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

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Oscar: The Family Guy?

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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’.

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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.