History Repeats and… It’s a Sin

HBO Max’s It’s A Sin is a new five-part limited series about a group of gay men and their friends in Great Britain who lived and sometimes died during the HIV/AIDS crisis from 1981-1991.  It is a critical hit and a must see.

Nevertheless, as a gay man who lived through it in the US, but didn’t die, it was the last thing I wanted to see or be reminded of during these pandemic days.

And yet…it was the first thing I began watching the very moment it dropped here in the States this week.

Why?

Wait! Hear me out!

Well, many reasons.  But the best that I could come up with is this begrudgingly timeless quote from an author long ago.

The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.  

William Faulkner, 1940

Writer extraordinaire William Faulkner first gave us those words in a short story he published in Harper’s in 1940.

They have since been quoted many times, most recently by both Barack Obama and Peggy Noonan in an attempt to address the issue of racism in the late aughts, and will no doubt be referred to many more times over.

Perhaps you prefer it in one of these standard internet formats

As a writer for none other than the Hindustan Times explained to us just three years ago, Faulkner’s words remain particularly prophetic because the past inevitably seeps into our present, informs it, even has a bearing on our future. The past cannot be wished away; neither can it be denied. 

I would add this is the case no matter how expert we are at pretending and no matter how determined we are to move forward.  The past, and its lessons, will ALWAYS resurface, whether you want to recognize them or not, and at times and in places you least expect it.

To not acknowledge it, learn from it, and at times live with it as you go on, is to be doomed – as too many countless others have warned – to repeat it.

How cliché.  And yet, how undeniably true.

Take it from someone who is alive and well and just qualified to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.

And I didn’t even have to dress up!

Denial is a big part of It’s A Sin, but so is celebration and joyousness.  Watching it reminded me that despite all my protestations to the contrary, those times were not solely tragic and funereal, colored forever in doom, gloom and sores of every type imaginable.

In fact and to its credit, none of the characters in this series are any ONE thing, and that goes not only for the young friends in their twenties at the prime of their lives but those middle-aged, older and even younger.

They are all a result of how they’ve allowed their experiences to shape them, the ways in which they choose to forge ahead or remain stagnant, and the harshness with which they treat not only others, but themselves. 

How they existed and what they did back then is particularly resonant because of the harrowing drama of those times. 

There was smiling! There was joy!

But as we all now sit in our homes (Note: Or wander freely), masked or maskless, hopeful, scared or bitter deep into our very cores for the future, it’s hard not to see our times as still yet another variance of their times.

Every decade has its costs and its joys and, if we’re lucky enough, we get to live through each to the next and adjust accordingly.

And I’m still here! #trying

No one is saying denial doesn’t work in limited doses.  I, for one, would have never sat down and written an original screenplay many decades ago that got bought and made had I accepted the true odds of that ever happening to a novice like me writing about the subject matter I chose to write about at that time. 

Indeed, sometimes the only way forward is to defiantly block the facts in order to springboard you into defying the odds.

We humans all do this to some success and to some extent.  However, experience also tells you (note: okay, ME) that this can’t be your ONLY strategy.  Inventing your own reality means you also may be blind to the crumbling of the world around you with the thought your alternative world and your alternative facts will protect you.

Exactly this #nevergetsold

Sadly, it’s not so.  Not in the AIDS era of the 1980s, not in the latest pandemic era of the 2020s.  Not even in the Deep South 1940 of Faulkner’s times.

The key is to be observant enough to acknowledge the cracks and take action before the crumbling starts.  Patch it, consult an expert about re-cementing or entirely knock down the walls you think you smartly built before it’s too late. 

All this construction has me longing for HGTV

Yeah, right, who wants to do that?  But in doing so you might even let in those ideas or persons you banished to the outside and find out for sure if you were right or wrong about them all along.  Imagine if you realized you were ignorant, selfish, misguided or had even misjudged while you still had time to do something about it?

This was the story of those five Londoners and their families in It’s A Sin just as it is the story of our survival in the midst of the worldwide pandemic we are now continuing to barely live through.

Any type of pandemic, much like any armed insurrection, is not any one person’s fault.  Even if the worst, most xenophobic tropes were true and it was proven that a Chinese lab mistakenly unleashed CoVid-19 to the world and purposefully covered it up, that still couldn’t be blamed for the degree of medical severity we are now experiencing.

Yes, shall we??

The politicization of masks, choosing economics and widely opening back up too soon over quarantining, turning our backs on our most vulnerable (note: essential workers, the poor, the non-Whites) and willingly letting them die early on and perhaps inadvertently become super spreaders through no fault of their own; a decided lack of interest in recent years of top international leaders to operate as a true global community and closely work together to ensure our mutual survival – arguably ALL explain the basic shutdown of the world as we once knew it.

Meaning, a virus, is a virus, is a virus.  And people, are people, and continue to be, people. 

All the homophobia, limited thinking and personal wall building and/or destroying won’t change the facts or the outcome once the stark realities of life has its way with you.  Or us.

History is, at its best, a colorful kaleidoscope.  But it isn’t always reliably pretty. 

What it is is reliably prescient.

“History Repeating” – Shirley Bassey

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My Taste in Quarantine

There is no accounting for taste.  Especially my own.  These days.

After many decades alternately employed as a critic, journalist, screenwriter, college professor and generally professional opinionist on way too much, I know what I like and don’t like.  It’s not that I’m not occasionally surprised or appalled by where my tastes take me but, for the most part, it’s unsurprising.

Until now.

In this world of social distancing self-quarantine there is no accounting for taste. Especially my own.

We are living in a judgement free zone

During these endless hours/days/weeks at home I find myself falling into endless rabbit holes of entertainment, diversion and amusement even though I have all the time on my hands to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do that can be done solo inside the solitude of one’s own home.

Which is, let’s face it, quite a lot in our 21st century.

The problem is, I don’t want to do much except gawk at everything I can’t experience up close and personal.  In other words – LIVE. 

That is the only explanation I can come up with for the majority of my entertainment hours this week.

Which, as I’ve said, is pretty much the majority of my hours in every single day.

That, and that alone, is why I spent six of them (in one 24-hour period) on Netflix’s reality/docuseries Tiger King.  Sure, I realize it was TV’s  #1 RATED most popular show last week AND the #1 featured choice in Netflix logarithms (Note:  Whatever they are).  But I HATE sh-t like that.

WHY am I watching this?

No, really.

The last time I remember watching TV’s number one show was a Miss America Beauty pageant as a wee lad in the 1960s.  I thought the gowns were cool and I was dying to gawk at some poor bubble-haired young woman from the south or Midwest almost burn herself to a crisp as she threw three fire-lit batons high into the air.

These were they type of diversions I needed back then as a young gay boy trying to not acknowledge reality.

And yet, here I am again, right back where I was, watching a 21st century version for that same type of escape.

Me, working on my wave

But this time in the form of a different spectacle.  That of a gay, polygamous, self proclaimed redneck who cuddles with numerous 400 lb. tigers, has a padlock piercing on his penis and is frenemies with multiple felons that enable him to control an exotic roadside animal sanctuary where he may or may not be plotting the murder of others and may or may not be engaging in all kinds of meth-fueled sex parties with any number of hunky younger lovers.

That’s the amount of distraction required from MY 21st century reality.  And clearly most of YOURS.

Yet I’m not sure how I account going from that to the best screenplay winner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Portrait of A Lady on Fire. 

Guilt, perhaps?

Maybe not.  It feels like a much more natural fit for me to watch a very artsy and very French film about two young women in the late 1700s fall in love/lust very, very VERY slowly in a stripped down rustic Nancy Meyer-ish type home by the sea.  One’s a painter secretly hired to do a portrait of the other, a young woman of means promised into marriage by a domineering mother.  And each has a secret that dare not speak its name.

Plus Fire! (just in case you needed that confirmed)

It was really good, I liked it and yet….I dozed off three different times and had to rewind to find my place back into the story because hey, subtitles and lingering looks.  In these times, they’re not as compelling on the faces of people who could actually reach out and touch each other.  In the same room.  Without masks!

So, I mean, watch it or don’t watch but know it’s incredibly well done and under any more normal circumstances I would NEVER have fallen asleep.  I swear.

I SAID NO JUDGEMENT!

Of course, it could have been anxiety that made me that tired.  So as I made my way into the bedroom, knowing my husband was going to be working late downstairs, I was determined that this one night I could finally get my much-needed, fitful, say, at least 6 or 7or 22  hours of sleep.

Whereupon (Note:  A word I must have heard in the French film) I rest my head on my pillow and suddenly become WIDE AWAKE.  Like, not even tired slightly.

So what does one do with that these days?  Check one’s email and look at the link some well-intentioned friend sends you on some well-intentioned diversion to take away your psychic pain of the moment (aka what you saw on the NEWS that day).

Not a good idea.

I just can’t quit you MSNBC

Because after watching that YouTube offering you stumble onto something else and then something further and wind up watching:

A 1973 two-part FIRST EVER television interview with Katharine Hepburn.  You want to talk about three hours of blissful bliss without commercials.  I was up until 3:30 in the morning learning these essential facts:

– Kate thinks that you CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING, meaning, career, love AND your own family. 

– Kate thinks the reason she was a success is that she had great parents who were always attentive and ALWAYS encouraged her in everything she wanted to do (Note: F-k her).

– Kate knows the other reasons she was a success was that she was incredibly hard-working, didn’t drink or do drugs, and, most of all, didn’t indulge in self-pity (Note #2 – Double f-k her).

– Kate said that in addition to talent, the reason people become movie stars is that they have a distinct voice, the camera somehow loves how they photograph and that they are incredibly….LUCKY. (Note:  Really?????) 

Click here to watch the whole glorious interview

Though in the case of a legend like Garbo it was the added element of mystery, she noted.  No matter how much time you spent with her and no matter how well you liked her (and Kate copped to both) you NEVER REALLY KNEW HER.  NO ONE DID.

See, I don’t know what to do with that.

And probably already knew it at 1:00 a.m., anyway.

Which is why, when I look over the last three self-isolating weeks and am being totally honest – I have to admit – that despite all of the above and much, much more –when you total it all up –  I have still spent the majority of my mindless entertainment time – on my usual time suck….

You know you love it!!

There are hours of home makeover shows but this week I was all about Love It Or List It and Nate and Jeremiah Save My House.  Rather than being romantic, reality show bizarre or biographically uninstructional, these two series are most particularly, and hopelessly, predictable.

Come for the design, stay for Hilary’s coordinating accessories #necklaceandearringsfordays

A mess of a house is presented to a duo of two experts (Note: Cause a duo is always two) and in the end, they always always, ALWAYS  have the same inevitable outcome.

The homes are so colorful, so functional and so vastly all that and more you can’t help but be blindsided.  And, unlike the type of blindsiding we’ve grown used to, in a hopelessly great way.

Sure, no matter how great my house might be it won’t ever be that bright, perfect or airy.  However, these days it doesn’t matter because NO ONE AT ALL who wants to LIVE will get to redo their house from the ground up because NO ONE AT ALL can be a ONE-PERSON BAND OF reconstruction in self-isolation.

And somehow I find that reassuring.

As reassuring as I find Nate and Jeremiah’s coordinating outfits #howcutearethey #somuchBEIGE

Not to mention, even if you could do everything YOURSELF, where would you get the materials?  Someone (and certainly more than one) would have to deliver it ALL to you and then YOU would have to Lysol or Clorox wipe them ALL down.   Every.  Last.  One.

Even with all the time in the world, none of us has time for that.

2011 Tony Awards Performance (with Sutton Foster) – “Anything Goes”