Sneer and Loathing

We all have our personal reasons for loathing Donald Trump, those of us who loathe him, that is, of which there are many.

There are so, so many reasons to so, so loathe a man many of us have never met that narrowing it down to a single one is a mind-boggling, mind-numbing task.

And if I didn’t know in my heart of hearts that overwhelming his foes with outrageous, ego-driven, hate-filled actions was his way of neutering them and getting what he wants, I wouldn’t bother writing about him or it.

How many hours do you have?

But that’s not the world we live in.  We live in a world, nee a democracy, where each and every one of us is obliged to speak up and out against a clear and present danger to the freedoms we hold dear and those that threaten to take them away.

This, sadly, brings us back to the overfed, over-oranged and over-indulged temporary occupant of the current White House, as many things do these days.

So let’s play a game.  What is the single reason you choose to loathe him for???

…..Okay, I’ll go first.

It has always been – the racism.

Probably the best place to start

As I’ve said and written many times before, I grew up in the boroughs of New York City in the sixties and seventies and knew more than a few adults who thought like Trump.  They exuded an ugly kind of east coast racism that differed radically from the over-the-top southern lynching and beating form often depicted in the movies or on TV.

Their type promulgated the idea that the Blacks and Puerto Ricans were different, inferior, lazy and not like us.  As a kid I overheard countless times by numerous white adults that they didn’t respect their communities, weren’t educated, couldn’t hold down jobs and, when push came to shove, were generally shiftless and perhaps violent.

where to even begin?

Having attended integrated schools since kindergarten this didn’t compute for me and seemed just plain, well, mean, stupid and misinformed.  It probably helped that my parents didn’t espouse these views but nor were they the kind of people who liked to make waves.  When I’d hear these statements made by a handful of their friends or in the neighborhood they would just shake their heads and say don’t listen or just change the subject.

Their reaction angered me and as a teenager I began to speak up and eventually got into screaming matches with some of their friends, one of whom in particular reminds me of Donald Trump.  This ignoramus claimed to work with the “schvartzas” (a pejorative Yiddish term for Black people) and fancied himself as an authority on the kind of people they were and weren’t.  When I’d bring up examples of famous Black and brown people who didn’t fit his stereotype he’d claim they were exceptions and even went so far as to mention one or two Black people that he liked.

This kind of justification makes me crazy

I can’t tell you how much this reminded me of Trump bringing Kanye and Jim Brown to the White House or the news stories of the last few days where he said to the prime minister of Sweden that he’d be willing to vouch for the black rapper A$AP Rocky, now being detained in that country while assault charges against him are being investigated.

Like they’d be friends.

This, of course, is the same Trump who went on TV in 1989 to campaign for the death penalty for the five teenage boys falsely accused and convicted of raping and beating a woman in Central Park.  The same guy who spent approximately $82,000 for full-page newspaper ads imploring the city to change its laws to kill them.

That stupid effing signature

The same guy who once called Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) a fat little Jew and yet spent the better part of last week lambasting four Democratic Congresswomen of color who criticized him as anti-Semitic, that is, after he initially tweeted they  go back to the countries where they came from.

Never mind that three of the four were born in the United States and the fourth is a naturalized citizen who emigrated here with her parents legally from a war-torn country.

… and said congresswoman has been a citizen longer than the first lady #justthefacts

Filmmaker Ava Duvarney’s searing four part Netflix miniseries, When They See Us brilliantly depicts Trump’s rabid mindset en masse thirty years ago as she unfolds the gut-wrenching story of what can happen to young people and their families when they cross paths with the I know better fast-talking Trump-like racist mindset born and bred through the white privilege of the boroughs I came of age in.

soon to have a lot more emmys than some washed up reality show star

It is a mosaic of injustice for others promulgated by people like our Electoral POTUS, who watched and participated as his very own father presided over his very own real estate empire that for decades redlined most Black and non-white people from his apartments until they were eventually taken to court over it.

It therefore shouldn’t be surprising to any of us how Trump is trying to do the very same thing on a grander scale to the entire country by scapegoating immigrant families, especially young children and babies, and locking them in cages for days and even weeks on end without proper food, water and hygiene.

In turn it might then even be expected that the next up would be duly elected non-white representatives in Congress, or even those on the courts or in public life HE didn’t like.

DO NOT COME FOR CHER

It’s easy enough to brand them all as anti-American, aliens or even murderers, especially when he has at least a handful of public face acquaintances and/or supporters from pretty much every ethnic persuasion at this point.  Yet there are few if any of these people supporting him in Congress, none of them are in his immediate family or small circle of friends and very very, very few are granted membership in any of the Trump-owned country clubs.

I know this double talk, this white speak and this blowhard misogyny of Trump’s cowardly brand of street-fighting because it harkens back to the type of immoral, misinformed racists who inadvertently taught me to fight and argue in the first place back in the day.

Deal with it

What I didn’t know and never expected was that I’d be having this very same argument with so many of them and their spawn five decades later and that they would all have a de facto leader temporarily occupying a Chair in the Oval Office.

So from one Chair about another, here’s how you deal with them and him.

You call them out at every turn and racist trope and challenge them and it over and over again.  Then you bring along other members of your extended families and friends and urge them to do the same.   Then you keep at it, day in and day out, week after week  (Note: Or at least every time you see them) and, eventually, they will be outnumbered, retreat, pipe down and age out.

#over

That’s we how we did it back in the day and they and their hate speech went cowering back under the rocks and into the private residences and chat rooms from which they came.

Sadly, every few decades we need to do it again, and the time for disinfectant is now.

Gil Scott-Heron – “Home is Where The Hatred Is” 

The Next Generation

I spent the last two weeks reading 30 original screenplays and television pilots from graduating college seniors and here’s what I know –

It is a dark, dystopian world out there where pretty much NO ONE tells you the truth.

Of course, I already knew that but I’m almost three times their age.   I mean, when I got out of school in the seventies I knew the world could be a crappy place but what I was equally sure about was that there was also hope.

At least there was hope for better fashion #whoamIkidding #imkillingit

This was because I was as sure as shit that my friends and I were going to be able to change things.  At least a little.  I knew this as sure I knew I was going to live alone and lonely in a huge Malibu beach house, clutching my Oscar as I fell asleep.  That is if I didn’t die in my twenties of some horrible disease, a fact I was 100% convinced was a 50-50 possibility.

Well, of course I was wrong.  Here I am almost more than middle-aged in a relationship of 32 years with nary an Oscar in sight, living way, way across town in a house in the Hollywood Hills.

Yeah, I’m cool

Like many dreams, mine were fairly off but not totally unrealized.  Personal life aside, I did make it to L.A. and the movie business and worked in several categories where one could conceivably get nominated for an Oscar.

Right.  I know.  A grown up with a dream.

This, of course, is the point.  It’s not that my many wonderful students don’t have dreams.  It’s that judging from the past few weeks the majority of them don’t believe their best fantasies can take hold and flourish.

pretty much!

And, I mean, who can blame them?  Sometimes I turn on the news and can’t believe what I’m hearing and seeing.  When I read the newspaper it’s even worse.  And I came of age in the Nixon-Watergate era and spent the last years of my pre-teens watching Robert F. Kennedy get shot live on TV.  And this was several months after that same station almost got to cover the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. live instead of merely its bloody aftermath.

Those extreme acts, combined with a seemingly endless war in Vietnam and the Ohio National Guard murdering four innocent students who happened to be walking by anti-war protestors at Kent State University, made it seem like there was nothing the elders of the American status quo wouldn’t do to hold onto their power.

The general message to the young was:

We will literally kill you in a war or at school if you get too uppity and, if you don’t believe us, just give it a tryYou could easily find yourself in jail, overseas with a gun or in a morgue for doing nothing more than disagreeing with us if you’re not careful. 

Then or now? Does it matter? #Amen

We didn’t realize it at the time but in truth the country did have a modicum of sanity left.  As young people we innately understood we lived in an environment where freedom of speech was the norm, our federal elected representatives had just put the de-segregation of society into law and journalists were almost universally lauded by most, if not all, as the sacred last bastion of truth-tellers.

It was a world that had suddenly and almost completely gone totally off the rails but somehow we knew it was salvageable.  We had gone to the moon, you could still burn the American flag in the street and not get arrested and, if all else failed, the pleasures of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll would get you through until you entered what could only be described as the blissful golden Age of Aquarius.

Plus.. we had Cher

I so want that for the young people that I teach who are going out into the world today and it angers me each day that they have come of age into an alternate reality of stupidity, division and denial.

No one middle-aged can imagine what it’s like to grow up in a time where you could easily and routinely be shot up in your school.  In the sixties and seventies we had fire drills, not re-enactments of how to act or where to hide when a random gunman might happen to enter the building and aim a military style assault rifle to your head or the head of your friend, or younger brother or sister.

This is their reality. #sadtruths

As much as most of my contemporaries might have loathed Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and later, Ronald Reagan, none of us grew up hearing the president of the United States making allowances for white supremacists.  Or calling the American press the enemy of the people and degrading the indisputable facts they report as fake news.

Or, more importantly, respond this way when asked in front of the White House if the U.S. is about to go to war in the Middle East:

I hope not.

ARE YOU FREAKIN KIDDING ME?!?!

Say what you will about any of those men (Note: And I’ve said plenty) when they spoke it was with a definitive thought, not with the vague possibility that at any moment something absolutely horrible can and probably will happen so we’d gosh darn better be on guard for….well, anything.  And by anything he truly means ANYTHING.  Just ask him, as the press often does, if you don’t believe it.

Dystopian?  Dark?  Sadly, I fear these young people have it exactly right and I couldn’t be more pissed off about it.   We all should be.

The Who – “My Generation”

Fail/Safe

There are many ways to spin failure. They didn’t get it. They sabotaged me. They did nothing. They marshaled forces against me. The world wasn’t ready. The dumbasses couldn’t see. The dumbasses were offended.

What is not in the spin zone is – I suck. Or I failed. Certainly not – I tried my best and will do better next time. That’s not very satisfying. Except when it is.

but enough about me this week…

This came to mind watching the public memorial tribute to the lives of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher this weekend – certainly two people one doesn’t associate with failure, or even spinning. Though with Debbie you can imagine a heavenly Hollywood dance floor or simply put on one of her musicals and get there in the latter case.

The way they were

As a dear friend texted me, it’s strange to live in a time where we live stream memorials. Nevertheless we and many others were tuned into debbiereynolds.com (Note: Could I make that URL up?) where we watched highlights and tributes from the lives of the world’s Star Wars Princess and forever young ingénue Kathy Selden from Singin’ In the Rain – two iconic film characters from classic movies that will ensure the two women who played them will live on far beyond any of us.

That is, unless Cher or Barbra are reading this. Which I doubt. Though, one never knows who’s reading what these days. Hope springs eternal. For some of us, anyway.

Barbra can you hear me?? #couldntresist

Which brings us back to Carrie and Debbie. One of the highlights of the two plus hours of remembrance was a new James Blunt song that was played over a series of photographic images of Carrie and the bedroom in which she wrote and held court. You remember James Blunt, don’t you? He had that smash album some years back called Back to Bedlam which yielded several chart topping songs and then somehow suffered one of the greatest backlashes in the history of the music business.

You’re beautiful it’s true (stuck in your head yet?)

It became hip and happening to hate listen to Blunt. He somehow went from sensitive singer-songwriter to goopy cornball whiner. Not that he didn’t have some successful follow-ups or a core of loyal fans. He did. But nowhere as huge and not with anything approaching the verve of the memes of dismissal towards him.

Blunt, himself, became so aware of where he stood in the eyes of some of the public that after the death at the end of the year of his good friend Carrie Fisher (Note: He lived in her guest house and wrote some of his most famous songs there), he tweeted:

Full disclosure: I always liked Blunt and even before that tweet still occasionally played that CD, which, yes, I own. And oh, double yes, I do still own and even buy CDs.

I know this is how you see me #grampychair

Hate gossip away on that latter point if you care to. For the point here is to not prove the worthiness of Mr. Blunt. He does that himself with the new song he wrote in honor of his good friend Carrie  which debuted at her memorial service. It’s ironically as good or probably better than his best and will surely be meme’d around as the majority of listeners comment in shock about its value. While the naysers comment how it took the death of a good friend for him to come up with something listenable – if they even go so far as to at all place him in the playable category.

This is the essence of spin.

As for failure, it’s relative and goes with the territory of artistic endeavor. Or, make that human endeavor.

Or just embrace it!

The majority of us might admire or even envy Debbie and Carrie and not associate them at all with the type of “failure” we believe we are experiencing or have experienced or are inevitably going to experience, but nothing could be further from that (un)truth. Debbie had a trio of cheating husbands, lost all her money, endured national scandal and like all Hollywood women of a certain age was tossed away by the business that spawned her only be to brought back in at various points when it suited the suits. Though it was fine at that point because she had more or less figured it out.

As for Carrie, well, we all know, right? The drugs, the gay husband, the declining acting career. The sin of growing older and gaining weight! The mental illness and breakdowns. And then – the temerity to…write about it all? With humor? And do it well? One can only imagine the potential she saw in that from a hospital bed or alone in her room late at night when she couldn’t speak. I didn’t know her but it’s hard to imagine she saw it as anything close to a recipe to undo any perceived personal failures. No doubt more like a self-expression of whom she was and what she needed to do in order to survive the down times.

This, and countless other quotes too numerous to name

Of course, this is not to categorize things like mental illness, weight gains, marital breakups, career lows or O.D-ing as failures. That’s for the Internet and society at large to do for us. And they will do that. Relentlessly. And sometimes in the form of places and people much too dangerously close to you/us. (Note: As will the bathroom mirror).

It is more of a reminder to own your inner James Blunt, whatever that is, and move on. And as Carrie’s fictional Mom said in the move version of her memoir, Postcards from the Edge, “I don’t blame other people for my misfortunes.” And as the fictional version of herself shouted back, “I took the drugs, nobody made me.” Which is all fine when you’re in an analyst’s office or writing about your life – and often one in the same.

It’s getting past the admissions or the proclamations and moving on to something – anything else. Doing laundry is a start. Though I prefer cooking or something artistic. Even any type of exercise will do it.

Except spinning.

You know what I mean even if the current president of the U.S. (at the moment, that is) does not.

You didn’t think I’d leave that out, did you?

Little Girls Blue

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 2.48.07 PM

The pop blues singer/icon Janis Joplin died in 1970 at the age of 27. But in the thoughtful, evocative new PBS American Masters documentary Janis: Little Girl Blue filmmaker Amy Berg shows us how in 1962 she dared to challenge the racist and sexual stereotypes in small town America and how dearly an emotional price she paid. Sadly, it’s a price that is still paid in some form by many outspoken women of all ages in today’s world – be it Hillary Clinton, Lena Dunham, or your Mom, sister or friend whenever they fight for equal pay or dare to call out intractable members of the white male heterosexual power structure in the worlds in which they travel.

Welp, that was easy

Welp, that was easy

But back to Janis, who I refer to by first name since I feel like I knew her – even though I didn’t. That’s what happens when you grow up incessantly listening to someone’s music and somehow believe that in many an odd song they were – and to this day are – somehow speaking directly to you.

Among the most upsetting remembrances from Janis’ many friends and family members was right after she left her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas – a place where as a non-traditional female she was bullied relentlessly all though high school for, among other things, supporting integration in the early 1960s and wearing loafers without socks. This was no small feat in Port Arthur, which sported a very active branch of the Ku Klux Klan, among whose members were the families of the very males she saw daily in high school. (Note: One assumes these males also expected the girls to wear heels, or at the very least some form of foot undergarment with their other shoes).

That Girl

That Girl

Still, it would only get worse when she moved to Austin, Texas – where she discovered she could really sing and became enmeshed in the blossoming local folk music scene. As was her way, Janis immediately stood out from the crowd. She could not only use big words like indignation but she could sing like the very popular Black blues singer Odetta – whose voice she could mimic perfectly according to one of her best friends at the time.

In any event, after gaining a bit of a following in Austin as both a solo singer and member of a local blues band called the Waller Creek Boys, the guys at the nearby universities somehow began to resent her wanton ways. So being that each year their local fraternities had a tradition of nominating various males they didn’t like as the town’s ugliest man and plastering the winner’s picture on the front page of their local paper, The University News, it came to be that on Sept. 5, 1962 nineteen year old Janis Joplin picked up the paper that morning and found a prominent photo of herself for all the town and beyond to read and see with this exact bold-faced banner headline printed above the fold:

JANIS WINS UGLIEST MAN!!

Ain't no way

Ain’t no way

It crushed her, her band mate and friend at the time, Powell St. John recalls, unsuccessfully attempting to hold back his tears some 50 plus years later. Saddest thing I ever saw. To that point, I’d never seen Janis cry. Janis had a tough exterior. But it really got her. Got her bad. I said, ‘Janis, they don’t mean anything to you. They’re not even in your class.’ 

Her younger sister, Laura Joplin explains it another way. 

It became increasingly hard for her to fit into a group of angry, angry men who liked to pick on her…So where does she go? What does she do?

Janis gives us San Fran late 60s realness

Janis gives us San Fran late 60s realness

What she did was go to California. Where in just five years she becomes an international superstar. And in five years more dies of a drug overdose – most likely, surmises the documentary, precipitated by loneliness and a profound lack of self-esteem and hurt she carried around with her during the less than three decades in which she lived.

Thankfully times have changed somewhat. But not fully. And certainly not nearly enough. And in the case of some men – many of who have recently become emboldened by a throwback wave of sexism and racism they disparage as political correctness– not at all.

Sounds about right

Sounds about right

Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic presidential candidate, is being routinely attacked and mocked each day by the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump as an unbelievably mean, nasty enabler of her philandering husband Bill Clinton. Mr. Trump routinely covers his ears and mocks the sound level and tone of her voice and several months ago derided her for taking too long to go to the bathroom on a commercial break at one of the televised Democratic debates. Lest one think Mr. Trump is the only straight white guy who disdains Mrs. Clinton’s manner, both Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Bob Woodward and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough several months ago separately took Mrs. Clinton to task for being too loud or too shrill.

As opposed to whom – Mr. Trump?

In a steaming retort this week to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (Note: Yes, she’s part Native American) criticisms, Mr. Trump for the umpteenth time publicly smeared her with the snide ethnic slur of Pocahontas, this time in a national news conference right after he secured enough pledged delegates to become the Republican presidential nominee. Imagine snidely referring to the only Black female senator we have EVER had – Carole Moseley Braun in the 1990s – by saying, oh who, Harriet Tubman? Or perhaps stating, Right, I assume you’re talking about Mammy? Or maybe referring to a Jewish female senator like Barbara Boxer or Dianne Feinstein as, who, Queen Esther? How about calling some Latina American politician Eva Peron? Well, he did just call New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susana Martinez, a Hispanic woman, slow.

Amen, sister

Amen, sister

I loathe writing about Donald Trump. I want to make that very clear. He’s truly a boil on the ass of the United States. An infected, puss-filled scourge of narcissistic infection bent on destroying everything in his path that can’t be used to feed his minuscule ego. Minuscule, as in tiny? Yes.

Only people who are deeply insecure and feel extremely small way down inside feel the need to consistently pump themselves up by hurling massively nasty, racist, sexist, bullying insults at others when challenged. But there’s just something a little different when he goes after strong women who publicly challenge him on the issues of the day. Rosie O’Donnell was a fat, disgusting pig. Fox news commentator Megyn Kelly was described by a euphemism for her menstrual cycle – blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her…wherever. Republican challenger Carly Fiorina – no idol of mine – was put down by casually asking us to imagine having to look at that face everyday.

We'll join her #ImwithCHER

We’ll join her #ImwithCHER

Lena Dunham, the multi-hyphenate Emmy award-winning creator, writer, director and star of Girls has undergone similar public indignation. Read the comments on her, as I have, via any reputable online news source. Fat, cow, disgusting pig, only begin to tell the tale. But is that to be expected with online comments? How about the question The Wrap TV critic Tim Molloy asked her two years ago? I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show? And your character is often nude for no reason…” Would they ask this of the more shapely female actresses on, say, Game Of Thrones? 

Lena has her cake and eats it too #yougo

Lena has her cake and eats it too #yougo

As for Ms. Dunham, it was interesting to note on the finale of Girls this season that she chose to have her character backtrack in her career development through the season but emotionally mature in expected ways by its end. When her best friend hooked up more than casually with her ex-boyfriend, who she still probably loves, her character noted she wanted to boil a rabbit in a pot or stab them both in the heart. But instead she acted out inappropriately with those around her, controlled her rage and hurt feelings towards her besties and eventually left them a fruit basket by their door as a peace offering. She figured out a way to move on in her own inimitable way – not through power grabbing or insults but simply through self- actualization.

This is perhaps a 21st century version of what it means to be a woman/human these days and perhaps it’s progress. Now only if some of our more moronic males would follow suit. Mr. Trump can lead them in this direction. But he most certainly won’t.

Which means that in the name of all the females in our lives – not to mention everyone else – we’ll have to do it for him. By increasingly making him and his kind irrelevant.

The Hype Awakens

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What exactly is contained in a can of Darth Vader Campbell’s soup? The label says it’s pasta with chicken in chicken broth but really – what evil concoction do you think is secretly hiding inside? Hint: It’s the same ingredient contained in the Yoda, C3PO and R2D2 Campbell’s soup – at least as advertised. Yes, they are ALL pasta with chicken in chicken broth! At least according to the label.

This is what you get when you go to your local market and buy STAR WARS CAMPBELL’S SOUP. And if you don’t believe there is such a thing – an authentic Star Wars version of Campbell’s Soup that you too can have for about a buck a can at your local food dispensary – check it out!!

How many nerds will never open this?

There are Cover Girl make up tie-ins (Black Avril Lavigne eyeliner anyone?). Subway tie-ins (well, now that Jared’s not a viable pitch person…) and even Duracell battery Star Wars (at least that makes some sense when you think about it – sort of).

Experts say over the next 12 months there will be $3-5 billion generated in merchandise sales alone tied to The Force Awakens – the first Star Wars film in 10 years. And $11-$20 billion in five years, according to a recent LA Times story.

Even if that’s a bit overinflated, it’s still in the billions. Yes, that’s a B. And we’re only talking merchandising tie-ins.

The force is strong in those.... grapes?

The force is strong in those…. grapes?

I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to this sort of stuff. Watching the finale of one of my guiltiest TV pleasures in the world last week –The Voice – I see Missy Elliot and Pharrell do this bizarre and somewhat catchy song called WTF. (Note: They had me at the title). It’s a bit edgy and sexy and revels with a lyric about repeated TONGUE action. I thought, good for them – it’s primetime network TV and they got some tongue in. Then this weekend I hear it again – on a Verizon/Samsung Galaxy commercial. The same lyrics but somehow they’ve managed to de-sex it for a Saturday afternoon. Is nothing sacred?

Chairy... please

Chairy… please

I’ve been left behind. It used to be where I could sneak Playboy’s annualSex in the Cinema” issue and as a teenage gay guy manage to see naked pictures of men while pretending to look at naked women. I always felt so proud of myself for the forbidden, successful sneak.  But I mean, what’s really forbidden these days? Certainly not guns. I can buy enough firepower to shoot you in the head a Google times and still not one person could legally blame a corporate overlord.

It’s all about personal responsibility. Or is it?

Well I, for one, am responsible for my choices. Do you know that the night the new Star Wars opened I was at home watching a DVD screener of The Martian? Then, on that Friday night I actually went to the movie theatre to see the new Italian film Youth. Do you know there is a Star Wars: The Force Awakens screening at the WGA just about now with JJ Abrahams speaking afterwards that I was invited to and am NOT attending? (Note: Full admission – I tried to RSVP but it was a day after I received the email and it was sold out. So screw him/them). Still, there are three other screenings I can get into at 11, 2 and 8:30 today and I’m not going to any of them. Nor am I going to the theatre to wait on those damn lines. I’ll show them. I’m waiting until the next industry screening at the DGA on Dec 28th that I did manage to respond to in time. Take that corporate overlords!!!

Whattup Santa!

Whattup Santa!

I can remember seeing Star Wars when it came out in 1977 at the theatre during its first week. It was fun and original. Then I went to a Fox screening room three years later to see Empire Strikes Back. I liked that too, though not quite as much. Then it was Return of the Jedi – I liked it a little less but it was fine. Which was followed years later by the first prequel, The Phantom Menace. Oh, dear, I fear Jar Jar Binks did me in. Though in fairness, it wasn’t entirely his fault.  There came a moment where even I finally stopped going to Cher’s Farewell concert tours.

... but I will follow her on twitter forever.

… but I will follow her on twitter forever.

Yeah, I know Force Awakens recaptures the verve, fun, spirit and storytelling of the original. And I’m going to see it. Just as I’m going to see Creed – which reinvents and captures a lot of the energy of the first Rocky – which I adored at the time and still really like much to the chagrin of so many of my intellectually snobby film friends who can’t let go of the fact that it beat All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver and Network for the best picture Oscar that year. Come to think of it…oh, never mind.

Alright already! It's been 40 years!

Alright already! It’s been 40 years!

Still, there are limits to how excited I can get about revisiting the past. I do this enough with old friends. Which is wonderful. Though sometimes it makes me feel like a relic. An all-warm and fuzzy, much loved relic but old and pasteurized nevertheless.

The key to evolving as a person and a species is to keep active, not retire and, most importantly, NOT LIVE IN THE PAST. Nostalgia is good but even better is moving forward. When you stagnate in art you remain frozen in time or are perpetually looking back in time in real life. You become not only irrelevant but lazy. You’re not a leader but a follower. If you’re not out to pasture you might as well be. Certainly, you’re making room for some younger or more hard-working upstart to pass you by and take the reins of the evolutionary spiral.

Cough Cough

Cough Cough

There’s a lot of talk these days about America being the leader of the free world. How we are the best, the most exceptional, the top innovator, the #1 purveyors of moral authority and brilliance. But you can’t be brilliant or original or innovative – or really lead into new, uncharted territories – if you’re merely looking back and always nostalgic for the former, trying to recapture what you’ve already experienced.

The future is scary because it’s unknown. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. We used to know that.

Plastic Wrap

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As I sat staring aghast at the before and after pictures of Renee Zellweger that circulated all over social media this week I wondered – am I against plastic surgery or just bad plastic surgery? Or at least the extensive kind since bad is clearly in the eye of the beholder when it applies to things like elective medical procedures and reupholstery which, when you stop to think about it, are sort of the same thing.

For those not up to snuff, some rather shocking photos emerged of Ms. Zellweger at a red carpet event where her face was very much unlike the quite famous one we have all come to know since she emerged seemingly out of nowhere as a full blown movie star in Jerry Maguire – a film where she not only held her own against the megawatt presence of a younger Tom Cruise but matched his charisma frame for frame. Needless to say, anyone who has made following the movies their business or even hobby knows that aside from this being not an easy feat to pull off it is actually pretty near impossible to do against the handful of actors we in the public vaunt into cinema royalty in any given generation.

The making of America's sweetheart

The making of America’s sweetheart

Of course, it’s been almost 20 years since Jerry Maguire and both Ms. Zellweger, all of you and, most importantly, myself are also almost two decades older. Perhaps that is why I was so taken aback by this now unfamiliar image staring at me in the face that was identified as her face. Even though I am more than a decade older than Ms. Zellweger and on a given day absolutely as vain as any movie star I’ve ever met, I couldn’t help wonder why anyone as talented, accomplished and yes – attractive as she – would choose to alter their physical self to such a very large extent.

Honey, we can all tell you've had work

Honey, we can all tell you’ve had work

Then it hit me – if her alterations simply made her look like a younger version of herself rather than an altered version of, let’s say, her distant cousin raised in Slabovia twice removed – would I have been so troubled by it? Or even noticed? I was quick to comment that this new RZ decision was “sad” and wrote/told those within ear or eye shot on social media to “be themselves” and not adhere to the pressure to “do that to yourself.” Well, whom was I kidding? It didn’t seem to matter to me when I met Jane Fonda last year that at 73 she suddenly looked about 20 years younger. Or that somehow, clearly only through exercise and Scientology, 52 year-old Tom Cruise seems permanently frozen at 38. On the other hand, I was appalled several years ago when I saw the shiny, waxily frozen face of Sylvester Stallone to my right waiting for the valet to bring around his car or the alternately scary images of Mickey Rourke, Kim Novak, Barbara Hershey and Burt Reynolds in recent years in photographs, awards shows, on film and yes, regrettably even in person at the supermarket.

Hey Mickey!

Hey Mickey!

Age is a very, very tricky thing, let me tell you. Physically, psychologically – and in all other ways you can think of. But let’s not get into our mutual expiration dates for fear of depressing the hell out of the room and just stick with the outside wrapping. You don’t want to look like you belong in a rocking chair but at the same time you don’t want to live a pathetically striving existence of trying to compete with people 20 years your junior and then lie yourself into thinking that you appear as refreshed as those that age who are not excessively drinking or drugging up daily over the top doses of some lethal co-combinations or quantities of said substances. Stand next to any healthy individual of that age at your age and the lie becomes too obvious. That is, if you choose to live in reality.

OK, we get it, Meryl. You rule.

OK, we get it, Meryl.

Well, luckily the entertainment business has perfected the art of creating alternate realities and we have perfected incorporating what they sell into our everyday existences. With so much available, the fountain of youth is just one more item to be obtained with one, two or three clicks at the most. True – virtues like intellect, humor, love and decency are what we say we want but they can’t stare back at you in the mirror – either rear view, bathroom or vanity style.

Which brings us back to Ms. Zellweger. In answer to the outpouring of…reaction…to her new look, she issued the following series of statements:

“I’m glad folks think I look different! I’m living a different, happy, more fulfilling life, and I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows…

My friends say that I look peaceful. I am healthy. For a long time I wasn’t doing such a good job with that. I took on a schedule that is not realistically sustainable and didn’t allow for taking care of myself. Rather than stopping to recalibrate, I kept running until I was depleted and made bad choices about how to conceal the exhaustion. I was aware of the chaos and finally chose different things.”

Reaction?

Reaction?

That is a lot more than any of us want to know about her life or even have the right to know but let’s not try to pretend it answers the question which is – why does an accomplished, more than reasonably attractive person (Note: I always thought she was flirty and really pretty but lets go with the former) endure the risks of major surgery and perhaps a life-altering change in appearance in order to look…younger? More attractive? Or less or more….???????????

Certainly, Ms. Zellweger is under no obligation to say anything at all. And for those who want to advance arguments, the correct answers are not things like:

  1. She makes her living as an actress and at 45 years old this is the price that must be paid.
  2. Plastic surgery is always a gamble and she just got unlucky. Besides, she doesn’t look all that different.
  3. Why are you specifically raking her over the coals, anyway?

Actors the caliber of RZ play real characters and as they age they have the ability to adapt and become all kinds of more interesting and even older people; to say she doesn’t look all that different is like me trying to pose as a full on Divan rather than a mere Chair; and I am a huge RZ fan not only for her commercial hits like Bridget Jones, Chicago, Jerry Maguire and Cold Mountain but in lesser known films like The Whole Wide World, Nurse Betty and My One and Only. In fact, in the latter 2009 road movie she gives a charming performance as the fictionalized version of actor George Hamilton’s beautiful Southern belle mother who determinedly drives cross country with the younger George in tow as life lessons abound. Watch it on DVD or Netflix and see if you don’t agree.

... this film is from 2009 (yes, that's 5 years ago)

… this film is from 2009 (yes, that’s 5 years ago)

The truth is there is something truly insidious about what the scientific advances in beautifying medical procedures have wrought on our culture. I live in L.A. where so many are surgically enhanced. But this is not limited just to the movies or on the left coast anymore. It’s in most big cities. And smaller ones, too. Go to an upscale restaurant and you see it everywhere. And not just on women. I go to the gym and I see it in the faces of guys I used to know who now have foreheads and cheeks (not to mention other body parts, I presume) that you could bounce a quarter off of. This is the same city I came to more than thirty years ago where I spotted a still dazzling attractive man in his late seventies stumbling a bit tipsy down the streets of Beverly Hills. He was tanned and had deep bags under his eyes and lines on his forehead and cheeks but wouldn’t you know that with his thick black glasses and gray black hair Dean Martin was still devastatingly handsome. And he wasn’t even sober! Not to mention a few years ago at a private screening for eight I also found myself wildly attracted to sixty something year old Helen Mirren, sexy as hell despite wrinkles in her face after a day of filming but with a healthy, quite upright body and refreshingly blunt intellect to match.

What's your shelf life?

What’s your shelf life?

We can dismiss all this by saying these are exceptionally attractive people who have aged well but that doesn’t address the very fact that there is a way to still look great on the outside to both strangers and yourself without going under the knife and taking the risk that if she were not forewarned even your own mother might pass you by on the street. That kind of extreme alteration used to be reserved for fictional characters in soap operas and murder mysteries who had committed a crime and needed to change their identities. Getting older is not a cause for either of those.

... or 1980s stardom

… or 1980s stardom

All of this is not so say one can’t be well groomed and use beauty aids. Do NOT get cute and try to employ the where do you draw the line argument here. You’re in charge of the line and you’re the master (or mistress) of how you look.

Cher, the ultimate show business survivor and, among other things, admitted plastic surgery user, had the best answer to those who questioned her employment of cosmetic procedures to look good and, as she says, “keep the package viable.” And that is:

If I want to put my tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.

I would only add to that statement: There are lots of people who will still find you equally or even more attractive if you choose NOT to do that. Perhaps even yourself.

And that goes double for anyone else – famous, unknown or even infamous – who might be considering cutting into their face now or at some future date. This gets harder to say as you get older but it’s a lot easier to maintain as an alternative as the years go on.

Depression ≠ Creativity

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I wasn’t going to write about Robin Williams’ death. I mean, do we need one more person weighing in about the actions of someone we were convinced we knew but had never met? But then I thought rather than exploitation this could be an opportunity.

Here’s the dirty little secret about creativity and depression:

It is not true that most artists are depressed nor is it true that one has to suffer to be an artist of any kind. This is a bill of goods we’re usually sold in countless books, plays and movies.

However, what I’ve found through decades of doing creative work is that many depressed people use creativity as an outlet and that many of these people seek to make their living in the entertainment industry. Therefore, it is more than likely that one would come across more individuals battling depression who are in the biz than say – plumbers or dentists or garage mechanics. Not that these professions don’t have their share of people who have battled all kinds of illnesses, including depression.

I am someone who has battled depression on and off for most of my life and only came to fully realize the full extent of that ongoing battle less than a decade ago. Prior to that I just considered myself to be a person who was overly sensitive and prone to sadness. A lot. And usually in private. Not that I didn’t have the capacity to be happy. I did – do. But when the “sadness” kicked in, there was no telling how long it would last, in what way it would manifest itself or the amount of time it would take for me to “choose” to snap out of it.

Living in the shadows

Living in the shadows

Depression is an insidious illness… condition… or whatever you want to call it. And is quite different from mere sadness. In an explanation that is as good as any that I’ve read, a writer friend of mine who went back to school to become a therapist – and is clearly a good one – posted this in the aftermath of Mr. Williams’ death:

Depression is not sadness. Sadness is a rich, deep emotion that is full of life and heart and feeling. Depression is a bleak, numb, overwhelming sense of emptiness and nothingness. It is psychologically painful and can be physically painful. It can be enormously debilitating and can cause one to lose hope.

Certainly, there’s more. My therapist friend followed this explanation by urging people not to lose hope or hurt themselves but instead reach out to the many people and places in the world ready and willing to help.

Of course, many depressed people have done this and have not seen immediate results. Or have gotten better only to relapse. Yet that is the case for numerous conditions and illnesses – from metastatic cancer to the aggravated sciatica nerve you pull out in your back or side. (Note: Yes, I am currently the “you” in the latter category).   So why do so many of us, including quite often the actual person who is clinically depressed, eventually tire and want to just shake a depressive endlessly until they finally agree to cheer up and thus snap out of it?!

Not going to work.. no matter how hard Cher slaps!

Not going to work.. no matter how hard Cher slaps!

Well, that’s one of the challenges here. Almost everybody, including the patient involved, finally tires of this condition and reacts to it in his or her own individual ways. Among these is withdrawing from the hideously debilitated person – or this hideously debilitating condition – entirely. Which, as we all know, can sometimes yield the worst of outcomes.

I am not writing this to capitalize on Mr. Williams’ death nor to in any way promote myself or my issues. There are better ways to do both as anyone who surfs the web, watches television, or exposes oneself to any news source at all – including this blog – has seen. Rather it’s to reiterate it to all to myself once again. Because dealing with depression is an ongoing education that someone who has it can easily forget to reinforce since it’s so tempting to chalk it all up to just being blue, down or having a bad day.

In the process if even a line of any of this hits home, I’m happy. Well, only as happy as someone like me can be.

….C’mon, I’m only joking!   Well, sort of.

Myths and Truisms in the Arts re: Depression

1. You don’t have to suffer to do great work in either comedy or drama.

... and certainly not to paint a Starry Night

… and certainly not to paint a Starry Night

There’s a way to get in touch with your emotions and not get sucked down with them. You can’t truly, as a writer, present a situation in a thoroughly depressed state anyway. In fact Mr. Williams himself recalled, according to his L.A. Times obit, an acting teacher who years ago once scolded him for being “too vulnerable” in his emotional scene work in class.

Dear boy, said Mr. Williams imitating the teacher in a thick British accent, that was a lovely scene. And your emotions — there was so much of them! But it’s a bit like urinating in brown corduroy pants. You feel wonderful, but we see nothing.

This is not to say that great writers, actors, singers and many other creative people do not tap into deep personal feelings in what they do and remain unaffected. But they also need a bit of distance in order to see the entire reality of what they’re creating. This is a near impossible feat for a person in the throes of clinical depression. And for those few superhuman souls who can surmount the odds and continue to function, it becomes a dangerously slippery slope of existence that can eventually lead to far more troubling results.

2. The brains of clinically depressed people, or those who over a period of time become clinically depressed, are different than those who are non-depressed and often lead to unclear or just plain bad decision-making.

It goes beyond left vs. right

It goes beyond left vs. right

This one really got to me when I first started to do reading on the subject. You mean to say when you’re depressed your brain is literally offor rewired from what it once was if this condition develops over a period of time??? How can that be? Well, rather than me explaining it, take it from the experts we’ve imbedded here.

Expert 1

Expert 2

Expert 3

Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand it when someone else tells me to do something I don’t want to do – or deal with an issue I know is wise to avoid. ESPECIALLY, when they tell me it’s for my own good, and MOST ESPECIALLY when they’re right. So finding out that what you 100% think or know you feel deep inside your brain or even soul might not always be the result of clear thinking is, well…let’s say it’s particularly daunting.   Yet in retrospect I realize that my past attitude and behavior towards my own foibles in this area were not unlike the extremely drunk/stoned friend or family member who is utterly convinced they are well enough to drive themselves and you home from their ex-fiancée’s wedding.   Certainly, I would not get in the car with that person. But what happens if you are that person? You can’t stubbornly pretend you don’t have the problem and you certainly can’t always depend on being saved by the actions of someone else you will most certainly choose to ignore if you want a favorable outcome.

3. Art can be great therapy for your mental woes but the entertainment industry does not have a ton to do with art.

It gets hot under those lights...

It gets hot under those lights…

Yes there are elements of it but, on the whole, there is quite a bit more to the biz than that. This makes it quite challenging for artists prone to depression who, we’ve established in #2, certainly don’t want to be told how to live their lives or even what to do by others.

This being the case there are certain questions it helps to ask oneself. Is all your self-esteem entirely tied up with the results of what you do in art and/or the biz? Do you think you’re nothing without a certain kind of attention or success? Are others able to roll with the punches while all you want to do is punch yourself – and repeatedly – when things don’t go exactly your way? A yes answer does not necessarily mean you are clinically depressed but it is also not a sign that you are in a healthy mental state. Consider what active, healthy steps you can take right now to begin to change your mental state. (Note: The correct answer is not always getting a deal, the role or the sale).

and believe me... this doesn't help either.

and believe me… this doesn’t help either.

By the way, it is particularly worth noting that everyone’s artistic career eventually ebbs and flows in popularity, financial success and output. Do an imdb or Wikipedia search of any great “star.” You’ll see many more ups and downs that you imagined. This is particularly true the longer you’re in the game. What is also true is that given advances in medical science there are any number of individuals in their seventies and eighties still doing great work. But with many more failures in their pasts than successes you have in your present. It’s all about how you and your brain decide to look at it.

4. Just because a depressed person is momentarily cheered up by material stuff, or love (in whatever form) or even– dare I say it – faith – does not mean they are cured. Or even okay. What the outside world sees of an individual is not necessarily the inside reality.

What's on the outside doesn't always show you what's underneath

What’s on the outside doesn’t always show you what’s underneath

This truism seems particularly confusing in the case of Mr. Williams. How does someone so jovial, so loved, so successful and recognized, and so wealthy, succumb to….that? It’s complicated. And deceptive. And notoriously elusive in understanding. I hate homilies like don’t judge a book by it’s cover but one of the great ironies of life is that there is more than a grain of truth to even the most overused cliché. If you don’t believe me, go over this list and see how many you really disagree with.

5. Medical care for a mood disorder does not blunt one’s creativity. Nor is it cheating or taking the easy way out. If administered properly it makes the person even more of who they are destined to be. Plus, it can significantly change the course of a drowning person’s life by, in many instances, saving that life.

Remember this is what they are made for!

Remember this is what they are made for!

No one really wants to slow down or admit they have problems of any kind – especially publicly – whether it’s to your friends and family or on the national stage. Not to mention that there are strange moments of really intense and intoxicating emotions associated with these problems that can be oddly difficult to part with.

Still, the chances of controlling any major illness alone without some qualified outside help are about as good as Michelle Bachman successfully running a PFLAG meeting in West Hollywood (Note: Not that we’d need one here). Meaning – it will not end well and any bookie would take that bet.

A parting Note:

Mr. Styron

Mr. Styron

One of our greatest novelists of the 20th century was a man named William Styron. Among other achievements, he won the National Book award for writing the acclaimed 1979 best-seller Sophie’s Choice, an epic story made into a memorable film starring Meryl Streep in the title role for which she won her first best actress Oscar. Mr. Styron later chronicled his 1985 plunge into a near fatal clinical depression and then his successful battle back in Darkness Visible, an exquisite 1990 memoir.

Here is how he chronicled the illness in an article for Vanity Fair.

The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain. Through the healing process of time—and through medical intervention or hospitalization in many cases—most people survive depression, which may be its only blessing; but to the tragic legion who are compelled to destroy themselves there should be no more reproof attached than to the victims of terminal cancer.

Mr. Styron could not have been in the best of moods when he wrote Sophie’s Choice – one of the most brilliant and disturbing books of the 20th century – but he was most certainly not in the throes of clinical depression. If he had been, he never could have had the wherewithal to produce such a masterwork. And had he not sought and received treatment after the escalation of his condition in 1985, he would never have been able to write the concise 88 page memoir five years later that grew out of a talk he was asked to give on the subject to doctors at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine after he had recovered. His work and these events all helped usher in a new contemporary understanding of the disease.

This is something to think about for artists and non-artists, depressed as well as non-depressed, people alike.