The Past, The Protests, The Privilege

I’m a middle aged white guy who grew up with that privilege.   Sometimes I’ve been aware of it and sometimes I’ve been blithely unaware.  Right now, well, it’s hard not to be fully awake.

Many tens of thousands of us of all colors have taken to the streets this week, both physically and virtually, both non-violently and occasionally violently, to demand consequences for the death of a 46-year-old Black man, George Floyd, at the literal hands (well, knee) of a Minneapolis police officer as three of his fellow men in blue watched.

Found in Minneapolis

I dislike violence but I’m not surprised or even OUTRAGED by it.  Frankly, I wouldn’t blame many of us if we burned numerous landmarks in numerous cities down at this point.

Don’t take this as an endorsement of violence but more as an observation of the breaking point of human nature and what it seems to take, now and at various points in our history, to achieve any sort of meaningful social change.

Target will recover, trust me

Mr. Floyd, compliant and handcuffed, was nevertheless prone in the gutter with that police officer’s knee to his neck for a full EIGHT MINUTES, cutting off his air.  As Mr. Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe and called to his dead Mom for help, the officer kept pressing down, on his neck.

In the last three of those minutes Mr. Floyd was no longer breathing and likely dead as the officer blithely looked around him and up at the sky, just sort of passing the time.  Yet his knee never moved, nor did any of his fellow officers.

It’s all captured on video from numerous angles and on numerous cameras.  So don’t even try arguing about it.

The impact of the iPhone cannot be understated

Mr. Floyd’s death is the latest of dozens and dozens and dozens – and dozens – of similar acts perpetrated by police all across the country on an ever-growing list of Black and Brown men, and sometimes women, in the last number of years. They have crossed over the line of guilt or innocence to techniques of interrogation engagement that end in viral recordings of Roman Coliseum-type murders.

What once seemed to many of us informed white Americans as complicated, perhaps nuanced issues of policing are now live examples of what is being perpetrated by representatives of the white patriarchal power structure in our names.  It’s the cost of doing business and what’s perceived as being needed to keep us at the top of the social order and ensure our continued and absolute white privilege.

It’s time to listen

I used to think as an openly gay, Jewish guy from New York City who could never hide who he was because of my surname and less than macho affect, I was not truly the beneficiary of all of this.

But over the years when I’ve considered the fact that I’ve never feared the police, have never been suspected or questioned by law enforcement about crime, and have certainly NEVER been warned by any relatives or friends on how to behave if a policeman happened to pull me over or approach me, I began to recognize the undeniable.

From the perspective of the law, I am LUCKY to be white.

Recognizing your privilege is step 1

Not only was that revelation embarrassing, it was enraging.   Until I indulged in the luxury of partly forgetting about it until the next viral act of racial injustice at the hands of the law came along.

These days it happens if not daily, then weekly or monthly.  So while I am more than able to forget where I put my keys and my wallet I’m seldom EVER able to misplace my white privilege.

What a sorry turn of current events.

Watching spots in Minneapolis and other cities burn as our POTUS fanned the flames of racial injustice and re-tweeted old law and order threats from the 1960s designed to incite more rioting and thus distract from his epic failures in so many other areas, everything seemed hopeless.

It’s hard to even look at a cartoon of him…

But then I began thinking about the death of Larry Kramer, a writer, AIDS activist and one of my personal heroes of courage, and I somehow began to have a vague scintilla of hope – and change.

To call Mr. Kramer a mere AIDS activist is, of course, to sell him short.  By all accounts he was THE FIRST AIDS ACTIVIST in the early 80s, someone who possessed a personal, unrelenting megaphone of activism so loud, unpleasant and in your face that it demanded to be heard until it finally was.

Don’t take my word for it.  Read his NY Times obituary. 

and consider the words of the leading voice of our medical community (Note: And one of Mr. Kramer’s chief nemeses) in 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci: There is no question in my mind that Larry helped change medicine in this country.

The reason Larry did this was that, as he looked around the streets of his neighborhood, he saw dozens and dozens and dozens – and dozens – of his friends being brutally murdered by a relentless foe – the AIDS virus.  But crazy as it was, the white power structure, of which he was theoretically a member of like myself, was doing little to nothing about it.

Worse yet, they seemed to have little interest to radically change their ways and pay more than a little lip service to it despite the pile up of bodies not only in his neighborhood but all across the country.

So he realized if anything were to get done he and his comrades in arms (nee other potential victims) had to take to the streets and do it themselves.

1989, ACT UP protest, Wall Street #thanksLarry

Mr. Kramer founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and later ACTUP, two organizations that slowly, and eventually in very impolite ways, pushed AIDS activism and solutions into the public square by EVERY means necessary.

ACTUP, and Mr. Kramer in particular, set a road map for the modern day, post-1960s activists, creating loud, live events that were so disruptive they couldn’t be ignored.  These included theatrical demonstrations that interrupted Mass presided over by unsympathetic priests inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral and other Catholic Churches; die-ins at the White House and on Wall Street; name-calling political leaders murderers and much worse on national TV (Note: Dr. Fauci included); as well as very publicly outing any closeted gay person (or suspected gay person) in power who he deemed hiding (nee murdering us) instead of helping.

Combine this with more cutting-edge research done by younger people in the movement that backed up his demands with black and white science, and proposing well thought out solutions for improving current policies using logic, medicine and, most of all common sense.

Rather than say something was impossible based on what had happened in the past, they saw things that were possible by dreaming of and then inventing a better future.

It was yet another iteration of any number of American protest techniques that came before but at a different speed and adjusted to yet another time.  Think Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington and the Freedom Riders of the 1960s demanding civil rights, the Suffragettes before them fighting for a woman’s right to vote and to use birth control and then go back a century and a half to the Boston Tea Party and the birth of the American Revolution.

The Boston Tea Party, or as POTUS would say, “Thugs”

Americans have ALWAYS been all about taking to the street, rattling the cages and engaging in very public, and yeah sometimes a bit over the line and occasionally violent (Note: On BOTH SIDES) social protests.

Of course, those were the pre-social media days, not to mention even pre-Internet, so cutting edge radical solutions look quite different now.   In these times we intellectually refer to it as the weaponization of social media via sophisticated disinformation campaigns using fake bots, algorithms and any other means necessary to achieve our agendas.

That friggin bird

If it’s receiving help from foreign actors, such as Russia, China and North Korea, states hoping for the devaluation of our country, it’s never been more available for the average protestor.  We’re all just any number of clicks and screen windows away from marshaling aid from any where in the world.

The ends justify the means is much more than a dusty old bromide of how to get ahead these days.  In many circles it’s a contemporary marching order that you WILL achieve your agenda by any means necessary, dire consequences of their domino effect into any other areas be damned.

And we’re bridling at people blocking traffic and setting fire to a few landmarks??

What is it that writer and philosopher George Santayana, once said:  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it?

Exactly.  And in endless iterations over time.

Hozier featuring Mavis Staples – “Nina Cried Power”

How To Do Nothing

I’m enjoying not doing much of anything.

This is not as easy as it sounds.  In fact, it’s taken me a lifetime to get to this point.  I’m not sure how long it will last but, boy, I’m hoping it doesn’t end any time soon.

And if I work real hard and am real lucky, it won’t.

At the height of self-quarantine in early April I had a routine appointment with a doctor whose office is located in a hospital.

Admittance into the hospital required a temperature check at the door and when I was told mine was a little over 101 degrees, well, imagine my surprise.

Definitely channelled my inner Maya

I had a headache, which is not unusual for someone with severe seasonal allergies such as mine, and that was about it.  But after several more temp checks and a call to my doctor on the inside I was told a COVID-19 test was ordered and I was to return later that afternoon.

Some hours later I was driving down to the hospital’s lower level parking lot where about 20 hospital workers, dipped in what looked liked head to toe HAZ-MAT suits, with long plexiglass shields around their upper torsos, stood at tables on either side of me in my car.

Their hands were weaponized with small plastic test tubes, synthetic clipboards with official looking paper lists and Q Tips the size of the twelve-foot ruler I hadn’t seen since my elementary school days,

It looked sort of like a scene from Alien or Star Trek crossed with a yet to be filmed Tim Burton movie about mass corruption in the medical establishment.

Roughly what I saw from my car

Nevertheless, I soldiered through, weathered the teacher’s measuring stick far up my nose, was told the next day I was negative and then soon after was diagnosed with a bad sinus infection.

It took a while to get better, both physically and psychologically.  I mean, there was something about the Q-Tip ruler up my nose that still gives me the willies despite NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s very apt demonstration last week on TV that it was nothing to be afraid of.  (Note: Good for him.  And notice they didn’t show his face in close-up).

Notice he’s smiling… BEFORE the swab goes in #notpleasant

I also had a lot to preoccupy me while I was healing.  There were four 2-3 hour Zoom sessions per week with college writing students now dispersed all over the country I was supposed to be teaching meaningful skills to as well as reassuring.  Not to mention, dozens and dozens, and still dozens of their pages to read and type feedback to.  On the more personal side, there was also an endless loop of food prep/food buying that included literally HOURS of wipe downs with chemically smelly products that can’t, in the long run, be good for your you OR your food.

In addition to ….well, a  TON more.  I mean, it’s only been this last week that I began to master the art of mentally measuring what it means to really be six feet apart from anyone while walking my dog.

Of course, I still haven’t mastered the art of wearing a mask with glasses.  For a while I thought the advice of washing your specs in soap and water before going outside would prevent the mask from fogging up but that proved to be as effective as stopping the hiccups by having someone scaring the life out of you.

I’m going to have to look this stupid, huh? #signmeup

Yet since I handed in my grades earlier this week after reading 352 screenplays and TV pilots in 14 days (Note:  Okay, not really, but still A LOT), and having increased my speed in disinfecting, distancing, zooming, prepping and cleaning, I do find myself with…..idle time.

Yes, I’m one of the fortunate ones to not be working on the front lines, not have any friends or loved ones fighting for their lives against COVID, and not in immediate danger of being thrown out of my apartment or deprived of my next meal because I can’t meet the rent or afford the grocery bill.

And so are many of you.

Also known as Twitter

Yet there is this strange restlessness, anger and resentment in the air I can feel amid the aforementioned MANY I am lucky to be a part of.  People are climbing the walls, screaming at the TV and complaining endlessly about being sentenced to life at home with their computers, televisions, phones and loved ones by their side or a zoom chat away.

Boo-hoo.  Boo, boo, boo, boo, HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.  WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!

Adopt the ruthlessness of Sally Draper

Believe me, I get it.  I don’t like to be trapped or idle either.  And before you go ballistic, I’m not speaking about people who are freaked out because they can’t work and fear they’ll lose everything, or whose very small children are driving them up the walls they probably wish were padded by now.

Instead, I’m speaking of the millions of the rest of you in MY group who, really, just need to hang out for a little while longer and calm the f-k down.

I’ve NEVER been good at not having a plan to give me control over a situation.  I’ve also been the ambitious type, spending my life plotting the next project that will move me forward in my life, my career or in my relentless search for the answers to all the nagging existential questions I’ve had about life and human existence since I was a wee child.

Me, in third grade

The latter might seem silly to you but it’s been both a motivation and an anxiety-ridden plague to me on and off for decades.  So if you can’t relate to it as an example simply substitute anything you try to balance away by activity that you know can easily grind you into the ground if you let yourself get too carried away with it.  These could include love, alcohol, food, work, shopping, crime, sex, gaming or your undying love of all things cyber.

Now that you’ve been ordered to endure some additional self-isolation for a few more months (Note: At least by those who know best) those of you in my very privileged group this summer can start to deal with this by simply saying to yourself and your over active minds/egos….

STOP.  Like, full stop.   You have ZERO reason to be freaking out over what you’re NOT DOING and instead take the time to enjoy NOT DOING anything.

Don’t let those “somethings” tempt you

Human nature being what it is, you have nothing to worry about because pretty soon, you will do something.  Maybe it’s checking in with a friend, being of service to someone less fortunate than you at the spur of the moment or, I don’t know, baking your first loaf of bread.

These activities, none of them, need be IMPORTANT or building towards ANYTHING at all.  They only need to keep you in the moment of just how freaking fortunate you are to be stuck at home with no end in sight without any PLAN or PROJECT for the immediate future.

Oh, something will occur for you to do everyday – many things and many of them mundane – until they’re not and then they are again.

Enjoy it, and then REALLY enjoy it, while you can.

Bruno Mars – “The Lazy Song”

Dream Teams

Are you losing your mind yet?

I don’t know about you but I most certainly am.

More than once a day I think of myself in a celebrity box on The Hollywood Squares and I’m not even famous.  Nor has The Hollywood Squares really been a thing since around the time I graduated college.

But ZOOM – here we magically all are, perhaps multiple times a week, in a virtual new reboot of a TV game show where we play to the camera, try to seem intelligent and attempt to crack jokes when all else fails.

I don’t even want to see what 50th day looks like #itsnotpretty

Except, of course, we don’t have writers.  Certainly not judging by any of the countless Zoom chats I’ve been on.  Instead, midway through 2020 we are all solo acts, responsible for creating our own material and literally living and dying by each choice we make both inside and outside the grid.

It’s enough to make you long for the glory days when everything you said in your square was rehearsed and scripted for maximum effect.  Sure, you didn’t always get to be your absolute true self but at least you didn’t have to think about who and/or what that was 24 hours a day. Note: I’m including sleep time because, well, haven’t YOUR dreams been more than vivid lately?

This seems normal now

For those of you who don’t know, The Hollywood Squares was an addictive daytime and primetime game show in the sixties and seventies (and rebooted shortly in the late 90s) where celebrities each occupied a box in a glamorous life-size tic-tac-toe board and answered true or false questions on a myriad of topics of the day.  It was then up to a contestant to agree or disagree with the celeb, thus earning them an X or O and eventually prize money.

If you can’t quite picture it in your mind give it a few months and I’m sure some enterprising souls will come up with a Zoom version app and make a mint charging you for your own intellectual property.

This is too much to process

But back to the real Squares.  By far my personal fave was center celeb, Broadway, TV and movie actor Paul Lynde, who occupied that prime spot for almost a decade and a half.  Mr. Lynde was the funniest and outwardly gayest performer in the entertainment world during those years, quite a feat since he was never out at all, at least in how we traditionally define it.

If you want a sense of how it was back then with Paul and those of us who loved him, it went something  like this:

Moderator Question:  Paul, you’re the world’s most popular fruit.  What are you?

Paul’s Answer:  Humble.

.. with his signature giggle  #icanhearthispicture

Of course, I can’t recreate the sniggering, snide delivery (Note: Well, certainly not these days, if we can’t be face to face) but you get the picture.

This particular Paul question came courtesy of a short, snappy profile of him in this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly.  It’s officially called the PRIDE issue and in it the magazine devotes itself to pioneering LGBTQ entertainers and storytellers – past, present and future – and the many ways they have influenced culture, and in turn, our world.

Pour the champagne!

Lovely as it is to be noticed, by far the standout item in this week’s magazine is the bizarre cover, well, drawing, of noteworthy  LGBTQ celebs of the last century in what could best be described as the gayest nighttime cocktail party you will never experience.

It’s a virtual queer dream team of a party with the likes of Queen’s Freddie Mercury beckoning Janelle Monae over to his side of the room; Marlene Dietrich grabbing Cynthia Nixon by the waist and pretty much ogling her; and Ellen DeGeneres with her arm so tightly wrapped below Rock Hudson’s elbow that he can only barely make eyes at the hot – well, I’m not quite sure who he’s making eyes at but rest assured from the expression on his face there must be a myriad of hotties he’s focused in on at some unseen corner.

And to top it all off there’s good ole RuPaul in a red gown and black satin gloves, flounced across a baby grand piano, making goo-goo eyes at – yes, you guessed it – Elton John.

If you didn’t know better you’d think the media was dominated by gay or gay sympathizing liberals who had nothing better to do than to gang up on straight America and subvert their traditions by showing them just how much fun you can have by not insulting the minority of your choice and, in fact, being inclusive.

NPH knows

Of course, the bigger message of the photo is, much like a fantasy sports league, it gets you to thinking of the dream teams of your choice in all kinds of areas and just how they might rescue you, or us, from the doldrums of Zoom chats and quarantine.

For instance, can you imagine if we could bring back Marie Curie and Jonas Salk to a medical cocktail party of choice with, say, Anthony Fauci, recently demoted vaccine expert Dr. Rick Bright  and well, let’s throw in Albert Einstein for the hell of it.  What might they all come up with, aside from witty chatter and medical cures, or even talk about?  If not a cure or a shot, at the very least I’d bet they’d have plenty to say.

You know he’d be good at parties

And how about a political confab with Abe Lincoln, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill and Golda Meir mixing it up with Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and, okay I’ll say it, Donald J. Trump?  Trump says Lincoln was his favorite Republican so he’d make it, right?  Or would we have to invite Hitler Andrew Jackson?

Personally, I’d much prefer an afternoon run at a dog park I’d rent exclusively for Lassie, Lad-A-Dog and Nana because I’d get to bring my Jack Russell Rosie, my sister’s Havanese mutt Louie and several other friends’ pooches if they could make it down here in time.  Not to mention, well, every other pooch I and any of my friends and family once owned and loved as part of our family in our pasts.

Sorry not sorry

Which is sort of the point of a dream team, isn’t it?  Or even a tic-tac-toe board of celebrities on The Hollywood Squares.  To bring out the best of us by coming up with exactly the right answers to all the top problems and/or questions of the day.  And to make us feel a bit better in the process.

There was a time when a game show could do it with just a team of good writers and a handful of well-known performers.  The U.S government generally accomplished  this with a small Cabinet and a handful of clever appointees through  every single Administration in the last century while also managing to avoid the most severe consequences of several severe global pandemics.

Don’t mind me as I weep

These days, um, we have Zoom chats, the Gang that Wont Shoot Straight Under Any Circumstances in the White House and Operation Warp Speed to do the deed.

I hate to say it but not even a cocktail party with every LGBTQ star in the history of the world, can take my mind off of that.

Sorry, Entertainment Weekly.

Aretha Franklin – “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”

The Chair’s Commencement Address

As I looked into the mostly terrified eyes of my college seniors in our last Zoom chats this week, the following occurred to me.  I’d like to share it with them, and you, in hopes that, well….

Okay, I’d just like to share it.

Dear Class 0f 2020:

It’s easy and even natural for graduating college students to be upset and scared at the state of the world.   There are very, very real things going on.  Too real, if I’m being honest.

On the other hand each American decade, no matter how bright and shiny it might now appear to be in comparison to the present one, had its severe problems.  At least the ones I’ve lived through.  These near insurmountable challenges also came at heavy costs that, at the time, seemed every bit as cataclysmic as the world seems now.

No, no, stay with me here! I promise!

Imagine:

The threat of a nuclear war, the bloody telegenic images of the Vietnam War and the terror of the draft that helped fuel a wild in the streets cultural revolution of the sixties and early seventies.

Pres. Kennedy was shot live on TV, college students were shot by police live at Kent State University in Ohio and the shot up bodies of soldiers on both sides of that pesky conflict in Southeast Asia were displayed everywhere you turned, for all the world to see.  And in those days you got to watch it live on network television with your parents, arguing around the dinner table as you were choking on a meal you barely liked anyway.

This was considered “food”

AIDS ravaged the eighties and a good part of the nineties.  For the longest time, no one was 100% sure of how many different ways you could get it, who had it and whether there would ever be such a thing as sex that couldn’t potentially kill you (Note: And not in a metaphorical way) in anyone’s lifetime.

As if it that wasn’t bad enough, this was set against a backdrop of a new American mantra – greed is good – and a mostly callous disregard on the part of a very vocal majority towards anyone less fortunate than themselves, be it the homeless or the dying.

All that hopeful stuff you now read now about Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America – um, not so much.  Think of that as the MAGA bromide of the era, sans any kind of irony.  At all.  And without the clownish red hat.

The hope of a new century was, well, very hopeful for a minute or two, what with the new digital age and all of its possibilities in the pre Facebook/Cambridge Analytica era.  But then just like that the very early 2000 aughts became a post-911 world and every American walked around shell-shocked and terrified that the party was over.  Certainly the world as we knew or thought we knew it, had ended.

You’re not wrong Anne

When would the next bomb hit, how long would it be before WWIII would start and would WE start it, and wait, on top of all of this the ECONOMY IS CRASHING, too?  We’re DOOMED.

Until we weren’t.

But then here we are in the 2000 teens, awash in Trumpism and COVID- 19.   Up to our eyes and ears with their infections, clinging to the hope that a durable enough mask of any sort will keep them away or, at the very least, neuter their effects on our persons.

Even though masks, be they literal, psychological or symbolic, have historically only gone so far in keeping any type of bad ju-ju at bay.  Like each decade that came before, it takes a lot of diligence, determination and ingenuity from a vocal enough part of the American plurality (that’s you), and then majority (that’s also you), to right our ship from the metaphorical iceberg (Note: Since the real ones barely exist anymore) and ensure our mutual survival.

Your generation would have saved Jack

I’m unclear how this will happen at this particular moment in time, just as I have been in the past. (Note: Remember the CD hadn’t even been close to invented yet when I graduated college).

But if our history is any indication I have great belief that we will manage to do this and somehow once again squeak by with the unlikeliest of American victories, albeit at a far greater cost than was necessary had we acted earlier.

This does seem to be our pattern.  It’s long been credited to Winston Churchill, then discredited he ever uttered the words, but as the famous saying goes:

YOU CAN ALWAYS COUNT ON AMERICANS TO DO THE RIGHT THING – AFTER THEY’VE EXHAUSTED ALL OTHER POSSIBILITIES.

That about sums it up!

As we endure a global pandemic and recognize that it and it alone has become the most formidable weapon we’ve had to vanquish Trumpism in the last three years, it’s difficult to celebrate.  Talk about picking your poisons.

And yet, I recall it’s sort of like how I felt about AIDS all during the fight for gay marriage.  I’d throw both my gay marriage license and the historic Supreme Court ruling itself into a raging furnace in a nanosecond if it could undo that plague and bring back all the people – gay, straight and everyone in between – that we lost.

But I can’t pretend that if it weren’t for the horror and the spotlight it put on the gay community that we would have gotten the right to marry so quickly after.  In showing the world just how human and like them we were than they thought, and by forcing the world to SEE our brothers and sisters dying right in front of them, those of us who survived saw the times once again rise from the ashes of despair and morph into something slightly better. Not on all the issues and not entirely, but evolve they did.  Until the next calamity came along.  As it is wont to do.

Art can also be a powerful force for change… especially very popular art.

That’s the universal truth of both history and evolution when you play the long game.  It always comes at a cost.

For People Of Color that’s fighting American racism daily, worrying that any moment you could be shot in cold blood while jogging through a white neighborhood despite the abolition of slavery, the rise of the civil rights movement and the presidency of Barack Obama.

For women it’s the daily fight of sexism and the fact that no female has ever served as an American president or vice-president despite outnumbering men population-wise for centuries, suffrage, Roe Vs. Wade, and….well, the list is endless and yet, um…paltry.

2024 is waiting…

Still, if the truth is a bitter pill to swallow it sure beats sleep walking in a mirage you bought into as truth that was always going to disappear or stab you in the back.

Better to be awake and aware.  You at least have the chance to use your rage, fear, smarts and creativity to fight the bad ju-ju.  And much more so than the rest of us, YOU now have time AND American history on YOUR side.

If the past is prologue, you won’t come out fully unscathed but you will be more than okay.  Plus, you won’t have to live through disco or the eighties.

We will get through this!

That’s more than I can say for the rest of us who helped create this mess for you.

Queen – “The Show Must Go On”

I’m Going to Dreamland

** Minor Spoilers of Netflix’s Hollywood ahead **

I don’t know about anyone else but for the last few months I’ve been living in dreamland.

This is a good place to be for about 50% of the time, given the realities of a worldwide pandemic.  Which doesn’t change the fact that for the other half of the time it’s been, let’s face it, kind of nightmarish.

Yeeps

Of course, nightmares are also dreams, just ones that bring out strong feelings of fear, terror, distress or anxiety.  At least, that’s the dictionary definition.

Though most of us don’t think of dreams or dreamlands quite that way.

We Americans especially like our dreams.  We like them so much we even once upon a time coined the aspirational phrase, The American Dream and had ourselves believing it for more than several generations.

In 1950, anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker took this idea one step further by famously naming Hollywood The Dream Factory.  In that seminal book, she masterfully dissected the push and pull between art and commerce in a culture and industry that has never done particularly well at balancing both.

Still, we soldier on and attempt to make sense of things, don’t we?  In much the same way we try to understand how a wonderful dream could just as easily become an unendurable, soul-crushing nightmare.

Certainly anyone who has lived in Hollywood for any length of time could wax poetic on both (Note: Depressingly so, for at least 50% of the time).  As a Hollywood resident myself for close to four decades, well, don’t get me started and don’t even ask where I would start….

It was with this understanding that I approached Netflix’s new Ryan Murphy miniseries Hollywood.   That is because, well, there is no other way to approach it.

Let Miss Patti take you for a ride

Hollywood is a perfectly flawed, dreamy, nightmarish and confoundingly implausible representation of the American, well, dream, told through the lens of moviemaking in the 1940s.

It’s fabulously beautiful in both sets and human beings, the latter of whom seem almost inhuman, especially the men.  But that’s the point, isn’t it?  When you can’t get beauty in real life Hollywood can always, to some degree, provide it.

How is this allowed?

It is also fabulously absurd in a fairly satisfying way as it attempts to bridge the gap of facts and fantasy by using the lives of both real life Hollywood people and make believe characters we might have enjoyed them encountering in order to address the sins and Pyrrhic victories of our collective pasts.

I, for one, don’t mind seeing a shy, soon-to be-famous Rock Hudson falling in love with a talented and very hot Black male screenwriter.  Not to mention, it’s pretty thrilling to experience the smart mouthy woman married to an obnoxious, know-it-all studio chief get the chance to choose what movies she thinks should get made when her husband becomes unceremoniously, um, indisposed.   Most especially, who wouldn’t enjoy seeing Eleanor Roosevelt making a convincing case for the first Black female star of a mainstream Hollywood movie to a mini-board room of power brokers and somehow managing to change history?

Too much, too silly, too ridiculous, too many plot holes?  I don’t think so.  And yes, of course, there are and it is.

Like most Ryan Murphy shows this is the point, the conceit, the infuriating flaw and the watchable/unwatchable challenge we’re up against.  We dealt with it to good and bad effect in every season of FX’s American Horror Story, raged at it all during the first season of his continuing Netflix series The Politician, admired the tight balancing act in the Emmy award-winning The Assassination of Gianni Versace and marveled at the sheer strangeness of it in his first bona fide big hit TV show, Nip/Tuck.

Not to mention his most delicious camp delicacy #mamacita4Ever

The one thing you can say about Mr. Murphy’s work is that it’s seldom drab and dull.  As a fellow gay man of a certain age, I’ve personally dubbed him The Great Pasticher.  Take any one of his series and you’ll find multiple homages to scenes from famous movies and TV shows, history, current events and pop culture in general all twisted in whatever fashion HE deems fit in order to tell a story.

It’s a love it or hate it approach to art but it’s almost never boring.  I’d rather deal with a zillion plot holes than be bored to tears and on this score, nothing he does, even the trashiest of the campiest, ever totally disappoints.

Boring is not in his vocabulary

One of the primary conceits of Hollywood is the centerpiece location of the Golden Tip service station (Note:  Oh yes, he did come up with that name), where men, women and presumably anyone in between can hire one of many hunky hot male attendants for sexual favors and get their every tank imaginable filled to dizzying effects.

All you have to do is drive up to the gas pump, look into the attendant’s eyes and utter the magic phrase:

I WANT TO GO TO DREAMLAND.

Take me away

And then, yeah, it’s just that damn easy.  In fact, far, far simpler than finding the balance in real life and, well, who wouldn’t like that???

Of course, this fictional filling hole is not made up out of thin air but rather a roman à clef version of a gas station in the real 1940s Hollywood famously run by the late Scotty Bowers. 

If you’re a gay guy of, once again, a certain age like myself and Mr. Murphy and haven’t heard of Scotty at this point, well, that’s impossible.  But for the rest of you, check out his 2012 memoir, Full Service, about the business in question and you’ll see Hollywood (the miniseries, at least) strays only far enough away from the facts to make its overall point.  You might also want to check out the 2017 documentary of his life, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood and ask yourself if, at the end of the day, you don’t find everything he says and has claimed, well, mostly true

This is the consistent aspirational nature of much of Mr. Murphy’s work.  That would be a what if fantasy correcting the past for any of us who have been or ever felt marginalized. (Note: This of course, is pretty much everybody as far as real-life Hollywood is concerned).

It’s not always an accurate or totally buyable portrayal but, somehow, if you squint, he often makes it seem possible and, strangely, beautiful.  It’s a different kind of dream factory, to be sure, but one that gives us a brief respite from the Nightmare (Note: Pick One) we’re currently living through quite nicely.

Netflix Hollywood Trailer Music