Fight Club

I stepped into a hornet’s nest of passion this weekend after re-posting a news article focused on a statement made by MSNBC commentator Joy Reid.

In it, she took Bernie Sanders to task for saying the Republican establishment will not stop him from getting the Democratic nomination for president, nor will the Democratic establishment. 

The tweet that started it all…

By equating the powerbrokers of both parties, Reid claimed Sanders was essentially staging a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party rather than bringing people of that party, and others, together to defeat Donald Trump.

She framed it all by pointing out that in making the above proclamation Sanders, a registered INDEPENDENT and technically NOT a Democrat, had boldly and unapologetically kicked 65 million Hillary Clinton voters, the majority of who WERE registered Democrats, to the curb.

And that he needed those voters to win.

I was in such agreement with those thoughts and so annoyed by Sanders’ cavalier messianic attitude, I instantly put it on Facebook with a single accompanying phrase: THIS.

Very quickly, and perhaps predictably given how many young people and former students are my Facebook friends, here’s what the reaction looked like:

My facebook feed for the last 24 hours

Now I had planned this week to write about how actress-writer Amanda Peet had literally stolen my identity with the title of her just announced Netflix TV series THE CHAIR, starring the sublime Sandra Oh as the head of a college English department.

I mean, all I could think of was:

HOW DARE SHE??????

But when you weigh my outrage against, well, my outrage, it’s clearly the subject of Bernie that wins — at least for right now.

More importantly, I’m thrilled that it did.

Me and conflict

That repost prompted close to 100 back and forth passionate, angry, frustrated funny and heartfelt comments on politics, social issues and the state of our mutual lives.

I don’t know that it singlehandedly changed anyone’s mind, for the moment, but I am positive it allowed many of us to better understand the place from which each of us were coming from and why we felt the way that we did.

I’m also inclined to think that the next time this subject comes up we might all be that much more informed about how people really feel on the issues and allow us to engage that much more effectively.

Me, achieving world peace

It might even enable us to resolve a few things and modify our approach, or opinions.

This is how change happens and this is how you open hearts and minds.  Not by rolling over but by engaging, arguing, listening and then engaging again.  And again.  And then some more.

A big part of my job as a college professor is to provoke, navigate and guide.   There is nothing wrong with criticism if it’s followed by discussion.  It’s essential in the classroom and in life if we’re to ever move forward anymore.

TAKE NOTE SANDRA! (nice chair though)

But too often these days we just can’t seem to do it well or avoid it all together.

Talking out loud about a controversial issue, statement or opinion devolves into I hate this, or him or herOr rage about the blah, blah, blah of the blah, blah, bah.  Even the mere sound or sight of the blah, blah, blah, in print, or worse, in person, is sickening.

This enables the I won’t comment at all for fear of being attacked or the strategy to seethe quietly (or not so quietly) and then strike in such a way that I can’t be harmed  and/or you won’t know who it is.

Or the alternate strategy of I will do nothing and just go on with my life, which isn’t horrible enough to move me away from my everyday routine in order to engage with this issue, or you.

If only

This doesn’t work for any of us on either side in the long run.

My college community is at the moment in the midst of discussions about race and racism as we become a more diverse and inclusive campus.

It is healthy to address those issues and more as long as it’s not done in an absolutist manner from either side.

This is difficult to achieve, as many in the fight will attest to, but clearly is possible.  We stumble, we upset each other but we persevere and eventually come to an understanding of each other’s points of view and then figure out how to best soldier on with the best outcomes for as many of us as possible.

And if that doesn’t work, we can all agree that Jon Hamm’s still got it

It’s easy to see colleges, or social media platforms or real live engagement as a petri dish of microaggressions, oversensitivities, insensitivities, hostilities or simply biased and/or callous disregard, and worse. 

But that’s not the way I look at it.

We MUST get in the ring and spar, perhaps even fight, in order to get anywhere, especially these days.  We are required to LISTEN and then try to understand, regardless of whether we do a 180 and change our points of view.

To turn away and NOT do it, to hide from all this conflict, is a sure fire strategy for our mass mutual demise.

Christina Aguilera – “Fighter”

Time Traveling with TCM

As the 2020 presidential election looms like a giant sword swinging over our collective heads, it’s difficult to know what to do.

Turn off and there’s the guilt, or eventual guilt, over whistling past the graveyard of American democracy.

Turn on and there’s the endless anger and non-stop memes (or worse) that pits US against THEM and saps whatever energy is left for I.

I’m with you Steph

What that leaves each of us with right now is individual choice, a sure sign that American democracy is not dead…yet.

That was reassuring for half the weekend because I, for one, scheduled a relaxing few days at home lying around, reading and catching up on the 75% of programming saved on the DVR that needs to be erased…at some point.

But then I turned on Turner Classic Movies

That seemed like a good idea because this month TCM is featuring 31 Days of Oscar.  What this means is that until March 2 every film scheduled on the network is a nominee or winner of Hollywood’s top prize.

Also featured: Ben Mankiewicz and his lush, thick hair #notjealous #veryjealous

For those of us worn out from the politics of it all popping up on the news, in social media and as a part of even the most generalized pop culture memes everywhere, that provides a virtual luxury vacation of escape.

You can ostensibly tune in at any time and be pretty sure you’ll have an all expenses paid trip of at least two hours into an alternate story reality much more preferable and a lot less toxic than the one we all currently reside in.

Ok Rhett… let’s say sometimes  just AS toxic

And I’m not just writing this because my dear friend, Pola Changnon, a fellow movie lover, was recently and very deservedly named general manager of the whole damned network several weeks ago.

Though partly I am.

Damn right!

At our celebratory dinner I couldn’t help but gush a little to her at how, in these trying times, it was such a relief to tune in TCM and, suddenly, get lured into a non-2020 narrative where there is no Twitter and usually not much in the way of anything Orange employed onscreen.

Even though any number of the films on TCM might be available to rent and/or purchase, somehow, when you think of doing that, you instantly say to yourself, I don’t have time to watch this!

But when they suddenly appear on Channel 256 (in LA of course) on your TV or screen of choice and you get hooked, hey, no one can blame you!

Margo’s got the right idea

To do so would be like getting down on someone for eating a slice of that already half eaten chocolate cake left out on the counter or helping yourself to a single drink at an open bar at anyone’s yearly holiday party and being met with a nasty stare by the “Church Lady.”

You’re entitled.  We’re all entitled.

But here’s the thing about escape.  Wherever you are, there you are.

At least that’s how it felt to me watching the classic, Oscar nominated movie, The Third Man on TCM this past Saturday afternoon.

* not directed by Welles

Foolishly thinking a 1949 film noir with Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles that I somehow had managed not to have ever seen all the way through could free me from the T***P era what I discovered was… um… NOanything but.

Based on a Graham Greene novella The Third Man is brilliantly photographed and edited, has a great twist and turn story, terrific acting and innovative directing, AND an unforgettable score.

It is also a perfect evocation of the moral dilemma we all face in the, okay let’s say it now, Trump Era.

AH!! DON’T SAY IT!!

Rather than transport us away into post World War II Vienna (Note: Though it literally does) it more effectively brings us right back to the question of 21st century individual choice.

That is to say, how to confront moral decay and, yeah, pure evil when we see it.

– The Third Man doesn’t have children in cages as a result of the whims of a powerful man but instead shows us kids locked in a hospital, dying of (Note: Okay, no spoilers here) because of the actions of a brilliantly clever (Note: Evil?) genius with no moral compass.

– The Third Man isn’t about an election and the loss of the rule of law but instead is about one writer/investigator challenged to make a defining moral choice in a sea of contradictory and sometimes but not ultimately confusing facts.

Figuring out the light from dark (bonus cool lighting)

 – The Third Man doesn’t have raging arguments between longtime neighbors and family members about right vs. wrong but it does ask us to consider whether our most loyal bestie from childhood can be good and evil at the same time and calmly consider how every one of OUR actions – past, present and future — has and will affect not just ourselves but the rest of the world as we know it.

Not bad for a half century plus old black and white feature where everyone but the American writer played by Joseph Cotten speaks with an accent, the Twitter-sphere didn’t exist and no mention at all is made of democracy, elections or the rise of the socialist left and/or the dictatorial repressive right.

But it does have Ferris Wheels!

A great classic movie is a little like a vintage piece of clothing you hold on to over the years.   As norms change you know that in a pinch it will perfectly fit some occasion, event of even era you are suddenly faced with.

It’s comforting, it’s clarifying but at the same time it also makes you think, sometimes of all sorts of things you might want to forget.

Or should remember.

That’s saying a lot for the days we’ve been living through and have yet to go through.

Anton Karas – Theme from The Third Man

Oscars So RIGHT

How is it that after 92 years the Oscars finally came up with both a telecast and a list of winners to be proud of?

Hitting the right notes, literally, for just about everything, the 2020 Oscars will probably be best remembered as the first time in history a foreign… ahem… INTERNATIONAL film won best picture.

Show tagline: PARASITE, NO HOST

Not only that, Parasite writer-director Bong Joon-ho took home THREE more Oscars for best director, best screenplay and best international (formerly foreign) film.

The hottest name in Hollywood!

And it was only a mere five decades ago when another Oscar winning writer-director, Billy Wilder, famously quipped to his cameraman:

Shoot a few scenes out of focus. I want to win the foreign film award.

That Parasite managed to touch the hearts and souls of a majority of Oscar voters is not in doubt. But what also seems clear is that the choice of a non-American film about economic inequality as the Motion Picture Academy members’ big winner was a very clear and very present way for voters to send out another message to the world. And that message is:

2020 America, and Americans, are NOT living in a bubble or behind a WALL. We are not isolationists who want to disengage with you. We, in fact, do get IT, even if it doesn’t always seem that way these days So don’t give up on us…yet.

I’m paraphrasing, of course.

In fact, I might be reaching or making this up out of whole cloth. Though truly, I don’t think so.

How I will try to think of 2019 in America

Hollywood might not literally speak for all 327 million people living in the U.S. but as an industry it is one of its chief representatives to the rest of the world. American movies reflect America to international audiences and what the Oscars choose to represent as the best of the best carries that weight.

Taken in that light the major category victories for Parasite were no small thing. No, they certainly don’t change the state of the world but, at the same time, they proclaim that things aren’t staying stagnant. If the same staid Academy that made the safe choice of Green Book as last year’s best picture is now doing a full 360 and saying a South Korean film dealing with class warfare is the gold standard, well, who knows what else is in store from any number of American industries looking to project some message to the outside of who we really are.

Don’t ever look back!

Oh yes, hope springs eternal. But then again, why not?

This message of change, or perhaps inclusion was reflected all throughout the Oscar telecast on Sunday night.

Singer-songwriter-performer extraordinaire Janelle Monae had Oscar’s best musical opening in history as she went from mock Mister Rogers garb to full blown, self-proclaimed, queer Black artist singing revamped lyrics to her 2010 tune Come Alive. Sashaying her way through a panoply of back up dancers and celebrities, she actually managed to make the Academy Awards seem hip and happening for the first time in…..well….EVER.

At one point THIS happened

But that was only one of a string of ingenious, nostalgic and just plain awe inspiring musical moments.

We had Idina Menzel belting a Disney song along with belters from more than a dozen countries in THEIR native languages.

Then there was Eminem appearing seemingly out of nowhere to rap his 2003 Oscar winning song Lose Yourself with some updated lyrics evoking the era of Trump.

OK so the song is as old as Billie Eilish, so what?

Soon Elton John was pounding on his red piano and singing the soon-to-be Oscar winning song he co-wrote with longtime lyricist partner Bernie Taupin for their autobiographical film Rocketman.

That followed twice nominated Cynthia Erivo also bringing the house down with her inspirational ballad Stand Up from her film about abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Harriet. 

And her dress was PERFECTION #QueenCynthia #EGOTiscoming

Then, as a capper, we got a haunting version of the Beatles’ Yesterday sung by this year’s multi-Grammy winner, 18-year-old Billie Eilish, in memory of the many film artists we lost this past year.

And amid all of that was this quite subversive high comic moment of the evening:

Rebel Wilson and James Corden entering in the crazy train makeup and costumes from their 2019 film disaster, Cats, to give this simple introduction to the award they were tasked to present:

As cast members of the motion picture CATS nobody more than us understands the importance of good visual effects.

Proving it’s never to soon…

Certainly one could gripe about a few misfired jokes from various presenters or any number of times when any one of us knew the wrong person, or people, were standing center stage with an Oscar in their hands that we felt belonged to someone else.

Still, it is difficult to argue with what most of those who did win were trying to say in their acceptance speeches.

They rambled, but we stuck with them

Aside from thanking their immediate families, or their teams, or their friends or cast mates, almost every major speech felt like a sincere outreach to an international audience for us all to find some way come together rather than to continue to be pulled apart by the circumstances of our times.

While the ceremony theoretically honors the art and craft of film, this year’s Oscars somehow felt more like a hand extending far beyond Hollywood and the borders of the U.S. towards the rest of the world in solidarity.

PLUS This is now Oscar-winning, so really, all is right with the world

Though on second thought, perhaps it’s more like a cry from those of us within to everyone watching on the outside for…help?

Janelle Monae – Oscars 2020 Opening

Oscar Watch: 2020

Think of watching the Oscars like a booty call.  Or the hookup you reluctantly fall back on once a year.

Neither may be the best use of your time but each offers a chance for something mindless, seductive, exciting and fabulous, perhaps all at once.

Be nice… after all, Green Book can’t win again.

Never mind there’s a 98.6% chance that won’t happen.  We all live for that elusive 1 (plus) percent.  And isn’t that what the Oscars are really about?

So, don’t pretend you won’t watch, hate watch or go to some event where you sort of watch or shhhh shhhh everyone so you can watch.  You will and so will we – live and on Twitter and via Facebook.  In the meantime, here are five things to watch out for while you’re watching this year’s Academy Awards:

1- THE TAMING OF NETFLIX – For the first time in Oscars’ history it’s not a film studio leading the pack for the most nominations but a….streaming service.  That would be Netflix with 24 nominations – 10 for The Irishman, 6 for Marriage Story, 3 for Two Popes, 2 for best-animated feature (Klaus and I Lost My Body) and 1 for best documentary short (Life Overtakes Me).

It’s not that Netflix will get entirely shut out of the game – after all, money from prestige films is really hard to come by these days.  It’s more that the streamers need to know their place.  So look all three of Netflix’s dramatic feature nominees to go home empty handed in every category with the exception of Laura Dern’s win for best supporting actress in Marriage Story.  A second award will likely be in the animated feature category, probably for Klaus.  But that should be all.

GO GET YA OSCAR, DERNZ!

2-  BILLIE EILISH – She just co-wrote and performed the theme for the upcoming James Bond film and, as such, will likely be an Oscar nominee next year.  But this year the iconoclastic 18-year old will be performing…..something.

My guess is that it’s either an imaginative background vocal to the In Memoriam segment or some weird preview of the Bond song.

Or, well…okay, the truth is I have no idea.  But I’ll bet she wears sparkly pajamas while she’s doing it and they will be the top online seller of Oscar knock off outfits the very next day.

I want to understand this… I think?

3- PARASITE vs. 1917 – Since the four acting prize winners are pretty much set (Note: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker), Renne Zellweger (Judy), Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood) and Laura Dern (Marriage Story)) that leaves best picture and director to provide the suspense.

What seems inevitable is a split between the 1917 and Parasite with our money on Sam Mendes as best director for 1917 and Parasite taking home the big best picture prize.  Why?  Because everyone admires 1917 as opposed to loving it and no film speaks to this moment in time better than Parasite.

4BRAD PITT’S STANDING OVATION AND ACCEPTANCE SPEECH – He’s the only one in his category to have never won an acting Oscar.  He was great in Once Upon A Time.  He’ a 56 year old shirtless wonder.  He’s made fun of himself in truly hilarious, self-effacing speeches all throughout awards season and everyone wants to see/hear what comes next.  (Note:  Ahhhhh, no, it won’t be Jen….Or will it?).

This might be the second to last time I can post this… OK let’s be real, I will post this forever #goodlawd

5- POLITICS DRINKING GAME – The main attraction.  You likely won’t hear the word Trump mentioned at all during the show. But throw one back every time you do hear the words peace, equality, global warming, justice, America or any variation of the phrase: lawless White House Orange Pumpkin Monster.

It will ensure the best Oscar experience you’ve ever had and you won’t remember a thing in the morning.

Elton John with Taron Egerton – “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”

Cable News Cardio

You know how you slow down when you see an accident on a highway even though you don’t want to?  Well, that’s how it feels watching The Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump.

Still, I have to specifically hand it to my cable network of choice, MSNBC.  They’ve brought it.  The last thing I wanted to do this week was to hear the guy’s name, see the stuff that passes on his head for hair or hear about anything he’s ever done/does in the past, present or foreseeable future.

We bow down to the national treasure that is Rachel Maddow

Still, I couldn’t turn away.  Not for barely a second.  I even found the ONLY treadmill at the gym with on Friday afternoon that had a small screen turned to guess what…MSNBC!…. during THE key climactic moments late Friday afternoon.

It was meant to be.

Or so I reasoned to myself when I got off the machine I was on and hiked three rows down to see more of what I’d been watching since 8am that morning and every morning for the last seemingly 52 days.  Only this time there were merely images with subtitles.   NO. SOUND.

WHYYYYYY

Oh yeah.  I couldn’t figure out how to plug my headphones into the thing.  But even that was okay.  The subtitles were being done on the fly and I got most of the abbreviations.  In fact, it became fun to figure out which commentators were which WITHOUT THEIR words ALWAYS being identified.

Suddenly, I was running at record speeds, in elevations that I hadn’t been in months, trying to play a NEW guessing game.

Oh, yes, that sounds EXACTLY like what Nicolle Wallace would say because she knows the inner workings of the White House!

Sure, that’s former Senator Claire McCaskill’s incisive commentary.  It’s not only smart but a bit snide.

Claire’s for real, guys.

 And wait, she’s actually…texting with members of the Senate in real time??? I was right, I gleefully proclaimed to myself as I bobbled my water bottle and it sprayed all over my gray Lululemon workout shirt from six years ago that somehow is still holding up.

OMG, it’s like having a spy behind enemy lines, ready to dish to your side in a down and dirty way.  Yay Claire!!! 

Then, trying to figure out who’s talking to whom on the crowded Senate floor from far away, I suddenly hear Claire excitedly saying: That’s Lamar’s (Sen. Alexander (R-TN) bald spot

 …as we were waiting to determine whether he was going to cast the third possibly dissenting Republican YAY vote to finally HEAR a few witnesses (or even one) on the issue of impeachment in the Senate trial (Note: He didn’t).

Twitter gets it

Forget that the NY Times had just reported former Trump advisor John Bolton’s upcoming March book has him proclaiming in print that Trump did indeed hold up gazillions of dollars in foreign aid to Ukraine unless the country investigated Hunter Biden and his dad Joe Biden, Trump’s chief rival for the presidency at the time.

I was almost equally as riled up that Claire seemed to be on the verge of some sort of hirsute-ish scoop!

Of course, once reality began to kick in I sort of began to crash.

But some moments later, just when the hope for any live witnesses at this quickly becoming kangaroo court was lost, the powers that be at my channel cut to Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer live as he gave a short statement proclaiming that the Senate voting not allow new witnesses or documents at this trial was a…PERFITY???????????????? 

HUH WHAT?

What the f-k does that mean????  Suddenly, I felt so let down by my friends on the panel who only moments before were seemingly my only friends in the world because they were the only ones still with me through all this who never seemed to mind me ranting and raving (Note: Forget they couldn’t hear me) cause they were, too.

Oh, and dumb.   Thoroughly let down and now DUMB.  So, so DUMB.

Then, Brian Williams, like the God he is, jumped in and quipped re: Schumer’s perfidy:

Hey, I bet he wishes he could take that word back!

After which Claire and Nicolle laughed.  And laughed.  AND LAUGHED!!!

Thank God.

Sweet relief

I felt even better when, I think, Chris Matthews noted that it was Harry Truman who always recommended you don’t use 10-dollar words but nickel words if you want to really get people to listen to you.

Sure, I’m mangling the quote a little but that was the gist of it since I couldn’t find the actual one.  Though I did find out the definition of perfidy.

per·fi·dy

noun: perfidy; plural noun: perfidies

deceitfulness; untrustworthiness.”it was an example of his perfidy”

Since this whole week was all about perfidies I now very much admired Schumer for bringing it up in the first place.

Every time he uses a fancy word, the glasses get lower

Until Nicolle (or was it Brian or Chris? – I’m not sure who it was at this point) announced another revelation from the Bolton book just unearthed by the NY Times. 

Apparently Trump’s White House lawyer Pat Cipollone, the guy we’d been watching co-lead his no-witnesses defense all week by proclaiming Trump NEVER demanded we withhold money from Ukraine to benefit his re-election campaign, WAS ACTUALLY IN THE OVAL OFFICE MEETING WHEN TRUMP DEMANDED we withhold money from Ukraine to benefit his re-election campaign.

Well, I thought Nicole was going to lose it along with me.

I think we were all Wile E Coyote in that moment #help

Luckily, I was off the treadmill by then and watching this via a flat screen TV I found in the weight room that happened to also be tuned to her.

Lest you think I go to one of those blue state, elite snowflake gyms, know that’s not quite true.  It’s a 24-Hour Fitness and it costs me $120 per year.

And occasionally some screens are tuned to Fox.  Until I complained about it and never saw that channel on in MY GYM again.

At least not on my watch.

Lizzo – “Good As Hell”