OK Fine, It’s Me

It was confirmed to me this weekend that I am, indeed, a coastal elite.

How else to account for my amusement and constant head-nodding recognition of me and mine while watching HBO’s sort of movie/Zoom session/play turned into a cable film of the same name?

Guilty as charged

Written by Paul Rudnick, a guy who is funny but yet not someone whose work I’ve ever much liked (In and Out, Adams Family Values, even his gay play/movie Jeffrey didn’t speak to me with much honesty),  no one is more surprised by my reaction to his above mentioned – okay, let’s just call it a Zoom-A-Thon – than liberal me.

Of course, that could be the reason.  Because these days I find that I’m not really liberal at all.  That’s how well I know myself.

Instead, I’ve been categorized as a slightly left of center traditional Democratic voting white guy with privilege who has spent the majority of his charmed life living  in big cities on either coast.  Sure, I sweat about things but mostly I rant, complain and sort of stand up for my principles when and if I’m pushed hard enough – but only if that push is a shove.

At least I still look cute

Granted, I am some of those things on any given day.  I mean, which of us does not embody some stereotype of our particular census group at a specific moment in time.  But I’m also a lot more than that.  Plenty more.  Not to mention I stand up for sh-t far more than my friends and family would like.  And often in public.

This seems to be the issue the majority of critics are having with Coastal Elites. It presents as five separate monologues by the kind of people I know or have met or might cross paths with, via what looks like five separate socially distanced chats, four of them on Zoom.

The Fab Five

The monologues are incredibly well-delivered by the likes of Bette Midler, Dan Levy, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson and Kaitlyn Dever.  In turn, they play a NY Jewish “liberal” retired teacher gone ballistic; a gay unemployed actor melting down in West Hollywood; a philanthropist trust fund kid trying to contain her fury and fears; an online meditation guru unhappily dealing with her conservative family; and a thoroughly overwhelmed Wyoming nurse temporarily working in a New York City hospital.

With that cast playing those characters, all in the midst of this mess of 2020 politics and pandemic, how could you go wrong?

Okay, the truth is most critics, social media commenters and audiences have had it with Zoom.  Isn’t it enough we have to live it?  Must we now have it shoved down our throats in a cable movie?  What could possibly be fun or even meaningful about SEEING that small screen on our clearly larger screen.

Sorry, Marcia. #moreofaJanfan

Right, I get that but mostly, well, I don’t.  I’ve sort of come to appreciate Zoom communication.  For one thing, it sure beats sitting in a meeting live with lots of people you’d prefer not to ever have to deal with again live, or at least pretend to enjoy sitting through or next to at any office meeting.

Zoom or otherwise!

Would that you could turn off your inner camera and actually disappear from a room.  How cool would that be?

For another, Zoom has gotten us all to learn a piece of technology we all would have previously avoided like, well…the plague.

Sorry, too soon?

Well, that seems to be the problem for many of the naysers.  The tone of Coastal Elites is somewhere between comedy and drama.  A mix of theatre tweaked laugh lines honed for TV that move the tone up, down, around and through everything from the Menace that is POTUS, the pandemic that will soon have killed 200,000 Americans (Note: Yay, we’re #1! 😒) and the existential angst that only elites like me and these characters have the time to worry about.

My new inspirational poster

I don’t know, after spending the last six months working and living at home, and being told by medical professionals that in the next 12 months don’t count on the prospects being much better, I’m getting a bit freaked out in the mind here.  What the f-k is wrong with characters that feel the same way?  And since when can’t social commentary be, um, amusing and yet on another level, be about something?

Remember the Tony Award-winning play Six Degrees of Separation?  Sure, it was a lousy movie but the source material was pretty good.  And speaking of lousy movies most of the critics once thought was meaningful, have you seen the Oscar-winning best picture Crash lately?  Or revisited the Oscar-nominated Grand Canyon?

Perhaps those critics should (Note:  But you don’t have to, save yourself) and not get back to me.

Don’t even get me started

Bette Midler delivers one of her best screen performances in years as this New York Jewish lady of a certain age coastal elite.  Someone who couldn’t contain herself any longer and ripped that red MAGA hat right off the head of the smirking, Trump-loving provocateur who dared cross the line with her at her local Manhattan Starbucks.

I knew that woman and love that woman because, well, I AM that woman.  Or my mother and aunt sort of were.

Well, now I’m just being redundant.

In addition, who better but Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy to be an out gay actor fretting about queer representation at his most recent audition.  Try not thinking about your gayness with White, I mean, Mike Pence in and around the White House.

I never would’ve imagined Issa Rae playing a wealthy young woman who went to boarding school with Ivanka Trump but that’s probably because I have a middle-aged, late sixties/early seventies view of who went to boarding school.  If anything, that makes me far, far, FAR from being part of any elite.

She sure is

Sarah Paulson can make us believe pretty much anything but presenting this sort of new age guru who can barely deal with her Trump-loving family in the Midwest on a recent trip was an unlikely yet kind-of-inspired juxtaposition with a twist.

And in the clean up position, Kaitlyn Dever really delivers as a young, out-of-town nurse working in a NYC hospital at the height of COVID in April.  The young star of Netflix’s Unbelievable as well as last year’s best buddy flick, Booksmart, more than anyone else, brought a certain kind of even-handed pathos that was able to wrap up the show and make it, in total, much more of a journey than simply a series of rants and clever monologues.

A star on the rise

But that’s my take.  One from a coastal elite who is clearly the target audience for this type of thing. So sue me if these days we want some meaning but also want to be amused for just a few secs on and off.   That doesn’t minimize the issues if, at the same time, you accept that no one piece of art can possibly generate the depth to deal with it all, or even huge chunks of it, effectively.

You can’t even address it all on social media, try as so many of us might, and think as so many of us do.

Me, on my better days

Take it from the source but to my mind what myself and likely more than a few of those non-elites out there are looking for right now onscreen, in a movie (Note: Remember those?) are at least a few glimpses of  honesty – a sense of some angsty reality mixed in with… maybe a smile or two we may, or likely may not, be getting in real life.

If that doesn’t please the critics, well, tough sh-t as me and mine might say.  It certainly gave me/us some relief and something to think about for 90 minutes.

Bette Midler – “One Fine Day”

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)