Home is where the….?

There’s a fascinating movie now available on Amazon entitled The Last Black Man in San Francisco.  It’s a semi-autobiographical story about its star and co-writer Jimmie Fails and his odyssey to reclaim the old Victorian-style house his grandfather built many decades ago in San Francisco.

The film is about many things and is quite artfully done.  But ultimately it very masterfully asks us to consider the loaded and timeless question of:

What is home?

It’s difficult, and short sighted, NOT to think about the answer these days.

A coat of paint, and a whole lotta heart

The ravages of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, where we’re now being told current estimates of under 100 dead are likely to jump into the 1000s, are seen not only in TV satellite shots of rubble that were once more than habitable houses.  They are equally felt on the faces of every displaced Bahamian staring back at us from the wreckages or through the ache in their voices on radio or through the telephone.

That tone and those images are eerily familiar.  They build from last year’s wildfires in California, the devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Florida (Note: $91.61 billion in damages, according to estimates), which were preceded by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey earlier that year, which built on various other blizzards, floods, hurricanes and fires in the two years before in the U.S., all of which (and more) harken us back to what feels to be (but surely won’t be) the granddaddy/parent of them all in the U.S., Louisiana’s Hurricane Katrina (2005 and $125 billion in damages).

It is important to note that in human terms, over 150 million people were displaced internationally due to national disasters in just the time period between 2008-2013.  Still, that number doesn’t even include any of the disasters randomly mentioned above.

What she said

Nevertheless, there is ONE bright spot we can safely assume in all of this:

The vast majority of ALL of these people in all of these disasters still have a place in their lives THEY call home.

Last Black Man in San Francisco, a multiple winner at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, forces us to confront our value judgments on where people live and how they live these days.

Sure, an old Victorian townhouse in one of the great urban cities in the US is nice and trendy and all that and more.  Yet it all depends on where that particular piece of brick and metal and neighborhood fall in your personal (and racial) hierarchy and in what year it’s being rated.

How much do you think Don Draper’s whorehouse is going for these days? #stillthinkingaboutit #madmenforever #jonhamm

If you live in a big city it’s likely the hip area you’ve probably overpaid handsomely for was once a slum, an ordinary working class neighborhood or even a downtown factory outlet on the wrong side (or no side) of town.

You may think you’re hip and cool now but the same people who lived in that same place 40 years prior were on the outside world looking in and considered anything but.  Nevertheless, their place might have also been considered a whole lot homier than what you’ve made of it.  Perhaps they themselves were even a lot happier.

And if we were to really stretch the metaphor that could even be said for the guy whose only house consisted entirely of an illegal tent pitched in the alleyway of one of those streets or cul-de-sacs not more than a block from you.

Really?

Yes, truly.

Right, Chairy, it’s real easy to philosophize about all this when YOU’RE writing with a roof over YOUR over-privileged head!!

Well, perhaps.

But no one (Note: Not even Chairy) is advocating living without a bed and/or a place to stay warm or cool, is what most humans want.  It’s just that, well, NOT having these material comforts does not make anyone homeless in the truest sense of the word.

To brand a person as homeless is to dehumanize them.  It is to relegate them to a category of disenfranchised and forces them into some overall sad statistic WE can keep a healthy distance from.

It is to also put them into a group too many of us Americans these days want to keep a distance from.

When people are homeless we assume they lost the home they had, are fleeing some inferior home they occupied in some unwise place or for some unknown reason for which THEY are solely to blame.  Or are not smart enough.  Or were born into a caste system where they never really had the very basic of human needs.

Yes #kindnessalwayswins

Whichever is the case, and in some cases we assume there are many, clearly THEY are not US.  Most certainly they are also lesser than.

The images of so many immigrant families standing on line, or in 2019 American parlance cutting in line, in order to make a life in the United States is our other new version of those people without homes.  Those people who are homeless.

Imagine the effort it takes to leave the place in which you were raised by accident of your birth and come to a strange country where you likely do not speak the language and have few, if any prospects other than the fact that you won’t be murdered in cold blood.

Could YOU make the journey?  Would YOU make the journey?  Finally, WHY would YOU make the journey?

You were born and raised in Honduras, Nicaragua, Syria, Guatemala, et al.  You’d leave everything behind with the pipe dream of making your home in the United States?  What could possibly make you think a homeless person should be lucky enough to be given a HOME in the United States???

Of course, the answer is every one of those people making that journey already have a HOME, i.e. a place where they can feel safe and warm, because they brought it with them from their own country. 

We should all be the Baileys welcoming the Martinis #breadsaltwine

It might not be brick and mortar or discernible by the contents of their suitcases or the money in their wallets.  Sometimes, it is merely a spot where they know they are okay, or will be okay in the face of adversity.  For each and every one of us, home is at least partly that or we are, indeed, the ones who are truly homeless.

As the world shifts, drowns and burns, and the borders of our respective countries of origin are slowly beginning to be sealed off, it’s important we be clear on who and what makes a real home.

As the offspring of two sets of immigrant grandparents, and a member of at least two minority groups still persecuted very actively worldwide, I know how and where I LIVE is not the determinant of who I AM.

… plus it’s not like I have an infinity pool #soLA

I especially know this after buying my first house a mere three years ago in a city prone these days to natural disasters.

If I lost it tomorrow, yes, I’d be devastated.  But I would never consider myself homeless.

Nor should you.  In regards to yourself or anyone else.  And that’s especially true if you right now you are fortunate enough to have any sort of physical roof over your head.

Diana Ross – “Home” (from The Wiz)

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Revolting

Any era but this one seems to be the mantra of the day and who can blame any of us?   If the world isn’t falling apart, or at least regressing, well, it’s doing a pretty darn good imitation.

This is where nostalgia comes in because, well, when things seem this bad who can blame us for wanting to escape to the gauzy dreams of pre-selected luxurious times gone by?

This is where artists come in and in Hollywood there is no higher art than being a creator in film and/or TV.  Or is that TV and/or film.  It’s so confusing these days as to which medium gets first billing.

Don’t ask this guy what Netflix is… #spoileralert #heiswrong

But let’s table that discussion for now.

Much has been made about Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood in recent weeks.  Everyone seemed to love the recreation of the period but many balked at the context.

Are we really supposed to look back nostalgically at the 1969-era machismo of a nearly washed up leading man of TV and spaghetti westerns and his loyal, impossibly handsome stuntman?  Well, when the almost has-been is Leonardo DiCaprio and the sweet natured uber-hunk is a delectably shirtless 55-year-old Brad Pitt…come on, we all know the answer to that.

That’d be a YES MA’AM

And anyway, I dare you or anyone to look away when Brad peels his vintage tee off on that roof.  Because you won’t.  And you can’t.

But why spend all this money revisiting the Manson family murders for the umpteenth time, bathing Margot Robbie in impossibly flattering sunshine and white go-go boots as Sharon Tate?   Is presenting her in this new Tarantino-esque light (Note: No spoilers here) really worth all the trouble?  And who the heck is Quentin to take it upon himself to do that, anyway?

The latter is the real issue for critics of the film and its nostalgia.

Mary McNamara, the LA Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critic, went so far as to call out Once Upon A Time… as nostalgia porn, likening it to the equivalent of a cinematic MAGA hat for its narrow, reductive and mythologized view of a world that didn’t exist.

Girl said whattttt?

That is unless you were a member of the white, male, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, culturally conforming, non-addicted, mentally well, moneyed elite.

Okay but….what film world really does exist???

Every artistic project is told through the lens of its maker, for better or worse.  The worse is that there are not enough non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-heterosexual, non-able-bodied, non-culturally conforming, non-money, non-elite making the highest profile content in order to round out the picture.  (Note:  I purposely left out non-addicted and non-mentally well because it’s show biz and, well, who are we kidding?).

I was driving in the car with my husband the other day listening to an old John Mulaney comedy special (Note: Yes, we do that sometimes) where Mulaney did a hilarious bit about all of the illogical characters and plot holes in the classic Back to the Future. 

In it, the comedian muses at how any mainstream studio could green-light a film where a teen travels back in time and almost sleeps with his mother, one where his only real friend is a man in the neighborhood three times his age who he meets with secretly AND is a crazed, criminal loner of a “scientist.”  Not to mention a thousand other twists of logic and convenience that were as likely to happen as not anything ever.

I HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR 3 DECADES!!!!

Now I can’t tell you how long I have been waiting – okay, THIRTY PLUS YEARS – for someone, anyone, to bring up these and many other moments of silly suburban wish-fulfillment contained in the script pages and prized cinematic moments of all three Back to the Future films.  Cause as a gay kid from the boroughs of NYC all they ever offered to me was a twisted Leave it to Beaver on steroids non-reality that I could never relate to or imagine ever truly existed.

Where is/was MY Back to the Future, I used to wonder?  Well, until someone creates a gay, Jewish superhero kid who is befriended by an eccentric Holocaust survivor down the street, I guess that it doesn’t exist.

I would see that movie #doitchairy

Sure, I’m being a bit flip but the truth is that is some small way, I am STILL waiting for it.

Thinking about all this and more led me to recently begin writing a period piece all of my own.  In doing so, I discussed the idea with a female friend and former student/now colleague who suggested I watch a one-season now defunct but very fine Amazon series that took place in a similar era entitled Good Girls Revolt.

Now how is that I, a journalism school grad who majored in magazine writing and came of age (and came out) in the seventies could have missed a show about a group of twenty-something gal magazine researchers who were aspiring to be writers in the 1969/early 1970s era?

feeling that Mad Men-esque energy #whereisjonhamm

If they couldn’t have been me they certainly could have been the older sisters I never had or the more experienced mentors I wish that I had met and related to at the time.  Because god knows I wasn’t getting very many breaks or invitations to hang out after hours from the straight guys in power.

Well, the fact is, gay or not I’m still a guy and the title, I don’t know, it seemed strange – like one of those borderline offensive Girls Gone Wild  vintage videos.  And with so much out there I guess it wasn’t a must see.  I mean, much as I don’t run for the macho stuff do I really go out of my way to look for shows with four female protagonists??

I guess not, since once I started my binge and got into the show I began to vaguely remember having heard more in its initial run about it, the book it was based on and the real female writers who wrote and created both based on fictional and real characters, some of whom even I knew about at the time.

Boo for me for not paying attention..  Like – BOOOOOOO, boo, boo.  What kind of typical faux macho…guy….was/am I?

I am ashamed.. so very ashamed

But more to the point, why was there only ONE season of this very fine and, for me, unusually period accurate depiction of a world that, after watching, I couldn’t imagine millions more wouldn’t be fascinated with?

After all, this was an early streaming series on Amazon, a service that wanted to take chances.  And it was female-centric (a key demographic), got good reviews, great audience reaction and respectable ratings in comparison to other Amazon renewals at the time.  Well, a lot of factors worked against Good Girls

#1 was that its premiere was two weeks before the 2016 presidential election, a time when a significant number of males in the country were rebelling against anything too female-centric, especially if it was on TV and let off even a whiff of women’s lib. (Note: #Hillary4Evah).

Me, thinking about November 2016

More importantly and #2 –

The head of Amazon at the time was Roy Price, a guy who didn’t get the show and at one second-season story pitch asked the show runners to use the actresses’ names when proposing future episodes because he hadn’t taken the time to learn the names of the characters they were playing.

Of course, little did he or any of the rest of us know that in less than a year he would be forced out of his job amid accusations that he harassed, this time sexually, Isa Dick Hackett,  not a character name but another real female show runner of another Amazon show, The Man In The High Castle.  Coincidentally, Ms. Dick Hackett is an out lesbian who also happens to be the daughter of Phillip K. Dick, the novelist who wrote the book on which the High Castle series is based on.   (Note: A play on words based on the surname of both the novelist and the show runner were among Mr. Price’s more noteworthy utterances reported during that time period).

This, in turn, was followed by the many revelations surrounding Harvey Weinstein from his accusers and the emergence of what we now sometimes all too glibly refer to as the #MeToo era.

There’s nothing glib about the story of the cancellation of a promising show like Good Girls Revolt, of course, most especially when it’s considered in light of all the attention a film like Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood is now receiving.

The only IT girl of the moment

Sure, I admittedly very much liked the Tarantino film but after watching the one season of Good Girls and learning of the circumstances of its cancellation, and my own initial indifference/ignorance towards it, it’s easy to see why so many are currently so publically over the whole Tarantino/DiCaprio/Pitt of it all. (Note: And not only women).

The fact is, until many more diverse voices get to create material with actors and directors from their communities who are every bit as bankable as a Tarantino, DiCaprio or Pitt, an inequity of point-of-view that is as world worn as the nostalgia those names so often propagate will dog their every achievement in the zeitgeist.

That’s not so much an objection to their POVS but to the fact that so many of us don’t get to see ourselves and our worlds reflected back at us at a time when being seen and heard is no longer a luxury of entertainment but a necessity for our very survival.

“Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell