating #ohcaptainmycaptain

Ok, well, we all can’t be Mr. Keating #ohcaptainmycaptain

But let’s get back to inspiration and the industry that often claims it – show business. Truth be told, I never really loved the actual industry. Though I thought I did. Actually, I thought that I LOVED it. I really did. But once inside there are moments that cause it to lose its luster. While talents are appreciated and one needs a modicum level of talent to succeed (Note: Yes, even the ones you deem mediocre are way better than the mean), the upper echelon of success – the kind that comes with both inspiration and adulation – is a slippery slope. Many people who reside in this area are truly inspiring. But they also have to work hard to avoid the seductive part of being an adulated inspirer and not fall victim to the bottomless pit of it all.

Well, who among us are not up for some good seduction? There is something irresistibly appealing about anything that seduces. On the other hand, when you’re seduced into something that does not mean you are inspired by it. Being dazzled and being inspired are two different realities.

... and I call those two realities Jon and Hamm.

… and I call those two realities Jon and Hamm.

Dazzling implies being blinded – which means you are temporarily frozen. And what you are seeing is not entirely real. How can you be inspired by a reality that never existed?

Well, I suppose it’s possible, you say. This is what all the great works of fiction are about. I don’t think so. The truly great works do BOTH. They are not solely tales of smoke and mirrors. They are reflections of existence made of whole cloth. They have a weight. A ballast. They are not light and airy – though on some level, take the great romantic comedies of yesteryear – they can appear to be.

Marilyn Monroe – the movie star – wasn’t inspiring. But she sure was dazzling. Marilyn Monroe – the person – from everything I’ve read from before and after her death – truly was inspirational. And sad. Sometimes it is the trajectory of the journey – how and why she managed it – and where she made it to despite the greatest of odds against her. There is inspiration in that.

the world's candle in the wind

the world’s candle in the wind

Inspiration is not necessarily better than dazzling, by the way. Just different. Both are wonderful in their ways. What am I inspired by at the moment? I suppose Hillary Clinton. No, this is not a political ad. But really – how does she keep going at 68? How the heck does she persevere? Isn’t she, well, tired? Of the bullsh-t? I mean, if I am and you are, imagine how she feels.

I imagine Trump is not tired at all. Which is why, in my mind – dare I say it – he’s dazzling. He LOVES the show. You can see it when he speaks before large crowds. Not unlike the way Bruce Springsteen loves to play for three hour plus at a pop onstage (Note: I once saw The Grateful Dead jam for four plus hours at the Nassau Coliseum – at least I think I did – but that’s a different story).

The memories come streaming back...

The memories come streaming back…

But re Trump – a friend sent me an article about how when Hitler used to speak publicly before huge amounts of followers he’d actually have an orgasm. It feels more like that with some dazzlers, doesn’t it? Though we will never quite know for sure – or want to in this case.

Movies from the 70s inspire me. The Godfather, Network, Annie Hall and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. YES, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Watch it again as I recently did and marvel at how it was so far ahead of its time – and how timeless it remains. (Note: I get the reason for the upcoming remake but when this happens always ask yourself this ultimate question – Did they not get it right the first time?).

Oh Laverne #ihopeitsgood

Oh Laverne #ihopeitsgood

Bette Midler live always manages a moment of inspiration. Anything Gaga is bound to occasionally – even among the misses, which is inevitably why someone can be inspiring to begin with, they dare to miss. The dialogue of Billy Wilder. Omg.   Certainly the prose Jonathan Franzen. Spending years on his lyrical novels of brilliant word combinations and storytelling (Note: Did you know he had his computer specifically dismantled from internet access so he could write in a room without?) when less and less people read. I’m sure it bothers him but I doubt that’s why he writes. Likely, he does it for all the same reasons everyone does, I imagine. He has something to say and he has to get it out. It’s not a choice, really. It’s that or somehow implode.

Which I guess is the key to being an inspiration. You do what you do for yourself. Without result. And let others make the call on how they feel about it. Which, as Stephen Sondheim once so eloquently wrote, they inevitably will.

Oh – I forgot about Michael Phelps. Did you watch him swim and win his 22d (and last individual) gold medal and become what is undeniably the great Olympian of all time? You have to.

Perseverance

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I was flipping channels last night and The Big Chill was on cable. Though younger audiences primarily know Lawrence Kasdan as the original writer of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, and co-writer of the latest Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he broke out as a major writer-director with The Big Chill. In that film he told the story, along with co-writer Barbara Benedek, of a group of baby boomer friends who come together for a weekend after the suicide of perhaps their most idealistic member.

The Big Chill still has its charms, particularly its sixties style soundtrack. But what kept popping into my mind while I was watching it was a personal experience I had with Mr. Kasdan in the late eighties when I worked in publicity on a film he was producing.

The cast doesn't hurt either. #80srealness

The cast doesn’t hurt either. #80srealness

Since I’ve written about my not so great times with him once before I won’t belabor it. But suffice it to say that what specifically came to mind this time was the one moment I mistakenly happened to share with Mr. Kasdan my aspirations to be a screenwriter and the fact that I was working on a script.

After a small silence, he looked up at me through his small, wire-rimed glasses and, dripping with condescension, directly met my gaze.

And I bet you never finished it, right?

In fact, I had finished a script and was working on another one at the time. But so taken aback by his response was I that I blurted out, probably a little too snidely:

Yeah, how did you know?

I think I feared he would actually ask me to read it and he’d take it and me apart piece by piece to such an extent that I’d never have the nerve to pick up my pen again. That must be the reason I lied. Because that’s how sure I was that he would hate it on principle.

Since I was a fan of his work and respected him this experience hurt – I can’t lie about that part, even now. Because to this day I don’t quite understand why any successful and clearly talented writer would go so far out of his way to clip the wings of a neophyte. Certainly, he couldn’t have felt threatened. Did he hate me?  But what did I ever do to him?

wahhhhhhh

wahhhhhhh

Maybe I should have kept in my place and not mentioned anything, even thought we were in the midst of an interesting discussion about Hollywood and writing and he seemed to be intellectually engaged. Maybe all of the above… or none of it? Or maybe he was just having a bad day. Or maybe, just maybe, he was (is?) a jerk?

Well, we’ll never know. Because I won’t be asking and neither will you – though even if we could I doubt he’d remember.  But I did, do – clearly. Yet in all honesty I can’t say his not so subtle cut-down of me didn’t spur me on to keep working and do even better out of some perverse personal revenge.

What was that... you said I couldn't do it? #illshowyou

What was that… you said I couldn’t do it? #illshowyou

Most pros don’t react this way.  In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. But make no mistake about it, each and every one of us in the biz of a certain age has a story or two like the one I’ve just told. We either use them as fuel or as a reason NOT to work.

Early on one has to make the decision about whether to cave or to persevere. It’s not easy and is a lifelong challenge. One can have all the success in the world for decades but at some point there is bound to be failure. Or self-doubt. Or life getting in the way. How do you get beyond it? How do you keep going forward without “caving in?”

It's all about the climb, baby. #eyeofthetiger

It’s all about the climb, baby. #eyeofthetiger

There are all kinds of reasons not to work. The house is dirty. Laundry needs to get done. There is no chance you can ever make it in such a competitive field. Your girlfriend or boyfriend broke up with you or you will be alone for the rest of your life because you don’t even have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Or prospects of a date. Not a nibble.

Your goals are unrealistic and you don’t fit into the commercial paradigm, whatever that is. Your friends are doing better than you are. Or your friends are more talented than you are – or less and they’re getting paid for doing a worse version of the work you can no longer bring yourself to do. Perhaps your family doesn’t understand you or your choices and never has. Though perhaps they used to and no longer feel that way anymore. Not to mention, who has the time for all of this anyway? Why be a dreamer in a soberingly real world?

Believe me... this is MUCH easier

Believe me… this is MUCH easier

The cruel irony is that a career in the arts – any art – is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for everyone.  But when it is for you it is something that you know deep down. It’s a type of calling. An undeniable itch. And in reality, career is probably the wrong word. Devoting oneself to the arts but not making money or having a day job in no way means it is not your career. Because here’s the broadest definition I could find:

A career is an individual’s journey through learning, work and other aspects of life. There are a number of ways to define a career and the term is used in a variety of ways.

This is what I know about working at your craft, your art, your career: You will feel A LOT better working at it than not working at it. On your worst day, you will be a lot more exhilarated doing it than on all the other days you don’t do it and chastise yourself for not working and feeling like a failure. The truly good feeling is not something you can ever get from others. It is only the simple elation you can feel within yourself that day for a job well done. When you know you’ve tried and put in the time. Whether you’re done, on the road to something, or just simply persevered.

This girl knows

This girl knows

I’ve been teaching for 15 years and lately I’ve seen too many students get too discouraged with the journey or stop themselves before they really gave themselves the chance to get started. Yeah, we live in a particularly unstable world these days with no end in sight to the bad stuff. All the more reason to put in the time for yourself and work at what pleases you.   This doesn’t mean starving in a garret. It simply means looking at what you want your life and career to be over the long haul and doing what pleases you.

Some people call this following your destiny. But that feels like way too heavy a burden to lug around. Instead, consider it simply putting in the time and doing the work you want to do so you can get better, learn more, and improve that much more without preoccupying or fixating solely on result.

The truth is for every naysayer there’s a cheerleader. Five years before I met Kasdan I was a journalist and had a similar writing conversation with James L. Brooks. Younger people know him as one of the creators of TV’s The Simpsons but when I met him he was about to direct a movie he wrote that would put him on the map, Terms of Endearment. And had not yet written one of the best original screenplays of the eighties (or ever) – Broadcast News. Shyly sharing my ambitions with Mr. Brooks I received nothing but encouragement and questions and more encouragement. So naturally, I thought everyone would be that way. Well, they’re not. But it doesn’t matter.

The only thing that does is to persevere.

Talking the Talk

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In the early 1970s the #1 talk radio station in New York was WMCA and at night it broadcast a program called The Joanne Ginsberg Show. She wasn’t a relative but she had the same last name as I did, and since even then I longed to be in show biz I figured it was worth a listen.

Aside from the requisite celebrities of the era – like John and Yoko (Lennon, that is) – there were political discussions… lots of them. It was also the not yet end of the Vietnam War and the majority of American teenagers like myself were repulsed at the idea of living in a country that continuously bombed women and little children thousands of miles away to oblivion – and at that time we actually saw their bloody carcasses on the network news each night – in the name of what seemed to be…well…absolutely nothing.

Aunt Joanie

Aunt Joanie

Being even more mouthy than I am now – yes it’s possible and, after all, I was a teenager – I decided to call up “Aunt Joanne” one night when an Army general or veteran or sergeant (who can remember) was on singing the patriotic praises of America and how proud he and all of us should be at our armed forces and every time the flag was raised.

Really, I thought? Proud? I’ll show him.

Channeling my inner Wonder Woman #LassoOfTruth

Channeling my inner Wonder Woman #LassoOfTruth

So I got on the phone, dialed the number and waited half an hour to tell the guy off.

Yeah, I’d like to say something to your guest, I bellowed at Auntie Joanie when she asked what was on my mind and told me we were on the air.

I’d like him to know that as a young person I’m sickened every time I see the military and hear the national anthem playing. As for the American flag, we’re murdering hundreds of innocent people halfway across the world for nothing. It’s draped on the coffins of soldiers who died for no reason.   I don’t know how anyone can be proud of that. And our government is just trying to get out of it by saying it’s “peace with honor….”

I’m paraphrasing a bit but trust me – words like military, horrifying, death, disgusting, sickening and I’m pretty sure nauseating were used more than once. Sensing that there was even more to come the elder Ginsberg wisely jumped in and asked her guest what he thought about that.   To this day I have no idea what he said. All I can recall is that he never addressed my sentiments – at all.   I was looking to do battle and, strangely enough, he was choosing not at all to engage.

A pretty fair representation of my interaction

A pretty fair representation of my interaction

I recount this all in light of our current national pastime of electoral politics – or as we like to call it – the best damn reality show the world has ever seen. How was it that some 40 plus years later I was cheering for retired Gen. John Allen at the Democratic National Convention when he screamed about love of country, common values, defeating evil and protecting the homeland?

Uh, no – it’s not because I’m older or my politics have much changed. It’s because his short but very pointed argument was put in a context.

We writers, directors, producers and actors should take note.

The General at the DNC, flanked by veterans of ALL colors

The General at the DNC, flanked by veterans of ALL colors

Gen. Allen’s speech directly followed that of Khzir Khan, father of a dead Muslim soldier, who challenged Donald Trump’s patriotism for his proposal of “temporarily” banning all Muslims to the country as well as his nasty, jingoistic hate speech towards Mexican-Americans, women, and pretty much any other peer (of any color, faith or sex) who dared to strenuously disagree with him. Mr. Khan, an immigrant and a lawyer – and clearly a very good one – topped it off by pulling out his own printed pamphlet of the Constitution, offering to lend it to him to read, because clearly he hasn’t and has no idea what’s in it. He concluded by telling him that he knew nothing about sacrifice because he has sacrificed “nothing and no one.”

Oh yes he did

Oh yes he did

But back to Gen. Allen. In a post 9-11 world – that means a time when Americans understand what it means to be attacked on the mainland in one of its major cities and financial centers – blood and carnage does not seem as shocking. This is especially true given the almost weekly bursts of violence and death by guns by our own hands, not to mention the bi-weekly, monthly or bi-monthly mass terrorist attacks of late all over the world.

Still, the reason I, and many like myself, instinctively cheered on a military man is that his words were a rebuke to Trumpism – or as I define it – a jingoistic knee-jerk reaction in support of all things American.

What's that cliche... lipstick on a pig?

What’s that cliche… lipstick on a pig?

To be clear, the precise words the former Marine commander was yelling were phrases like:

Every American in uniform, in the White House or at home…must be a force for unity in America, for a vision that includes all of us… Every man and woman, every race, every ethnicity, every faith and creed, including the Americans who are our precious Muslims. And every gender and every gender orientation.

I also know (under Hillary Clinton) our armed forces will not become an instrument of torture, and they will not be ordered to engage in murder or carry out other illegal activities.

So we stand before you tonight to endorse Hillary Clinton for president of the United States of America…We trust her judgment. We trust in her judgment….We know that she – as no other – knows how to use all instruments of American power, not just the military, to keep us all safe and free.

With her as our commander-in-chief, America will continue to lead in this volatile world.

We will oppose and resist tyranny as we will defeat evil….America will defeat ISIS and protect the homeland….America will honor our treaty obligations….We will lead and strengthen NATO and the Atlantic Alliance, and our allies in East Asia and around the world whom we have sworn a solemn oath to defend. 

….We will stop the spread of nuclear weapons and keep them from the hands of dangerous states and groups.

…I also know that with her as our commander-in-chief, our international relations will not be reduced to a business transaction.

I also know our armed forces will not become an instrument of torture, and they will not be ordered to engage in murder or carry out other illegal activities.

You see most Americans are not as different from 1970s American teenagers, or even millennial teenagers and up, than one might think. Most of us don’t want war or anything to do with it. But we are also realistic and no longer live in a fool’s paradise. We’ll fight, or might be inclined to listen to a justification for fighting even if we don’t want to if we understand what the hell we’re fighting for.   Or against.

What we, the overwhelmingly reasonable majority don’t want to do is to fight for no logical reason.   Or with each other.