The Chair’s Commencement Address

As I looked into the mostly terrified eyes of my college seniors in our last Zoom chats this week, the following occurred to me.  I’d like to share it with them, and you, in hopes that, well….

Okay, I’d just like to share it.

Dear Class 0f 2020:

It’s easy and even natural for graduating college students to be upset and scared at the state of the world.   There are very, very real things going on.  Too real, if I’m being honest.

On the other hand each American decade, no matter how bright and shiny it might now appear to be in comparison to the present one, had its severe problems.  At least the ones I’ve lived through.  These near insurmountable challenges also came at heavy costs that, at the time, seemed every bit as cataclysmic as the world seems now.

No, no, stay with me here! I promise!

Imagine:

The threat of a nuclear war, the bloody telegenic images of the Vietnam War and the terror of the draft that helped fuel a wild in the streets cultural revolution of the sixties and early seventies.

Pres. Kennedy was shot live on TV, college students were shot by police live at Kent State University in Ohio and the shot up bodies of soldiers on both sides of that pesky conflict in Southeast Asia were displayed everywhere you turned, for all the world to see.  And in those days you got to watch it live on network television with your parents, arguing around the dinner table as you were choking on a meal you barely liked anyway.

This was considered “food”

AIDS ravaged the eighties and a good part of the nineties.  For the longest time, no one was 100% sure of how many different ways you could get it, who had it and whether there would ever be such a thing as sex that couldn’t potentially kill you (Note: And not in a metaphorical way) in anyone’s lifetime.

As if it that wasn’t bad enough, this was set against a backdrop of a new American mantra – greed is good – and a mostly callous disregard on the part of a very vocal majority towards anyone less fortunate than themselves, be it the homeless or the dying.

All that hopeful stuff you now read now about Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America – um, not so much.  Think of that as the MAGA bromide of the era, sans any kind of irony.  At all.  And without the clownish red hat.

The hope of a new century was, well, very hopeful for a minute or two, what with the new digital age and all of its possibilities in the pre Facebook/Cambridge Analytica era.  But then just like that the very early 2000 aughts became a post-911 world and every American walked around shell-shocked and terrified that the party was over.  Certainly the world as we knew or thought we knew it, had ended.

You’re not wrong Anne

When would the next bomb hit, how long would it be before WWIII would start and would WE start it, and wait, on top of all of this the ECONOMY IS CRASHING, too?  We’re DOOMED.

Until we weren’t.

But then here we are in the 2000 teens, awash in Trumpism and COVID- 19.   Up to our eyes and ears with their infections, clinging to the hope that a durable enough mask of any sort will keep them away or, at the very least, neuter their effects on our persons.

Even though masks, be they literal, psychological or symbolic, have historically only gone so far in keeping any type of bad ju-ju at bay.  Like each decade that came before, it takes a lot of diligence, determination and ingenuity from a vocal enough part of the American plurality (that’s you), and then majority (that’s also you), to right our ship from the metaphorical iceberg (Note: Since the real ones barely exist anymore) and ensure our mutual survival.

Your generation would have saved Jack

I’m unclear how this will happen at this particular moment in time, just as I have been in the past. (Note: Remember the CD hadn’t even been close to invented yet when I graduated college).

But if our history is any indication I have great belief that we will manage to do this and somehow once again squeak by with the unlikeliest of American victories, albeit at a far greater cost than was necessary had we acted earlier.

This does seem to be our pattern.  It’s long been credited to Winston Churchill, then discredited he ever uttered the words, but as the famous saying goes:

YOU CAN ALWAYS COUNT ON AMERICANS TO DO THE RIGHT THING – AFTER THEY’VE EXHAUSTED ALL OTHER POSSIBILITIES.

That about sums it up!

As we endure a global pandemic and recognize that it and it alone has become the most formidable weapon we’ve had to vanquish Trumpism in the last three years, it’s difficult to celebrate.  Talk about picking your poisons.

And yet, I recall it’s sort of like how I felt about AIDS all during the fight for gay marriage.  I’d throw both my gay marriage license and the historic Supreme Court ruling itself into a raging furnace in a nanosecond if it could undo that plague and bring back all the people – gay, straight and everyone in between – that we lost.

But I can’t pretend that if it weren’t for the horror and the spotlight it put on the gay community that we would have gotten the right to marry so quickly after.  In showing the world just how human and like them we were than they thought, and by forcing the world to SEE our brothers and sisters dying right in front of them, those of us who survived saw the times once again rise from the ashes of despair and morph into something slightly better. Not on all the issues and not entirely, but evolve they did.  Until the next calamity came along.  As it is wont to do.

Art can also be a powerful force for change… especially very popular art.

That’s the universal truth of both history and evolution when you play the long game.  It always comes at a cost.

For People Of Color that’s fighting American racism daily, worrying that any moment you could be shot in cold blood while jogging through a white neighborhood despite the abolition of slavery, the rise of the civil rights movement and the presidency of Barack Obama.

For women it’s the daily fight of sexism and the fact that no female has ever served as an American president or vice-president despite outnumbering men population-wise for centuries, suffrage, Roe Vs. Wade, and….well, the list is endless and yet, um…paltry.

2024 is waiting…

Still, if the truth is a bitter pill to swallow it sure beats sleep walking in a mirage you bought into as truth that was always going to disappear or stab you in the back.

Better to be awake and aware.  You at least have the chance to use your rage, fear, smarts and creativity to fight the bad ju-ju.  And much more so than the rest of us, YOU now have time AND American history on YOUR side.

If the past is prologue, you won’t come out fully unscathed but you will be more than okay.  Plus, you won’t have to live through disco or the eighties.

We will get through this!

That’s more than I can say for the rest of us who helped create this mess for you.

Queen – “The Show Must Go On”

Debating the Hunt

I want what I want when I want it and HOW I want it.

Well, sorry.  That’s not how it happens.

This weekend I binged the first three episodes of the wildly imaginative and riveting new Amazon series, Hunters.  In it, Al Pacino plays a wealthy NYC Holocaust survivor who leads a secret ragtag band of avengers out to exterminate a small organized army of Nazis and pro Hitler youth bent on creating a Fourth Reich.

Think X-Men meets Inglorious Bastards told through the eyes of a Gen X’er in the late 1970s.

Sounds good to me!

Mixing fact and fiction, as dramatists are wont to do, Hunters is a crazy ride through a cross-section of imagined superhero type adventures (Note: Sans supernatural powers) and serious, sometimes gruesome reinventions of Holocaust atrocities.  The latter are quite difficult to look at and yet impossible to look away from.

As a somewhat diminutive Jewish boy from NYC who also felt powerless in my younger days, especially when it came to Nazis and bullies, I found myself LOVING every moment of Hunters, especially for the dramatic and sweet comic revenge the series offered.

Still, this hasn’t stopped its inevitable condemnation from a large and loud group of detractors.

Twitter 2020

Those include any number of Jewish groups who’ve chastised the series and its creators for inventing Nazi cruelties in a reimagined Grand Guignol type setting.  The same type of setting many of them also applauded in the above-mentioned, and Oscar-winning, Tarantino film.

Other virulent critics and social media observers were a lot more Guignol in their characterization, dismissing the entire affair as Jewsploitation.

One organization, dedicated to preserving the site of the Auschwitz camps as a memorial and preemptive warning for future generations, even called it dangerous foolishness.

It is on Amazon Prime, not PBS. #getagrip #wait #amibeingtooharsh?

Never mind the series’ 31-year old creator and show runner, David Weil, is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor and used his grandmother’s stories as a jumping off point for many of the ideas in the program.

Now taste is taste and certainly no one is obligated to love, like or even tolerate something if it is not to their sensibilities.

On the same token, one can safely assume that none of us, critics or boosters alike, are fans of the Holocaust or disagree that the return to power of Nazis and a new Fourth Reich would be a heinous, dangerous thing.

I think we’re all on the same page here

In other words, we are all in 100% in agreement on the overriding need of getting the word out on that specific dramatic message.  It’s simply the means by which we get there that we disagree on.

Another way to put it is that when it comes to the most important stuff, we are all on the SAME team, if not page.

You might see where I’m going here.  But in case you don’t, here goes:

I believe the United States is right now on the verge of our own modern day Holocaust: of democracy, our core values, our safety and our liberties.

I believe the determining factor on which way it goes will be whether we reelect Donald J. Trump to the presidency later this year.

I believe the overwhelming majority of Democrats, and more Republicans than many of us imagine, agree on this. Certainly the majority of registered voters in the country agree.  As they did in the last election.

Get your surfboard #bluewave2020

Yet here’s what I’ve witnessed among my own intimate group of fellow friends, associates and Americans, many of them Democrats, in the last few weeks:

– The condemnation of comedian John Mulaney by numerous like-minded Dems for daring to say he’d like to play Pete Buttigieg if they ever made a film about the candidate’s life. (Note: FYI, Mulaney has not even endorsed Buttigieg).

– A massive social media backlash against show biz icon Bette Midler for tweeting that Mike Bloomberg is our best choice to dethrone Trump. (Note: Several fans screamed that they’re done with her forever even though Midler has been a vociferous and almost daily anti-Trump voice on Twitter for over a year).

Do NOT come for our Bette!

– Very personal rantings from a bunch of close male friends against Elizabeth Warren because she dared to confront Mike Bloomberg very directly about his past treatment of women during the last two presidential debates and, as the logic goes, ruined his chance of election.

– The vow to SIT OUT the election entirely and NOT VOTE from a powerful small group of wealthy Dem donors I know if Bernie Sanders winds up being our party nominee.

– The vow to NEVER VOTE for any moderate Democratic nominee – especially Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and, yeah, Bloomberg – from any number of younger Dems that I know.

You’ll only get real talk from the Chair

– The thorough CONFUSION of many of the people closest to me on which Democratic candidate to vote for in the primary due to the fear that if the if they choose the person they TRULY SUPPORT they are wasting their vote because that person CAN’T WIN or WONT BE THE NOMINEE and they will thus unwittingly help nominate another candidate they loathe, dislike or generally would be quite reluctant to vote for.

Talk about SELF-SEWING American discord according to Russia’s plan.

Not to be scolding, but, well, now is the time for us all to grow the f-ck up.

What this means is: vote for whomever you REALLY want in the primary.  ANYONE.  And then unite behind the major party candidate your party nominates in order to rid our country of the Nazi in OUR House.

Yeah I said it

This might seem like hyperbole but in my mind it’s not.

This might seem like a difficult choice to make but if you don’t overcomplicate it, it isn’t.

See, on the big issues of Reichs and Nazi-like behavior, the objectives that unite as are pretty simple and a lot stronger than any which divide us.

Or should be.

Blondie – “One Way or Another” (Live)