The Way We Are

When you love someone, from Roosevelt to me, you go deaf, dumb and blind.

That’s a line from one of the great Hollywood love stories – the 1973 Barbra Streisand-Robert Redford film, The Way We Were.

It is said by the very blonde, flawed and handsome Hollywood screenwriter Hubbell Gardner to his much more passionate and intelligent wife, the unabashedly ethnic Katie Morofsky, as a roundabout admission that he’s cheated on her.

The reveal of his sexual antics was bad enough after years of her unwavering belief in him. But what made it worse was what it represented – the latest of a long string of lies that undeniably proved the person she knew all these years was not a person at all. He was merely a mirage she created for herself.

A mirage… with insanely good hair

The real guy, in fact, was someone much harsher and uglier – someone indifferent to all sorts of immorality in not only others but in himself. Someone she did not really know at all.

In light of that —

Here’s a partial list of recently exposed, accused and extreme sexual predators in the entertainment industry with multiple victims and/or accusers:

Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Brett Ratner, Jeremy Piven, Ed Westwick, Steven Seagal, Louis C.K. and producer-writer Gary Goddard. 

Yes, I’ve limited the group to the most RECENT and the most FAMOUS. Certainly, there are more. A lot more. And a lot more to come.

I need a drink… or 12

Here’s a similar list in politics:

Electoral College POTUS Donald J. Trump, Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore, Fox’s recently deposed Bill O’Reilly and Fox’s recently deceased leader Roger Ailes, journalist and former MSNBC commentator Mark (Game Change) Halperin, famed New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier and former NY Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Note: I’ve also left out former POTUS George H.W. Bush from the list because he’s 93, wheelchair bound and his accusers have so far limited his violations to recent ass-grabbing and sexual innuendo from his wheelchair.

Uh, yeah, this IS where we ARE at the moment.

#SAD

The Way We Were screenwriter Arthur Laurents was writing about Hollywood and the glittery protective wall that shields many of its most lauded inhabitants all those many years ago. This was long before I got here. As did people who came before him like F. Scott Fitzgerald. And so on and as far back as the industry existed.

Yet here I sit, a writer with nowhere near their credits, about to say what they and others described, a lot more directly.

Be careful about whom you admire and be careful before you agree to meet them. If they are in the handful of the top three or five you most admire they can’t help but disappoint you – and sometimes most grandly. Because what any of us admire in a public figure in any field is not about WHO they are but what they’ve ACHIEVED in their individual fields.

Many of us, including myself at times, like to say one’s achievements are a part of them – like kindness, a great sense of humor or looks. Sadly, that’s a lie.

Talent, a mastery of a subject and glaringly high-level success, is a marker of work not personality traits. Most certainly, they are not markers of a great person, a bad person or even, in the end, a mere average person. They are outward achievements that vault an individual into the public eye and provide those old-fashioned values like fame and fortune.

But they say little to NOTHING about who that INDIVIDUAL really is at his or her core – or whether they are even a guy or gal you’d choose to hang out with, much less call a friend, role model or even object of adoration.

What they only are is produce – from that person.

Living in the ruins

Certainly, this is confusing and downright un-American. Not to mention, it’s disheartening as far as popular culture is concerned. This is why I don’t tell my students about the evening I spent in the eighties with one of THE greatest and most famous artists of the 20th century. Or a work experience I had years later with one of THE great music stars of the last five decades. Or the several months in which I was paired with that renowned and supposedly sensitive writer-director-producer some time after that on some other project that will go unmentioned.

Disasters, all of them, and not because I wasn’t trying. Yet each was horribly disappointing (if not horrifying) in their own way and to this day I still can’t understand how three so brilliantly talented individuals whose work I admired that much could be so downright……ugh…well, I’ll let you fill in the blank.

Remember this formula! #keepexpectationslow

Which then left me with a small but personal dilemma I suspect many of us are going through at the moment with the above names and those I left out. How do we look at their work now? Do we boycott them for political and/or personal reasons? What is the line for boycott – accusations, convictions, suspicion, personal opinion or just a general mass zeitgeist feeling?

Well this was a bad idea from the start…

If you eschew one of them do you eschew them all?

How long do they have to be in the doghouse? For life? Maybe so. Especially for the most egregious.

But is there any room for reparations among the lesser crimes? Or can any of these crimes even be lesser? And how much do apologies really mean?

Certain apologies are enough to get you that Iron Man money

Also – Do we get special dispensation for the ONE artist whose work has helped us through hard times or served as a creative guide for our entire professional lives??? Why not? Or…why???

This is easy for me given the present list of all of the newest offenders mentioned above. I can easily live without their work. And for that matter, I still don’t understand why Hollywood has forgiven the sexual abuse and anti-Semitic rantings of Mel Gibson not that many years ago — so much so that they cast him in the current Paramount mainstream comedy Daddy’s Home 2??? Though perhaps that’s punishment in itself.

What she said. #flopflopflop

On the other hand, I still watch Woody Allen movies and have gone to see numerous films Roman Polanski has directed. One of these guys has been accused by his daughter of childhood sexual abuse and the other fled this country in the 1970s for giving drugs and alcohol to a 13 year old and having sex with her.

So yeah, there’s all of that for me to NOT be proud of. In fact, the complicity feels even worse when I write it and read it over. Though I fear if I only watched the work of people in the industry who I knew and morally approved of, it’d either be a very short list or I’d keel over in boredom. Maybe both.

I swear if there is a Tom Hanks scandal I will scream #teamRita

This is not to say there are not all kinds of cool, moral, wonderful and faaaabulously talented artists I’ve both met personally and have yet to meet that are at the top of their games creatively and who never cease to bore you – or me. And plenty enough of the opposite to bypass.

It’s only to admit that we now live in an age where the behavior of artists will be inexorably linked to their art – which will in turn determine how, where and by how many people it will be consumed.

Well, that should be interesting. Or not.

Soft Cell – “Tainted Love”

Advertisements

Spin Cycle

There was no such thing as SPIN when I was a grad student in journalism at Northwestern University.

What?

No really – there wasn’t.

Oh, there were lies and bullshit and half-truths – sometimes by interview subjects, almost always from public relations flacks and, on the most difficult of stories, a consistent combination of all three. But our job as journalists, we were told, was to sift through ALL of the information and present the facts of a story, as we understood them, in the most coherent way possible so our readers could then draw their own conclusions.

OK, this method was frowned upon

– There were no alternative facts.

– There were no versions of Fox News and MSNBC with commentators telling us versions of the story we wanted to hear.

– There was no social media from which to consume fake news and no politicians or public figures in this country who would dare to deny even the most basic rudimentary truths that everyone knew were, well, TRUE.

That was what it was like in the late 1970s – a few years after Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of his knowledge, involvement and lies about Watergate and the dirty tricks he employed in order to win his election to the presidency.

seems quaint now

There was a demand for truth.

One wonders if that is even the case these days since there are so many more pleasant alternatives regardless of what side of the political or moral spectrum you are on.

For instance:

— It is much more pleasing to believe that global warming is inconclusive or even a hoax by elite scientists than to believe the Earth’s temperatures will make our planet uninhabitable by the end of the century.

— It’s also much more desirable to believe this doomsday scenario is nothing more than a liberal talking point than to acknowledge an exhaustive research report from our 13 government agencies that conclusively acknowledges our rising temperatures are, indeed, man made.

Nothing wrong here. Nothing at all.

But no need to stick merely to politics.

— Who in Hollywood wants to believe the 57 women and counting who have accused one of our most powerful industry figures over the last three decades – Harvey Weinstein – of various combinations of rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment?  Even if you loathe him, and many did long before this came to light, how do you acknowledge the community was so scared silent about his actions for so long when you were one of the many thousands who heard the rumors?

Are our careers all that much more important to us?

sigh

Yes, that was rhetorical.

— But if you don’t want to answer that then do answer how everyone could’ve heard about, and in many cases witnessed, Kevin Spacey’s thing for young boys for all those decades and done nothing? (Note: See Bill Cosby. Or so many others).

And while we’re shedding a light on my fellow liberals – Hollywood and otherwise – let’s talk about some spin on something far less serious.

Excerpts of Democratic National Committee chairwoman Donna Brazile’s new book have just come to light and in one of the most publicized sections she writes about how she considered replacing Hillary Clinton as the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, less than two months before the election, after Mrs. Clinton fainted going into a limousine following her attendance at the NYC 9-11 memorial ceremonies.

  1. The mere advancement of this statement implies Ms. Brazile would have had the power to make this happen – which she did not.

Really not the time for this Donna.

  1. Imagine all of the things you considered under stress, including MURDER, and then consider how much of a chance they had of becoming a reality.
  2. Then consider the lessons I mentioned from journalism school and decide whether you are really telling the truth about all of the above (Note: Especially the part about you replacing her with Joe Biden for president and…Corey Booker as his vice-president???) or whether you are merely spinning a story for your own salacious benefit i.e. in order to sell more of YOUR OWN BOOKS

Not ready to buy my t-shirt quite yet

Research and analytical skills are important but so is context, instinct and experience.

As adults, we’ve all been human for more than several decades so it is in all of our collective powers to surmise THE REAL TRUTH when something doesn’t sound or feel right.

We might not have the journalistic patience or skill to prove our cases for all of the above but we can use reason to decide for ourselves exactly when we’re being spun.

To whit —

If many of the top people in the very American company you co-owned were proven to have met secretly with numerous Russians yet professed no memory of those meetings after first publicly denying them, would you believe them?

Are we all in a Men in Black sequel? #20yearoldMovieReference

#NyetRuskies?

Or would you think you were being spun in an adult version of that nauseating amusement park ride you were barely able to endure as a child?

A talented writer friend of mine named Mikko Alanne, who also happens to be a former student at the college I teach at, created the eight-part National Geographic miniseries The Long Road Home. It debuts on Nov. 7 and is based on ABC reporter Martha Raddatz’s best-selling book that takes you INSIDE the U.S. involvement in the post-Iraq War in 2004.

a must watch

The show is riveting, dramatic and sometimes difficult to watch because it shows us the real HUMAN cost of war and death and bloodshed and ideals – on all sides – and allows the audience to come to its own conclusions by re-enacting just the FACTS as much as possible. Without spinning.

Yes, stories are condensed and judgments were made. It’s certainly not a documentary and definitely not a literal re-enactment of EVERYTHING that happened. This is not the purpose of television or even film drama, whose objective is merely to get to the SPIRIT of what is true as it entertains and hopefully, in some way, informs.

I’d settle for that instead of what we’re being fed now by too many real-life sources. The half-truths, the lies and the ongoing general line of bullshit is making not only us but all of our heads worldwide spin so fast and so quickly that it really is as if we are all on one giant collective Tilt-A-Whirl ride with no way to get off.

Try not to hurl

But as any adult knows there is always a way to get off.

Blood Sweat & Tears – “Spinning Wheel”

What’s Happening (and What Happened)

It isn’t easy to speak out against injustice when it threatens your livelihood, your friends and family, or your physical and/or psychological self.

But what can be worse is NOT speaking out when any or all of the above are being threatened or at stake.

As news publicly broke this week of showbiz mogul-producer Harvey Weinstein being a serial sexual predator – in rolling stories and testimonies chock full of the kind of salacious details one’s eyes and brain wish they could un-see but certainly never will – I was ironically reading What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s book explaining her 2016 presidential election loss.

No, the irony did not escape me.

No man can write with much authority about the very particular challenges women face when a powerful man tries to crush her and centuries of patriarchal power automatically conspire to protect him and ensure his victory and her suppression. But en masse pushback and testimony from both women AND men can begin to slowly dismantle this kind of oppressive traditionalism and hopefully one day assure this kind of bull crap doesn’t continue.

oh it does… just ask abbi and ilana

As a gay guy, I never bought into the macho stance of patriarchal power despite the fact that I’ve clearly benefitted from it. I am not threatened by powerful women. In fact, I usually gravitate towards them.   Before it was fashionable, they gave me a chance and didn’t judge me by an unintentional swish of a hand or an unconscious sibilance from my mouth.

Is it obvious?

I’d like to say my attitude was merely because I was raised by this type of female and am an innately nice guy but in my heart of hearts I know it was more than that. Each of us are a product of our environments AND experiences and in turn are imbued with both learned and inbred prejudices we have a responsibility to recognize, dismantle and not make excuses for.

So as a male who is close to Mr. Weinstein’s age and who also grew up in his hometown of Queens I can say with great authority that he’s totally full of S*IT when he chalks up his actions to statements like:

I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.

Yes, Amy, he REALLY said that.

Well – that I know of.

… and of course what I saw on Mad Men #poorbobbie #utzchips

Of course, this is part of the problem. We just can’t fathom someone we know fondly in one context being a predatory pig in another. Or even if we can imagine it, we don’t want to believe it. Or even if we believe it, we’re not sure it’s our business or what we can do about it. Or even if we can do something about it, if it’s worth the risk because surely we can’t fight someone with all of that fame, power and money.

This goes for women as well as men, albeit for different reasons.

Which brings us to Hillary Clinton.

You rang?

There is no need to itemize the litany of predatory jabs Mrs. Clinton has been hit with over many decades of public life based on her gender. It’s bad enough to be accused of not being able to do the same job as a far less qualified man (Note: Or man/boy serial sexual predator), or slammed merely for the tone of your voice; likability; hair, makeup and wardrobe; or lack of…stamina?

Still, it’s quite another brand of gender politics when your man/boy opponent goes so far as to weaponize your husband’s former mistresses (LITERALLY) in front of you and the world in order to somehow get the public to place the moral blame on you for his dalliances during a presidential debate.

I can’t even…

Hillary has many things to say about what happened in her book, which manages to finally cut through all the doctrinaire thinking about her and her campaign and do the one thing she seemed unable to do for enough people during the campaign – humanize her. And that’s a value judgment coming from a guy who always saw her as human. At least, I thought I always did.

Which made me wonder, what is it about what she writes in this book that makes her seem even…more human? Perhaps it’s passages like these, when she reflects on her feelings the morning of her concession speech:

… I wear my composure like a suit of armor, for better or worse. In some ways, it felt like I had been training for this latest feat of self-control for decades. Still, every time I hugged another sobbing friend – or one stoically blinking back tears, which was almost worse – I had to fight back a wave of sadness that threatened to swallow me whole. At every step, I felt that I had let everyone down. Because I had.

Excuse me while I do this for the rest of time.

There is nothing more humanizing for us than a woman not only admitting defeat but blaming herself for it.   One hates to believe this is why certain sections of her memoir paint a more appealing Hillary but one also can’t fail to recognize it greatly contributes to the reason.

Nevertheless, it feels a lot better to focus on what Mrs. Clinton (Note: Why do I feel disrespectful consistently calling her Hillary?) humbly and wisely writes about learning from one’s mistakes and the ability we all have to use our virtues in order to soldier on for a better tomorrow.

Margaritas also help

Quoting a long passage from one of her favorite books, Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son (Note: Imagine that, a presidential nominee who reads!) about how she began to personally recover from her loss, she reflects:

Nouwen calls that the “discipline of gratitude.” To me, it means not just being grateful for the good things, because that’s easy, but also to be grateful for the hard things too. To be grateful even for our flaws, because in the end, they make us stronger by giving us a chance to reach beyond our grasp.

My task was to be grateful for the humbling experience of losing the presidential election. Humility can be such a painful virtue. In the Bible, Saint Paul reminds us that we all see through a glass darkly because of our humbling limitations. That’s why faith – the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen – requires a leap. It’s because of our limitations and imperfections that we must reach beyond ourselves, to God and to one another.

No, The Chair has not gone soft. I cop to not being a particularly faithful person in the traditionally religious sense. Still, here’s what coming of age in the 60s and 70s did for me – it gave me an undying faith that love and peace and caring could eventually win the day.

that…. and everything in the musical Hair

Sure I might not always remember this, and it will take time and we all might not be around to see the final result. But if time teaches you anything it’s the value of baby steps, the path of incremental change and the revelation that evolution means this all keeps going ad infinitum (hopefully).

Mr. Weinstein’s behavior is, sadly, just one more mere iteration of Mr. Trump’s. It’s not about who is more ill or who is more dangerous. It’s about all of us speaking out for what we know is right the moment we realize something is very wrong.

Tonight Show Female Writers Read Thank You Notes to Hillary Clinton

Oscar: The Family Guy?

cn_image.size.seth-macfarlane-oscars-ads

I’m a Seth MacFarlane fan.  But watching him inject Family Guy type humor into his live announcement of this year’s Oscar nominees reminded me of those great Spanish-style California houses that some idiot nouveau-riche person buys and insists on redecorating with sleek, incessantly modern furniture.  No matter how much money they spend or how stylishly they or their decorator try to pull it off, it never looks right.  It’s like the 30-year-old suit you try to reconstruct to today’s styles.  Or the too expensive sweater that never fit correctly that you’re hoping to repurpose.  Or Mick Jagger or Madonna in 2012.

I don’t know that I want to hear jokes about any female Oscar nominee pretending to be physically attracted to Harvey Weinstein before at least noon (or ever).  Nor do I think any of us cares about how Seth feels about getting up so early to tell these jokes on Oscar nomination morning (or any particular morning). All we really care about is – who has a chance to win and who didn’t make the cut – and not necessarily in that order.  Note:  See, I can be bitchy, too.  Second Note:  Seth is actually the first Oscar host to get up this early in 40 years to announce the nominees so, in reality, he could have slept in and nobody would have noticed.  Or complained.

My real Oscar feelings...

My real Oscar feelings…

One fears after giving way to a couple of more traditional Oscar ceremonies (or is it television shows?) we’re right back to an attempt at the younger, hipper Anne Hathaway/James Franco Oscars with the twist being both of their voices will emanate from the same person.  Well, they got a great voice guy so maybe this is indeed the plan.  In fact, wait – when you think about it McFarlane is sort of a combination of Hathaway and Franco.  He can unexpectedly sing yet he also says inappropriate things while smugly hanging back pretending he never really said or did anything at all.   Hmmm — at the very least this could save the Academy money.

As for the awards themselves, here’s the thing.  They mean nothing and yet, they mean everything.   The nothing explanation is the easiest:  the Oscars are basically not much more than a high school popularity contest judged mostly by senior faculty.  The film business is a big version of a small town election where the locals have their favorites yet are somewhat open to new kids in town because they know in their heart of hearts they should be – within reason.  Whose reason?  Well, the reasoning of the senior faculty.  Keyword here – senior.  Which is why you don’t see a best picture, director or writing nomination this year for The Master and why you do see lots of nods for Amour, Lincoln, The Silver Linings Playbook and Les Miserables (Yes, I know Les Miz’s director Tom Hooper didn’t get nominated but his nomination and very generous win for The King’s Speech several years ago has him covered for at least a decade, don’t you think?).

Oh, of course this is all a matter of opinion!  And mine is as good as any.  Besides, you don’t think there is some universal standard to measure all of this by, do you?

Which brings us to why the Oscars mean everything.  There are probably a realistic  .005% of people who make films who have ZERO desire to win an Academy Award.  The rest fall somewhere between “it would be nice” and “I have a knife, I know how to stab, now point me in the direction of the backs I need to clear out of my way in order to get on that stage.”  I’m not saying this is a quote from Harvey Weinstein and I’m not saying this isn’t a quote from Harvey Weinstein.  I’m just sayin’.

harvey_weinstein_talks_about_the_weinstein_Oscars_2012_nominations_the_artist_my_week_with_marilyn_the_undefeated_the_iron_lady

Don’t try and be cute, Harvey, we know the truth.

To say that Oscars are an iconic representation of excellence is, perhaps, to sell them a bit short.  Not that they are un-iconic and not that they don’t measure some degree of excellence.  But they are much, much more than that.  They are an imprint from childhood. They are a symbol of glitz and glamour. They are bragging rights to a club known round the world (and probably beyond if such a thing exists). They are a line in a bio that can’t be topped by any other recognition an industry has to offer (the Nobel Peace Prize – please!!!) and they are a guarantee that your obituary will not be ignored by any reputable newspaper for all of eternity (or for as long as newspapers exist, which might not be too long, so you’d better get to work and win one pretty soon if this is what floats your boat).

Sacred is probably too precious a term for the surprisingly heavy yet compact gold statuette.  Rarefied, perhaps?  Hmmm – definition please?

rar·e·fied

  1. (of air, esp that of high altitudes) Containing less oxygen than usual.

  2. Esoterically distant from the lives and concerns of ordinary people.  “rarefied rituals.”

A rare beast

A rare beast

Yeah, that’s about right.  Those that seek to make the Oscars over into the current or most popular of contemporary images or shows are missing the entire point of the whole thing.  At their best, the Oscars are not about young and hip –  they are about timeless and a bit untouchable.  That’s the entertainment value.  That’s the pull.  I mean, has no one at this year’s ceremony ever watched Dynasty, Dallas or even…Revenge?  Okay, perhaps there hasn’t been enough of the timelessness and untouchableness we all long for lately but to many of us (okay, me) that was always the intrigue and that was always the point.  You can do tweaks, you can be a tad self-deprecating.  But I don’t want to take my classy aunt to a kegger nor do I want to watch her reaction from the audience as she’s forced to watch the help try too hard to entertain her or, worse yet, try to incompetently to pull center stage from her.  Though if my aunt were as adept at double takes and sassy retorts as Maggie Smith (former Oscar winner) on Downton Abbey this might be well worth considering.

I don’t blame Seth for any of this.  He is who he is.  Plus, it’s tough to turn down Oscar when he knocks on your door – especially if you’ve NEVER dated him.  Remember – Marlon Brando had both won the best actor Oscar (for 1954’s On The Waterfront) and had attended the ceremonies before he sent up Sacheen Littlefeather onstage to publicly to refuse his second Oscar for The Godfather in 1973.

No, I think that what we all long for these days is a little bit of…dare I say it…okay….class?  Or is it…glamour?  Or maybe…24-karat gold fun?  This is not to be confused with snobbery or stuffiness.  We have any number of international royal families to choose from for that.  But just as I don’t expect anyone to stick a Whoopee Cushion on top of the Queen’s Throne at her Golden Jubilee, I similarly don’t expect to hear Austria/Germany Hitler jokes at the announcement of the Academy Award nominations from a trying-too-hard to be hip and groovy and edgy host. (Uh yeah, that joke is right after the announcement of the foreign film nominees).

Now, I don’t think that’s too much to ask —  do you?  Or, Do you?

Finally, you can’t do a blog on the Oscar nominations without going out on a limb and early predicting who or what will win some of the major awards.  So, for what it’s worth, here it is.   Note: As a lifetime Oscar watcher I know a lot but realize I am often wrong on waaay too many of these categories.  Still, will that stop me from sharing it with you?  As this year’s Oscar host might actually say from the stage at the actual ceremonies themselves (drinking game, anyone?), “hell to the no!”

Best Picture: Silver Linings Playbook

Best Director: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

Best Actor: Daniel-Day Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Best Supporting Actress:  Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Best Foreign Film: Amour

Best Adapted Screenplay: Tony Kushner, Lincoln

Best Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke, Amour

See you at online live-blogging the ceremonies.  Unless I am assassinated first.