United States of Handmaids

There’s a moment in the just released duo of episodes from the second season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale where Elisabeth Moss’ title character finds a way to mourn the many dead in her dystopian world.

It’s a rare moment of grace in one of the most depressingly riveting series to ever be on television, yet it doesn’t tip the scales towards hope. More tellingly, it simply provides a road map by which she can go on.

These days I so get it.

I’d so like to see Donald Trump as a handmaid. Mostly because it would mean I wouldn’t ever have to see or hear from him again. (Note: Handmaids don’t get to back talk and if they do they get beaten to a pulp). Plus, he’d look so god damn awful in one of those god damn red robes and god damn white bonnets.

Yeah, this is what I’ve come to. Wishing very bad things – and worse – on other people. I don’t ever do that sort of thing. Except, well, I guess now I do.

We’re here for you Chairy

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, I’d like to see Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his entire meat and potatoes Cabinet and each member of his immediate, extended profiteering family wearing the uniform too. Including Melania. Let’s see if she can silently style her way out of that one while the rest of them long for their halcyon days while chowing down on virtual pieces of their Marie Antoinette-styled tea cakes.

There is nothing in film, television or, frankly, any other art form at the moment that captures the Trump era in America better than The Handmaid’s Tale. This was clearly not novelist Margaret Atwood’s intention when she wrote it 30 plus years ago since back then the occupier in chief at the White House was merely a New York tabloid punch line – the ultimate representation of the nouveau riche 1980s, with all of the tackiness, tastelessness and déclassé that represents.

… which is why this 1990 movie reads in a MUCH different way

But that was then and this is now – as the before and after narratives in Hulu’s small screen series so relentlessly point out. What was once a paranoid delusion (ICE agents in the street ripping apart families) can become as serious as a heart attack (women seen merely as sexual objects who double as baby making machines) in what feels like the blink of an eye (National security risks) in the world of dystopian fiction as adapted for television.

Or is that mostly real life mirroring television as adapted from dystopian fiction.

This is not a drill!

Beats me if I know the difference anymore. In many ways, it’s merely a matter of degree and where you sit when you’re looking at it.

Ask the overwhelming majority of us native New Yorkers who spent any time there in the eighties. Every day these days we rue any other day in the past when we dismissed Donnie, our loathsome homeboy, as nothing more than a corrupt, racist carnival barker.

That is because we know that we treated him as merely a delicious target of amusement – someone we allowed to skate through our headlines fueled by the disgrace of his Daddy’s money, an immoral streak as unrelenting as his motor mouth and as wide as the obviously receding hairline he was even then so desperately trying to hide during a decade where looks, money, and power, as typified by lots of gold gild, somehow became the ideal.

As Barack Obama once so eloquently told us: It is time to own their (nee OUR) failure.

GET ME MORE WINE

I’ll tell you what brought me back here – to that place of rage I was at right after the 2016 election.

— It wasn’t his continuing campaign against Muslims and other non-Whites from entering our country to stoke fear and division.

Uh oh… it’s happening

– It wasn’t his restrictions against transgender people in the military out of sheer ignorance or his order to not include gay families in the US Census out of purposeful spite.

– It wasn’t his constant rolling back of Obama era environmental regulations out of greed, anger and a powerfully personal, neurotic antipathy towards his predecessor.

Getting angrier…

— Nor was it his relentless totalitarian attacks towards what are now Pulitzer Prize winning members of the free press or his own unapologetic compulsion to pass off brazen lies as truth and cold, hard inarguable facts as fake news.

– It wasn’t even the constant lying about his ties to Russia, even by the standards of Alice In Wonderland-type logic (Note: How many of his “people” in the campaign and/or administration now have confirmed ties to the Russian rabbit hole and their various other regional oligarchs – a dozen, two dozen, three thousand?)

Can’t… suppress… the… rage

In truth, it happened with his remarks this week when he was hosting this year’s medal-winning Olympic and Paralympic athletes and their families at the White House.

Specifically speaking to the Paralympians – those being top tier athletes with a wide range of disabilities, including quadriplegia and intellectual impairment – the sitting U.S. president stated:

“And what happened with the Paralympics was so incredible and so inspiring to me…. And I watched — it’s a little tough to watch too much, but I watched as much as I could. It was really fantastic, and I want to thank you.

Imagine, you have a disability you were born with or arbitrarily acquired and yet manage to train to the point where you are an international competitor, in games commensurate to the Olympics every four years, and a guy born into privilege who lives on a diet of junk food and undisciplined rage, stands up and says to you from the loudest bully pulpit in the world that it’s:

a little tough to watch you compete too much but (mea culpa) he watched you as much as I could.

How do you feel about that – you living a daily life of unbridled discipline in order to survive?

And what do you think, or feel, if you’re a friend of such a person, or a member of their family?

Moreover, what is your reaction as another human being to an off the cuff statement like that by some currently serving as you own…president?

Yeah we feel that

Reminder to a large swath (though not majority) of the American people who chose such an individual to be their leader:

Having one or two Black friends doesn’t mean you’re not a racist.

Attending a gay wedding or inviting a gay celebrity over for dinner doesn’t disqualify you from being a homophobe.

Nor does voting for or continuing to support one disqualify YOU from either label.

You’re all terrible

It is time YOU own our failures and for the rest of US who let you off the hook to give you HELL daily.  Especially if you continue to support such nonsense for your own personal convenience, peace of mind or greed.   You don’t like it – tough. You think it’s the wrong strategy? Bite me.

From now on, every day is the day after Election Day.  Or else #WeAreAllHandmaids.

Unless, of course, we already are but just haven’t been given the outfit or streamed till the end of the season.

Grace – “You Don’t Own Me”

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A New/Old Golden Age?

Art, historically, is always at its best and most provocative when it can be in opposition to something – when the artist disagrees with the government she lives in. – Hanya Yanagihara, Editor in Chief, T Magazine

This week the New York Times published a special issue of its Style Magazine entitled — 1981-1983 New York: 36 Months that Changed the Culture.

Among the many articles, stories and sidebars is an accompanying 12-minute video of interviews at a photo shoot of 21 actors who had their breakthrough moments in the city as young artists at the time.

Click to watch the video!

There are lots of familiar names, many of them now stars, all of them respected at their craft not only onstage in New York but often in film and television.   Not to mention, one of them is now even running to be the next governor of New York.

Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick , Cynthia Nixon, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Willem Dafoe, Nathan Lane, Harvey Fierstein, Ed Harris, Loretta Devine, Joan Allen, Elizabeth McGovern, Mercedes Ruehl, Victor Garber, Amanda Plummer, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Michael Cerveris, Mia Katigbak, Stephen Bogardus and John Kelly.

It was impossible to know at the time who in the above group would:

1- Create roles so indelible that they’d live on forever in the pop culture landscape.

2- Become rich and famous beyond their (and our) wildest dreams.

My face when I think about SJP’s wallet. Yes, we’re looking at you shoe lady!

3- Continue to be doing avant-garde, cutting edge work so many decades later.

4- Change your life with a single performance or film appearance or, perish the thought back then if you were a true artiste, weekly TV show.

And perhaps, most importantly (at least for them):

5- Survive long enough to attend or even be wanted at a photo shoot/class reunion in the year 2018 organized by the NY Times about the city’s once-in-a-era cultural scene.

It is easy to look back and write about an iconically fertile or low period in artistic and political history. But it is one mean feat of supernatural ESP to know that this is what’s going on in your particular time at the time and be absolutely right about it.

Amen, Andy Bernard. Amen.

The truth is, everyone thinks that both the time they’re living in and the work they’re doing is important, artistic, relevant and potentially world and/or life-changing. Either that or they assume there is nothing at all important about it – certainly nothing people would ever look back on decades later in wonderment or nostalgia.

Of course, both viewpoints are incorrect. No one really knows which times are or will be relevant to other generations and how or in what way. Sure, you’ve got gut feelings about stuff, especially in 1980s NY where people on the artistic scene slowly began dying around you from an unnamed plague. But in that moment, it isn’t easy to fully realize how time will remember it or if you and/or your generation’s work will live on or be forgotten. What is even more likely is that you won’t be right about it.

OK maybe we had a good idea about this guy #legend

Cases in point:

— I remember working with a 17 year old Cynthia Nixon on a little known Robert Altman film, OC & Stiggs, in the early eighties and thinking: She’s so sweet and smart, not to mention natural in front of the camera – I hope the biz of show doesn’t eat her alive. I never dreamed I’d see her on Broadway a year later seducing a major movie star onstage right before my eyes, go on to win two Tonys, then follow it all by becoming a female role model/TV star on Sex in the City.  And now a run for governor? Are you kidding???

Oh she’s the real thing alright!

— As the arts editor of my college radio station I got tickets to see this off-Broadway play called Vanities in the seventies where a very young and very unknown Kathy Bates played one of three friends whose lives we trace though high school, college and post graduation. She was fun AND sort of sad simultaneously, the kind of fantastic NY actress you knew would work forever but would probably never be a star because, well, the business…SUCKED!!

Which it didn’t because in the eighties she became a local Broadway legend playing a suicidal daughter in night, Mother and in the early nineties became an Oscar winning, axe-wielding movie star in Misery.

And then win an Emmy for playing a HEAD in American Horror Story

The latter was, by the way, five years after I had worked on the movie version of ‘night, Mother and was tasked to arrange a private pre-release screening for Ms. Bates so she could take in the work done by Sissy Spacek in the role SHE had originated. Again, I thought, this business…SUCKS! Which, of course, it didn’t once again and, in fact, only showed how wrong one (okay, I) can be – TWICE. And in two different decades.

— Then there was the time in early eighties NY where I saw Harvey Fierstein playing a gay, Jewish drag queen in his play Torch Song Trilogy and considered just how wrong I was a third time (ok, maybe that was #2) about what could and could not be accomplished in a business that, at the end of the day, actually might not at all always totally…SUCK.

Oh.. hello, Mother

This might be hard for younger people today to imagine but the idea of a gay guy from the boroughs playing a gay guy from the boroughs in a play he had himself, a gay guy from the boroughs, written about the relationship a gay guy from the boroughs has with an impossibly closeted gay guy he’s in love with and his own impossibly know-it-all Jewish mother seemed…well… impossible at the time. Until it wasn’t. And never would be again (Note: Especially for this gay guy from the boroughs) thanks to people like “Harvey,” who worked in cheap, roach infested, barely standing stages far away from the harsh glare of world-changing and international recognition.

You can never be great – in life or in art – if you’re forever thinking about being great or are sure you will never be great because the odds are against you and the times you live in just don’t allow it.

Also avoid self aggrandizing

All you can really do is put everything you have into your work and your life (both of those being art) in the best way you can, revel in each action and task with as much enthusiasm as you can and – hope for the best.

I still have to remind myself about living in the moment and enjoying each task at hand, unconcerned with result and I saw most of the above unlikely actor/stars in their iconic performances all those years ago in the early eighties.

I was killin’ it and didn’t even know it!

Of course these days it sometimes takes journalistic behemoths like the NY Times to remind us that the eighties – a decade many of my peers consider hideous beyond words because of its ethos of Greed is Good, big hair and the AIDS plague – did indeed have its moments in hindsight.

That is among many other things we depend on them to remind us of daily these days. Which is the subject of another story. Though the lesson is the same – stay focused and do the work as best you can – even if you think no one is listening and despite what you perceive your odds are for success.  Because the future – yours and all of ours – just might surprise you — and us – if you (nee We) just keep going.

Nina Hagen – New York New York (1983)

The Foreman

The death of director extraordinaire Milos Forman this week makes one remember a time when movies were movies.

What do we mean by that?

Well, quite simply, he didn’t have a genre. He wasn’t an actor’s director. And his films weren’t all about how they looked, or how they were edited or how they sounded.

He didn’t really have a STYLE.

His movies were not all about the MESSAGE they sent.

Once upon a time, in a world that grows farther and farther away, movies were simply stories. About people. Who wanted something that was difficult or near impossible to get.

Tell em Norma!

They had real and imagined obstacles to get these things and whether they did or did not get them it was usually, at the end of the day, only about a handful of simple things: love, family, justice, or simply finding a place to belong where they could feel less alone.

This is generally why we tell stories. Yes, to be heard. But mostly, to feel less alone.

Oh you know.. just these little known films

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Hair (1979)

Ragtime (1981)

Amadeus (1984)

Valmont (1989)

The People vs Larry Flynt (1996)

Man on the Moon (1999)

Every one of them was about a recognizable person living on this planet. NONE of them had superpowers or were set safely in a dystopian future or reimagined past.

This is not a knock to sci-fi or action or horror or even the Marvel Universe. They can make for great stories on both the big and small screen. Heck, they’re even the setting for some cool books. Anyone remember those?

Allow me to get out my sweater…

These days we have a ton of imagined worlds and past, future and parallel-present imposing end-of-the-universe experiences. There is no lack of people who have cyborg-ish limbs which can throw an object the size of, say, the Empire State Building, from one coast to the other. Or perhaps even THE Empire State Building.

What we don’t have anymore are future movies from filmmakers like Milos Forman and very many film studios or large production companies willing to finance them.

Every detail indeed

One can argue every film creates its own pushed reality and exists in an alternate universe with larger than life characters not entirely of this world. Certainly Mr. Forman’s movies did just that.

I remember very distinctly seeing Hair at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and being transported into a 1960s universe in Central Park exactly how I wished it could be – but probably never was – with the help of sound, editing and great music that enabled a group of joyous actors to simply do their thing.

Sing it with me now…. AGE OF AQUAAAAARIUS

Or the anger and rage at the government that The People vs Larry Flynt gave voice to at what still felt like for me to be the height of the AIDS crisis.

Not to mention the comic hysteria and sheer tribute to artistic will expressed in Man on the Moon that somehow became oddly healing to a generation of us moviegoers still idealistic enough to believe somewhere deep down that iconoclastic comedian Andy Kaufman had not really died of cancer at the age of 35.

Or how the behaviors of all the supposedly insane characters in One Flew Cuckoo’s Nest exactly mirrored what all of the rest of us normal people on the outside saw or even exhibited on any given day in the 1970s.

Me then, and let’s be honest, me now

And, finally — the way the same group of petty, racist and haughty rich, straight white people manage to show up generation after generation, in decade after decade in various modes of dress illustrated in films like Amadeus, Ragtime and Valmont – films that managed to give many of us OTHERS hope because they showed us categorically that the Haughties will always be defeated either by themselves or some other group of more thoughtful and ingenious OTHERS. People who were, more or less, just like us.

Mr. Forman made just seven major studio movies in over 24 years where he managed to win two best director Oscars for himself, another two best picture Oscars for his producers and countless other nominations in pretty much every other category of excellence offered by the Academy and elsewhere all over the world.

Thanks Milos

These films also generated enough revenue, attention and critical acclaim for him to be given subsequent chance after chance (nee $$$) by the powers-that-be to produce the kind of work that would change the lives of several generations of filmgoers, many of them aspiring artists themselves who would go on to inspire still others, in the process. (Note: And if you think those facts are being overstated, just read the endless tributes on Twitter).

Point being, this was all done without EVER having to leave the planet, imagining a dystopic and/or end of the world scenario, inventing a superpower or coming up with a single tacky line, scene or sequence offensive enough to alienate any one marginalized group of people.

Some might say, Well, everything was different back then.

To which we all might consider the one question that all of Mr. Forman’s films did manage to ask – and answer:

Were they, really?

Randy Newman, “Theme from Ragtime”

That Girl

This week, The Chair finds himself off recruiting young minds for the resistance (what else?).  But fear not! Pop culture criticism must go on!

In a fascinating example of film reconsideration, Molly Ringwald (in a piece for the New Yorker) revisited her classic film The Breakfast Club — a film that just recently entered the highly sought after Criterion Collection shelf space (like I didn’t already order my copy? please). Her reassessment of the film in light of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement makes for a provocative piece. With the Chair’s blessing… here’s a critical read that does not feature a porn star or a President (can I get an Amen?!):

Click here for Ringwald’s article!

Let’s Hear it for the Boy…cott!

I won’t watch the reboot of Roseanne on ABC. This does not mean I am close-minded, want her removed from the airwaves or in any way prefer she is silenced, censored or modified.

It doesn’t even mean I am angry that 18.1 million people tuned in to watch her in actual real time – an unheard of number for the premiere of a prime time network show these days.

Nor does it say I want to opt out of the national conversation or give up my status as an incurable, inveterate culture vulture.

Wink #hehehe

It simply means I want no part of a woman who in March 2018 basks in the glory of a congratulatory phone call from Donald J. Trump, enthusing of the exchange the day after her ratings triumph:

It was pretty exciting, I’ll tell you that much…They said, ‘Hold please for the President of the United States of America’ and that was about the most exciting thing, ever. It was just very sweet of him to congratulate us. 

I find nothing about Trump exciting, and certainly never sweet. I believe he is destroying our country, and democracy along with it, by his corruption, his racism, his incompetence and his vile treatment towards anyone or anything that opposes him.

Oh is that all???

I believe deep down that if he got his way we would not only be under the thumb of Russia, we would BE RUSSIA.

I also find everything the actual Roseanne is pushing under the guise of her fictional doppelganger to be disingenuous. Like Trump, I am convinced she is first and foremost out for herself – using our red vs. blue divide as a way to once again be relevant and earn wheel barrels full of money.

Roseanne is definitely hitting the slopes

The thought of giving her 150,000th of one single penny is even more nauseating to me than eating a side of the watery canned peas and carrots my mom used to serve to us at dinner every week – and that’s really saying something. (Note: DM me on Twitter for my sister’s handle and she will confirm).

The same cannot be said about Fox TV host Laura Ingraham and what I hope is her curtailment at her network and elsewhere after she chose to bully and gloat about David Hogg, high school student and Parkland school shooting survivor, NOT getting into four of the colleges he applied to.

By consistently demonizing the teenager, not to mention his friends, who had just witnessed 14 of their friends shot to death before their own ears and/or eyes on Valentine’s Day, Ingraham and her colleagues at Fox have been the leaders of a right wing media assault of ADULTS hoping to make these TEENAGERS the subject of national ridicule by millions more of their viewers by fanning the flames of resentment that will implicitly urge as many of their acolytes as possible to go on virtual attack.

Nothing would please me more than seeing Ms. Ingraham’s ambitions flattened and watching the fire-breathing flames of hate she espouses daily turned directly back at her. And with the help of Mr. Hogg and others far more powerful than me and my tweets and my blog and my blah, blah, blah, I might be getting my wish.

Oh I’m not enjoying this… not even a little bit

Thanks to Mr. Hogg and his fan base, so far she has been dropped by these ELEVEN sponsors:

Hulu, Nestle, Johnson & Johnson, Trip Advisor, Nutrish, Stitch Fix, Expedia, Liberty Mutual, Wayfair and Jos. A. Bank.

Panicked, she issued a faux apology that read:

On reflection, in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland…

Notice there was no regret about any of her words, which she obviously stands by (Note: And presumably believes Jesus would, too). Ms. Ingraham obviously understands what her base wants. But so does young Mr. Hogg, who wisely called her out on her B.S., noting it was due to a loss of revenue and not any real desire to change her or her network’s behavior.

Pass the Purell

Had Mr. Hogg done a little more research (Note: Though perhaps he has) he would know the full story. Yes, he called her out for tweeting at basketball greats LeBron James and Kevin Durant to shut up and dribble when they gave an interview and dared to express support for fellow players taking a knee during the national anthem, but she has also:

– Said Mexican immigrants have come here to “murder and rape our people.”

– Called Planned Parenthood employees “heinous, Hitlerian freaks.”

– And said the NAACP is “a push organization for racist sentiments.”

More importantly, this goes further back than that – all the way to her college years.

In the eighties, as editor of the Dartmouth Review, she called her campus’s Gay Students Association “cheerleaders for latent campus sodomites” and sent a reporter to secretly tape the meeting because she disliked they were treated as any other student organization where the campus would provide an activity fee ($100 per student) for them to operate.

Oh yes she did

So much so that she then went on to print the names of gay students present at the meeting, outing some of them in the process. All this occurred at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 80s. #WWJD.

A decade later she did go on to write a 1997 editorial in The Washington Post explaining her past and to admit her views were somewhat modified when she found out her brother Curtis was gay and that his lover was dying of AIDS.

She also asked not to be judged about things she did in college – which somehow seems to presuppose she learned her lesson about hurling personal attacks towards young people who represent causes she disagrees with.

But well, clearly she hasn’t.

She definitely hasn’t #tellemjessica

Though maybe this would be different if David Hogg were her brother with a girlfriend who had sustained life-threatening injuries from gun violence that she could then see David caring for up close and personal.

Oh, and for the record, she is still NOT A SUPPORTER of gay marriage.

Roseanne does support gay marriage and was one of the first to feature out gay characters on network television in a more than casual way. Does this somewhat temper my personal line in the sand?   Perhaps a little, though not entirely.

Not impressed #whatever

There is a difference in choosing to personally boycott the work of someone with whom you disagree and don’t respect vs. urging the national boycott of someone who bullies minors, rages against non-white and non-straight minorities and eggs on her millions of followers to do the same.

There is free speech but also the free market. They simultaneously co-exist and there is a cause and effect to each.

One last word on Ms. Ingraham –

Do we have to?? #OKChair #staywithme

While so many of her contemporaries have evolved through personal experience she has remained her same strident professional self as she pursues, what exactly? Personal fame and fortune? World domination? If either is true, and they seem so, the most dangerous, real-life comparison that quickly comes to mind are the actions and/or motivations of our current Electoral College president – @realDonaldTrump.

So no surprise that she is not only one of his most ardent supporters but the name that is most often at the top of the list to become his new White House Communications Director.

Pass the advil #notanad

With her just announced one-week vacation hiatus, that might happen sooner than later. Or, it may not. Though as someone tweeted this weekend, another similarly deposed right wing Fox firebrand, Bill O’Reilly, is still on the one-week vacation he took more than a year ago.

Hope springs eternal. Roseanne notwithstanding.

Meghan Trainor – “No Excuses”