Super Harriet

Harriet Tubman’s face was scheduled to be on the $20 bill next year but the Trump administration put an end to that.  In May it was announced the redesign would be delayed until 2026 due to counterfeiting and… (ahem)…security features.

This means the soonest an image of a Black female can grace our currency for the first time will be when Trump is out of office, that is if he were to win a second term and survive his pending impeachment.

AHHHHH! #methinkingabout2020

It also means the soonest any of us will be able to proudly pull a wad of Tubmans from our wallets instead of our current stack of twenties bearing the likeness of Andrew Jackson, a slave owning, Southern cotton plantation master who forcibly removed two major native American tribes from their homelands in the early 1800s, will also have to wait.   (Note: FYI, Andrew Jackson is Trump’s favorite American president, so much so that a portrait of the former POTUS now hangs in his Oval Office).

Typical

Still, what didn’t wait and what even Trump couldn’t stop was this weekend’s release of Focus Features’ Harriet, a long overdue major studio biopic about one of the most legendary and unexplored historical figures in American history.

One can easily picture Trump reveling in the flat image of Jackson on his wall as he figures out more ways to pit various regions of the country against each other in a new 21st century Civil War.

Can we hire Daniel Day Lewis to recreate this?

But after watching the superbly made screen version of Harriet Tubman emerge as a sort of mainstream cinematic superhero for everything that is just and right about the world, past and present, it’s clear Trump and his favorite predecessor better take cover. A cultural shift of the tides is beginning and it’s being led once again by a petite, very dark-skinned young woman who has no difficulty in speaking truth to White Power, past or present.

It is no accident that the image of Harriet Tubman one walks away from after Harriet is one of our nation’s first female superheroes, a woman who has been historically documented to have helped many hundreds of slaves escape the South, often by using her own amazingly unerring and mystical sense of direction and focus.

Also, good hats!

Tubman herself claimed that God spoke to her and helped guide her and the many people she saved to freedom.  This is literally represented in the film through images of both past trauma and future dangers right around the bend each time certain death rears its ugly head.  These are also shown in other moments in the film as nothing more than possible delusions from minor brain damage she received after a slave master broke her skull when she was 13 years old and she lied comatose for several months.

At a recent screening at the Writer’s Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills, Harriet’s director and co-writer Kasi Lemmons addressed a question about Tubman’s real-life and cinematic feats by noting that at the very least she had prefect instincts.  But her co-writer Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the Titans), who wrote the first draft of the script 25 years ago, decided early on to approach Tubman’s story not so much literally but as an action film…with a superhero.

There is literally a comic book called “Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer” #really #saysitall

Since Howard’s first draft screenplay, a plethora of historical records, including photographs and diaries, have been unearthed and several Tubman biographies have been written.  These all verify Harriet’s seemingly superhuman abilities as an expert guide leading scores of slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad as well as what she claimed to be a very specific and deep personal communication with God himself.

Of course, like any great leaders in a particular field of endeavor, especially in the past, it is difficult to know exactly how they do it and why they are able to be so exceptionally successful when the odds, and reality, were and are so severely stacked against them.

Some of us even look at Trump and wonder that very same thing, even as his Wizard of Oz-ish curtain is currently being pulled back for all of us Dorothys to see in real time, if we choose to.

There’s no place like the polls #votehimout #2020comefaster

But at the end of the day what’s important are results, be it a Trump, a Harriet Tubman or any particular major studio film beckoning for box-office receipts or at least a blaze of glory as its launched into the zeitgeist.

We know what Tubman achieved and what Trump did.  Right now, and after just a few days, Harriet has so far managed to land the number two spot at the box-office nationally this weekend — no small achievement for a historical biopic.   Yes, that’s no small feat but one suspects, like it’s namesake, its more impressive achievement will be a slow burn into the cultural conversation of who we are and where we are as a nation.

You know it

This might start with Cynthia Erivo’s riveting film debut and sure bet lead actress Oscar nomination for her lead performance, move towards the clear parallel of Civil War era 1% attitude to those carrying the torch for Trumpism today and then wander off into why the heck it took a century and a half of cinema for Hollywood to finally tell the real life Hollywood story of Harriet Tubman.

Yeah, for real

Of course, we all know why it took so long for Harriet to reach the big screen.  As cowriter Howard so aptly put it, you needed Black Panther to blow the doors wide open.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t take as long for the superpowers exhibited by Ms. Tubman in Harriet to blow the doors of the Oval Office open and escort the likes of POTUS’ Trump and Jackson out for good.

Cynthia Erivo – “Stand Up” (From Harriet)

The Trump and Judy Show

Let’s talk about legends and the people who inhabit them.  The common dictionary definition:

Legend:  An extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field.

Of course, that’s only part of the story.

Renee Zellweger gives an astonishing performance as the legendary Judy Garland in the self-titled new film, Judy.  It’s not so much that Ms. Zellweger exactly recreates her singing voice or her entire autobiography during the last few years of her life.  It’s that somehow, and in so many ways, she captures the essence of Judy’s legend.

Make room on your shelf, Renee!

Or at least what we believe was, or could have been, her essence.

It’s there in her tremulous voice, her humor, her raw vulnerability, her fight, the nuances of her mannerisms and her underfed yet somehow still powerful physicality.

Not only is a tour de force of determination in her every and many close-up(s), it’s a channeling of duality.  She shows us the core of what we publicly saw of Judy in her many stage, screen and TV appearances AND she gives us a peak into the charming and yet not always admirable part of her humanity that we never knew and might not have ever imagined.

None of us are ever one thing all the time.  We are a mix of light and dark, good and bad, strong and vulnerable and, trite as it may sound, love and hate.

This is amplified ten times over with those we’ve crowned as our legends.

No doubt Donald J. Trump will go down as an extremely different type of legend in our history, but a legend nevertheless.  Most American presidents in history occupy legendary status during their era and for many the legend manages to sustain through generations and even centuries. (Note: See above definition).

Sigh… I really need to stop looking at pictures like this #coolobama #sighagain

The breadth of career, the various distinctive looks, the marriages, the overly insistent publicity, the rise and fall and rise again – these are among the many things Trump and Judy share.  It may be a sobering thought but it doesn’t make it any less true.

What is also true is that ultimately those are artificial markers we, as society, have constructed for ourselves in order to understand how one human rises into the public consciousness and manages to stay there for years, decades and very often even beyond that.

Roughly as long as the shelf life of a Twinkie #thatsalongtime

Trump and Judy might both be modern day legends but in so many other, more important ways, they couldn’t be more different.

Trump from the beginning used his role as a renowned entertainer to divide people.  The phrase that cemented his stardom in the mass media zeitgeist was, YOU’RE FIRED!  He ran for the presidency on a platform of Make America Great Again but never before in American history has the country been this divided.  While Trump certainly did unite a significant subset of the country he polarized us a whole and continues to do so as he and his presidency amble towards impeachment.

Haven’t we been crawling there all along? #itstime

A deeper dive into specifics allows us to see this is not where it ends.  Trump’s talent is self-promotion, grievance and sheer rage/anger.  It can be amusing in cynical, seemingly too politically correct times but it doesn’t cause true pleasure like the lilt of a spectacular musical note.  Nor does it allow us to relax and let down our guard when we watch a scene in a film or on TV where a performer is bold enough to expose publicly the kind of vulnerabilities we keep secret for fear of risking our own personal shame.

With Trump weakness is BAD, not a given.  It is an aspect of our ourselves so impossible to admit that it must be put through his own personal, branded wood chipper and spew out as aggressive disdain and a call for destruction of whomever we deem as the other.

What my brain will do to 2016 – 2020

Rather than cleanse ourselves through a good cry or the spontaneous live energy of a song delivered by a legendary vocalist, we cloak ourselves in an adrenalin rush of negative performance art that blocks out everything else.  We are assured that no matter what our problems are it’s the outside world that is responsible for them.

The system that’s failed the collective us has made us believe that what we deem as our many rights have only been made wrong by weak leaders in today’s age.

The Trump worldview harkens back to his late eighties mantra that it’s you against the world and that greed and gold and gilt for you and your family are what’s good.

Gee thanks, Gordy #UGH

If you don’t have those it’s the fault of the Mexicans, the drug lords, the non-white invaders, the too privileged leaders who are a disgrace for selling out the real Americans, those people whose bodies they used and willingly stepped on and over to get them where they are today.

What made Trump legendary from the beginning was his lack of shame and ability to vomit out his authentic self no matter what the elite thought of his antics.  He was a crude, trash-talking, show-off with seemingly endless cash, with an amusing glint in his eye and an ability to crack an off-color double entendre or blatantly dirty jokes in public the way we and our families all did in private behind closed doors.

Trying to think about Trump as a legend #imtrying

Whatever we say about Trump he evokes for many what publicly passes as an authentic self.  Many would argue Judy did the same, from her Wizard of Oz days on through the territory covered in this latest film of her life.

Certainly, the public persona of any legend is not truly authentic.  No persona, light or dark, good or bad, can ever be all things any human being is in any given moment or in total.

Except Julie Andrews… she is EVERYTHING

What is most important when we speak of our legends is considering not who they are or were but what they truly do for us and why.  In whose company do we want to live in through our eternities?  Which of these legends, despite their humanness, gave us something positive to consider, and which others of them brought us down as a collective whole?

Renee Zellweger – “Over the Rainbow” (From Judy Soundtrack)

Hackety Hack Hack

No one wants to be labeled a hack but what’s even worse these days is being hacked.

Or so we’re told.

But is it?

A hack is generally thought of as someone who is not great at what they do.  It’s often an insult hurled at artists, particularly writers, but over the years has been broadened to apply to anyone whose work or even personage we (or they) find inferior.

What????  He/she’s a hack! 

You think so?

Absolutely, did you see __________?   Or the work they did on _______________?  And look at them.  Do you want to be around that all day? You can feel the mediocrity dripping off them from here!

No, to be called a hack is not a good thing.  Worse yet, is actually being one.

I could hand out quite a few of these

Yet none of these insults or categorizations even comes close to the fear of being hacked.  If it’s never happened to you (Note: Though likely it has) that will surely feel worse than maximum-security prison.  Perhaps not quite a death sentence but possibly one where you have only a 50-50 chance of being commuted.

So change your privacy settings.  Quickly! 

Do you know how many people can see all of your data, the pictures of your kids, maybe even your credit cards and….bank statements!!!?? 

Oh My God, I have to keep me and my family safe!!  Here’s what they say to do. First, I’m gonna change all of my passwords every month to a series of numbers, letters and phrases I can’t remember.  So I’ll make a list I’m not gonna store on my computer, because that’s not safe.  I’ll print it out and hide it in the house in a place only you and I will know…

…And likely not remember.  Which is when your real troubles will truly begin.

Me, resetting my passwords

Only someone who has been hacked numerous times has the right to make light of this.  And you are reading them.

For two years running someone filed fake federal income taxes under my name.  My ATM card has been pilfered three times in the last six years and accrued charges I didn’t make.  Several months ago someone even opened a credit card under my name through Alaska Airlines and bought a Cuban cigar that was delivered to my house in a skinny clear plastic bag.

One lonely little cigar. #notmine

And no, I wasn’t held responsible for any of them.  And yes, all of the companies were understanding of the problem and have whole departments devoted to fraud.  Sure it was bit of a pain in the ass but far less painful than changing every one of my passwords and expecting my brain to scroll through a list that multiplies quicker than the Duggar family in the nineties.

This is certainly not an endorsement or minimization of identity theft.  Nor is it a plea for us all to try to maintain some sort of private life if for no other reason than to prove to ourselves that even though we don’t post our bareass on Instagram it really does exist and is dropping.  Though not quite as badly as we might think.

No, this rant was brought on by….

Our daily national revisiting of Russia’s interference in our 2016 election…

Its widespread hacks into our voter systems in all 50 states just released by the Senate Intelligence Committee and…..

The general thud or hair on fire response it has all gotten (Note: It depends where you live) all across the country.

My eternal reaction

We all should be greatly concerned about a foreign adversary tampering in our electoral process and panicked that our voting systems are still unprotected and, well, more than hackable.

But let’s be clear about our concerns.

If our digital voting systems are actually hacked and people’s votes are changed, or folks are de-registered from their precincts, we’re f-ked but not irretrievably so.

It worked out OK on Scandal #spoiler? #oliviaweneedyou

Sure, many states do not have back up paper ballots but if this is a REQUIREMENT OF FEDERAL ELECTION LAW we have a year and a half to put this in place and well, yeah, there is still time.

If the banks and credit card companies all managed to set up effective fraud investigation departments so as not to lose money on piddly stuff like the illegal single Cuban cigar purchased under my name it seems that the same amount of effort on our government’s part to save our democracy might actually be doable.

Which brings us to the bigger issue:  How much responsibility will each of us United States citizens take to not live our lives as HACKS?

21st century aspirations

This weekend I watched The Great Hack, a Netlfix documentary that spends two hours diving deeply into the indisputable avarice of Facebook and the inarguable danger of data mining political consulting companies like the now defunct Cambridge Analytica.

That’s the British based company that basically had access to the personal information, purchases and intimate thoughts and desires of many tens of millions of us (Note: 87 million Facebook users, according to the doc) and used it to specifically put Trump in the White House.

Well, not literally.  It seems that Cambridge Analytica had a lot of help. It was hired by the Trump campaign for a ton of cash, bought off Facebook and its private info to the tune of $1 million per day in ad revenue during the hottest months of the campaign, and coordinated its activities both with Russia and Wikileaks on behalf of its client.

Allow me to scream into the heavens: ZUCKERBERG!!!!!!

Yet as nefarious as this sounds, none of this would work without the single largest group that helped Cambridge Analytica and Facebook put Trump over the top.

US.

Not any of these companies.

Not any of the personal information they pilfered.

And not any particular member of the Trump family, tempting as it is to blame them all for everything.

Those Trumps do like the penthouse #icantevenlookatthem

See, the way election influence works today is at its heart no different than what I learned in the Electoral Politics class I took back in the seventies when I was a senior at Queens (ahem) College.

First, you scour the voter rolls and find out as much about the personal tastes and lives of the voters as possible.   Second, you don’t spend your money on the ones you already have.  And third, you totally ignore the ones you know you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting to vote for you.

Then those who remain, based on the data you’ve accrued, become your most persuadable group.  And once you’ve determined who they are you fight like hell to get them.

Not shady at all.

Take for example ads that scare the beeJesus out of “them:” Reagan’s rants on “welfare queens” taking your money; George H.W. Bush’s ads about a Black convict named Willie Horton who was given a prison furlough and raped a white woman,  and so on and so forth, etc. etc.

All of these and many more before and since were the precursors to the most recent fake Black Lives Matters type rallies brainstormed by Steve Bannon and Cambridge A in places like rural Pennsylvania and/or suburban Florida.  Or the made up from whole cloth Crooked Hillary is corrupt and a child molester to boot memes promulgated in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin’s various towns by various other propagandists, including the candidate, who wanted to do anything they could to gain power and reshape the world order with themselves and their minions as close to the on/off switch as possible.

The most dangerous button in the world

Their ability to HACK into our lives and micro-target us as never before has simply supercharged their mechanisms and super-powered their abilities to spread disinformation but the essential play book is exactly the same.

Thus, the question we all need to ask ourselves in this seemingly new world, is this –

Will we continue to behave as hacks and be hacked into submission?  Or will we rise up by paying closer attention to what is true and false, fact and fiction, real or unreal??

Preferably yesterday

You can’t convince someone of what’s in a report if you don’t read it, or at least a summary of it, yourself.   In a vetted news source.

And heck, for those who don’t believe there is such a thing, you can order the audio copy from Amazon or listen to it online for free.

For those who didn’t serve in the military, think of those hours as an alternative to public service.  To those who did serve and think of themselves as patriots, do it for the love of your country.

Or forever remain a hack.

The Police – “Every Breath You Take” 

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” 

Red, White, and Bette

American icon, star of stage and screen, all around badass — these are all ways to describe the Divine Miss Bette Midler. It’s been a hard week for the Chair, so in lieu of his musings on all things politics and pop culture, we defer to the brilliance of Bette’s twitter feed. This week she has been particularly sharp — telling off trolls, skewering Electoral POTUS, and just being the Bette we all know and love.

A sampling is below — but if you aren’t following her, consider this the Chair’s highest recommendation. #BeBette

LOL

Bette Midler – “Friends”

The Elephant on Broadway

Try as we might, we can’t get away from the elephant in our country.

You know what I mean.  Or whom.

Not only is it Trump this or Trump that, it’s how will we fight Trump, what will happen if we don’t defeat Trump or, my favorite at the moment – um please, we have a rule tonight, there is no talking about Trump.

On that latter point in my house:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Of course, the latter is misguided for so many reasons.   But mostly because even when you don’t talk about IT, it’s there, lurking beneath the surface, ready to rear it’s ugly head just when you thought you’d put it to bed.

Not unlike the trauma you buried from your childhood or the pretending you do every time you toss off that rehearsed carefree smile at your ex.

Or the murderous rage you suppress whenever the driver in the car in front of you is going 3 mph because they’re texting.

Or the searing pit of bile bubbling up in your stomach when that person in the market, elevator or treadmill next to you speaks as loudly on their phone as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio did on the stage at the first Democratic debate this past week.

Point being that totally ignoring a problem only makes IT bigger and you smaller.

Last week I snuck off to NYC for a few days to ostensibly forget the Trump of it all.  I did this by paying what would amount to the price of a small used car for orchestra tickets to three of the hottest shows on Broadway.

Think of this as the gay male equivalent of binge eating with a chaser of middle-aged entitlement because I deserved to see the original casts of this year’s big Tony Award winners since the world is shitty, I’m getting older and who knows how many years I or any of the rest of us have left.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject: HAPPY GAY PRIDE 50, everyone!!!!!!!

Cheers Queers!

In any event, and to be more specific, another way to put this is that I sat front and center for: 

Hadestown, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Oklahoma!

Yes, they were all truly brilliant, a word I hate to use but find that when it applies there is no other.

Yet what I found even more surprising is that while these three shows couldn’t be more different – certainly they were all written decades, even centuries apart – they all, in their very artistically eclectic ways, very much addressed exactly the same subject:

Trump/IT and Trump America.

Hadestown is about making a pact with the Devil for your soul in order to get what you want.  But in this case the Devil is a con man AND a BUILDER who seduces you into believing he will take care of you and, once he owns you, does anything but.

His suits fit a little better

Since it’s based on a Greek myth they call him Hades but when you watch it, well,  you will likely feel the urge to substitute….oh, some contemporary name of your choice.

Especially when during the first act curtain song entitled “Why We Build A Wall” at the Friday night performance you attend you realize Hillary Clinton is sitting directly in front of you three rows to your left. (Note: #Swear2God/Hillary).

Let’s just say I experienced a range of emotions

Then there’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a story about a 1930s southern white small town lawyer who deeply believes in justice and yet just as deeply sympathizes with the enraged, poor, white working class neighbors all around him who feel like they never get justice and have been left behind by the system for far too long.

A very different Atticus

So much so that he agrees to defend a young man of color for a crime he clearly didn’t commit knowing FULL WELL that said system and his neighbors could NEVER convict him, and certainly wouldn’t KILL (nee lynch) him, when all rational EVIDENCE points to the contrary.

This brings us to Oklahoma!, a show we mostly know as the vintage Technicolor movie musical of the same name about the infinite joys of the American heartland.  (Note:  Oh, come on – Surrey With The Fringe On Top??  Oh What A Beautiful Morning????).

Who knew all this time that what this story was really telling us was how quickly the people inhabiting our heartland would turn their backs, and very American guns, on the most unfortunate among them and literally erase them with their own bullets when they are unable to make lemonade out of the very real sour lemons life has handed them – AND jump for all the joy in America while doing it.

More like WOKE-lahoma!

If it seems all three of these are of a theme simply because my taste verges on the, well… angry, timely and political – not really. (Note:  Though, admittedly, yes they do).

I had to be dragged to Oklahoma!, a show I never liked or related to in the least, kicking and screaming.  Nor was I at all interested even a little in Greek mythology or up to revisiting the racism of the Depression era south by way of The West Wing.

At least initially.

Proving once again that every seemingly distant, dystopic time period produces valuable work that in some way (okay many ways) directly reflects what’s going in the streets and hearts of those inhabiting it… and well beyond.  Because if done particularly right a handful of these works will live on and the truth of their stories will get reimagined and reinterpreted in countless forms as both an artistic expression and, perish the thought, teaching tool and salve for future generations.

And they will seem as timely as hell while doing it even when, in the case of Oklahoma!, not one single word has been changed.

ummm.. what?

How can this be????

Because especially great art comes out of experience, passion, pain and point of view.  And paying attention.  Often it’s born from the ashes of despair or a twisted take about that which deep down sticks in our craws, inflames us and/or seeks to destroy us.

A very wise mentor once told me early on that there are only a handful of stories out there – it’s all in the way you tell them and just how much truth you are telling.

Amen!

As artists, and for that matter, citizens, we reconfigure our handful of stories with dark and light magic that not only reflects the contemporary world around us but is also informed by it.

To watch these events then play out on a stage after they’ve played out in life, or even in the political arena, at a time when all we want to do is to turn away, is one way to know that —

1. We are not alone

and

2.  The recipe for catharsis is never to live in a pretend world.

Rather it is to face our demons (aka reality) en masse through another set of eyes able to express it differently.  It’s through that very kind of  group camaraderie that we can  go from desperately hopeless to happily hopeful in the space of just a few hours.

2019 Mashup from Oklahoma 

Back to the Future?

There’s a lot of talk about the past these days and it’s reflected in our art, in our politics and all through our everyday lives.

For instance, at the movies I found great solace in reliving Elton John’s life in Rocketman.  This was not only because I got to hear all those great songs performed by the pop star’s virtual movie doppelganger, Taron Egerton, who even captured the way Elton magically played the piano with his feet back when I first saw him perform live at Carnegie Hall in 1972.

He really knew how to put on a show

Instead, what made Rocketman soar for me was how it captured the sad isolation young movie Elton feels when, after his breakthrough performance at L.A.’s Troubadour, he wanders aimlessly at the celebrity after party he should be the star of unable to be his true self.

You don’t have to be gay (or a pop star) to understand what it’s like to not fit in anywhere deep down inside and to know for certain that you are likely the only one who feels this way.

By reliving those feelings and owning them, en masse, it helps us all to feel less alone in the present and to enjoy how far we’ve come in what, in the scheme of things, is a relatively short time.

Baby steps are OK #respectmyjourney

This same form of nostalgia operates in current political movements spearheaded by sizzlingly resonant catchphrases like Make America Great Again. 

More nimbly than a film and certainly more simplistic than ANY streaming show, that clarion call to the past asks the public to go back in time and remember that decade and those years when, overall, things really were GREAT compared to what they are NOW.

There might be some disagreement as to where and when but all the slogan asks of us is to agree that the PRESENT is relatively CRAPPY and that it DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY ANYMORE.

You sure about that Chairy?

You want to go back to the economic boom of the eighties, the pre 9/11 days of the 90s, the gauzy nostalgia of the 50s when everyone wasn’t so sensitive and America just was what it was, united under ONE flag?  It IS possible.  There IS hope.  Follow this logo and those promoting it and WE will take you there.

Just as the ascendance of a Make America Great Again candidate to the Oval Office in 2016 is a call to the past so, in its way, is the indisputable rise of former Vice-President Joe Biden to the very top of the Democratic field of POTUS contenders for 2020.

And here is the Joe Biden of the past… can you even?

In his very first announcement message (Note: Way back in…April) he asked us to recall what America IS, by reminding us of what it WAS.  He did this by citing the very words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

and holding them in sharp contrast to our MAGA president insisting there were very good people on BOTH SIDES when neo-Nazis marched openly in Charlottesville against local residents who supported the removal of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s statue.

The fact that Jefferson, author of the very manifesto that created the principles on which our country was founded on, lived most of his life right outside Charlottesville was a more than apt metaphor to make the same point of how America’s once GREAT status has gone astray and whom we need to now follow in order to get it back.

This is the only modern Jefferson reference I can get behind #forreal

Biden’s words can’t be emblazoned on a MAGA-like hat but the fiery images of Tiki-torches and swastikas that were employed in present day Charlottesville quickly lit up his candidacy like no other in the 2020 field.  It was a clarion call to reclaim a different part of our pasts and has helped keep the Biden candidacy in a first place runaway lead since its inception almost two months ago.

There is, of course, no going back for any one of us.  We can’t literally enter a time machine and even if we could, memory is select and the exact past is not, to put it mildly, exactly what we are remembering.

This does not interest me. #AmericaSoWhite

As the filmmaking style of Rocketman so effectively demonstrates, our memories are mere impressionistic representations from years gone by intermingled with perceptions and images from other years, decades and time zones in between.  They are an imaginative evocation of our history but not literal.  They are what we recall happened but not entirely accurate.  Yet neither are they fictional.

We can’t literally believe that a young Elton John sang “Daniel and “Crocodile Rock” decades before they were written just as we may never ignore that our Founding Fathers once owned slaves and literally trafficked and tortured other human beings out of their homeland in order to build a new one for themselves.

You tell em, Liz!

Still, this doesn’t disprove the overall message and/or intent of either.

We get to choose which, if any, of their themes resonate for us, and our futures, and to act on them accordingly.  Yet we need to not get too caught up in their golden-hued memories or isolated mistakes.  Instead, perhaps the best strategy (Note: Or strategery, if one is so inclined) is to use the biggest of their lessons and themes as a new clarion call to an even better future.

Unless, that is, we’re not done just merely remembering quite yet.

Elton John – “Crocodile Rock”