It’s Brutal Out There

What is that key 18-24 year-old demographic thinking about?  

Well, I’ll tell you.  Mostly they’re thinking they don’t want to be in 2021.  And, well, who can blame them? 

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

To mask, or not to mask?

These should not be the questions. 

And why are those questions even up for debate?

Have I been quiet lately?

Once we lived in a world where science ruled; where political leaders understood they needed to agree to disagree in order to govern; and where actual news footage of hundreds of rioters storming the Capitol building, destroying property and killing cops was at the very least seen as a…well…riot .

Yet today’s 2021 has become one big mass of illogical conclusions.  A literal Alice In Wonderland where up IS down and down IS up.

That is if we could even agree on the definitions of DOWN and UP.

Nope. Na-ah. I’m going back to bed.

No wonder our young people want nothing to do with it, or us.

Every spring I teach a class for college writing majors called Thesis Writing For Screen Media.  In it, graduating seniors develop and write either an original screenplay or TV series pilot and first season episode guide.

It’s not an exact science but what I have come to see annually after reading their work over the years is a cross-section of what’s going through the minds of those with far less experience but far more guile and energy than myself and those of my peers.

Not at all what I look like while grading these scripts

What I get is a brief but fleeting glance of what they see as…the future.  And given their age and the fact that they will soon be taking over the reigns of this, ahem, Wonderland, their perceptions are far more relevant than mine.  Or, likely, yours.

Some years the stories are mostly pure escapist and other times they veer towards the deadly depressing in a way you can only pull off when you’re in college.  One year there were far too many scripts centered around technology (Note: At least for my tastes, which means more than three) and in another a decade back I wanted to shoot myself in the head when I had four or five (though it felt like ten) leaning heavily towards relentless versions of Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter sword and sorcery.

My notes. #igiveup

Of course, mixed into these are always, always, ALWAYS takes on love, injustice and outrageous coming of age, buddy, love stories in the contemporary world. 

Not much like that this year.

Of the twelve scripts I read, only ONE took place in 2021.  That means ELEVEN of them were set in the past, the future or, in one case, in an alternate animated universe that has never existed but you sure wish could exist.  Particularly in these days.

OK but not THIS alternate reality

I’ve got stories in the roaring twenties and depression era New York City.  I’ve got one that takes place in 18th century West Asia, two others set in the intolerant post Civil War west of the 1800s, and another in a literal ghost town not of this earth.

There is one that takes place far in the future on various planets, a second set in ancient Greek mythology (Note: Gods and all) and a third set only five years ago in a pre-pandemic restaurant.

I can’t wait to erase this from my memory

The sole story that takes place in our contemporary world is about three people, two of whom are on the spectrum, and all of whom pretty much live in their own worlds and mostly try to ignore ours.

It doesn’t take an analyst to understand what these writers are doing, and if you guessed taking the easy way out you would be incorrect.

We can intellectualize all we like – we baby boomers and we Gen Xers – but it seems clear that the reality we’ve rendered for the next generation has become pretty much incomprehensible to understand, that is with any real insight, without stepping out of our time period.

Gen Z edition

You can’t make sense of the illogical.  You can’t write about a world where there are no basic truths or rules the vast majority can agree upon.  If you want to answer real questions of faith or humanity you have to go back at least five years or more (Note: Preferably more) or move ahead some indeterminate amount of time (Note: Preferably A LOT more than five years).

Normally I tell young writers who are stumped or shy or reticent, if you merely look around your house or your neighborhood you will discover far more stories than you could possibly tell in a lifetime, much less a semester.

Me when I see that there is a screenwriting professor in the script

Choose what you can’t get off your mind, what fascinates you and go ALL IN.  Use all of YOUR creativity, YOUR craft and YOUR mind to recount to us one of those and you have the best chance of hooking us.  Not to mention, you’ll be amazed at how writing about what you care about in the here and now makes us exponentially care about it, too.

I gave that same min-speech this year but the result was like nothing in the past.

It’s not like there weren’t thematic personal truths to the stories they were telling.  We still got the love stories, the tales of deep hurt (Note: Sometimes even peppered with wry comedy) and the rite of passage journeys.  There were also those of war, of survival and even of government corruption that included people of all races, colors and sexual persuasions.

But in none of them, not a one, was there a literal evocation of 2021 as we know it.

Yep, this… entirely.

In reflection, this was a wise decision.

How can these young people, or any of us, write about something with any meaning that we can’t, at present, even begin to understand?

Olivia Rodrigo – “brutal”

Goy to the World

It’s officially holiday season and from now until New Year’s Eve life is officially a Christmas cookie cutter Hallmark TV movie and we’re all its willing and unwilling viewers.

Just try to scroll or flip or surf in the next five weeks and NOT land on one of them. For the Hallmark brand is no longer solely on the Hallmark channel.  It’s now an official genre – more of a template, really – that’s migrated to Lifetime and Hulu and Netflix and pretty much EVERY other network, cable and streaming platform out there.

Me, 10 minutes after Thanksgiving

You know what this is even as you DENY you would EVER watch one or HAVE EVER seen one because you are just THAT cool:

– A type A career person returns to their hometown around the holidays and meets the more rugged or relaxed person of their dreams

– A big city person reluctantly finds themselves trapped in the country for a few days and Cupid’s arrow strikes as they help resurrect a dying business, usually involving decorations, party planning, hospitality, a needy relative or a tree

TINSEL FIGHTS!

– A recent widow or widower, or happily divorced or unhappily engaged person, is forced to re-engage in a job with someone they initially loathe as sparks fly.  Then, as a result, they wind up getting over the bad partner or the hurt, though not without a few serious yet not too deep, i.e. truly humanly unrecognizable, complications.

Of course, these are only a mere sampling.  There are also the ones where:

– An ordinary guy or gal meet cute with someone who turns out to be a Royal or a celebrity or a mega-gazillionaire they have somehow never heard of or at least fail to recognize.   

And probably Candace Cameron Bure

Or the others  that feature  —

– A non-threatening but engaging person with an” issue” who travels to be with their family around Christmas and somehow and in some way, find their worst childhood trauma getting resolved in less than two hours by staying in a house that would make Martha Stewart go crazy with jealousy and run out to get stoned with Snoop Dog were she not already doing so.

Of course, more than one of these plots can or might be contained in a single episode.  In fact, as a viewer, one only hopes that as many of these tropes as possible be shoved into the narrative.  It’s part of the lure for not only hate-watchers but genre appreciators alike.

Also coats… so many beautiful coats.

And I know this because:

I AM THE CHAIR and I LOVE A GREAT/BAD OR ANYTHING IN BETWEEN HALLMARK MOVIE.

And since I love you so much, here is a list of the new ones available to keep you busy for the rest of 2020 on those days when things WILL inevitably get tough.

It would seem as if a Jewish gay guy like me would be loath to confess his fascination with a large swath of films in which he or his ilk seldom, if ever, appears.  I mean, there’s as much chance of someone like me showing up for the holidays at one of these places as there is of, well – me showing up for the holidays at one of these places.

I’m on my way

Yet ever since my folks brought the young me to my first Broadway musical in the late 1960s and I heard Angela Lansbury sing We Need A Little Christmas in Mame, none of that mattered.  The sparkle from the tinsel and the colors of the tree lights (Note: Yeah and the spotlights) onstage were exciting and fun and EVERYTHING my family and me NEVER experienced in December but that I so, so, SOOO wanted to that I was hooked.

Thus I, and I suspect many non-Christian Hallmark fans, don’t ever associate anything about these movies or shows with the birthday of a historical or even vaguely religious figure. 

Ain’t nothin’ meek about this

Instead, they are candy cane fantasies delivering us from our humdrum holiday realities with dazzle and glamour and impossibly delicious deserts.  And they do this with characters and food and fashion so ridiculously out-of-our world that we can actually safely LOVE laughing AT their ridiculous simplicity as much as we will DENY ever shedding  a tear when somehow their one huge fake life problem finally manages to work itself out.

Which begs the question of how quickly and completely every single one of these characters is even able to find true love in the end.  I mean, you could do an entire network or web channel series of sequels to each of these films where you revisit the couple several years later and unleash all the dirty little secrets of just how happy or, likely, unhappy their films’ endings truly wound up being.

How am I not wildly rich?

This is why as a writer I could never, ever EVER get hired to write one of these, as much as it would certainly be fun.  I’d keep insisting things like:

-But um, who acts like that? 

-What town is this? 

-Who are these people and why don’t they tell their f’n families off instead of allowing them to pressure them that way?

OR –

Leave N.Y. or L.A. to run a bed and breakfast or family bookstore with the most boring person in the world?  Are they KIDDING?  I don’t care how good-looking they are!  

OK, but I bet the wifi is terrible

Of course, when I voiced one or all of these to my husband as we watched Hulu’s Happiest Season, the first genre movie of this kind to center on a gay couple, one of whom was played by our own openly gay star Kristen Stewart, he rolled his eyes and replied to me:

Settle down, Rossellini.  This isn’t Italy in the 1940s.  They don’t live in your world.

True.. but brutal

Well, I’ll say.  In my world, Kristen Stewart would NEVER have put up with the crap her closeted girlfriend was putting her through with her quasi-TV conservative parents played by Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber (Note: The latter of whom is openly gay in real life), forcing her into pretending she was nothing more than her orphaned roommate from the big city desperate for a place in WASP nirvana.

Instead,  she would’ve left her for her closeted girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend from high school that also happened to be visiting their hometown for that weekend.  That gal, now a doctor who lives and works in New York City, is actually a much better match and is played by the wonderfully snide and sassy Aubrey Plaza. 

I want a movie about them just for the suits alone

Forget that Kristen already had sassy and snide covered with her on-screen best friend, played by our current male gay du jour Dan Levy.  A life with those two A-list queers could cover enough snide AND sassy to get me through each Christmas as well as EVERY OTHER  holiday season for the rest of the twelve lifetimes I plan to live over the next 958 years.

But alas, life is NOT a Hallmark film, real or reimagined.  I suppose this is why I will now and probably forever keep watching them.  The only way to get through life, real or imagined, is to willfully and completely soldier on, especially through the chafe, ever hopeful that one day we will stumble on to the imperfectly perfect mix of our own concoction.

Barbra Streisand – “Jingle Bells”