Quacks

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Happy Holidays Everyone!

Notice I did NOT say MERRY CHRISTMAS or BELATED HAPPY CHANUKAH.  This is because I’m done being religiously correct.  You heard me – RELIGIOUSLY CORRECT.  Bah humbug.  I am so done.  No, actually…I am just beginning.

I just read this to my partner of 26 years and he said – Here we go – did you get to the part about Jesus being Black yet?

No, not yet.  Wait…you mean Jesus was as Black as….Santa Claus?

So much ground to cover here.  And we’ll get to Phil Robertson – that hate-spouting Fool from Duck Dynasty, who happens to also be religious, in a moment.  I promise.  But first, a story.

Many years ago in the 1970s I was minding my own business on the campus of Queens College.  I was 18 years old and a junior (yeah, I was smart for my age, so what – does that mean anyone listens to me any more than they do you?  Uh, no).  In any event, there I was minding my own beeswax when these Jewish guys dressed in full garb – you know the way that I mean – beards, long coats, big black hates – I meant hats! –  and ringlets of hair flowing down past their ears called payot (look it up) – urgently approached me and asked in very relentless and very accented loud whispers:  Are you Jewish?  Are you Jewish?

I could have been Mr. November

I could have been Mr. November

Sensing something was wrong – I mean, duh, my last name is Ginsberg, I’m 5’7” tall, wear glasses and read books, did you think I wasn’t a Yid – I reflexively answered yes.  I mean, what if someone was in danger?  The entire fate of my tribe could hang in the balance.

Boy, was that the wrong response.

Suddenly, these guys shoved me into this large van decorated with religious symbols and Hebrew scripture, shut the door and backed me into a seat.  All around me – and I mean everywhere – walls, ceiling and on TV screens – where images of Jews being tortured or persecuted.  Jewish fundamentalist music played.  Prayer books were put in my hands.  More religious guys paced around and began shooting questions at me about Jewish history.  Another guy offered me a yarmulke and prayer shawl and still another urged me to roll up my sleeves and put on these leather straps called tefillen and said he would pray with me (or was it us, perhaps there were a few others, I can’t recall) – for Us.

Never a shrinking violet and always with a strong survival streak given some earlier childhood traumas that involved bullies on the playground and various screwed up family dynamics, I pushed the guy out of the way, said something like, Uh, no and ran out of the van.  Well, at least I attempted to.  Because being just your average Jew I couldn’t figure out how to open the latch on the van door.  Little did I know that decades later I’d become quite familiar with these things and learn those vans are really trailers which the film industry would rename Honey wagons and they would be the spot where I’d spend endless hours with other regular Jews (as well as people of other religions and even atheists) who star in and make Hollywood movies about still other people whose actions my ultra religious captors would  certainly disapprove of.  Yes, they often do disapprove – even now – along with all the other fundamentalist nutbags from all of the other religions all over the world –and that includes the United States – of anyone who does not fit into their own tightly constructed beliefs.

But back to this story:

Somehow I did get out of that van (did I break the latch?  I was never sure) and survived, perhaps in order to tell this tale to you more than 35 years later.  The lesson?  Well, there are many.  But the primary one is this:  Never get into a van – or really anything – with a religious fundamentalist.   No good will come of it.  It is a sure recipe for disaster and the only way you’ll win is to escape with your life.

Another reason to never get in an unfamiliar van

Another reason to never get in an unfamiliar van

Years later I learned that this van I was shoved into was called a Mitzvah Mobile and was started by the ultra orthodox Jewish sect called the Chabad Lubavitch Hassidism to persuade (nee intimidate) American Jews to adhere to the more stringent religious beliefs that group espoused.  The good news: this didn’t work on me.  (In fact, it produced the opposite result).  The bad news: there are now Mitzvah Mobiles all over the world.

Just one example...

Just one example…

How this vehicle got onto the Queens College campus of the 1970s, I will never know.  (Note:  Well, our film society did have a midnight showing of the X-rated classic Devil in Miss Jones on campus, so there was that).  But what I do know is that those Mitzvah Mobile fellas are no different from Duck Dynasty figurehead Phil Robertson.  Who is no different from Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell.  Who are all only several steps away from the Taliban.  Who is a mere one step away from the Westboro Baptist Church.  Who are only several steps away from the Muslim fundamentalists who hijacked the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Who bear some resemblance to the Ayatolloah Khomeini.  Who is not that far removed  Reverend Louis Farrakhan or the present radical Chabbad sect in Brooklyn.  It’s all the same snake pit.  Which in no way, shape or form resembles the Garden of Eden.

One might argue this is not the correct statement to make Christmas week, or during the time of Kwanza, or even a month after Chanukah.  However, I would say this is precisely the moment for us all to reflect on this:

Any single religious person who tries to persuade you that their way is the high way using any means they deem fair and moral based on their own individual religious dogma is no different than the most radically violent one.

It all leads to the same place.  Eventually.  The Crusades.  The Third Reich.  Osama Bin Laden’s Jihad.  No, this is not an overstatement.  It simply is – fact.

Now, don’t get all fire and brimstone or your tribal equivalent on me.  This by no means disqualifies anyone of faith from speaking his or her mind.  However, it does disqualify them from public insults, intimidations, racist rants and other forms of emotional and or physical discrimination without outcry and consequences.  That is the price for living in a free and civil society.   And it’s a very small one.   Hiding behind a “God” of your own choosing does not exempt you from the rules of a still secular society.

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Which brings us to the charming Phil Robertson, head of the family on A & E’s most highly rated reality show (14 million viewers and counting backwards) – Duck Dynasty.  Here are some of the lovely statements Mr. Robertson made in GQ magazine last week that has gotten him into hot water and, in turn, suspended from his show.

Sorry buddy, but you don't exactly blend in

Sorry buddy, but you don’t exactly blend in

On sinful behavior:

Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.  Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men…Don’t be deceived….Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.  Don’t deceive yourself.  It’s not right.

Or on his experiences working alongside Black people picking cotton in the pre-Civil rights era.

I never with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person…They’re singing and happy.  I never heard one of them, one black person, say, “I tell you what:  These doggone white people” – not a word!  Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy?  They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

Or this excerpt from a sermon in a Pennsylvania church in 2002:

Women with women. Men with men.  They committed indecent acts with each other.  They are heartless.  They are faceless.  They are senseless.  They are ruthless.  They invent ways of doing evil.

Makes you want to have him over for meal, doesn’t it?  Well, that is as long as he doesn’t turn around and try to place your evil head on a platter and announce dinner is served.

Well, unless it's this head, in which case.. i'm in!

Well, unless it’s this head, in which case.. i’m in!

Oh, of course Phil has every right to say whatever he wants.  That’s what free speech is about.  But the first amendment allows freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the press.  It does not guarantee others can’t object to what you are saying or that there cannot be consequences to your actions.  Meaning just as we don’t require a fundamentalist church to marry a gay couple if it chooses not to, a religious fundamentalist whose

  1. dogma equates gay people with bestiality and evil and
  2. suggests Black people (whose ancestors were dragged to the US in chains and forced into centuries of slavery), were always singing and happy…

..IS. NOT. ENTITLED. TO. HIS. OWN. REALITY.   (TELEVISION SHOW, that is).

Because — as Sir Isaac Newton taught us science-believing heathens long ago –

To every action there is always an equal, opposite reaction.

Stocking stuffer?

What is scarier than the news articles on the Duck Dynasty Debacle are the thousands of virulent comments from other fundamentalist supporters who somehow have adopted a dogma so stringent that it leaves no room for anyone that does not adhere to their own rigid, born again rule book.  We Jews don’t really have a hell so their comments that non-believers will burn don’t really rankle me.  But the threats of violence to us sinners (Note: I’m in double trouble being gay AND a non-Christian), not to mention the virulence with which they are written, is a tough road to hoe.

Fringe, you say?  Well, perhaps right now.  But I don’t think so.  The 14 million viewers of DD, a one-hour A & E basic cable show, are nothing to sneeze at.  That’s far more than the number of people who read the NY Times or any other newspaper on any given day.  Though nowhere near as many (41 million) who tune in to view just one hour of Fox News on any average month.

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Of course, there were other stories of intolerance last week.  For example:

  • In Pennsylvania, Methodist Minister Franklin Schaefer was officially defrocked for having the temerity to officiate over the marriage of his gay son and his partner.

Yes it’s true – this week gay marriage was a hot button thorn in the side of the religiously superior.  But make no mistake about it, next week it could and probably will be a woman’s right to choose.  Just as in some Middle Eastern countries it will simply be about the right for a young woman to be educated.  While in still others it can all boil down to being born with the right color skin or in the more advantageous economic class.

Of course, here in Hollywood it’s merely a battle to look young and stay relevant in a business that is as unforgiving of those sins as the Duck Dynasty family is of alternate lifestyles.  Perhaps even more so.  But I’m not going to get into that.

Oh — fun fact: did you know that the creator of Duck Dynasty is a guy named Scott Gurney and that just 12 years ago this very handsome fellow starred shirtless – and often naked – in a movie about the gay male porn industry called The Fluffer? Oh yeah, he so did.  He played an X-rated actor who was “gay” for “pay” AND was a meth addict. 

Uh oh - someone's been a bad boy!

Uh oh – someone’s been a bad boy!

Hmm, but apparently, Scott isn’t taking phone calls these days..  And he also doesn’t answer emails from journalists.  Nor does he speak live in person to anyone asking questions unless presumably they’re, well – members of his own tribe.  Which might not only be optimal but usual.  How are we (I?) to know the truth when we can’t ask?

I’ve been thinking all day about what I would say if I actually did get a chance to talk to him.  Like all writers, my thoughts were many – in fact all over the place.  But like all the mentors before me have taught me I edited and boiled them down to just three words.  These are the words I’d use to describe him and all others who choose to be profiteers on the backs of hate spewing religious zealots hiding behind their own version of God – as well as a way to categorize the zealots themselves.  And all of the zealots the came before them or will follow after.  And those words are:  QUACK, QUACK, QUACK.

QUACK. QUACK. QUACK.

And did I mention – happy holidays?

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To the Moon and Back

TO THE MOON

Never ever trust an accomplished famous person who says in an interview:

Every day is an exciting opportunity to be creative. I have a strong work ethic.  I just don’t get depressed. 

This goes double for any formerly regular individual who is profiled because of something awful that they recently endured.

Each second is precious now.  It can all get taken from you in a moment – in my case it almost did.  So I appreciate friends, family, even the ants on my front stoop.  Everything, all of it, is good.

Oh. Please.  Make it stop.

Some days (or weeks) are just tiring or even awful.  Like the seasons, life runs in cycles.  (Note:  I just realized I sounded like one of those two I quoted above.  Yikes!).  There’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re a bit tired, burnt out or even sad.  Yes – there are works of art waiting to be created that you can start right now but chocolate and potato chips and reruns of your favorite bad reality show feel a lot better right now.  Each of them tastes good.  And even if you’re not devouring them, somehow it just feels reassuring to know that they’re there to take a bite of whenever you want.  Which inevitably will lead to a meal, who are we kidding?  But, as we’ve already concluded, it’s okay to down that, or even be down with the idea of it.  No one’s advocating it as a way of life – tempting as that might be at any given moment when you don’t feel like taking on the world.

This week was one of those weeks for me.  No particular reason.  Though I would like to blame it on the government shutdown brought to you by the childish temper tantrums of ultra right wing America.   Yes, I drink a lot of green tea – which is good for your digestion and is supposed to be restorative – but long ago I recognized this simple fact:

Life is not a Tea Party, nor will it, or should it, ever be.

It's OK when things boil over

It’s OK when things boil over

By the way, there is nothing at all wrong with thinking this way – politically or as a life philosophy.  If it’s all good then you’re forced to believe things like cancer and Sarah Palin moose hunting and peas and carrots in a can have to be put on the positive list.  And we all know that’s just plain dumb.  At least as dumb as one of the other two live things listed above (and I don’t mean the moose).

So what to do?  Well, there’s this world out there that most of the entire greater world is obsessed with.  That world is appropriately called: entertainment.  And, call me crazy (which many have and presumably are still yet to do), this week there was a lot to choose from.

I’m all for creativity, psychotherapy, hanging out with friends and overindulging with food or your _________ of choice to a point.  But if you’re one of the gazillions of people out there who still like a good new-fashioned movie, TV show or, well, other diversions, know this: summer is over and a bunch of new stuff is available for any one over 18 needing to escape a little.  (Note:  Those under 18 – I’m not including you here because everything else in the world of entertainment caters to you.  Still, if you want to sneak a peak at any of this stuff, I can’t stop you.   Just like I can’t stop you from posting a photo of your cat doing pushups on Instagram).

In any event, here is a small but select list of what can get you through.

GRAVITY

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Believe the hype but cut it in half so your expectations won’t be too high.  At a taut 91 minutes, Gravity is one of those movies that you’re sure is going to bore or disappoint you but somehow manages to get under your skin and stay there – in a great way.

There will be no spoilers here but as you can probably tell from the poster, Sandra Bullock plays a woman up in space that…well, that’s all you need to know.  Yes, there are lots of shots of stars, sky and things being weightless.  However, these are all done in service of something quite unusual in this genre of film – a story, and a small one at that.

The innovation here is that small doesn’t have to mean bad in the age of the major studio blockbusters.  Small can be large in terms of excitement, emotion and box-office dollars as this creation from the director Alfonso Cauron and his son, Jonas, who co-wrote the screenplay, proves.

Not interested in space or the space program, you say?  No problem.  Here’s how uninterested I am and have always been in the space program.  When Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon in 1968 and all of America was kvelling about one of our guys becoming #1 before the world, do you know what little 12-year-old me was doing? Sitting alone in the playground of my apartment building looking down at the dirt.  Yes, you heard me.  I did this because I felt quite strongly that the U.S. should not be spending millions of dollars in space when funds were being cut in this country for the underprivileged at the same time we were supporting an unjust war in Vietnam.  If the US government didn’t care enough about the innocents we were killing overseas and our fellow human beings we were turning our backs on in our own country, I would under no circumstances support a macho adventure to unknown parts of the universe that seemed to cater to the testosterone driven needs of us having to be first just so we could have universal bragging rights.  So I sat in the playground and pretended I was nowhere.  And each time anyone brought up or asked me about where I was or what I thought of the moon landing I said my piece. (Surprise!).  Obviously, I still am.

I was Lisa Simpson.

Clearly, I was Lisa Simpson.

Though I probably would do it all over again exactly the same way, Gravity made me feel like I was making up for what everyone says I missed.  Finally, I was not only in space but was more in the actual minds of people who bravely go into those unknown frontiers rather than in the company of the relentless patriot drumbeat of the US patriarchy.  The latter is the kind of group that used to like to make fun of me in school that I would do anything to not be around.  It’s probably why I was indifferent to the last big space astronaut space movie of our time, The Right Stuff, and why for me Gravity soared.  (Note: See the wordplay I did there?)

Plus – prediction: Gravity will win best picture and Sandra Bullock will win best actress.  Sorry Cate Blanchet in Blue Jasmine and apologies 12 Years A Slave, the latter of which I have not yet seen.  You just get a feeling about these things.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN

The witching hour is upon us

In its third season, AHS is like the ex-lover you vow never again to let in your house but the one who you always wind up in bed with when you’re lonely.  Yet with AHS it’s become more than a booty call.  It has graduated to something dependable to which a new name should be attributed.  Use your imagination.  Or better yet, don’t even question it.

After a first season where a mysterious man in a rubber suit seduces any number of people around him, and a second season where Jessica Lange got to sing and dance The Name Game along with all of the rest of the inmates in the Asylum, I was unsure how much further or more imaginative they could get.  Have no fear – Kathy Bates has come to the rescue as a Civil War era torturess conjured up from the past by The Supreme.  No, that’s not Diana Ross or Mary Wilson but the most all-powerful of witches in the secret coven of 2013 witches.  These witches don’t have a pointed hats or wars though they do occasionally wear black.  They are like the cast and audience of a Kardashian family reality show.  And their Supreme is none other than, whom else – Ms. Lange herself.

Is this brilliant TV?  No.  Is this great TV? Yes, YES, YES.

It’s grotesque, politically incorrect, nightmarish and shamelessly campy.  And – I wouldn’t miss a minute of it.  Neither should you.

SHORT TERM 12

The real deal

The real deal

This year’s little movie that could.  I’m not sure what it means for a movie to have rottentomatoes positive scores of 99% from movie critics and 94% from movie audiences but it must be something good.   A good rule of thumb is to not put too much stock in these ratings but in this case – well, after watching the film you’ll see how right and rare it is when audiences and movie critics agree.

ST12 tells the story of a young couple who work at a facility for discarded adolescents from the juvenile system who live in housing on a temporary basis and receive counseling and participate in support groups in order to help them through the sad circumstances of their lives.  So why rush out to something so depressing, particularly if you are feeling down, tired or just randomly depressed?  Because there is something rare and affirming about briefly living stories about young people told in a true, honest and non-movie like way on a small canvas by mostly non-stars.  You might recognize Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. from television or film as the young couple but chances are you will be blown away by how many unknown teenage actors there are who can really act when given the material to do so.  For that the credit goes to its neophyte filmmaker, Destin Daniel Cretton – whose next movie will be a major studio film starring Jennifer Lawrence.  See – even the film business can occasionally be fair.

It should be encouraging to those aspiring to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Cretton to learn that the low-budget ST12 began life as a short film and then was expanded into feature script that no one really cared about until it won one the Motion Picture Academy’s prestigious Nicholl Fellowships in screenwriting.  The Lesson: don’t give up – keep getting better.

HBO’s Valentine Road

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Sometimes when I’m out of sorts it helps me to get infuriated at the injustices in the world – the stories of people I can identify with who’ve had it far, far worse than I.  To some extent this was the case in Short Term 12, but to every extent this is what it’s like to watch the HBO documentary Valentine Road.

In 2008, an eighth grader named Lawrence King was shot and murdered in point blank range by his classmate, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney in front of a bunch of students.  Does it matter than young Mr. King identified as gay and liked to wear women’s clothes while the classmate who killed him was leaning towards White Supremacy, guns and had a troubled family life?  Some of the jury tasked with ruling on the murder clearly thought so even as this film by Marta Cunningham leaves us to decide by as much as possible presenting both sides.

As a gay man of a certain age it outraged me to see how callous and ignorant a group of educated adults in Oxnard, CA – a neighborhood just outside my adopted hometown of Los Angeles – can be on lgbt issues and just how sympathetic and self-identifying they can be towards a young person who uses bullets instead of conversation in order to fight back against unwanted attention from an lgbt youth.  At times, I couldn’t help but flashback to the too common gay panic defense used decades ago by defendants accused of murdering homosexuals.  But then I checked my Filofax (yes, I still use one – get over it!) calendar and realized it’s not 1953 but 2013.  Wow, is there still a lot of work to do.

And on the other side of the spectrum  – when you can’t sleep and need a non-pharmaceutical dose of the drowsy, there is:

Up Late with Alec Baldwin

I'm guessing there's coffee in those mugs because.. snoooooze

I’m guessing there’s coffee in those mugs because.. snoooooze

Granted, I still haven’t gotten over his abusively hideous phone message to his young daughter several years ago even though his daughter has.   Which is not shocking since I’m still complaining about the 1968 moon landing. Still, I along with everyone else loved Mr. Baldwin on 30 Rock.  Plus, as a dangerously obsessive fan of too many MSNBC shows (yeah, Rachel, Alex, Chris M. & Chris H. – you complete me) I figured – let’s give Alec a chance.  Like me, he’s a liberal and unlike me he gets paid truckloads of money to be funny while evoking smart and generally entertaining.   What could be bad?

Everything, that’s what.  Oy vey.

Seated at a banquette on a set made to look like the kind of wood-paneled men’s club in NYC in the sixties that most of you readers would never get invited to, Mr. Baldwin is only missing his cigarettes and scotch.  Which frankly, I wish he would have had because either might have loosened him up and given us the AB we’ve grown to love and sometimes even lovingly hate.  In any case, either of those are AB’s we’re never, ever, ever bored by.

It’s only one episode so perhaps it will improve but right now we’re talkin’ snooze fest.  He spent an hour interviewing one of the more interesting NYC mayor candidates in recent memory, Bill  de Blasio and made him seem as exciting as Ben Stein interviewing himself on an off day.

Bueller

If you’re expecting Jack Donaghy, forget it – Mr. Baldwin now wants to be taken seriously.  He’s striving to be Charlie Rose but we want him to be Madame Rose (Note: that’s a Gypsy reference) taking us on a slightly eccentric tour of the world of politics and entertainment.  He instead seems bent on participating in a wonky policy discussion on raising taxes and funding education, all the while presenting his own ideas on what might work and not work alongside a real insider.  This would be akin to watching Mr. de Blasio trade comedic barbs with Tina Fey or 20 years ago starring on Broadway shirtless, as Mr. Baldwin did, opposite a pre-witchy Jessica Lange in A Streetcar Named Desire.  Okay, perhaps not quite that, but certainly a dull, dull, dull attempt at something that does not lend itself to his ample skills.

I might tune in next week when AB interviews Debra Winger but only because, well – how often do you get to see Debra Winger anywhere anymore???

And finally – if all else fails – I, and you, might just tune in to any:

RANDOM NEWS SHOWS 

Given where we are right now, this will never cease to be entertaining.

satan

Timely random items this week included:

  • Ben Carson, an African American man, an ultra right wing speechifier, a retired neurosurgeon, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom (you can thank Dubya for that), this week calling Obamacare (nee the Affordable Care Act):  the worst thing to happen in this nation since slavery. 

With tidbits like those, you don’t need Gravity to send you to the moon.  Or space travel of any kind to make it feel like you live in a parallel universe.  Sometimes, what’s right in front of you, is all too punny enough.