I’m Going to Dreamland

** Minor Spoilers of Netflix’s Hollywood ahead **

I don’t know about anyone else but for the last few months I’ve been living in dreamland.

This is a good place to be for about 50% of the time, given the realities of a worldwide pandemic.  Which doesn’t change the fact that for the other half of the time it’s been, let’s face it, kind of nightmarish.

Yeeps

Of course, nightmares are also dreams, just ones that bring out strong feelings of fear, terror, distress or anxiety.  At least, that’s the dictionary definition.

Though most of us don’t think of dreams or dreamlands quite that way.

We Americans especially like our dreams.  We like them so much we even once upon a time coined the aspirational phrase, The American Dream and had ourselves believing it for more than several generations.

In 1950, anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker took this idea one step further by famously naming Hollywood The Dream Factory.  In that seminal book, she masterfully dissected the push and pull between art and commerce in a culture and industry that has never done particularly well at balancing both.

Still, we soldier on and attempt to make sense of things, don’t we?  In much the same way we try to understand how a wonderful dream could just as easily become an unendurable, soul-crushing nightmare.

Certainly anyone who has lived in Hollywood for any length of time could wax poetic on both (Note: Depressingly so, for at least 50% of the time).  As a Hollywood resident myself for close to four decades, well, don’t get me started and don’t even ask where I would start….

It was with this understanding that I approached Netflix’s new Ryan Murphy miniseries Hollywood.   That is because, well, there is no other way to approach it.

Let Miss Patti take you for a ride

Hollywood is a perfectly flawed, dreamy, nightmarish and confoundingly implausible representation of the American, well, dream, told through the lens of moviemaking in the 1940s.

It’s fabulously beautiful in both sets and human beings, the latter of whom seem almost inhuman, especially the men.  But that’s the point, isn’t it?  When you can’t get beauty in real life Hollywood can always, to some degree, provide it.

How is this allowed?

It is also fabulously absurd in a fairly satisfying way as it attempts to bridge the gap of facts and fantasy by using the lives of both real life Hollywood people and make believe characters we might have enjoyed them encountering in order to address the sins and Pyrrhic victories of our collective pasts.

I, for one, don’t mind seeing a shy, soon-to be-famous Rock Hudson falling in love with a talented and very hot Black male screenwriter.  Not to mention, it’s pretty thrilling to experience the smart mouthy woman married to an obnoxious, know-it-all studio chief get the chance to choose what movies she thinks should get made when her husband becomes unceremoniously, um, indisposed.   Most especially, who wouldn’t enjoy seeing Eleanor Roosevelt making a convincing case for the first Black female star of a mainstream Hollywood movie to a mini-board room of power brokers and somehow managing to change history?

Too much, too silly, too ridiculous, too many plot holes?  I don’t think so.  And yes, of course, there are and it is.

Like most Ryan Murphy shows this is the point, the conceit, the infuriating flaw and the watchable/unwatchable challenge we’re up against.  We dealt with it to good and bad effect in every season of FX’s American Horror Story, raged at it all during the first season of his continuing Netflix series The Politician, admired the tight balancing act in the Emmy award-winning The Assassination of Gianni Versace and marveled at the sheer strangeness of it in his first bona fide big hit TV show, Nip/Tuck.

Not to mention his most delicious camp delicacy #mamacita4Ever

The one thing you can say about Mr. Murphy’s work is that it’s seldom drab and dull.  As a fellow gay man of a certain age, I’ve personally dubbed him The Great Pasticher.  Take any one of his series and you’ll find multiple homages to scenes from famous movies and TV shows, history, current events and pop culture in general all twisted in whatever fashion HE deems fit in order to tell a story.

It’s a love it or hate it approach to art but it’s almost never boring.  I’d rather deal with a zillion plot holes than be bored to tears and on this score, nothing he does, even the trashiest of the campiest, ever totally disappoints.

Boring is not in his vocabulary

One of the primary conceits of Hollywood is the centerpiece location of the Golden Tip service station (Note:  Oh yes, he did come up with that name), where men, women and presumably anyone in between can hire one of many hunky hot male attendants for sexual favors and get their every tank imaginable filled to dizzying effects.

All you have to do is drive up to the gas pump, look into the attendant’s eyes and utter the magic phrase:

I WANT TO GO TO DREAMLAND.

Take me away

And then, yeah, it’s just that damn easy.  In fact, far, far simpler than finding the balance in real life and, well, who wouldn’t like that???

Of course, this fictional filling hole is not made up out of thin air but rather a roman à clef version of a gas station in the real 1940s Hollywood famously run by the late Scotty Bowers. 

If you’re a gay guy of, once again, a certain age like myself and Mr. Murphy and haven’t heard of Scotty at this point, well, that’s impossible.  But for the rest of you, check out his 2012 memoir, Full Service, about the business in question and you’ll see Hollywood (the miniseries, at least) strays only far enough away from the facts to make its overall point.  You might also want to check out the 2017 documentary of his life, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood and ask yourself if, at the end of the day, you don’t find everything he says and has claimed, well, mostly true

This is the consistent aspirational nature of much of Mr. Murphy’s work.  That would be a what if fantasy correcting the past for any of us who have been or ever felt marginalized. (Note: This of course, is pretty much everybody as far as real-life Hollywood is concerned).

It’s not always an accurate or totally buyable portrayal but, somehow, if you squint, he often makes it seem possible and, strangely, beautiful.  It’s a different kind of dream factory, to be sure, but one that gives us a brief respite from the Nightmare (Note: Pick One) we’re currently living through quite nicely.

Netflix Hollywood Trailer Music

Hostess with the Mostest

This year’s Oscars should be co-hosted by Wanda Sykes, Tiffany Haddish and Viola Davis. Wit, class, diversity and what the Motion Picture Academy most seems to be looking for – an expansion of its viewing audience.

That’s industry parlance for higher ratings

AKA MONEY #timetogetreal

I partly suggest this because I am so sick of men.  That’s quite a statement coming from a gay guy, but, trust me it’s true.  If I didn’t already have a husband I’d be taking a break.

After the Electoral College POTUS, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey and Les Moonves of it all we get…Kevin Hart as THE choice to host the annual TV show that gets the biggest ratings of the year?  Well, among the biggest ratings these days because that number has rapidly been decreasing, among so many numbers for network television.

I can’t

Still, this pick (rescinded two days later) says so much about the entertainment industry – in this case quite an apt stand-in for our immediate world – and its ability to perceive what’s going on in the zeitgeist.

That’s Chair parlance for reality.

Let’s be clear – I don’t want to get rid of all men, or shall I say, all straight men.  Some of my best friends are…

We know, Chairy.

I’m only advocating we, well… try to take a look around and through, inside and out, and up and over.

Kevin Hart.  If you want the full details of his tweets, have at it here.

But here’s a quick summary.  He’s admitted to being physically violent with his wife, even spent a night in jail for it.  There was also a sex tape of him cheating on her when she was eight months pregnant but let’s put that to the side because, well, who doesn’t cheat on their pregnant wife?

The Chair bringing the shade

Mr. Hart has joked more than once that if he caught his son playing with a doll house it would mean he was gay and he’d hit him over the head with it and say, stop it, that’s gay.  In fact, that’s gay or that’s so gay seems like it was his go-to twitter insult from, ok…2007-2011.  He even made an AIDS joke about Damien Wayans back then, saying his social media pic looked like a gay billboard for AIDS.

Explaining himself in a 2015 Rolling Stone interview, Mr. Hart said he wouldn’t do those jokes anymore because, the times, when I said it, weren’t as sensitive as they are now.

Yeah, we need to talk

See…this is the crux of the problem

For some people, the times only become sensitive when they get caught or called out for their… stuff.  Or as All in the Family’s Archie Bunker once eloquently stated nationwide on CBS –TV in the early 1970s:

She (Eleanor Roosevelt) was the one who discovered the coloreds in this country.  We never knew they was there!

When you talk crap so publicly so often and gain any sort of success or profile (Note: Or even if you are unknown and just say it too loud or to the wrong person) you get held accountable for your actions these days.

On the same token, when YOU are the one to bring up what someone said and challenge them on it it’s likely you will get called out in some corners for being the PC police. That pejorative is sort of like the alt-middle version of fake news but without the knee-jerk mass revulsion now finally beginning to be associated with Trumpism.

Yet, when we face the issue, we can see how one is the outgrowth of the other.

When someone tells you — Racism, sexism, homophobia – we just weren’t aware of this stuff pre 1960’s.  It was a different time – you can answer : Yeah, you did and well, sure it was.  What was different is that people didn’t make fun en masse about your minority group because you won the genetic lottery ticket of the moment that excluded you from marginalization.  (Note: Or you were in the majority).

So, big congrats on that.

To which they might answer:

But before we complain and lament about oversensitivity and political correctness – can’t we joke about anything, anymore??? 

“Everyone is just SO sensitive” says the white men who lament a “War on Christmas” #HappyHolidays

To which you reply:  Okay, but let’s look at what’s being asked for.  All that’s being asked for is – a look.

I got called out on social media this week by one woman who wrote that as a Jewish person she’s heard many celebrities go on anti-Semitic rants, including members of the LGBTQ community and that SHE never asked that they not work.

Oh lady, I haven’t had enough coffee to deal with you

Well, no one is saying Kevin Hart should never work.  I mean, I’m not hiring him but, hey… knock yourself out, he’s a movie star…ish.  He’s just not the right host for the Oscars.  Would you want Mel Gibson hosting the Oscars, lady???

Not to mention, you HAVE to know I’m Jewish.  Who else but a Jewish gay man from New York with the insatiable need to always have the last word would ever take the time to answer you back so incessantly, Ms. Laurie Freedman Fannin?!

Oh yes, that is her real name.  Look her up on Facebook.  Especially if you agree with me.  Please.

LOL, you shady Chair, you!!

The real point is, any of the above-mentioned information about Mr. Hart, et. al was available to the Academy through a quick Google search weeks, months and years before they made that choice.  You can be edgy, more than edgy, and still proceed with due diligence and basic consideration.

This is how we get to Wanda Sykes, Tiffany Haddish and Viola Davis.

Here for this!

All women in the #MeToo era.

All people of color in a year when Black Panther and BlackkKlansman seem like sure bet nominees (and perhaps winners in multiple categories).

Wanda Sykes – One of the best standups in the country who happens to be an out lesbian, thus satisfying the mantra of trying to get a comedian host and knowing there are also multiple LGBTQ themed films that will receive nominations.

I’m on my way!

Viola Davis – A past Oscar WINNER (Fences) and multi-nominee (The Help, Doubt) who has had a hit show, How to Get Away With Murder, on ABC (the network that also broadcasts the Oscars) for the past five years.

You know Annalise would slay #nobrainer

Tiffany Haddish – A younger comic actress who WON the prestigious New York Film Critics award last year for a breakout performance (Girl’s Trip) and now STARS in her own movies. In fact, her latest is the current box-office hit, Night School, where she gets to beat the crap out of Kevin Hart!

Heck knows, I’m not that smart.  I just put in a tiny bit of thought on the matter and used The Google.

You’d think the Academy would do the same.  Or would you?

Aretha Franklin – “Respect”

Off the Grid

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 11.30.39 PM

Certainly going to an academic conference in Atlanta and spending a lot of time with some dear friends you haven’t spent a lot of time with in years while you’re there is not going off the grid. Especially if your guilty pleasure is HGTV Land – a place where you see others buying Tiny Houses (Note: That’s 150 sq. feet) in the middle of nowhere or a family of six voluntarily uprooting their lives to live in a South American jungle in what looks like a ramshackle hut with no indoor plumbing.

I mean, where’s the cable? Not to mention, how about reception? Because I need to call…oh wait I cancelled that. Still, I was supposed to finish…Right, I was told that can wait another few weeks or more. In fact, that’s why I’m here.

Here is not necessarily Atlanta – a city I had never been to before this past week and rather enjoyed. Here is also not hanging out for several days at a Hilton with a room full of academics who were far more hyper analytical about films and television than me (Note: Yes, it’s possible and more about that in a moment). Here is actually just being there, or more directly – anywhere but where you and I, let’s call it WE, usually are.

that's trippy, mannnn

that’s trippy, mannnn

Full confession – I don’t much like travelling or even roughing it. I enjoy my pad, my things, my friends, and my routine. This doesn’t mean I don’t crave going out and seeing places or spending time in a new city with people I don’t know. It is simply to say – even before you had to take your shoes off in an airport and wait on 60-90 minute lines carrying all kinds of stuff you probably don’t need/want people to see that will nevertheless be scanned (along with yourself) by state of the art technology – the idea of interrupting my flow of work for a journey felt….frivolous, difficult and even a bit scary. Especially if it meant hassling with planes, trains and automobiles as well as all of the other people who love them and use them.

Liz Lemon for President

Liz Lemon for President

This, sadly, sounds very American and slightly privileged and, frankly, I’m not particularly proud of it. On the other hand, neither am I ashamed of it. Because I suspect more than a few others feel the same way. I’m not talking about the dream vacation somewhere exotic. Certainly any of us would crave this if we could afford it. Rather this is all about short trips – making an effort to break up the day, the week or the month with an adventure. Stepping out of your comfort zone to do something, anything you might not ordinarily do.   Even if it’s just for part of a day. Or perhaps even…a group of days?

It’s a mind clearer. An eye opener. It likely won’t be a revelation – I mean, the very nature of revelations is that they’re rare. But it could very likely lead you on the road to one.

An adventure needn’t be exotic. Despite my normal state of malaise, every week or so even I manage to walk our pooch down a new street in a different direction and discover something I hadn’t seen before. Would I do this without the pooch? Certainly, not! But dog walking for a dog owner, like academic conferences for a college professor, are necessities of life. So once they get you out of the house, it’s a bit easier to break up the routine and encounter something new.

Me, every night

Me, every night

I can’t tell you exactly what a unique discovery will do for you but through experience I’ve found that at the very least it gets you out of yourself. (Note: And for some of us, that can only be a good thing). It also gives you bizarre snippets of knowledge.

For instance, did you know that groups of straight men are really into group-watching Frozen? An academic I know presented a whole paper on it where he shared this video you might or might not have seen. (Note: Thanks Sean!)

And, being in Atlanta, of course there was a panel on Gone with the Wind. Were you aware that if you check out the archive at the University of Texas at Austin you will find three types of letters written to its producer David O. Selznick during the three-year period between when the film was first announced and produced? The first set of letters suggested possible movie stars who would be good in the lead role; the second were suggestions from white people of African Americans they knew that would be good for playing the roles of the…gulp…slaves (Note: Often these were the real-life domestics of the white people themselves and even included a request from Eleanor Roosevelt, who got her own childhood maid an audition for Mammy which said maid nervously flubbed). The third group: well, this was from another large gaggle of white people who themselves wanted to play the roles of the…SLAVES.…in the film…because, well….they specialized performing in…BLACKFACE. Really.   Yes.

Yikes

Yikes

To realize the latter stack of those letters were written during the lifetimes of millions of senior citizens still on earth is to prove just how much, or perhaps how little, the world has changed, depending on your perspective since then. Consider that the next time you speak to or even see someone over 85. Or try to describe or even write someone in that age group. Makes you consider what the world would make of what’s going on in Election Year 2016 a mere 85 years from now, doesn’t it? Well, whatever it is, can’t all be good.

Am I exaggerating to state that you don’t know what slight change of perspective or even creative urge a small amount of knowledge will spark? I don’t think so.   And even if it’s nil it could at the very least come in handy the next time you are forced to make some idle chatter when you’re at a place you did not choose to be. Who among us doesn’t crave some additional thoughts for that?

Though this is a viable second option

Though this is a viable second option

And wait, here’s another one – do you know most people in Atlanta don’t speak in southern accents? Okay, how provincial does one have to be to even think that, he said embarrassingly. Fine, then here’s one other final thought – did you know there is also a new major urban renewal project in the city, that came into being from a student’s graduate thesis, which has created many miles of revitalized winding swaths of road with people, condos, stores, bike paths and actual human interaction in a previously slightly undesirable area of city located on the former Beeline train tracks of Krog Street – that is somewhat similar to the High Line revitalization in New York City – that…. Uh, well…you can see it for yourself.

Groovy

Groovy

Heck, the entire Atlanta trip was worth it if only because it allowed me to realize that the future will not include society letting the rest of our major cities crumble. Living in nightmarishly traffic-ridden, infrastructure crumbling Los Angeles, it’s easy to think that. But if that isn’t happenin’ in Atlanta or New York, it for sure ain’t happenin’ here. For one thing, we Angelenos are much too vain…

As is anyone who writes a blog or refuses to deviate from their own little routines. Which, admittedly, most of us are. But if you’re gonna be self-involved it helps to occasionally involve yourself with something and someone else. Not only does it break up the monotony of and preoccupation with you, it has a side benefit for the rest of the world – you (meaning we) — just might learn something.   And pass it on.