History Repeats and… It’s a Sin

HBO Max’s It’s A Sin is a new five-part limited series about a group of gay men and their friends in Great Britain who lived and sometimes died during the HIV/AIDS crisis from 1981-1991.  It is a critical hit and a must see.

Nevertheless, as a gay man who lived through it in the US, but didn’t die, it was the last thing I wanted to see or be reminded of during these pandemic days.

And yet…it was the first thing I began watching the very moment it dropped here in the States this week.

Why?

Wait! Hear me out!

Well, many reasons.  But the best that I could come up with is this begrudgingly timeless quote from an author long ago.

The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.  

William Faulkner, 1940

Writer extraordinaire William Faulkner first gave us those words in a short story he published in Harper’s in 1940.

They have since been quoted many times, most recently by both Barack Obama and Peggy Noonan in an attempt to address the issue of racism in the late aughts, and will no doubt be referred to many more times over.

Perhaps you prefer it in one of these standard internet formats

As a writer for none other than the Hindustan Times explained to us just three years ago, Faulkner’s words remain particularly prophetic because the past inevitably seeps into our present, informs it, even has a bearing on our future. The past cannot be wished away; neither can it be denied. 

I would add this is the case no matter how expert we are at pretending and no matter how determined we are to move forward.  The past, and its lessons, will ALWAYS resurface, whether you want to recognize them or not, and at times and in places you least expect it.

To not acknowledge it, learn from it, and at times live with it as you go on, is to be doomed – as too many countless others have warned – to repeat it.

How cliché.  And yet, how undeniably true.

Take it from someone who is alive and well and just qualified to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

And I didn’t even have to dress up!

Denial is a big part of It’s A Sin, but so is celebration and joyousness.  Watching it reminded me that despite all my protestations to the contrary, those times were not solely tragic and funereal, colored forever in doom, gloom and sores of every type imaginable.

In fact and to its credit, none of the characters in this series are any ONE thing, and that goes not only for the young friends in their twenties at the prime of their lives but those middle-aged, older and even younger.

They are all a result of how they’ve allowed their experiences to shape them, the ways in which they choose to forge ahead or remain stagnant, and the harshness with which they treat not only others, but themselves. 

How they existed and what they did back then is particularly resonant because of the harrowing drama of those times. 

There was smiling! There was joy!

But as we all now sit in our homes (Note: Or wander freely), masked or maskless, hopeful, scared or bitter deep into our very cores for the future, it’s hard not to see our times as still yet another variance of their times.

Every decade has its costs and its joys and, if we’re lucky enough, we get to live through each to the next and adjust accordingly.

And I’m still here! #trying

No one is saying denial doesn’t work in limited doses.  I, for one, would have never sat down and written an original screenplay many decades ago that got bought and made had I accepted the true odds of that ever happening to a novice like me writing about the subject matter I chose to write about at that time. 

Indeed, sometimes the only way forward is to defiantly block the facts in order to springboard you into defying the odds.

We humans all do this to some success and to some extent.  However, experience also tells you (note: okay, ME) that this can’t be your ONLY strategy.  Inventing your own reality means you also may be blind to the crumbling of the world around you with the thought your alternative world and your alternative facts will protect you.

Exactly this #nevergetsold

Sadly, it’s not so.  Not in the AIDS era of the 1980s, not in the latest pandemic era of the 2020s.  Not even in the Deep South 1940 of Faulkner’s times.

The key is to be observant enough to acknowledge the cracks and take action before the crumbling starts.  Patch it, consult an expert about re-cementing or entirely knock down the walls you think you smartly built before it’s too late. 

All this construction has me longing for HGTV

Yeah, right, who wants to do that?  But in doing so you might even let in those ideas or persons you banished to the outside and find out for sure if you were right or wrong about them all along.  Imagine if you realized you were ignorant, selfish, misguided or had even misjudged while you still had time to do something about it?

This was the story of those five Londoners and their families in It’s A Sin just as it is the story of our survival in the midst of the worldwide pandemic we are now continuing to barely live through.

Any type of pandemic, much like any armed insurrection, is not any one person’s fault.  Even if the worst, most xenophobic tropes were true and it was proven that a Chinese lab mistakenly unleashed CoVid-19 to the world and purposefully covered it up, that still couldn’t be blamed for the degree of medical severity we are now experiencing.

Yes, shall we??

The politicization of masks, choosing economics and widely opening back up too soon over quarantining, turning our backs on our most vulnerable (note: essential workers, the poor, the non-Whites) and willingly letting them die early on and perhaps inadvertently become super spreaders through no fault of their own; a decided lack of interest in recent years of top international leaders to operate as a true global community and closely work together to ensure our mutual survival – arguably ALL explain the basic shutdown of the world as we once knew it.

Meaning, a virus, is a virus, is a virus.  And people, are people, and continue to be, people. 

All the homophobia, limited thinking and personal wall building and/or destroying won’t change the facts or the outcome once the stark realities of life has its way with you.  Or us.

History is, at its best, a colorful kaleidoscope.  But it isn’t always reliably pretty. 

What it is is reliably prescient.

“History Repeating” – Shirley Bassey

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Light vs. Dark

When Joe Biden officially accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president this week in a forceful and, frankly, awe inspiring speech, he opened his remarks with a quote from the late African American civil rights activist Ella Baker:

Give people light… and they will find the way.

I’m not much of a light vs. darkness guy because I tend to see the world in infinite shades of over analytical grays.  This accounts for my lifelong disinterest in comic books and all things superhero and sword and sorcer-ish from the time I was a pre-pubescent up through the present day.

Sometimes I wonder if I ever would have made it out of young adolescence with all my limbs intact if I had grown up in the age of Harry Potter.  (Note: I’m the kid in the corner with his arms folded wondering why we can’t instead talk about Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie).

Also me in the corner

Though I imagine I might have figured out a way to find value in Harry’s lessons.  I’ve pretty much had to do this as a writing mentor for any number of students inspired not only by the worlds of Potter, but by the actions in Marvel, DC, Spielberg and Lucas.

I try to temper my enthusiasm

Of course, the lesson in this is to not be so quick to dismiss out of hand something that is not your thing.  If you do it that fast it is likely the universe will actually put you in a place where you will absolutely be forced to keep dealing with Dumbledore or the inevitable Avengers 5, 6, or 7 until you can stop dismissing it from way up on the very high perch from which you sit and choose to judge.

Such was my experience listening to Mr. Biden – oh heck, let’s just call him Joe cause that’s what he likes anyway and that’s what fits these days when you’re speaking with or writing about him.

And Joe it is

As Joe talked of being the harbinger of light in these dark Trumpian times I had a knee jerk, split second intellectual reaction of imperious resistance.

He can’t possibly be putting it this simply in these horribly awful and complicated times, could he?  I mean, this isn’t Star Wars or a Marvel movie or even one of my students’ basic notions for an as-of-yet unwritten studio blockbuster.  This is real life.  And real life these days is….

EXACTLY about darkness and light.

Much to my surprise.

It helps that it’s color coded

This is because in that instant I finally got why many young people of all ages crave superheroes and sorcery.  When things go so bad all around you it helps to have a powerful figure of stature on a stage that big drawing the curtain back, looking you in the eye and assuring you that the power of the light inside you is enough to fight the darkness attacking you IF you deign to believe in it.

In fact, in this case it is especially powerful because, unlike most superheroes, you don’t have to fight the fight alone.  You have a whole force of ordinary people very much like you and if you simply pool your forces together you can together shine bright enough to…

*cough* *cough*

Well, I was gonna say light up the lights of Broadway, which explains so much of why I never gravitated towards superheroes to begin with.  But instead, let’s go with vanquish the darkest of enemies, and call it a day.

Because by now you know what both I (and Joe) mean by the metaphor.

There are some moments in time where simplicity rules no matter how complicated you think it all is and I want to get.

Well, this too

We’re living through incredible darkness at the moment, as Joe’s 25-minute speech pointed out.

  • There are 176,000+ Americans dead from COVID-19
  • There are 5.68 million Americans infected with the virus
  • The U.S. leads the world in confirmed cases and deaths
  • More than 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment this year
  • More than 10 million Americans will lose their health insurance this year

And yet this just in from the President’s counselor and all-around right hand gal Kellyanne Conway when asked about plans for this week’s Republican convention:

You are going to see and hear from many Americans whose lives have been monumentally impacted by this administration’s policies.  We definitely want to improve on the dour and sour mood of the D.N.C.

Ah yes, behold all the doom and gloom.

But, um, how will that strategy improve on the dour and sour mood of the D.N.C.?  I mean, if we actually have real Americans speak? 

Well, there might be a casting call going on right now since its just been announced that two producers from Trump’s The Apprentice have been signed to help guide the festivities and wrangle talent.But here’s what we do know at the moment.  The Missouri couple that a few months ago toted assault weapons at Black Lives Matter demonstrators, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, are scheduled to appear.  As is Nicholas Sandmann, that smirky Kentucky teenager who got up in the face of Native American elder Nathan Phillips at the Lincoln Memorial last year and tried to stare him down with a Cheshire cat smile that only the Church Lady could love.

Talk about darkness vs. the light.  Or shall we say, the Light vs. the Dark.

Ugh, fine, I get it.

Well luckily, I don’t have to because Joe did it for us in his way.  All  we have to do now is follow his lead and make the right – I mean left – choice.

Though admittedly I have a ways go with that.  On Monday, the night before the convention began and three days before Joe spoke, an elderly masked woman and I were riding up the elevator alone to the same floor in a medical building on our way to different doctor appointments (Note:  Don’t worry, I was only getting an allergy shot).

In any event, during the ride she suddenly turned to me and  said:

Excuse me sir, I’ve taken it upon myself to be the town crier, in this upcoming election you must vote for Trump.

To say the least…

To which I proceeded to say things to her I have never heard myself  say out loud to anyone and couldn’t print or put on TV.  This was after excoriating her on her feelings about Black and Brown people and telling her to turn off Fox News and educate herself.

Though before she accused Joe of being senile and having Alzheimer’s.  To which I shouted back at her down the hall (Note: We were no longer in the elevator):

Well, you should know about that!  And good luck with your message in Los Angeles….HONEY!!!

Yep

This is all another way of saying the light has probably come for me and us just in the knick of time.

Sutton Foster – “Gimme Gimme” (from Thoroughly Modern Millie)