Bad Behaviour

There’s an old saying;

People get the government they deserve.

Let’s table that for a moment.

A less troubling but equally important question to ask ourselves during the 2018 holiday season is:

Do we get the movies we deserve?

I mention this because essentially the saying and the question broach the same issue. They ask us to consider whether the situations we now find ourselves in are inextricably linked to and reflective of:

 Who we really are.

Yeah, I’m not ready to look either.

The stock market has just cratered to its lowest December since the Great Depression (Note: The one in 1929).

Our Electoral College POTUS has just announced the US is leaving Syria (against the advice of all our top military brass) to be picked apart by a JUBILANT Russia and China. #YoureWelcomeVlad.

And our government has been arbitrarily shut down this holiday weekend by said EC POTUS, who tweeted the Democrats now own the shutdown! after last week publicly stating  he would be proud to own the shutdown if he didn’t get the money to build his Border Wall Slats Whatever.

I’m with you Charlie Brown

Oh my, it’s confusing.

But not as confusing as to why so many of us will be spending our holidays watching nasty big screen dramedies about such inspiring figures as Dick Cheney (Vice) and England’s Queen Anne (The Favourite).

And yes, this IS much easier to talk about.  And write about.

An Oscar for Rachel Weisz’s eyepatch please #earlypredictions

The latter was a 17th century monarch mired in self-loathing, as well as a toxic lesbian triangle entirely of her own making – and manipulation.

The former was  (in case memory fails) an oil chief who grunted his way into power and self-created a war in Iraq based on “specious” facts.   A man who survives to this day after numerous heart attacks, a pacemaker, and finally someone else’s heart entirely  – all the while reveling in the ominous nickname the majority of the country have for him – Darth Vader.

Pretty much

Well, Merry Christmas to all of you, too!

And — HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

VICE and THE FAVOURITE are certainly not the only movies to see this week but they are among the newest, most touted and certainly most noteworthy.  They’re considered to be prestige pictures and must-see films.

They are also both rotten to their cores – celebrating a kind of ruthless, sociopathic lust to get power and remain in power during which time their “heroes” all wittily revel in the massive carnage they create around them as they crush anyone who dares to question their power.

It’s good to clarify

These films don’t so much take a look at the individuals at their center but serve up their extreme behaviors as a brooding, bloody kind of entertainment spectacle for the masses.  They are in so many ways both Grand Guignol yukfests and serious historical biopics,  each masquerading as the other when it’s most convenient.

When important dramatic questions beg to be answered, better to evaporate into fringe conduct peppered with either hysterical shrieks or guttural grunts.  On the other hand, when an important issue is reduced to egocentric flippancy, what better way is there than to evoke the trappings of the Crown or the White House, amid the deaths of their respective soldiers, in order to drag us back into the urgency of the situation at hand.

Ugh, along with bonus 80s drag #yuck

Just as it might be too soon to laugh at Dick Cheney and his antics in and around Iraq and the Capitol Building it feels faux cheeky to watch three  17th century ruling class lesbians mire around in the mud and curse like sailors for our own amusement.

Yeah, yeah – they said naughty words back then but never to such syncopated snappy effect.  And sure, sure, it was a scream and a half when Cheney shot that guy in the face but what is the point of watching him and his wife get hot for each other in bed while reciting Shakespeare??  God, I’d like to unsee that.

Agh Ew No!

Not to get all Hollywood movie executive – but can’t we at least have SOMEONE to root for or feel sorry for or just plain want to be with for two plus hours?  Even Bale’s Patrick Bateman was more sympathetic than Cheney.  Certainly, he was a lot easier to look at.

Yes, it’s an amazing parlor trick to see a handsome guy like Christian Bale transformed into a bald, bloated bellicose VICE slithering his way to the top with no discernible guilt or crisis of conscience for his misdeeds even as a plethora of facts confront him to the contrary.  It sort of reminds you of….well, turn on the news.

IS IT OVER YET?!

At the same time, watching three ladies so cleverly bitch at each other is a unique screen treat these days, if not quite politically correct.  Though one supposes if you are going to have three  (count ‘em!) lesbian characters engage power in a major motion picture where men are relegated to nothing but sex objects, impotent fools or embattled warriors as mere pawns, you should be given credit for a certain progressiveness – a kind of reversal of gender destinies.

Still, one can’t help but feel like it’s all a crock and we’ve simply devolved into a sadly reflective state.  A period in our culture where we need to minimize real life bad behavior by peppering it with enough humor and absurdity to make it go down easier.  A kind of whistling at the gallows.

What more timely message can the movies give us through which to close 2018?

Jill Scott – “Hate On Me”

More Whine Please

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 2.08.28 PM

When you’re a politician and lash out at the media for asking you questions you don’t want to answer it means you are attacking them for doing their job and ill-prepared to do yours. – The Chair

What a bunch of whiners. I’m talking about politicians – particularly the GOP candidates in Wednesday’s second Republican presidential debate. And who better to know than a reformed whiner and complainer like myself. Oh, it’s not that I don’t still bitch and moan too frequently. More that a combination of age and looking around at the rest of the world and its misfortunes has made me realize that, when it comes down to it, I can scale back the bellyaching by at least 50-75%. Besides, as my father used to tell me, what good does it do anyway? (Note: To which I used to retort – It makes me feel better! Yeah, for 5-10 minutes – but consider what it does to your friends. Not to mention the general audience)

I don't know Chairy... I'm still counting my millions (billions?). #ultimatewhiner

I don’t know Chairy… I’m still counting my millions (billions?). #ultimatewhiner

I went to grad school in journalism at Northwestern University during a time when newspapers really were made of PAPER and the people and profession was generally seen as a noble quest for the truth by slightly odd and often dysfunctional people who were nevertheless smart and in your face when it came to digging up your inconvenient truth. The ultimate job of a journalist is not to be its subject’s advocate or friend, though both can easily happen – but to inform its readers – nee the public – on what’s what. Not the party line but what’s really being said at the party – behind closed doors.

Imagine it this way – you’re at a family dinner and you need to find out exactly what Aunt Clara and Uncle Artie have been hiding all these years in the locked back room of their house. Is it a trunk full of money, a dead body or simply the art projects they have been working on for the last 50 years? It is well-known among your relatives that one NEVER asks Artie and Clara about that room, much less goes into it, but for the future of the world, the safety of your neighborhood or the piece of mind of your mother who’s asked you to fulfill her last dying wish, that you find out what the hell is in that godforsaken space they’d never let her into.

Would you be able to resist?

Would you be able to resist?

So what would you do – how far would you go to find out? And how much do you think Clara and Artie would hate or blame YOU once you were done finding out? Because clearly you WILL uncover it since everyone that knows you realizes this is your area of expertise. In fact, that’s why the world, the neighborhood or even your family enlisted you for this duty in the first place. You’re the investigator-in-chief of putting people’s feet to the fire and unearthing the truth.

Oh, and you only have two hours to do it.

Are you getting the picture yet? I thought so. When electing the leader of the free world is the issue, investigators – chief or not – aren’t supposed to be nice. (Note: Did anyone see the members of Congress cross-examine Hillary Clinton at the Benghazi hearings?) I don’t have time to sugar coat for Clara and Art if all you’re giving me is two hours. My mother is dying for god’s sake and I’ve been hired by the world to do this. Failure is NOT an option. Tell me what’s in that effin room!!!!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!

How do you not ask the self-proclaimed politically incorrect Republican Apprentice a question about temperament and being a loose cannon? Do you ignore the fact that Gov. Mike Huckabee has built his entire campaign on traditional family values and not ask him a question about morality? Does one ignore accusations of financial impropriety against Sen. Marco Rubio when he’s running to be the head of the largest economy in the world? Does Sen. Ted Cruz, who campaigns on national television talk shows bragging about not caring about being liked by his fellow senators, NOT get asked a question about his ability to unite the warring political factions of the country?

There’s no such thing as a GOTCHA QUESTION when the security of the world or granting my mother’s last dying wish are concerned. I’ll stop at nothing. Are you kidding?

I can personally confess that people whine and complain to deflect attention from the real issue at hand. When you have a rough day at the office the loud chewing sound of your spouse at dinner makes you feel like you’re eating in the center of the track at the Indianapolis 500 – in the rain. Without an umbrella. So you yell about it to deflect from the real problem to which you have no solution. Not that my husband chews loudly. He doesn’t. In fact, he does nothing wrong at all. We just care so much about each other.

OK.. maybe not the best strategy

OK.. maybe not the best strategy

See, that’s the party line. Without journalistic investigation. But to answer the direct question – no, he does not chew loudly. Though yes, of course there are times when he pisses me off. And CERTAINLY vice-versa. But we argue, discuss, reason, cajole and sometimes even all out fight about them. That’s why the relationship works. Confrontation is not always a bad thing. Better to confront this stuff now than let it fester into a HUGE problem down the line. Does anyone remember the near collapse of the American financial system almost seven years ago that ensured the election of Barack Obama to begin with?

One of the most cunning skills elected officials posses is the ability to perform expert slight of mouth. That would be the ability to reply to an inquiry with a seemingly related yet ultimately irrelevant retort that avoids the original topic posed entirely. In laymen’s terms, this is called changing the subject. You learn all about sources, subjects and the avoidance thereof in any journalism 101 class. Or simply watch All the President’s Men.

... or apparently any other movie starring Robert Redford

… or apparently any other movie starring Robert Redford

Somehow, with the dissolution of the Fairness Doctrine, which used to require that all news programs offered up opposing opinions and helped usher in the era of partisan journalism, we’ve gotten to the place where fair and balanced seems to be equated with not challenging anyone with whom you agree with or like on an issue they might not like or want to be on the record with. When what’s required in our new age of worldwide media is precisely the opposite. More questions. More answers. More truth. Because the TRUTH will come out anyway.   These days everyone has a camera and knows how to use it. The more challenges our elected officials, especially the next leader of the free world, has to endure in front of them, the more prepared she or he will be to lead us into the future. Hopefully, one a few less Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhs.

 

Rear view

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 10.17.23 PM

I’ve been told one or twice over the years, certainly never more than two times in a 12-month period as far as I can recall, that I have a nice butt.  This is not something I advertise or, really, am particularly proud of.  I don’t do anything to maintain it, I never think about it because, quite frankly, I can’t see it, and certainly it hasn’t really gotten me much that I know of except a few compliments now and again.  The latter has always puzzled me since I would think of all the wonderful things family, friends and the general public could flatter me about this would not be one of them.

Then again, I’m not complaining because as an ex of mine used to jokingly say – though I realized after two years of his bull that this was not really a joke – I accept all free-floating compliments.

How to take a compliment

How to take a compliment

No, this is not a piece about the world’s obsession with Kim Kardashian’s butt.  Though certainly the provocative pictures of her very shiny and – since there’s no other way to say it I will – very large and very toned posterior that was designed to “Break the Internet suggest that if it were I could probably increase my readership at least twenty thousand fold.  Nevertheless, I am still choosing not to go there.  This should not be surprising since I have also opted for so many decades to not do much of anything about the sporadic compliments I have gotten about my own behind.

At the end of the day all this really proves is not only do I know little about generating (m)ass appeal but that I am probably just about the worst person alive to market my own ass(ets).

OK OK we get it...

OK OK we get it…

Still, as a writer and college professor I am a pretty good provocateur and poser of questions.  And while once again I will state this still is not a piece about KK – though she certainly has managed to dominate the proceedings so far, huh? – I can’t help but wonder out loud in print:

  • Why something or someone gets attention in our world?  OR
  • If it’s ever possible to know other than by trial and error and personal taste just what the best subjects, persons and events are to either work on, research or let your eye or mind generally wander to?  AND
  • Once these things get stuck in your craw, which ones will you, not to mention the entire world, choose to indulge in briefly, sporadically, intermittently or endlessly? OH, AND — ONE LAST QUESTION
  • Given the disposable nature of subject matter in our ever-evolving age of information, do any of these decisions or choices even matter?

This all came to mind this week because we people on Earth for the first time in, well, EVER managed to land a spacecraft on a comet.  Not the cleanser but a real live celestial object made of ice, dust and gas located 317 MILLION MILES AWAY.  This alone might not seem exciting to non-science geeks except when we’re told that the constant stream of 24/7 photos from the surface of that non-cleanser just might answer the age-old questions of: how the World began, how Earth was first formed and if humans are the only intelligent beings in the universe.

While NASA/the US is usually in the lead on these types of things it is interesting to note that the achievement of the Rosetta Spacecraft was due to 10 years of perseverance by the European Space Agency.  Not to mention those cheers and congrats of victory took place in Germany and were not in large part due to what we here in the US consider to be our greatest asset – American exceptionalism.

Oh, who cares about that and who says we’re not exceptional – we can still lay claim to Kardashian’s gluteus maximus!  And who says we’re not into science the way we once were when we’re clearly leading in um… anatomy.

You had to know this picture was coming

You had to know this picture was coming

You might dismiss me as Mr. Sarcasmo.  So many of my family and friends have over the years while still sporadically applauding me about my own tushy.  But the facts speak for themselves.  KK’s photo spread (no pun intended) on both the cover and inside the pages of a little known publication called Paper Magazine, is now close to getting 20,000,000 views.  Have there been 20 million views of the comet’s surface or the space probe Rosetta?  Well, perhaps.  But are you willing to take that bet???  No, I didn’t think so.  (Note: And for those who are willing, which of those images were you most excited to see first?  Be honest).

Nope. I won't accept it!

Nope. I won’t accept it!

Well, of course there is a time for science and a time for bottom feeding, right?  Intellectual advancement for mankind does not depend on a majority of us viewing space photos – just on a select few understanding what they mean, interpreting them and advancing knowledge that will cause others to make discoveries for the betterment of mankind.  Other discoveries made by NASA over the years are responsible for the science behind the MRI imaging tests that will likely prolong your life, the artificial limbs that allow those with disabilities to move about like never before, and the clear Invisalign braces that two years ago finally freed me from a lifetime of crooked teeth.  And most of us don’t know how the heck any of them work or why.  Or even care to understand them.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then why care about Rosetta’s photos since clearly there are others around more well-versed than ourselves to do the dirty work?  Meanwhile we get to fantasize endlessly about oiled up derriere photos of… many people – as we simultaneously benefit as a people from the scientific findings of others.

Does this help us focus?

Does this help us focus?

Well, because in the US – as well as many other places in the world – we live in a free society where everyone gets to vote (okay, mostly everyone) and decide how much money goes to science in order to explore.  We also all collectively decide by our voting of what is popular and trending just what the priorities of the world should be and how our time, money and attention will and should be allocated in the future.  Some ancient societies were built by peasants and ruled by royalty who chose to construct up and out.  Other civilizations were and are about survival and the worship of a God, Deity or Figurehead of choice with more of a focus on piety that can get you into the Afterlife rather than what benefits you in your present life.   Some have even chosen to simply revel in the decadence of the day, pleasure seeking and partying their lives away with the most desirable among them – or at least available to them – as long as possible.

Several weeks ago there was an election in the U.S. with the lowest voter turnout in 72 years – meaning only 36% of eligible voters showed up at the polls.   The age group with the lowest turnout figures was those 18-29 years old, accounting for only 21% of all total voters.  When that is broken down to simply Democratic voters, the number drops down to 13%.

Good Grief

Good Grief

This will cause a shift away from issues heavily favored by young people – such as the preservation of the environment.  The new Republican controlled Senate is touting a heavy shift towards oil drilling with a promised passage of the Keystone Pipeline.  In simple terms, that means digging deeper into the Earth than ever before up into Canada in order to excavate as much oil as is inhumanely possible.  It will also mean that the Senator who will be put in charge of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will be James Inhofe (R- Oklahoma), one of the leading climate change deniers in the country who authored the 2012 book:  The Greatest Hoax:  How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

No, I don’t think the majority of young people were spending their time mooning at the backside of KK instead of voting.  Her audience extends far beyond that, and in the case of those photos it could indeed skew a bit older and much more male.  They are also not to blame for our shift away from science to social media.  That’s Mark Zuckerberg’s fault and since he already turned 30 years old in May he’s clearly not so young anymore.

... but I still wear a hoodie everyday

… but I still wear a hoodie everyday

There instead seems to be a mass exit away from…. what shall we call it…. reality and a growing emphasis to a more short-term, pleasure driven, hedonistic – or at least egoistic culture that has ironically been fueled in part by our recent technological advancements.  These toys allow us to watch the trending showdown between the surface of a heavenly body many millions of miles away and Kim Kardashian’s buttocks.  We enjoy each together, alone and apart from the scrutiny of anyone else.

And we enjoy it at our own peril.

An Off Day

Has Meryl Streep ever turned in a bad performance?  I don’t believe so.  But has she given us examples of acting not up to her usual caliber?  Certainly.   (Watch 1982’s “Still of the Night” and report back). Tony Kushner’s genius “Angels in America” set the bar about as high as it could go for a playwright – and pretty much for any writer.  Forget that he won the Pulitzer Prize.  That particular piece of work, which he labored on for years of rewrites as he watched AIDS devastate life around him, will also live on for generations as the quintessential dramatic evocation of a plague whose ruthlessness and scope defied description.  That is why sitting through his musical “Caroline or Change” some years later one couldn’t help but feel  that, well…every brilliant writer deserves at the very least a “gimme.” (okay, that “one” was me – a severely disappointed fan in a severely UNconservative way at the time).  The list goes on an on and most recently ends but certainly doesn’t stop with President Barack Obama.

Split screen is not our friend.

The buzz is abuzz with POTUS’ debate performance last week against his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.  Among the colorful adjectives used: “devastating,” “bumbling,” “crushing,” “mediocre” and  “defeated.”  Even the venerable Dan Rather, who was brought down from his perch atop CBS for daring to suggest Pres. George W. Bush had avoided military service in Vietnam by joining the National Guard (even though Dubya was a member of the National Guard in the Vietnam era and did not serve in the military) proclaimed the next day on MSNBC: “Let’s say it for what it is, he got his clock cleaned…there’s no other way to put it.”

Trivia note:  According to the NY Times, the phrase “clean your clock” was first used on the SPORTS pages (I should’ve known!) of the Trenton Evening Times, July 28, 1908 about a couple of local baseball teams – “It took the Thistles just one inning to clean the clocks of the Times boys.”  This certainly doesn’t make the use of the term any more complimentary, but perhaps knowing its origin does take away some of the sting of this currently overused phrase.

Whenever I hear guys on TV (and it’s almost always guys, let’s face it) use sports metaphors to describe or critique anything but a ball, a puck or pair of human legs reaching their preferred destination, it sets off a warning bell deep in my soul.  But that bell doesn’t zzzing. Instead it tells me in a measured voice we are no longer describing a factual event but indulging in the “oh so witty” (not!) opinion of the person observing such an event.  In which case, you might want to task another person with deciding if your timepiece was indeed really laundered or perhaps even to determine if its bath was as thorough as everyone on the sidelines of its supposed unauthorized spa treatment says it was.

Like many people, especially those in the arts, I’ve been described as overly dramatic, opinionated and argumentative by more than a few over the years (who… me?).  I’m never insulted by these commonly accepted “off” terms because to me this also means that I’m passionate, committed and quite forceful, depending on the day, arena and reviewer.  In fact, there are probably days where my audience (that’s you) see me as passionate where I feel I might be a tad overdramatic; and others where you’re nauseated by my insane opinions while I revel in the fact that I’m so committed to an issue and getting its truth out there that deep down in my soul I truly believe I am the long lost son of either Emma Goldman, Caesar Chavez or Gandhi. (okay, admittedly that feeling has only occurred once or twice).

Some days are better than others in the life of every human just as some performances are superior and some written works are more memorable (or, at least, relatable). Objectively speaking, there is no way to measure how good or bad anything is.  That is why it all comes down to two things – consensus and feeling.  And neither one can be counted on as being absolutely right or wrong.

The general consensus is that the President was having an “off” day (actually it was night) in his debate with Mr. Romney.  And perhaps he was.  Using our aforementioned standard of “consensus” we’d have to concede “off” would be the kind word.  But remember, consensus is not necessarily always correct.  I mean, the Grammy Awards voted Milli Vanilli their coveted Best New Artist award in 1990 and NBC renewed “Whitney” for ANOTHER season AND are giving her a reality show.  So if you’re still so hot on the validity of consensus well…  blame it on the rain.

What about feeling?  Hmmm.  Well, one can only imagine how Pres. Obama felt spending the night of his 20th wedding anniversary on stage in front of almost 70 million viewers debating the jollily avuncular Mr. Romney, who some say charmingly (though I say obnoxiously) joked about the prez being forced to spend his special evening onstage with a slick-haired 65 year-old man and a gaggle of television cameras.  Annoyed?  Preoccupied by a romantic encounter that already was, would happen in the future, or not occur at all because he had chosen to become President at one of the worst times in American history to begin with?  All very possible.  But despite the President dropping a few public hints, we will never quite know for sure.   Though one radio host I listened to the next day speculated that Obama was playing “the long game” (ugh, another sports metaphor), deciding that his strategy was to let Mr. Romney hold the stage unchallenged as long as he liked so in subsequent debates Mr. Obama could then hold the former Massachusetts governor to all the blatant half-truths he had so genially helped himself to.

Further Note:  Al Gore even suggested Obama’s “off” was due to the Colorado altitude and the fact that the president had arrived into town just two hours before show time.  But we all know Mr. Gore and Presidential debates are not a winning combo so I wouldn’t take his analysis to heart

Rocky Mountain “High”

The only thing we can correctly surmise about an “off” day is that every single person in the world has one or more and that no other person in the world can know with full assurance why or if the day is truly off (and by how much) other than the person who is having it.  If everyone batted 1000, there would be no reason for batting averages (jeez, now I’m even using sports?).  If it truly is all good, then does that mean not even one day can ever be bad Oh please! (Clearly, I am not Gandhi’s son).  Finally, if one believes in the consensus (dubious in itself) that it takes approximately 10,000 hours (or 3 hours a day for 10 years) of practice to truly be a master in any one field, isn’t it a good bet that a significant number of those days yield many desirably “off” results in order to allow one to become more proficient in said field, which will subsequently serve as the fuel to vault into the so desired master category a decade later?  

Speaking of which, I caught up with Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” last week – a movie that is quite brilliant in parts and seems to indicate that 10 years of off days in a human life can be just as interesting as 10 years of on ones.

But I digress…

We are all so quick to discount our “off” days as something to be shunned, scorned or avoided that we hardly have time to consider just how valuable they can be.  And we need to do this, if for no other reason than to provide a break from the monotony of our perfection.

I’m kidding, of course – but only in part.  There is a dangerous rumor going around the zeitgeist that every performance needs to be played to the back row and that unless one hits a home run (yikes, I’m doing it AGAIN!) or pitches a perfect game, he (and perhaps one day she) is not worth that gazillion of dollars their multi-year contract ensures they will get paid.

As any expert in anything will tell you, there is a lot to be said for singles and doubles, for punts and for walks (oh, screw it – now I can’t stop!).  Of course, no writer wants to have their play or movie or book bomb but, on the other, hand, it certainly does take away everyone’s expectations for your next work and emboldens you to perhaps take a bigger chance in the follow-up since clearly no one will ever like anything you produce ever again.

We have no way of knowing how on or off anyone, including ourselves, will be on a given day other than to know that either verdict is certainly possible.  More likely, however, is that we’ll fall somewhere in between.  On — but in the judgment of others not as on as we could be or have been in the past.  Or definitely off — whether we (they?) love what we’re producing or are feeling lousy or annoyed enough to have not even gotten out of our bedrooms (for good AND bad reasons) at the time the day began.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what the verdict is.  What matters is that we show up.  This is what people like Meryl Streep, Tony Kushner and Barack Obama consistently do – knowing full well that some days will be judged much better than the ones before or after it – by themselves and, mostly assuredly, by others.

Or – (ATTENTION: ONE FINAL SPORTS METAPHOR!) — as the great hockey player Wayne Gretsky once so eloquently put it:

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”