You’re Not the Boss of Me

Ah, but sometimes we are the bosses of you. 

There is not, nor has there ever been, complete liberty, even in democratic countries like the United States. 

Laws based on common sense, which are then exacted by the majority rule of our democratically elected representatives, govern us.  We might not agree with all of them but that’s the deal that we make to keep the society functioning. 

You might not always like each decision, but who gets 100% of what they want all the time except spoiled five-year olds?

… and we know how that worked out for Veruca

This has worked generally, though imperfectly, for almost 250 years in the U.S.  But for it to continue working there needs to be a baseline of accepted reality and logic based on science and empirical evidence.

When we disagree on what is real we’re Alice stuck in Wonderland.  We’re on a bad LSD trip with the Jefferson Airplane as White Rabbit plays in the background. (Note:  Ask your parents, or grandparents (!). Or better yet here)

I feel attacked.

And as the song and the book warn, WE are the only ones who can save us.  And the way we do it is through – guess what – information, learning, reasoning and logic.

When we can’t decide on what is logical, and conclude nothing is a fact and everything is subject to debate, trouble ensues.   

You can begin to wonder whether what you’re reading right now is a blog from an overly opinionated fellow or truly the rantings of a literal Chair; the cousin of that piece of furniture you sit on in your kitchen that has suddenly come to life and figured out a way to type words into your inboxes via your social media platform of choice.

Well, it COULD HAPPEN!

Readers… maybe we should talk

Yes, for some this IS a gray area and reality is that dubious. 

Imagine literally witnessing a savage crowd of people bloodily invade your place of business with battering rams, knives and military grade weapons one day and yet somehow decry days later, and in all seriousness, that this was a non-threatening group of peaceful protesters.

Up CAN be down and Down certainly, possibly and probably/actually IS Up.

k byeeee

Though we can take it a bit further.

You live in a magic kingdom where life is good, or at least tolerable.  But one day a swarm of invisible locusts come in and begin poisoning, killing and maiming your fellow citizens and, as a result, systematically destroy everything good, or at least tolerable, in life as you knew it.

But one day the kingdom’s sorcerers huddle and discover…all you have to do to save yourself from these deadly invisible locusts, ALL you have to do, is endure one teeny, tiny needle prick from the spindle of a spinning wheel available to EVERYONE in order to save yourself and EVERYONE in the kingdom.

And vanquish the invisible locusts 4EVER.

Bonus beauty sleep!

Yet — guess what?

At least 40% of your kingdom REFUSES to get pricked.  Not only that, they’d rather watch themselves and their children get maimed and/or DIE rather than shed a droplet of blood from the prick, or endure the subsequent scab that might form and then drop off a week later at the prick site.

Their reasons boil down to this.  You can’t tell them ANYTHING because one of the tenets of this kingdom is they are free to do precisely what they want, when they want. 

Even though this has never been true.

Awww you thought you were free, that’s cute

In fact, we all know this is not true, since in one of the small kingdom villages an edict was just this past week written that proclaims NO female of child-bearing age shall have a choice in deciding how, when or if they choose to become a mother once they’ve engaged in a sexual escapade.

It makes no difference if a male relative forced the escapade and themselves on that young female while they were in high school or junior high school.  And it is especially immaterial if the escapade was simply unplanned or happened in a way the female had not intended it.

Despite all the safe and effective options offered by the sorcerers who created the locust-neutering potion for them not to be a mother, NO VILLAGE FEMALE of ANY AGE gets to make THAT decision for themselves. Ever again!

That, and a lot more, is now dictated by their mostly MALE ELDERS.

So this…

Those mostly male elders so know best and are so bent on having their way that they have even provided a foolproof means of enforcement. 

Any villager suspicious of any young women bent on disobeying this new rule can report her and her enablers and in return will now receive a small pocketful of gold coins for turning them in.  That is if they can offer minimal proof of her or their intentions in the Town Square before a panel full of random (ahem) mostly male. elders.

And this? great.

With locusts running rampant in the village, gold is scarce and the majority of the villagers are preoccupied with surviving.  

To give them some credit, even illogical chumps the likes of those mostly male elders know how to seize an opportunity when they see it and make it appear golden.

Or as someone once wrote in another magic-thinking kingdom that was once governed by reality and logic for almost 250 years:

Even a broken clock can be right twice a day.

Unfortunately, that kingdom hasn’t existed as such for decades.  It devoured itself whole despite having access to every possible foodstuff in the universe.  That is because it preferred the taste of its fellow citizens’ blood and marrow to that of a simple hamburger or pizza slice at its once deliciously mundane and safe local food court.

Jefferson Airplane – “White Rabbit” (with clips from Alice in Wonderland)

The ARTsy Annette

As America bloodily disengages from a 20-year war in Afghanistan and the COVID pandemic still rages across the U.S. thanks to the very willingly misinformed unvaccinated (Note: despite this country ironically having THE MOST ACCESS of any country in the world to these very much in demand life-saving vaccines), it seems a bit quaint to speak about things like art.

Or is it?

Art you say?

Of course, art these days isn’t limited to Picassos, Monets or anything else hanging prominently in a museum.  It’s more a blanket term that covers movies, TV, theatre, music and even sports.

It might even include chefs, scientists and TikTok influencers.

C’mon, this is art
(“Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in Different Textures and Temperatures” – Massimo Bottura)

In short, art is anything that can take us out of ourselves and our troubled world and open our minds up to a different mood or alternate way of thinking or seeing.

In that way then, and most especially in trying times like these, all this art talk begins to seem not so much quaint but essential.

Certainly not as essential as an 80-90% vaccination rate but right up there nonetheless.  If art can open up minds to some new momentary way of perceiving or participating in the world then heck yeah, we need it now more than ever.

In fact –

PLEASE! BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!!!

Because I’m all out of ideas for reaching the unreachable.

Yet how many times have we heard and/or read phrases like, oh, she’s a true artist or his artistic vision is limitless before we roll our eyes, disengage or want to and/or actually do scream?

Well, if you’ve spent your life listening in on conversations or reading and writing reviews the way I have, (Note: Or even trying to be creative the way most of us have, whether we know it or not), chances are the answer is too many times or, more likely, daily.  

As both a writer and a writing teacher I’m well aware of the pretention of the mere mention of the word ART and of all of the would-be artists who engage in it.

Whatever are you talking about?

Yet I’m equally aware of its power for both the art-makers and their audiences.  When it’s firing on all cylinders, at its best, it’s an unstoppable force for universal good. (Note:  Google the global impact of a once in a generation theatre piece of art like Hamilton).

Still, at its most screamingly, omni-presently ARTISTIC it does make you never want to go to another museum, watch another film or TV show, or even try to indulge in something as au-currant as TikTok ever, ever, ever again.

This weekend I spent 2 hours and 20 minutes watching a film called Annette starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard.  Let me state upfront that it’s a somewhat interesting though not thoroughly realized movie that has its moments even as it so often woefully and painfully disappoints.

We’re gonna talk about the puppet right… wait.. no?

Annette caused a ruckus at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, with any number of walkouts and boos the night it opened the film festival (Note: Exacerbated by the fest’s best director win for Leos Carax).

Yet to its credit, Amazon, one of the biggest corporations on the planet, saw fit to acquire the rights to it back in 2017, ensuring it a huge audience of subscribers with FREE ACCESS to this big risky artistic project.

That was a bold move four years ago but even more so now, in summer 2021, a time where we’ve all been aching for some diversion, or reeducation or just simple relief from the plain, glum depressiveness of our very, very mundanely unpredictable world.

Remember that there is an entire twitter community that goes after Ted Lasso, so, no one wins

Sadly, as a film, Annette is a master class in something I’d like to call artsiness gone bad.  That is to say it so revels in its difference that ultimately that is all that emerges.  It’s weirdness, it’s strangeness and its sheer differentness becomes its calling card – and its downfall.

Its ambition to out art the artsy works as a kind of creative COVID that virally swallows the whole effort whole, devouring every bit of the essential, energizing life force it might have provided us in trying times like these.

If only the filmmakers had simply told their story and not gotten so artily up our asses in every which way Annette could have really said something about whatever it was trying to say. 

Chair goes in!

Which is one of the issues of art that too stringently aspires to the groundbreaking and mind-blowing.  It forgets about the details and intricacies and nuances of the story it’s telling because it is forever trying to top itself in upending our expectations and challenging the status quo with, well…not very much.  Or, at the very least, not enough.  Or, more likely, too much.

Its star, Adam Driver, plays not so much a character but an idea.  A comic who isn’t funny, an archetypal bad boy because he dresses in black, rides a motorcycle and broods.  He lumbers and blusters his way through the world but also, quelle surprise, has a soft side.

And let’s not even start on the hair

It’s the same way with the woman he loves except she’s his complete opposite. That leaves its other star, Marion Cotillard, the task of projecting the isolated, sensitive, sweet-as-syrup voiced uber soprano.  A beloved public figure that plays a tragic heroine in seriously off the-wall operatic performance pieces that have somehow gained mass worldwide acceptance. 

Are they headed for tragedy?  Well, what do you think?  (Note:  Of course, you know what you think without having even seen it).

But even if your response was, well of course I know it’s a tragedy – it’s an opera for god sakes – but it will be interesting to understand the reasons behind all this BEHAVIOR, well, we never do.

Instead, we get events unfolding randomly with no real recognizable humanity or particular point of view.  More of a potluck smorgasbord with varied references to the demons of celebrity, the #MeToo toxic masculinity of it all, tropes of romantic codependence and addictive sex, and all the ultimate dissatisfactions to be found in marriage and parenting that one can literally shake a camera at.

… wait I think I can fit one more thing

And it’s all done in the guise of an opera, or rather opera-light, meaning most of the communication is sung by actors who don’t have particularly great voices even though they manage to get by. 

Real opera can get away with archetypal storytelling because we get swept up in the drama of the voices.  Movie rock operas like Ken Russell’s Tommy are visual delights that do the same.  And hybrid or real-life musicals like Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Damien Chazelle’s La La Land spend a lot of time on design, story, character and annoying little things like motivation, back story and logic within their magical realism.

They might seem a little pretentious to many viewers but at the end of the day they have the weight and subtext to back it up.

They might at times alienate us and disengage from us, and annoy us, but we get what the stakes are and who the people are.  Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000) starring Bjork, another Cannes premiere of a different type of unbridled artsiness that went on to win the top Palme d’Or prize, went out on countless limbs but still managed to give us women, men and show-within-a-show imaginings that always felt living and breathing and fully alive even as it reveled in the artificial.

So… not this puppet? Right, gotcha

The best of these art films immerse, challenge and even alternately annoy some in the audience as they push boundaries.  But they also try to engage us in stories that go deep into the psyche of their characters even as they exhaustively bend the rules of the worlds in which they choose to exist.

Meaning: they embrace the conceit of artiness without being engulfed by it and thus becoming its victim.

After watching Annette I read almost two dozen reviews of it on Rotten Tomatoes (Note: Because what else do I have to do?) and almost half came to the exact same conclusion.  Annette is a film that can’t entirely be recommended but, as all of these top critics wrote in different ways, they were ultimately glad it was made because, well, at least it was something different.

Ehhh… I don’t know about that

The latter is a misleading, partial truth at best and ultimately just plain lazy, which is pretty much the worst you can be as a writer.  One can be glad something is different but if one is going to be different and be praised for it (Note: Or do the praising), it comes with the obligation to go deeper and to attempt to be better.  Not to simply frolic in a trough of tropes, technical acumen and irresistible actorly flourishes, set to one’s own original music. 

and again, Adam Driver’s hair

And to not bank on the lucky chance that something, or really anything coherent happens to come out.  Or depend on the de rigueur praise of desperate critics looking for an escape from what must as this point seem to them to be an inescapable cookie cutter world of commercialized art.

By taking either the uninspired or unexamined way out, artists of every kind relinquish the personal responsibility one takes on when trying to do something big and different, especially when you have huge movie stars, because it makes it that much harder for everyone else following you and rooting for your success.

Plus, you know… puppets.

It’s a special willful ignorance of responsibility, the kind you have to everyone else trying to survive in a creative arena that is difficult enough these days because it exists in an outside world that is nearly impossible to navigate.

In short, it’s the artistic equivalent of choosing to go unvaccinated just because you can.

“We Love Each Other So Much” – Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard