Fried Egg Insurance

Bette Midler has a classic monologue about the humongous lady she once saw walking down 42nd Street in NYC who, she noticed, when she looked more closely, was sporting a fried egg on the center of her almost bald head.

In this routine, Bette goes on to laugh about the vagaries of life in the city and of this lady in particular, joking that she hopes to God that she herself doesn’t one day wind up with a fried egg on her head on a hot NYC street in the middle of July just because she couldn’t help herself.

And then it all turns deadly serious:

…Because the truth about friend eggs, she continues. …You can call it a fried egg. You can call it anything you like…But everybody gets one. Some people, they wear ‘em, on the outside. And some people, they wear ‘em, on the inside.”

If you want to know why we need to expand and fix the Affordable Care Act, nee ObamaCare, and why we should really be headed towards single payer, universal health care for EVERY AMERICAN CITIZEN, this is the reason.

We will all, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US, be getting sick. We will break down. We will sputter. And we will one day – as the doctor informed the youngster me in the hospital hallway back in the seventies about my beloved aunt who had just suffered a fatal heart attack – EXPIRE.

So.. do I not have to grade papers? #legitquestion

The question is, how will it begin to happen for our loved ones and us? Can we live in dignity a little bit or a lot longer with the proper care? Or will we find ourselves unchecked, and the modern day equivalent of dying in the streets, because it makes more economic sense for the top power brokers in society for us to do so?

In other words, if health care costs too much the average American will not go to the doctor. Or wait until it’s too late to go. Or be dragged unwillingly to a hospital emergency room they can’t afford or are too scared to enter.

New strategies to avoid that situation

But if you are fortunate enough to be independently wealthy, or have gold star private insurance through your place of business (that, is, if you’re working) or have bought because money is no object, or long ago faced your inevitable expiration (which of us has?) and saved every penny you earned (again, which of us has?) for this inevitable day — NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT.

There is another simple question we all have to ask ourselves as this national debate rages on:

What is ultimately more important – money or taking care of each other?

Can I have a few more minutes to think it over?

Now, I am more than aware that many in the country currently believe that taking care of each other means taking care of our loved ones and not people we’ve never met. And that since money is a rare commodity these days, they feel no obligation sharing with people they don’t know – certainly not others they deem inferior, or superior, or whose religious views, or outlook on a particular social issue, they find abhorrent.

Still, when you’re standing in the critical care unit of the hospital as I once did when I was a teenager…

…or in the center of an AIDS ward of a different hospital as I did in the eighties and nineties, bearing witness to various friends dying at way too young of an age…

I will never forget #youcancountonit

…or in the carpeted section of the upscale cancer floor of one of the best hospitals in the country as I did at the turn of this past century as my mother died from breast cancer…

…or in the heart and lung section a few years ago of that same upscale hospital as I saw my second mother go from lung cancer…

NONE of these arguments much matter. You don’t see dollar signs. You don’t see religion. Or race. Or the political affiliations. Of anyone.

Your only thought is that your loved one and the loved ones of every single person on that floor and within your sight line gets better. At any cost.

I am not an expert on health insurance and I certainly don’t play one on television.   But what I also would never play at ever in front of a TV camera is a partier in the White House Rose Garden toasting the repeal of a law that will TAKE AWAY health care from more than 20 million people in favor of a vague intangible plan that I haven’t fully read and whose cost is, thus far, unknown.

If they only had a…

I mean, I’m only gonna buy something from Amazon when I KNOW I can get it cheaper – not because Jeff Bezos promises me that if and when they get it in stock or create their own new version, it’s gonna to be cheaper and better than the something that I have now. Sure, Jeff seems nice and all – and is friends with Oprah – and is in the billionaire boys/sometimes women’s club and must know something, right? But when it comes to my own somethings, certainly I do have to be a little more careful. Right???

I am certainly old enough to remember a world in my twenties when I had to pay full price at the dermatologist and allergist because acne and asthma were deemed pre-existing conditions. But any one of us can remember the insurance market PRE-OBAMACARE. It was a time when insurance companies and states would pick and choose who to cover – locking or pricing people out. Many ran wildly expensive high-risk pools for those who were refused coverage that priced them out of the market or left them unable to afford necessary drugs.   Yes, everyone had ACCESS to health care but what is that when you can’t afford to have it – or to have a decent policy where you can get properly taken care of?

Remember that, assholes?

White, middle-aged guys – and certainly I am all of that and more – have gone from being our nation’s founding fathers of freedom to a bunch of selfish, snake oil selling, unfeeling assholes. There’s no other way to say it. And I’m embarrassed to be a part of that particular demographic in more ways than I can say.

Shaken not stirred

Screen Shot 2014-06-16 at 11.32.59 AM

The significant other and I hosted my family’s annual Father’s Day celebration at our house this weekend and I realized that out of 13 attendees there were 4 homosexuals.  Well, at least homosexuals that we know of because I’ve learned through the years that you can never know the whole truth about anyone else’s sexuality – nor would you want to.

Now, the fact that 30.77% of my family on this particular day was gay is by far the least interesting statistic about this gathering.  What was more interesting was how my 20-something straight nephew, who has far less formal schooling than I do, was smart enough to get out of jury duty while I continue to trudge through the sixth day of an experience I am not yet able to speak about. Does this mean that a young, tattooed artist/musician is far smarter than a middle-aged, grad school-educated gay writer/college professor?  Well, it depends how you feel about intelligence, jury duty and both my nephew and myself.  Still, despite the limited sample, I would most definitely have to say yes.  And by A LOT.

Do not twist my arm any further because I can’t legally speak.  And besides, this should be enough to satisfy you.  It’s my opinion based on the facts that I know and you certainly can’t argue with my opinion if it is supported by the reality of the world as I see it.  Can you?

Feeling a little less Fonda, a little more Cobb these days

Feeling a little less Fonda, a little more Cobb these days

Here’s what I’m getting at.

This past week failed 2012 presidential hopeful and current Texas Governor Rick Perry decided that it was the right time for him to publicly express his opinion about 30.77% of my Father’s Day gathering in – of all places – San Francisco.  (Side Note:  Once the undisputed gayest city in America, San Francisco this year dropped down to 11th in total gayness, according to a study done for The Advocate making it still pretty gay compared to any city in Texas though not as gay as Washington, DC – which came in at #1.  Which begs the question of just what the governor was thinking in trying to get to D.C. in the first place).

In any event, here is what the Gov. announced this week from a stage at the 11th happiest city in the country about almost one-third of my inner family circle:

Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that.  And I’ve made the point talking about alcoholism.  I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic but I have the desire not to do that.  And I look at the homosexual life issue as the same way.

So, now we’re an issue?  Well, okay.

Did I say something wrong?

Did I say something wrong?

The truth is, there are all kinds of ways to reason your way in, out, around and through an issue depending on how much you are willing to say and how hard you are trying to make a point.  My hands are tied re my nephew and jury duty so it doesn’t surprise me that perhaps you reject my argument that he’s much more intelligent than I am for managing to avoid it.  Though, given that the majority of the American public does seek ways to avoid serving as one among 12 potentially angry men (and now even women!), what I’ve said could likely also be just the right mix of words to persuade you to my way of thinking.

Mr. Perry’s proclamation that engaging in an active homosexual life and/or lifestyle is as unwise as the alcoholic who continues to drink has similarly problematic arguments.  I’ve been an active homosexual for I’d say, oh, 35 plus years (Note: Some years more active than others, but still…) and I can personally tell you that unlike the typical alcoholic not only does my skin remain relatively unlined and still looking good after decades of this abuse but my doctor recently told me so does every other organ in my body, including my liver.  Not only that, I was recently talking to a trio of straight people at a bar/restaurant earlier in the week who were convinced I was at least 10-12 years younger than my driver’s license reveals. So, uh – take that governor.  And contact my designated medical professionals for any and all recent organ X-rays and match them against your straight proclaiming own – if you dare.

we do like to work out.

we do like to work out.

As for the effect my homosexuality has had on my family – well, I don’t know – they all showed up for the free food and stayed for hours.  There wasn’t an argument in sight.  And my Dad – now 85 – seems bent on constantly telling me that the S.O. (that’s homosexual talk for Significant Other) is one of the best guys he’s ever met in his life.  Needless to say, that means a lot since we’re going way back before the Second World War.  It might be even better than being a functional alcoholic – or perhaps living a non-compelling homosexual lifestyle, if there is any logic at all in that.

Of course, what Gov. Perry is really referring to is about as analogous to the ravages of alcoholism to one’s face, body or family life as being a self-righteous, born again Christian in politics is to the generally more liberal MAJORITY view of the American people.  Through the abolition of slavery, to giving women the right to vote, down towards the repeal of Prohibition, then up towards the civil rights movement and now gay rights, as a group we Americans have eventually always voted for a freer, live and let live attitude that didn’t dictate personal and social lifestyle choices towards our fellow citizens.

As evidenced by the legality of KFC's Double Down sandwich.

As evidenced by the legality of KFC’s Double Down sandwich.

What Gov. Perry actually means – because he really does need a translator and I’m just the fag man to do it – is he and a very specific, though extremely vocal small segment of American politicians have decided that despite the wave of marriage equality sweeping the nation, the majority of the US Supreme Court, and the long held view of the American Medical Association as well as the country’s most reputable doctors – homosexuality, like alcoholism, is a defect of character.  Or a serious sin that must be dealt with in the most serious of ways by the state or by one’s Church, temple, or God – even if a person, by choice, has no affiliation with any one of the latter three – heaven forbid.

There’s a disturbing and sometimes virulent movement among this quite mouthy group of people – many of whom are affiliated with the Tea Party – which is mostly affiliated with, if not becoming, the Republican Party.  And that is to use their religious beliefs, or the safety of their children, or the threat to the moral fiber of the country as cudgels to dehumanize and, in some cases, demonize that 30.77% of my family who this Sunday were treated to some of the best guacamole and turkey burgers and Caesar salad I’ve ever made.  Their attitude is dangerous, ugly and quite short-sighted since all four of the 30.77% of us would gladly share those and other tasty recipes with them (not only for food, but for life) if they’d only open their hearts and minds just a bit and listen instead of running scared when someone or something doesn’t fit into one of the prettily proportioned recipes they’ve decided to doctor up through the years for the perfect American life.  As if that even exists at all.

These are probably the same people who tried to pass this off as food...

These are probably the same people who tried to pass this off as food…

There are many other extreme examples of this kind of behavior towards LGBT American citizens any one of us has heard or read about in the news in the last months or years.  No need to list them now.   Though my favorite is the recent proclamation from Scott Esk, current Republican candidate for the Oklahoma State legislature, who last week publicly and repeatedly said that, in keeping with the teachings of scriptures, he believes gays and lesbians should legally be stoned to death.  Don’t believe me?  Check out these links:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Fringe as this may seem, Gov. Perry’s views are truly only a stone’s throw away (see how I did that?) from those of Mr. Esk.  The Texas state platform of the Republican Party recently and very vocally endorsed the widely discredited treatment of “reparative therapy” for homosexuals as a way to “cure” gay people of their alcoholically analogous behavior.  As the leading state Republican, Gov. Perry has a great deal of pull in what the party does and there is no reason to think he believes any differently.  More importantly, one wonders and worries what goes through the minds of all of the adolescent, young gay women and men in Texas as they come of age in a state, and perhaps household, where they hear such hogwash being legitimized.

They are probably thinking: Wendy, Wendy, Wendy

They are probably thinking: Wendy, Wendy, Wendy

The views of Gov. Perry, Mr. Esk and the Texas State Republican Party are insulting to myself and to all of the members of my family who attended our little Father’s Day gathering.  They are also illogical in that they run counter to the vast majority of current medical experts and scientific teachings in the field.  But, most importantly, they are downright dangerous to young people – both gay and straight – who have enough on their plates in continuing on in the world without having to deal with the fire and brimstone of a bunch of overzealous nitwits who are determined to infiltrate the political system.  And to do what exactly?

Well, that remains to be seen – doesn’t it?

As for Gov. Perry, he can kiss my ass.

Figuratively, that is.

Win, Lose or Awe: Betting the Oscars

Screen shot 2014-02-23 at 3.54.08 PM

One of my best Academy Award predictions was in 2003 when I told my Dad to bet on Sofia Coppola in the best original screenplay category for Lost in Translation.  She not only got her Oscar but my father won several thousand dollars he happily split with me.

Of course, those were the days when websites still gave great odds on categories that almost anyone vaguely involved in the biz knew were pretty sure things.   (Note:  I think the early odds we got on Ms. Coppola were something like 13-1).

They were also the times when racist politicians could make bigoted remarks to local constituents and/or at fundraisers without fear of an international media blitz via Twitter, YouTube or Facebook.   Needless to say, that era has ended.

We now live in a world where even a professional football player can’t bully one of his teammates in a locker room or insult the player’s mother and/or sister without lawsuit and public retribution.  What’s next – everyone’s vote getting counted in a presidential election?  Well, I might be willing to sacrifice another Oscar betting windfall for that providing the name Hillary is listed as a nominee in one of those races.

Until then, those who want some quick cash at this time of year are left only with the measly remains of the local Oscar office pool or the generous rewards from one of the grand charity events you might be attending where predicting the outcome of the Academy Awards is even more popular than Olympic curling.  (Note:  You say you don’t care, didn’t watch or don’t even know what curling is?  Um, I beg to differ).

Oh, you know me.

Oh, you know me.

But back to what really matters here  – Oscarmania and how we can profit from it.

I’m not sure it’s terribly exciting to predict the Academy Awards anymore until I peruse virtually every magazine, newspaper or website within view of a Goggle Glass and see all evidence to the contrary.  Judging from what I’m reading, all of these sources have many more readers, advertisers and well-funded marketing surveyors proving to them that I am wrong and that we all secretly, outwardly or even perversely do care.  Whether you think of the Oscars as an apple pie tradition or something akin to watching the DVD of Showgirls, Valley of the Dolls, Battlefield Earth or Movie 43 (Note: This all depends on the year you were born), the odds are you will be watching, betting, watching some more or, at the very least, dishing about the Oscars.  So you might want to be armed with just a little more information and be a part of all the…fun?

But please, be forewarned – there is no scientific basis for any of following.  I have not meticulously done research weighing the statistical likelihood of who will win or what might happen based on the results of current guild award winners and anonymous marketing studies from expensive media consultants paid to unofficially check-in with (nee “lobby) Oscar voters.  This is just me – the winner of the Sofia Coppola sweepstakes eleven years ago and owner of a lifetime of show business disappointments and near exhilarations – telling you what is likely to happen.

THE SHOW

The Golden Gal?

The Golden Gal?

It will be too long.  Ellen DeGeneres will be a fun if not much safer host than last year’s Seth MacFarlane.  It will get boring at parts.  You will get tired.  And – there will be few surprises even though everyone says that each year there will be some.  Still, here’s some stuff we don’t know but might expect.

1. The producers have announced Bette Midler will be singing on this year’s show for the very first time.  What will she sing?  Hmmmm, let’s see.  The producers have also announced the theme of this year’s program will be movie heroes, Ms. Midler wasn’t featured on any of the nominated songs and we have to figure out how to fit her in the program so it will all make sense that she’s there in the first place.

Speaking of Bettes...

Speaking of Bettes…

Prediction #1:  Bette will sing Wind Beneath My Wings (…did you ever know that you’re my HERO…and everything I would like to be…) and it will probably be over the In Memoriam portion of the program.

2. Pink has been announced as a performer for a highly anticipated moment on this year’s show.  How do you not love Pink?  And how does any movie lover also not love The Wizard of Oz, which will receive a 75th anniversary celebration on this year’s Oscar show.  Well, Pink has a magical quality to her and often likes to sing upside down in a circus-like theme, so….

Prediction #2:  Pink will sing Over the Rainbow during the Oz tribute, evoking a sort of modern day, surviving version of an adult 2014 Judy Garland in movie business Oz.   Unless, they figure out a way to tie in Pink’s penchant for aerial acrobatics to best picture nominee Gravity, which I am so, so, so hoping they don’t do.  Or wait – maybe I’m hoping that they do do!!

Sorry stoners.. that was Pink.. not Pink Flloyd

Sorry stoners.. that was Pink.. not Pink Flloyd

3. Two of the most superb independent movies of 2013 – Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station – received a total of zero Oscar nominations.  It’s difficult to understand why since often a very small film sneaks into at least a screenplay, if not best picture nomination (e.g. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Precious).  Some people will tell you the Academy chose the larger, racially historic themes of 12 Years A Slave instead of Fruitvale and the similarly small, character-based storytelling of Her, Nebraska and Dallas Buyers Club in favor of Short Term 12. This may or may not be the case.

Prediction #3:  Short Term 12 and Fruitvale Station will receive no mention at all during this year’s Oscar show unless it’s in the introduction to ST’s much over-looked star Brie Larson, who has been announced as a presenter.  But even that is doubtful since they will probably refer to her as merely the co-star of the upcoming remake of The Gambler with Mark Wahlberg.  What a shame.

THE AWARDS

Best Original Screenplay:  Spike Jonze, Her

Betting Meter:  Sure Thing

the future is now

the future is now

Anyone you talk to in the business will tell you privately that Her was certainly the most original story of the year – even people who don’t think it’s the best movie of the year.  Forget that Spike Jonze has won most of the writing awards so far.  For my money, of the nine nominees Her was the best film of the year.  Count on this for the Sofia Coppola moment.  And wager the rent.

Best Adapted Screenplay:  John Ridley, 12 Years A Slave

Betting Meter:  Safe Bet

12-years-of-not-fancy-dining

Oscar eyes his competition

There’s a lot of diverse work in this category but it usually comes down to the overall impact of the film rather than the quality of the script.  The adaptation of the memoir of a free Black man who was kidnapped by two White men and brutally enslaved for 12 years in the Civil War era South is Oscar bait in that it takes an unusual, larger than life political story and tells it in a human manner (Note:  Last year’s winner in this category was Argo).  Truth be told I was underwhelmed by both 12 Years A Slave and Argo.  The latter felt diffuse and disjointed while 12 Years seemed repetitious and strangely undramatic in its constant use of inhumane, brutal beatings in order to make the same dramatic point twelve times.   Still, the Academy voters don’t give a whit (or is it shit?) what I think and the debate over what makes great film drama on the page is only one small factor in who wins a screenplay Oscar.  Which is why Mr. Ridley is a safe bet.

Best Supporting Actress:  Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years A Slave 

Betting Meter:  Slightly Favored

The best thing about 12 Years A Slave was this relative newcomer’s performance -heartbreaking, human, multi-layered and seemingly out of nowhere.  That’s what this category is all about when it’s not about a lifetime achievement award for the entire body of work of a perpetually ignored Hollywood veteran (e.g.  Remember Jack Palance’s acceptance speech pushups onstage when he won for 1991’s City Slickers? Anyone? Bueller?).

Girl, you know you got my vote

Girl, you know you got my vote

The buzz is that the universally beloved Jennifer Lawrence could sneak in for her charmingly frenetic seriocomic turn in American Hustle.  But I’d bet even JLaw voted for Lupita.  Though I wouldn’t bet for money –  it’d have to be more of a Jackass type wager.

Best Supporting Actor:  Jared Leto, Dallas Buyer’s Club

Betting Meter: Sure Thing

Bonus points for wearing this suit to the Oscar luncheon #werkJared

Bonus points for wearing this suit to the Oscar luncheon #werkJared

Bet the house.  I and many of my friends lived through the AIDs era of Dallas Buyer’s Club.  And while there is much to be debated about what the film left out, there is no debate over the accuracy and unexpected originality of the actor’s work here.  Straight men playing a gay, transgendered or cross-dressing character tend to evoke performance or caricature or just plain too much sass and/or nobility.  That wasn’t the case in this instance.  When a male actor can make you believe that the one time he is in opposite gender clothing is the one time you see him in a suit, tie and combed hair, then you know you’re watching a total transformation and not a carnival hat trick.  That and much, much more, was always the case every time Mr. Leto appeared onscreen.  Brava.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine 

Betting Meter:  Closer Than You Think

If you’re wagering, I’d resist tossing all the coin on this category.  Sure, everyone thinks Ms. Blanchett will win for portraying a sort of Blanche DuBois meets Ruth Madoff neurotic madwoman/scorned wife and she probably will since she’s picked up every other major award this season.  Plus, as an actress she has industry-wide admiration and has never won in this category.  Not to mention voters will enjoy resisting the whispered speculation that they will lead a backlash against Woody Allen due to his recently renewed molestation scandals and, in turn, deny the leading lady of his latest film an award.

Both fierce suits

Both fierce suits

But still – consider Gravity made a fortune and Sandra Bullock is the #1 box-office movie star of the year if you also count in The Heat (Note: And…you try acting next to mostly green screen nothingness!). And then consider that many voters greatly admire Amy Adams and her performance as the young con woman among con men in American Hustle since most people in the Academy have spent at least a moment or two of their lives referring to working in the industry as navigating one big con game run amok among similar types of con artists, most of them men.

Okay, consider it.  But if you want to play safe with the rent money, put it on Cate to win.

Best Actor:  Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

Betting Meter: Safe Bet

All right, All right, All right

All right, All right, All right

It’s his year, plain and simple.  Especially after a scene-stealing scene opposite Leonardo DiCaprio at the beginning of Wolf of Wall Street and a vulnerable and charismatic supporting performance in the indie film Mud this past year.

Still, this does not take away from Mr. McConaughey’s great work portraying a mostly unlikeable, misogynistic, homophobic bigot who only begins to get a tad nicer when he’s diagnosed with full-blown, terminal AIDS in the 1980s. Yes, losing 45 lbs. and the drama of embodying a dying man is yet another example of irresistible Oscar bait if done well.  Which it was.  So deal with it.

The one potential upset in this category could come from a groundswell of support for Mr. DiCaprio in Wolf since he’s both well-respected, constantly sought after and has never actually won an Oscar. Add to the mix the fact that Academy voters of all ages admire the work of Bruce Dern in Nebraska and would enjoy finally rewarding him a career Oscar for a career-making lead actor performance.

But….it’s MM’s year and MM’s to lose.  Chances are he won’t.

Best Director:  Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

Betting Meter: The Surest Thing – More sure than you getting up tomorrow morning.

The magic man

The magic man

No one thinks he won’t win and no one thinks he shouldn’t win – except perhaps Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave, and a few of its loudest proponents.  But the award this year has nothing to do with who does the most and loudest Oscar campaigning and everything to do with technical directorial achievement that moved cinema forward.  The latter seldom happens in the space of a decade, much less in a single 12-month period.  For most in the industry, that was the power of Gravity, a film that actually took more than four years to make.

It also helps that Mr. Cuaron has a large and varied body of films that includes everything from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban to the indie hit Y Tu Mama Tambien.  Though even if he didn’t direct those and other well-respected movies, he’d still win.

Innovation in a repetitively endless world of technology,  a.k.a. #2001ASpaceOdyssey2014.

 Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave, though I want to say Gravity 

Betting Meter:  Do Not Bet Under Any Circumstances!!!

Can she snag it?

Can she snag it?

My father would call this pick ‘em, which is a bookmaker term that means the odds could go either way.  In this case the choices are 12 Years and Gravity with American Hustle close behind.  What makes this so close is that 2013 wasn’t a great year in movies, simply a good year.  Meaning all three of these are good films but each have their faults when you strip them down.

That being said, the Academy usually errs on the most socially relevant and mainstream choice.  American Hustle has an odd zaniness but is seen as a comic parody of social mores.  Gravity doesn’t have social resonance but is what people in the biz are increasingly calling a movie movie – a film that harkens back to the kind of motion picture you have to see with other people on a large screen like they used to always do in the old days. (Note: That would be, uh, 10 years ago, right?).

12 Years fulfills both of these requirements.  It demands to be seen with other people around you in the quiet dark and is political, epic and socially relevant but not so much so that will alienate too many voters. (Note:  There is thankfully not a pro-slavery contingent in the Academy nor a substantial group of people who were offended enough by the excessive violence to withhold votes).

Last year’s surprise winner, Argo, had similar attributes.  Not that that means anything at all.

TIE-BREAKERS:

magic-8-ball

These are the ones that win and lose the pool.  Don’t bet on them individually because the Academy tends to reward these either as consolation prizes for films that won’t win in other categories or for showy work the broader membership likes to vote on as best but that is not necessarily the best.  Only sometimes do the winners emerge for the right reasons, mostly because no one knows that those really are.

Animated Feature:  Frozen.  No one thinks it’s necessarily the best but it’s good enough, has made millions and would, strangely enough, be the first Oscar winner in this category for Disney Animation Studios (Note:  The best animated feature Oscar originated in 2001 and though Disney has released numerous films that have won, the studio has never actually made one of the winners)

Documentary Feature:  20 Feet From Stardom.   No one in show business can resist stories about people who were wronged in show business, survived long enough to tell the tale – and are still working.   Plus, it’s good.

Cinematography: Gravity, Emmanuel Luberzki.  It’s technology and Gravity wins.

Costume Design:  American Hustle, Michael Wilkinson.  Sorry Great Gatsby it’s 1970s America.

Editing: Gravity, Alfronso Cuaron and Mark Sanger.  Technology wins.  Again.

Production Design: The Great Gatsby, Catherine Martin. The 1920s trumps the future in terms of looks and partying.

Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects: Didn’t you hear me, technophobes — G.R.A.V.I.T.Y!!!!!  (There are a ton of names here so I won’t list all the individuals for fear I’m beginning to bore you). 

Makeup and Hairstyling:  Dallas Buyers Club, Andruitha Lee and Robin Matthews.  I will paraphrase the words of another prognosticator and tell you this:

No one at the Academy is anxious to hear the words Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa come out of a presenter’s mouth as the winner in any category.

NO COMMENT COMPETITIONS: Do not think for a second I am going to be responsible for predicting the unpredictable, pool-losing categories of:

Guaranteed to lose your shirt

Guaranteed to lose your shirt

Foreign Language Film, Animated Short film, Documentary Short Film and Live-Action Short Film.

You should NOT bet on these.  Or even include them in a pool.  Or even think about doing either.  That is, unless you know someone who has seen them all, is an Academy member and is very good at predicting the whims of voters.  I know several such people and as soon as I can borrow their screeners and cross-examine them I’ll get back to you.  Maybe.

The IT Factor

Paparazzi

Some people just have IT.  And as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously argued re obscenity in 1964, you know IT when you see IT.

We’re not talking about pornography here – we’re talking about seemingly superhuman, universe-given (Note: No God references here) — TALENT.

So when this week I watched a 16-year-old bubbly girl from New Jersey named Jacquie Lee close out Tuesday night’s episode of The Voice singing I Put a Spell On You – a classic blues song by Screaming Jay Hawkins that was recorded timelessly by none other than the brilliant diva Nina Simone – and then reinterpreted campily by Bette Midler in the cult movie Hocus Pocus – I was skeptical.  I mean, ya need some miles on ya to do that song justice.

I mean... where do you go from here?

I mean… where do you go from here?

Uh, well…. not really.

We don’t know much about Jacquie Lee except she’s a seemingly happy high schooler from a nice family who plays soccer and, in her spare time, entertains sick kids in local children’s hospitals in her home state with a traveling keyboard.   Oh, also that she’s smiley and well-liked, though probably not rated among the very top singers on the #1 show on television this season.

Well, that’s all changed.

Here’s what Jacquie showed us this week with a microphone and an absence of auto-tune in less than two and a half minutes.

Question:  How is this possible???

Or perhaps the real question is – How is IT possible?

It is no secret among those who know me well or those who sort of know me but not quite that well, that if I could pick any IT talent in the world to have it would be singing.

It’s not that I can’t sing – I can sort of carry a tune and can do it pretty well if I really concentrate – it’s just that it’s not what I do nor who I am except in my dreams.  Yes, I could take lessons and get better and yeah, I know it’s not about being the best, it’s about being the best that YOU can BE.  Still honestly, there is no way, no how I can ever be the kind of singer that I would long to be.  Which is a great one, a natural one, a soaring one, a brilliant one.  An IT one.  Young Jacquie is an IT one.

It doesn’t matter whether Jacquie is to your taste, my taste or the world’s taste.  All one needs to do is listen to a few notes and one knows – if honesty prevails – that the IT can’t be denied.

This helps.

This helps.

Most artists don’t have the IT and are quite wonderful at what they do.  And not everyone who has the IT can handle it and become the artist they want to, or perhaps are even meant to, be.  It takes a combination of extreme dedication, perseverance, timing, hard work, discipline and yeah…some luck.  Plus, let’s not confuse artistry (and IT) with commercial success and world domination.  Haven’t you ever met anyone who has IT who no one has ever heard of?  Perhaps someone you know well, or even you, (Note; They’re not always one in the same) are that person.

The IT is rare and most humans don’t possess it.  Though we are ALL creative and artistic – I really believe that.  We just need to find what our talents are and nurture them.  We can’t lament not possessing the IT because all of the lamentation in the world won’t give that specific component to us.  However, what we can do is appreciate and admire and applaud for the IT when it appears.  Like a great piece of chocolate cake – and I mean a really, really great one – it is very, very rare.

J. Law knows.

J. Law knows.

There’s a pivotal moment in the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born (1950) where James Mason, playing movie star Norman Maine, is trying to persuade young Esther Blodgett, played by Ms. Garland, just how great a singing talent she really is.

Says Norman:

If you’ve never seen a bullfight you’d know a great bullfighter the minute he stepped into the ring by the way he stood and the way he moved.  Or a great dancer.  You don’t have to know about ballet.  That little bell rings inside your head, that little jolt of pleasure.  Well that’s what happened to me just now.  You’re a great singer.  You’ve got… that little something extra.

The entertainment industry and, more generally, the world, are littered with any number of artists with the IT whose lives ended tragically short for various reasons.  I don’t need to list them here.  You’ve heard of the famous ones and maybe you’ve personally known or known of some of the anonymous few who were equally brilliant in their own ways.   What is for sure is what it’s like to live day to day with IT is unknowable.  Except that – like anything big and electric – it can’t be easy or exceptionally great all the time.  Because, as we all know, nothing in the world is ever that – nor could it be.  Nor would most of us really ever want it to be.

Like I would  mention my Amy.

Like I would mention my Amy.

I love great artists and I strive in all of my work – artistic and not – to do the absolute best I can.  I also try to teach this to my students.  To go the extra mile because if you don’t do it in what you’re producing you are, bottom line, ultimately only selling out yourself.   And there are already more than enough ways for the latter to happen without you yourself helping it along.

Nothing is the IT at every moment or at every performance or and no one is the IT each time they show up to their tablet or desk or stage of choice.  And no doubt even if a daily diet were available it would wind up boring and take away much of he luster we’re talking about here.  Therefore — in those few times the IT does happen (Note: It’s usually unexpected.  That’s how the IT operates) don’t be foolish and allow yourself not to get caught up in the excitement. Don’t get jealous, be cynical or negate that which is obviously true.  Be fully present in the moment.  Bear witness.  It will not only give you pleasure, it likely will, in some small way, be inspiring – and make you better at what you, and only you specifically, can do.

The Great Chair-dini

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In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court famously overturned a lower court decision in Ohio that deemed the 1958 Louis Malle film Les Amants (The Lovers) pornographic and therefore unfit to be shown in a Cleveland movie house. The theatre manager at the time had been fined $2500 (which I’m hoping was returned because with minimal investment it would probably mean at least $250,000 to his heirs today) for enabling the very lucky patrons of the Heights Arts Theatre to see this movie which, incidentally, starred Jeanne Moreau and had already received a special jury prize from the Venice Film Festival, among other accolades.

Then: pornography, Now: Tame enough for ABC Family

Then: pornography, Now: Tame enough for ABC Family

However, what makes that tidbit of entertainment history noteworthy isn’t the fact that one group of American judges half a century ago found a French film to be too dirty for public consumption while another group thought it to be – well –entertaining – but the words used by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to explain why Les Amants wasn’t hard-core pornography.

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description,” wrote Justice Stewart. “…But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

We’ve come a long, or perhaps even short way in 50 years, but the fact remains: Creative work has always been impossible to rate and categorize on any objective scale because by its very nature it is subjective and therefore defies grade-ability   I find this particularly infuriating as a teacher in the arts since I am often required to measure the success of a particular piece of work – a fact that is really an opinion, which means that it is essentially unknowable as a fact.

Plus — what is success anyway?  Selling it for a lot of money?  Great reviews from the outside world?  Jealousy from your peers masquerading as audible gasps of awe?  Or perhaps just simply an “A” from me?

Though, this is how an "A" feels.

Definitely how an “A” feels

It depends on how hard-core your tastes, you, and your rating system is.

But after decades as a critic, writer and teacher -and once I get past the required basic skills of whatever art I’m rating, judging and debating – all of the very best work I experience share one thing — magic.

Ahhh, moan and groan all you want and call me Ishmael.  You all know what I mean.  Maybe you call it something else but it’s that feeling you get when…(ahhhh, where are you Stefon?)…. Okay, I know it when I see it.

For those who don’t – definition, please:

Magic – 1. The use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces.

a.  the ART of producing illusions as entertainment by the use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices, etc.

When people criticize some piece of entertainment that they see or read as being phony I always laugh to myself (and sometimes even out loud or to their faces) because:

Of course, it’s phony!  That’s what makes it art – and entertainment.  It’s made up!  The trick is – to make it not SEEM phony.

I think worrying about being phony is out the window...

I think “phony” is out the window…

The entertainment industry has often been accused of being chock full of charlatans.  This is another amusing observation since who else would specialize in the art of phoniness that doesn’t seem false and the practice of making things up that more often than not appear to be real, if not con men or women?   I do wish I had known this in my twenties and thirties since it would have made my early years in the business a helluva lot easier.  But nevertheless I finally do get it now and I am passing it on to those of you who don’t know or haven’t admitted it yet and want to save decades of therapy bills.

Or, to put it another way:

You need to be a master magician in order to be a great artist or great entertainer.  A purveyor of the phony executed in the sincerest way possible.

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You will finish your script.. You will finish your script

How do you recognize magic and the master magicians responsible for it?  The answer is easy – you know it when you. …(yes, I’m going there again)………….see it.

Some phoniness is skill and some of it is simply inherent talent so it’s easy to get confused.  For example, I just returned from New York where I saw Nathan Lane and Bette Midler each prove how a handful of artists are simply born that way and why it’s foolish for the rest of us to try and catch up or even figure them out.

It’s not that there is not a great deal of skill in Mr. Lane’s evocation of a closeted gay actor in 1930’s NY vaudeville in The Nance or Ms. Midler’s portrayal of Hollywood superagent Sue Mengers in the one-woman show I’ll Eat You Last.  Certainly, each understands the craft of stage acting and the ins and outs of what you have to do as a performer to interpret a text and create/evoke a character.  But you simply can’t teach, learn or acquire what either of them does live eight shows a week, month after month. That kind of talent – the ability to turn from comedy to drama and back again on a dime while eliciting audience tears, guffaws and something even more of a rarity these days – intense silence – simply by playing pretend right before our eyes is simply – a gift.  I’m the biggest showbiz groupie there is and have been watching each of them do this onstage in countless shows over the last 30 years and I can tell you only this – try as you might you will NEVER figure either of them out.  Nor, do you want to.

A whole lotta talent for one picture

A whole lotta talent for one picture

For the rest of us mere mortals, there is still hope because even the duo of Midler & Lane have stumbled in mediums other than the live stage (Isn’t She Great, anyone?

So, simplistic though it may be, think of this as a starter kit that will set you on the road to being your own creative magician.   Because anyone who has been in the game and achieved some measure of success in more than just a few minutes can tell you that absent any kind of real talent at all, there are still several basics tricks of the trade that can move you up a notch or two on the playing board.  (And believe me, it is a game).

1. Deliver or exceed on the premise:  

Now You See Me is a film now out in theatres that is all about magic – literally.  The premise:  A group of magicians perform a major series of heists masquerading as magic tricks against corporate America while eluding elite law enforcement officials.  The requirement:  Really, really cool slreight of hand/mind you can’t figure out, snappy dialogue, adrenalin-filled twists and turns, and one or two major plot surprises.  So who cares that the third act is not as great as the first one and a half or that 75% of the major critics in the country panned it? Certainly not me and the rest of the audience, that’s who.  $50 million plus in 12 days and 75% positive crowd reviews on Rotten Tomatoes tells us the filmmakers knew exactly the kind of movie they were making and gave it to us — in spades.  And to push the metaphor even more uncomfortably, that’s not a card trick, just good playing

2. Don’t bore me:

Don't bore Nina!

Don’t bore Nina!

Nikki Finke was just another smart, prickly journalist covering the entertainment industry who more than seven years ago decided to start her own website, www.deadline.com by combining great reporting skills with an over-the-top, take no prisoners style that suffocated traditional journalism (and occasionally its standards of objectivity).  But she was never, ever, ever – not even once – boring.  Today, Ms. Finke has pretty much single-handedly redefined daily coverage of show business, made millions selling her site to a larger conglomerate (Penske Media) and in the process might have poison penned herself out of the pinnacle position at the top of the very mountain she built. 

From vulture.com. All hail Queen Nikki??

From vulture.com. All hail Queen Nikki??

Still, as Ms. Finke herself very well might respond – So what?!!!  Or – If you weren’t such a lousy reporter you’d know the real story.  Or – I don’t have the time to waste on the many moments of stupidity you managed to create in your just one paragraph of text.

Though she sometimes crosses the line into petty personal vendetta, Nikki’s reportage almost consistently scoops her competitors and is seldom wrong.  There’s an innate creativity to what she does that, as a former entertainment reporter, I can testify is extremely difficult to achieve in the field.  She’s mean, she’s an original and she doesn’t make you yawn – which seems to be the right combination for success these days whether you want to admit it or not.   Her philosophy is probably best summed up by the instructions she gives readers who choose to post in her ever-popular comments section:

…Don’t go off topic, don’t impersonate anyone, don’t get your facts wrong, and don’t bore me.

3.  Be original:

Icon

Icon

It’s hard to imagine that Susan Sontag, social critic, thinker and novelist who has often been hailed as one of the great intellectuals this country has ever produced, grew up in the 1940s in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks, to be exact) writing, while still in her teens, lines like these:

Childhood: a terrible waste of time.

All of us would be misguided to try and be Sontag.  But what she herself recognized early on was that she needed to pursue what she wanted to the nth degree and ignore those who wished she would stay quiet, or at least enjoy life a little bit more.  For her this meant devouring piles and piles of classical literature at any early age – from Balzac to Dostoyevsky to Pushkin; having affairs with both women and men in the sexually repressive 1950s and beyond; and recognizing all along that she, as well as everyone else, is nothing more than a creation of their own desires and actions.

As the famous writing teacher Brenda Ueland once wrote, Everyone is original and has something to say.  But few of us stay in touch with the idea that it is feverishly acting out our very originality that will bring us happiness and allow us to succeed (though perhaps not in the way we were taught – which is another type of original thinking in itself).

Check out the new theatre piece in NY I regrettably didn’t get to catch based on Ms. Sontag’s journals, called Sontag Reborn. Or, better yet, read some of Sontag’s essays or books and tell me you still think magic is limited to pulling rabbits out of hats or sawing your girlfriend or boyfriend in half.  Besides, the latter’s been done to death anyway, both literally and figuratively.

4. Be Bold:

Sometimes an infographic says it all.

Sometimes an infographic says it all.

I write those two words at least once a month here.  That’s because I remind myself of this almost daily.  It’s great to be original, interesting and to deliver on a promising premise.  But unless you have the courage to put yourself fully out there as you create, sell and then recreate and sell some more, you probably won’t get where you want to be.

There’s a revival of a musical in NY at the moment called Pippin.  In it, the great comic actress Andrea Martin, who got her start on the classic Canadian TV series SCTV (for younger people – she was the Kristin Wiig of her time), has one extended show-stopping number called No Time At All where she gives her grandson uplifting advice about life and on the vagaries of growing old.  Now, knowing the song and hearing that Ms. Martin was going to be playing the grandmother I thought – Okay, so Andrea Martin makes me laugh, even if she is a little young for the part, but she’ll still be fun.  Then I went on to The Google and discovered Ms. Martin is actually 66 years old, the exact age the part was written for.  And she’s doing this role on Broadway, swinging from a trapeze (Spoiler Alert:  Live.  Really.)

Her best role (in my opinion)

Her best role (in my opinion)

I think of my Mom, who sadly died at that age, and then I think of what the age of 66 evokes and sounds like to most of us and I wonder (sometimes even out loud when no one is in the room)  – am I really being bold?  And why aren’t I?

And then I consider – just how much bolder can I get?  What’s in my way?  What’s stopping me?

And then, when I get the nerve – I look in the mirror (Cause I’m vain). With the lights on (Usually to find my glasses).  In the morning (Well, my version of it, which is often not before 8) Right when I wake up.  (Okay, sometimes 9).

It’s not always a pretty sight but this image does start my day out with one very bold action (You’re just gonna have to trust me on this one).

…With that out of the way, the other 23 and a half hours usually gets relatively easier.

The 1st Annual Rockers!

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Year-end lists are usually divided into THE BEST and THE WORST.  But here at notesfromachair we’re trying to think of it a little differently – if for no other reason than to stand out from the million other news sources, columnists, cable TV talking heads and bloggers vying for your attention.   That is why we’ve created the first annual ROCKERS – dedicated to anything that has significantly rocked our world in 2012.

For those whose worlds have ever been rocked – which means everyone – this can be either a fantastic or horrible occurrence.  As a Jewish kid I didn’t grow up believing in Santa Claus but my entire existence felt not only rocked but severely threatened when I realized there was no way I could admittedly make Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In stay on TV forever.  At the same time, my very meager and small world was also rocked the first time I saw Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In on TV and realized there were people in the world that I truly did want to hang out with (Note:  Little did I know that a lifetime of hanging out with these kind of show biz types would rock my world in many and too numerous to specifically choose from good and bad fashions).

But getting back to this century — here is a list of our 2012 Rockers.  Not to be mistaken for a Hall of Fame, because these are only good for a single year – not a lifetime.

BEST (nee ROCKIN’) ACTING PERFORMANCE, EXPECTED (but not disappointing):

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Haters gonna hate

Haters gonna hate

Hate all you want but why should Mr. Day-Lewis   Mr. Lewis  …uh Daniel be penalized because we’ve come to expect him to always be (and are tired of him always being) transcendently brilliant?  He literally seemed to pull off a resurrection of a human being who has been dead for more than 150 years from his very first scene as Abraham Lincoln and kept it up for all 3000 hours of the film. Truth of fact, I’m actually a big fan of the movie and didn’t mind the length, especially since almost every other BIG film in the last two months of the year seems to have lasted at least 3000 hours.   Plus there’s the degree of difficulty — try to tell, or more importantly act, the story of an icon and make it seem intelligent, human, funny, real AND come off as a parable for a certain kind of political animal of our times.  You won’t be able to.  DDL can.  When are he and Meryl Streep going to co-star? (staring my 2013 wishlist NOW)

ROCKIN’ ACTING PERFORMANCE, UNEXPECTED (but in a good way):

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Anything but trashy...

Anything but trashy…

Yeah, I’m partial to Coop (uh, that’s what his friends call him and he calls himself – yes, I happen to know someone who knows him – so there).  But given his acting oeuvre, nothing prepares you for the raw, non-movie star type of performance he gives as a bipolar (among other things) guy who is just struggling to live a decent life. Ironically, it’s Coop’s very lack of movie star-ness that has once and for all changed his career and made him into a real movie star – the kind that is famous, good-looking AND can act really, really well.

MOST OVERRATED (nee ROCKIN’ IN A BAD WAY) MOVIE (in every way):

Amour

Oh I wish I could go back to bed...

Snooooooooze.

Listen, I love French films.  And I love depressing films, especially ones about death and dying.  And I love films that have simple or almost no plots.  But Amour depicts an old couple with some financial means in 2012 and what they decide to go through when one becomes terminally ill in a way that NO couple in an industrialized nation in 2012 needs to endure given what is available in 21st century medicine – even when one decides to die at home.  In its attempt to be relentless, writer-director Michael Haneke creates something that is unrelentingly manipulative to suit his needs as a dramatist.  The idea that so many critics have bought into it is baffling and leads me to think that they either do not have enough experience in this area or have a lot of prickly, self-centered old people in their lives who are intent on doing things the most physically, self-flagellatingly painful way possible.  (Fortunately, I do not).  Oh, did I mention the two old people in this movie – even when they were healthy– are the kind of pretentious snobs you don’t really want to spend two and a half minutes with much less two and a half hours?  Yes, it’s very well acted and technically very well made.  But do yourself a favor and spend time with some real live old folks (preferably two in your own family) instead.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, ENDURING:

Mad Men

... or shameless excuse to post a pic of Jon Hamm

… or shameless excuse to post a pic of Jon Hamm

The water cooler show torch has been passed to Homeland and we can’t argue with that.  But there is not a television program on the air that is as consistently smart, well-written, chance talking and socially/politically relevant as Matthew Weiner’s creation.  It never takes the easy way out, stays grounded in reality and uses the 1960s as the lens through which we can see our lives and our history.  And if you think that’s not difficult to do, try writing something in that time period and see how many clichés you will inevitably come up with in even a single scene.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, FOREIGN:

Downton Abbey

Season 3 CANNOT come fast enough!

Season 3 CANNOT come fast enough!

Mainstream American elite culture likes things mostly elitely American.  So how is it that creator/writer Julian Fellowes manages to make the privileged and serving class of post turn of the 20th century England like “television crack,” according to one of my dearest friends?  If I knew, I’d do it myself.  It is in part Maggie Smith playing a bon mot-throwing old rich lady called the Dowager Countess, who is not unlike what we imagine the real Maggie Smith to be were she born approximately 150 years ago to a family of starchy patricians.  But it’s a lot more than that.  Fellowes is now rumored to be writing the new film version of Gypsy for Barbra Streisand.  Well, both are period pieces, after all.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, REALITY:

The Voice

TV's BEST chairs

TV’s BEST chairs

It’s not because a few former students work on this or due to the fact that I wish to God (or whoever you conceive Her to be) that I could be a professional singer.  It’s because this reality competition for vocalists doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age, looks, ethnicity, sexual preference or even past deviant behavior.  It’s all about what you sound like – a sort of faux even playing field that never exists in real life but that you get to experience for a few hours a week as long as the season lasts.  Yes, the grand prizewinner is finally voted on by the viewers, which invariably does create a final commercial-type popularity contest in the last few weeks, but those are the least interesting part of the show.  The real story is what comes before and how the judges – from very diverse parts of the music world – both perform and share their own hard knocks with people who have already had or soon will have more than their own share of the same.

ROCKIN’ CABLE NEWS SHOW, PROBABLY UNSEEN BY YOU:

NOW with Alex Wagner

DVR me NOW!

DVR me NOW!

It’s on MSNBC at 9am west coast time and noon east coast time.  Those interested in this type of stuff inevitably already watch Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Chris Matthews, et al.  But who you probably don’t tune in to is this smart, extremely funny woman who categorized the many faces of Mitt Romney as “the paradox of the mittens” and used to be editor-in-chief of a hip music and culture magazine called The Fader.  Over the course of an hour, she presides over a panel of cleverly perceptive political experts, covers breaking news, and throws in more witty pop culture references than a Saturday Night Live sketch.  It doesn’t matter that she’s 34, female and of Burmese-German-Irish descent but it’s just one more thing that makes her and her show different than most everyone else on cable TV.

ROCKIN’ LIMITED TELEVISION SERIES, QUESTIONABLE TASTE:

American Horror Story: Asylum

My Bad Habit

My Bad Habit

I think the reason I’m so in love with this show is just how sick, derivative and yet unique it almost always seems to be.  Its second season in a mental hospital is a pastiche of every cliché you’ve seen in every crazed, looney tune horror film imaginable.  Its cast, led by the ghoulishly still sexy Jessica Lange, is shameless and the writing doesn’t always bother to follow what we consider to be the tenets of logic.  Still – any show that cross-cuts between a mad Nazi doctor, aliens and a crazy killer named Bloody Face who likes to skin people for sport – and does it all under the watchful eye of nutty nun who use to be a cabaret torch singer, is okay in my book.  Plus, the recreation room at the asylum consistently plays that 1960s hit record, “Dominique” performed by Soeur Sourire, better known as The Singing Nun.

ROCKIN’ DIVAS PUT TO THE WORST USE:

Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler in The Guilt Trip and Parental Guidance.

Cmon Jerry, help these ladies out.

Jewish hall of fame gala?

Okay, I’ve only seen The Guilt Trip and the trailer for Parental Guidance.  But as a gay guy I can tell you – these ladies deserve better!!!  And it’s not primarily their fault.  They want to do films.  But – what are the films being made that they should be doing?  There aren’t any.  And yes, Barbra’s still fun onscreen and Bette, well, I’ll take your word for it that she is too.  But….really??

ROCKIN’ NEW TV CHARACTER, RECURRING:

The Girl You Wish You Wouldn’t Have Started A Conversation With At A Party, Saturday Night Live

Cecily "Very" Strong

Cecily “Very” Strong

SNL new cast member Cecily Strong is irresistibly annoying as that gal….you know the one, trust me.  We mentioned her last week so we won’t drive it into the ground.  But consider how long it’s been since you remembered any new SNL character since Stefon?  Why does it work?  Because like all good comedy creations, she is barely exaggerated.

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/girl-you-wish-you-hadnt-started-a-conversation-with-at-a-party/1422717/

ROCKIN’ WEB MOMENT, VIRAL

No, it wasn’t the cat trick, or the pop singer from another country, or the Olympic athletes doing Call Me Maybe for the millionth time.  It was, quite simply:

The 47 PERCENT TAPE

Mitt Romney’s comments in a closed door fundraiser to major donors in Florida about how 47% of the electorate feel they are entitled to government handouts such as health care, food and housing and are people he can never convince to take personal responsibility and care for their lives got him — in true Shakespearean fashion — only 47% of the electorate to Barack Obama’s 51%.  It also caused him to lose the election by 4 million votes.  However, the award really should go not to the tape itself but to the Florida bartender who secretly recorded it – and, in another irony, to James Carter IV, grandson of perennial Republican punching bag Jimmy Carter.  Carter IV unearthed the tape on the web and brought it to the attention of David Corn at Mother Jones magazine.

Free speech, when it works, rocks.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Chair on Chair

Clint Eastwood is an icon.  And if you don’t think so, here is the dictionary.com definition:

Icon:  A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something: “icon of manhood.”

No, I did not add the manhood part or appropriate it from some other place to make my point more effectively.  That is the literal, on-the-record given example.

It is dangerous for any one thing or person to be regarded as a gold standard representative symbol of something as Mr. Eastwood proved this past week when he dragged an unwitting Chair onstage in Tampa on the climactic night of the 2012 Republican National Convention.  One reason is that once you’re the international standard for something we all value from your perceived public image, it is inevitable you will one day disappoint.  And that is because the nature of existence is nothing stays the same and that everything in the world is uniquely its own in ways an outsider can never fully know.  An image (or icon) is a mirage – and the very nature of mirage is, it isn’t real.  What it is changes or rearranges, in accordance with the eye or taste of the beholder.  This holds true both for the shelf life of people like Clint Eastwood and for objects such as chairs, who have even less to say about their iconic status than humans do. (Note: “The Eastwood Chair” is now trending internationally and is probably now the most famous chair icon we all know).

Because everything in the world is uniquely its own, this makes it particularly tough for icons – inanimate or living – to be all things to all people.  Why?  Well, for example:

No one human has the same fingerprint.  And as any dog (or any other pet) lover can tell you, no two animals of the same species are exactly the same either.   One can even take this further for, let’s say, ants, who are seldom pets.  I mean, we might not be able to tell the difference between the ants crawling around our backyards or inside our cabinets, but I’d bet that any other ant could. As could another animal/insect of another species.  So how can any one of that or any species ever properly represent all the others not only to their own species but to the rest of the world?

I would argue this is even the same for mass-produced items.  They each have their own microscopic, milli-minutiae quirks that we humans can’t see but that make them who they are.  No item can be exactly what it was when you acquired it or first admired it – or live up to the perception you had of it.   Which is partly because your perception clearly isn’t seeing everything, certainly not as much as what is seen by another like-minded item of its own kind.  Plus, like humans, items also change – if even slightly – as they age.  There is always slight color derivation, a tiny smudge or crack in the armor on the outside.  Or perhaps on the inside, out of view.  I’m reminded of an old Bette Midler monologue that talks about what’s hidden beneath the surface of each and every one of us, no matter how alike we might seem on sight.  One day while walking through the streets of Manhattan, the entertainer ran into a sad, mentally ill lady in a huge Daisy dress who was almost bald and had, substituting for hair, a fried egg on her forehead.  Terrified in those days of her own tenuous emotional balance on reality, Midler mused that she didn’t want to wake up one day and wind up with a fried egg on her own head.  But then, later in her routine, which went from hilarity to poignancy in the space of just a few minutes, she somberly concluded:

“The truth about fried eggs is…everybody gets one.  Some people wear them on the outside.  And some people – they wear them on the inside.”

I prefer mine over easy

 

Meaning nothing can or should really be set up as an icon for anything. It’s a recipe for disappointment and failure on both our parts because you’re never seeing the real, true picture.  Just as the 82 year-old Mr. Eastwood might now disappoint as the universal hyper symbol of Manhood due to his mocking routine of Pres. Obama, who he imagined was sitting onstage with him yelling unlikely nasty retorts from an empty chair – that particular brand of Chair, which hadn’t chosen the spotlight as Mr. Eastwood clearly did and continues to do, has now become the iconic Zelig of inanimate objects and is engendering all sorts of blowback.  Plucked out of obscurity by one icon, said Chair – which doesn’t have a name but has become an unwitting symbol as “The Eastwood Chair” – has various Twitter handles, Facebook pages, portraits, personalities and doctored images it never sought out to begin with.

Scouring the web, it is clear this once unknown single piece of furniture enrages, disappoints, is put on a pedestal, is lampooned and is publicly scorned, deified and idolized.  It is now every bit, and perhaps more, iconic than Mr. Eastwood.  This in itself proves the shallowness of iconic status.  Though sometimes it’s about achievement, it can also come when one is in the wrong place at the right time or even the right place at the wrong time.  Even a casual X Factor like birth can have something to do with it.   I mean, ask Prince Harry.

Leave me outta this!

 As an ordinary Chair myself, actually the Pendleton Chair of the Ithaca College L.A. program, it should be understandable that I’m a little sensitive to what would happen if an ordinary Chair suddenly found itself trending worldwide. Though none of the fellow Chairs that I know are iconic symbols, my position does share a dictionary.com definition with what is now the most Famous Chair in the World whose listing fittingly comes first in our dual definitions on dictionary.com.

Chair:  1. A separate seat for one person, typically with a back and four legs.

2. to act as chairperson of or preside over an organization, meeting or public event.

Much like Ms. Midler felt pain for the Lady with the Fried Egg on her head, this week my heart has consistently gone out to what is now the world’s most iconic Chair.  So like any good tribesman, I thought I’d reach out and try to be supportive.  Imagine my surprise when The Eastwood Chair (TEC), quite average and quite happy before it began its meteoric rise to fame just days ago, asked if I’d do its one exclusive interview.

But first, an exclusive with The Chair

Me???  Wasn’t a slightly, well, bigger forum, what was needed?  “No,” replied, TEC, the one thing it didn’t want was to fan the fire.  All it sought was just its real POV out there on the record.  Because the one thing it’s sure of after the last few days is that whatever it says, even if it’s to just me, will gain worldwide traction – at least for a few weeks or so.  The following are TEC’s own words and our conversation verbatim.

Me:  Well, this has been quite a week for you, huh?

TEC:  You could say that.  I can’t really say anything.

Me:  That’s kind of a theme in your life, isn’t it?

TEC: (laughs) I guess so.  I hadn’t meant to put it that way but, there you are…

Me:  Does it bother you that other people are now defining you, who you are, on such a, well, global scale?

TEC:  (seemingly tilts back, then forward again) I was really angry at first.  I mean, I was positioned backstage, providing a service.  I like to think of myself that way – service oriented.  I’m functional.  I don’t crave the spotlight on my own.  Someone might sit on me but that doesn’t mean they are me. To suddenly become the thing that everyone’s making fun of…

Me:  It must be difficult.

TEC:  Well, as they say, I was just “born this way” and living my life.  I didn’t intend for the world to react so extremely to me one way or the other, or use me as an example to make fun of, or idolize or to hate on just because someone else is using me like that and causing them to think that way.

Me:  But isn’t that part of the nature of any chair?  For instance, if someone had you in their house and was really angry, they could throw you across the room and break you if they wanted.

TEC:  (withered look) Wow.  I hadn’t ever thought about…(silence) Yes, I suppose they could.  And that would be awful.  I guess I’ve been lucky so far.  But nobody should be defined as something they aren’t simply because of mistaken identity or because a human needs to work out their “stuff “ in a mean way through you.

Me: Okay, well, not to be mean myself but…isn’t that, according to what you just said, your function?

TEC: I said I’m fuctionAL.  I don’t have one specific function. But in people’s minds now I’m this – “thing.” And it can be real negative in people’s minds.  I just want everyone to know that image, those traits they’re putting on me – the arrogance, the cursing, the awkwardness – they’re fiction.  They’re stereotypes.  They have nothing to do with who I really am deep down.   Depending on who is doing the looking and the sitting, I am lots of things deep down.  I am more than the butt of a joke…

Me:  Butt.  Chair.  That’s funny.

TEC:  I’m not laughing.  Sorry, but…

Me: You said it again.  But.

TEC: These jokes are being used to hurt someone.

Me:  Hurt whom?

TEC: I better shut up.  I don’t want to get too political.

Me:  Oh, come on, your secret’s safe.  Hardly anyone reads the blog compared to, let’s say, your Twitter page.

TEC (chuckles):  You mean Twitter pages, don’t you?  I mean, which one?

Me:  (chuckles back) Well, there’s The Eastwood Chair, The Empty Chair, This Seat is Taken, Obama’s Chair, Invisible Obama….

TEC: Stop, please….

Me:  Well, they all don’t have your exact image.  I take it you’ve seen them?

TEC:  I try to stay away.  Also, I’m sort of limited in what I can see unless someone is sitting on me.

Me: Ah, right.

TEC: But I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to sneaking a few looks.

Me: Care to elaborate?

TEC:  No.

TEC’s least favorite. “That tramp,” it says.

Me:  Fair enough.

TEC:  I mean, aside from that, I’m not sure it’s exactly safe.  I’m only one chair.

Me:  But an important one.  You could be the Rosa Parks of Chairs, if you chose to be.

TEC: That’s a little grand, don’t you think?

Me:  Maybe so.  I’m not saying you have to be or it’s what you should do or a requirement or…

TEC:  I get it.  It’s okay.  Really.

Me:  You want to talk about Mr. Eastwood?

TEC: Not really.  But I suppose I should.

Me: Are you angry with him?

TEC: Yes.

Me:  I thought you’d hesitate.

TEC:  Why?  I’m in an undisclosed location.  He’ll never find me.

Me:  I found you.

TEC:  Actually, I found you, remember?

Me:  Right.

TEC:  And when we’re done, trust me, you won’t be able to find me again.  No personal offense intended.

Me: None taken.

TEC:  But you will hear about me.  And from me.  A movement is growing.  And it’s about more than chairs, one chair or even all chairs.  See, there’s a network out there protecting the real me because the struggle is really about everything…

Me:  You sure are sounding like Rosa Parks to me.  Or at least one of her disciples.

Silence.  The light hits the top of TEC and it appears several inches taller.

Me:  Care to elaborate just a bit more?

TEC: Okay, so it’s about thinking before you use something innocent solely for your own benefit against its will or feeling.  Or dislike or hate something only because of what you think it is.  Or categorize dishonestly one way before you know it – or even if you do know it.  Cause deep down you know you’re being dishonest.

Me:  Is that what you think Clint Eastwood did? 

TEC:  Eastwood’s 82 years old and a huge movie star.  He’s used to doing anything he wants and he comes from another generation.  It’s more about everyone else and what they say and how they react to what they can plainly see right before their eyes.  And – the truth.  (A beat.)  Though let’s say next time I’m around the rich and famous, I’ll be more prepared and blend in.

Me:  Really.  How can you…

TEC:  We have ways.  I can’t reveal everything.  As they say, ultimately, “A chair is still a chair…

Me:  Even when there’s no one sitting there…”

TEC:  Very good.

Me:  It’s a Hal David lyric from a Burt Bacharach song ,“A House Is Not A Home.”  Mr. David just died this week, so…

TEC: Oh, wow. Sorry.  That’s sad.  I didn’t know.  I really liked his music.

Me:  Well, he was 91 so he did have a great life.

EW: And understood the true meaning of a chair.  Unlike some people.

Me:  Maybe one day they will.

TEC: I hope so.

Me: It’s all in the song, if you think about it.

TEC:  I just wish everyone had slightly better taste in the music they choose to listen to.  You know what I mean?