We are all Adele Dazeem

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 3.22.40 PMThere are worse blunders in the world than John Travolta introducing a Tony Award winning musical theatre star who has been featured in more than a few movies and television shows, sang this year’s Academy Award-winning best song and also happens to be Jewish, by the fictional, Arabic sounding name of Adele Dazeem at last week’s Oscars.  But not many are more bizarrely fun.

Sure, Idina Menzel (Adele’s real name) might not be an absolute household name, except perhaps in gay households or among rabid fans of the 10 years running Broadway musical Wicked (Note: That in itself might be repetitively redundant). However, you’d certainly think John would at least know who she was.  After all, he did begin his career singing and dancing on Broadway and, well, okay…I won’t mention the rest.

Te he he he

Oh gurl…. te he he he

Still, it was not so much the flub of Ms. Menzel’s name but what it signified that proved to be the perfect metaphor for both the Oscars this year and what movies mean to us.  In a culture of 24/7 news and rabid social media that makes even the most famous accessible to mere Average Joes like you and me, this was just another prick in the mirage of societal “royalty” that has been created by Hollywood over the last century.  This latest little flub exposes the movies for what they are – one endless fake reality.  And the fact that this, rather than any one award winner, is the latest meme of this year’s Oscar show tells us everything about what makes this particular awards program so infinitely watchable even when it’s as boring as hell.

No one mentioned that I dressed like a Civil War general... damn!

No one mentioned that I dressed like a Civil War general… damn!

At their best, movies use contrivance to represent and comment on reality with the philosophy that the ends justify the means.  At their worst they conspire to create a set of ideas that tempt us into buying into a reality that is positioned as something that we want and must have but, in our realities, can never have because it would take an army of 200 technicians of all talents from all walks of life to create it for us in every minute of every day.

There is nothing wrong with reveling a bit in this kind of escape but in hard times that can also be toxic.  As the people of the world become more and more connected movies are becoming less and less about reality, false or otherwise, and more and more about blatant escapism. (Note: With the exception of documentaries, which have created a new commercial subgenre of their own, in part due to the popularity of reality television).  We know this and buy into this but what’s getting harder and harder to buy into are the phony images of the people who star in and make the films we see.  They are now so present in high definition in our living rooms that it’s impossible not to notice that they are nothing but flesh and bone human beings who are talented but not always smart.  Or that they are memorable physical images who often look a bit odd or off-kilter when they appear as themselves and don’t speak the lines that someone else gave them to say.

First let’s deal with the physical:

Of course, there is nothing particularly wrong with attention to physical perfection through whatever technology is available, surgical or otherwise, if being before the cameras is your business or if you just want to look a little refreshed.  There is, however, something very wrong with it if you believe it will permanently freeze you in time at 35 or 45 or, heaven forbid, even 55 – thus creating the illusion that you will never get any older and, in turn, will never die.

Oh Goldie Girl... why?

Oh Goldie Girl… why?

My Mom, fairly unlined without the help of any plastic surgery (thanks for the genes, Mom!), used this as a sort of mantra even after she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 60.  And that way of thinking worked to her benefit for quite a few years before the end finally came.  Yet the only thing we can be sure of in show business and life is that the end will come – to our favorite movie, television show and, regrettably, to us.  So certainly it helps to be able to at least try to separate the fake from the authentic while we’re on the journey before we croak.

This certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t look good while you dream and that you have to live every moment in reality.  I mean, who wants to exist in a 24/7 world with the Ted Cruzes, Kris Jenners, Vladimir Putins or your ex-husband/wife/girlfriend/ boyfriend or family member from hell without some relief?  (Note: Or even could)  On the other hand, to live in the soft gauze of denial as if you were Jean Harlow in a 1930s Hollywood movie won’t do you any good either.  Mostly because at some point the camera and lighting is gone and you will be left as not the lead but, at best, a special guest star with a box around your name at the end of the credits with the word AND preceding it.  Wow.  No wonder Ms. Harlow had the good sense to die at the ripe young unlined age of 26 – even back then.

forever young

forever young

The movie industry is an interesting one in that it’s a dream factory that seems to discard those who can’t consistently live up to the ever-changing beauty and/or ideals of the moment.  This wreaks havoc on not only all of the players in the system since the rules are constantly changing but on us.  Movies confuse us about what is real and true and they substitute a superior, or even inferior alternate reality that can make us feel worse or better about ourselves depending on the film or our moods.  It’s a wonderful escape but it can be equally and awfully sad when we realize our lives will never be as good as our favorite fantasy.

This can and often does cause unbelievable discord on the psyches of those whose chosen lot in life is to be the poster children for our movie fantasies – meaning our movie stars.  And it accounts for all of the plastic surgery or facial injections and hair plugs or fake wigs on many of the female and even male stars, including one of your most famous winners this year.  It also explains the parade of actresses over 50 and 60 at this year’s ceremonies who are barely recognizable remnants of their former selves.

Someone has to say this so I suppose I will:

Do you want to look like Goldie Hawn or Jackie Bisset at almost 70 years old?

Kim Novak or Cloris Leachman in your eighties?

Mickey Rourke or Geoffrey Rush in your early sixties?

John Travolta or Tom Hanks in your late fifties?

If you gaze at the photos side by side you’ll see the difference and note that yes, each pairing are the same or close to the same age.

Here is the dirty little secret no one wants to say out loud.  Even with the best augmentation you can never look as good or vibrant or unlined as someone two decades younger. (Note:  Stand next to the younger version and you’ll see).   It doesn’t fool the cameras or anyone else – only yourself.  The exception is, of course, 76-year-old Jane Fonda.  However, she was born looking like Barbarella, has exercised her body AND HER BRAIN almost every day for her entire life and is, well, Jane.

Bring it, haters

Bring it, haters

Which brings us to the mental:

Actors are given words to say by writers – in the movies and often in real life when they’re out in public.  But sometimes they are still inarticulate and, in the case of the Adele Dazeem debacle, can’t read.  Or, as in the case of this year’s best actor winner Matthew McConaghey’s rambling acceptance speech where he noted that his hero is always himself 10 years from now, revel in the kind of sheer narcissism and gall it takes be a movie star.

When the fakery behind a perfectly poised façade is exposed even further with a classic flub like Adele Dazeem it in turn becomes even funnier and, perhaps, even a little sadly watchable – like when Toto the dog pulls back the curtain to reveal a doughy, human-sized older man pretending to be the larger-than –life, fire-breathing, all-powerful Wizard of Oz

The takeaway from this year’s Oscars and the takeaway you will get from anyone in the movie business who will deign to speak to you honestly about it is this:  there is A LOT you don’t know about Mr. Travolta and Mr. Mcconaughey, as well as Lupita Nyong’o, Jared Leto, Cate Blanchett, Ms. Menzel and all of the hundreds of people behind and to the side of the cameras who made them look good this year.

God Bless the team that makes this hair happen. #pretty #jealous

God Bless the team that makes this hair happen. #pretty #jealous

Though the Oscar selfie Ellen tweeted, and particularly the events leading up to it, did tell us part of the story if you study them closely enough.  Look at the dynamic.  Meryl, the Mom everyone wanted to please; Bradley Cooper the eager and accommodating bro who only wanted to please and take the picture; Brad and Angie, the wealthy, fabulous looking aunt and uncle you haven’t seen in a while who are much less pretentious than you thought they’d be; and Julia Roberts, the prom queen star older sister with the still larger than life smile.  All brought to life by slightly crazy (but not too much) Cousin Ellen, in town for her once a year visit.

Tweet seen 'round the world

Tweet seen ’round the world

Last year the Academy tried something different with host Seth MacFarlane playing the nasty younger brother trying to pull his pants down in front of all the girls and embarrass the family by singing a song called “I Saw Your Boobs.”  It spiked the ratings a bit but didn’t go over with the rest of the clan.  Thus this year’s selfie presented more like a benign version of National Lampoon’s Vacation where every top member of moviedom got to go on a family trip that we got to see live in our own personal reality show type home movie.

Yes, these are ridiculous analogies but no more ridiculous than anything else making the news this week – like Oliver North comparing those fighting against gay marriage to the abolitionists who tried to end slavery.  Why shouldn’t the movies and the Oscar show be reduced to a harmless fun episode of the daytime talk show “Ellen?”  It seems in keeping with the times and what is required to get through them.

All of this posing begs the question of why movies and the Oscars need memes and themes and ultimately can’t simply be about excellence.  Why?  Well, there’s nothing really dreamy about that.  But does everything have to be a selfie or a song parody?  Broadway seems to revel in live performance at the Tonys.  Why must movies become a social media event and not incorporate more, um…film?

What's wrong with a little extra sparkle?

What’s wrong with a little extra sparkle?

More to the point, can’t something just be what it is rather than a meta collection of the events of the day that overshadow the events they are there to honor to begin with?  One might ask why there couldn’t be more of a real tribute to The Wizard of Oz onstage rather than just a wave to Judy Garland’s show biz kids from the audience and Pink singing Over the Rainbow in front of an Oz footage backdrop.  Yes, Pink was great but it was hardly a cohesive tribute to THE classic film of all time.  More like a formula of what to include for commercial expediency.  (Note:  The latter worked by those standards – the ratings were the highest they’ve been in 10 years).

Of course, to do anything else would mean a constant look and flow of boring reality rooted in the past and no one wants to see that, right? The majority of people under 30 would be horribly bored without some social media tie-in or contemporary artist, or so the school of thought goes (Note:  As a college professor who spends a lot of time around this target audience who love movies I’m not so sure).  And you’d lose almost everyone over 40 because they might have to ask themselves if they want the life of their favorite movie star, botched cosmetic augmentation and all, or to switch places with the father, mother or grandmother of the kids next door.

Clearly, there is only one choice in all of this – which is why we will always continue to watch the Oscars, hoping against hope that the dreams or dream people they evoke will one day be our reality.  Even if everything about them is slightly askew and even though the chances of it all happening are the same as one day waking up to find our selves in the merry old Land of Oz.

The 7 Deadly Sins of Summer

Take a bite?

Take a bite?

Summer is over and it’s time to look at where we are and where we’re headed.

Actually, the summer doesn’t officially end until the start of fall, which is technically the last week of September. But in the US, it always seems to end right after the Labor Day weekend.  And why not?  What better way to signal the end of fun than a holiday that salutes the worker (who presumably have at least been given some kind of summer vacation) and falls on the last long 3-day weekend of the most carefree of our seasons?

Of course, when I was younger and a student, summer’s end coincided with the start of the school term or fall semester.  Which now happens mid-August if you attend or teach college or, even if you’re still in elementary school in some places.  That also used to coincide with the beginning of the fall television season.  But don’t get me started on when that begins because there aren’t really small screen seasons anymore.  Just nights and weekends where you can fit in TV binge viewing.  My personal theory is that binge viewing might be linked to global warming since it seems to be particularly inspired by unseasonably hot or cold weather – an everyday occurrence these days.  Which begs the question of there even being any sort of seasons at all (certainly not in L.A.).

Still, we soldier on.  Because more than anything else Americans cling to some traditions that, by any rational standards, have long and forever outlived their usefulness.

That being the case, this seems like a good moment to take stock of what sins have been committed, and where we are and how we move forward into Fall – as opposed to free-fall – since certainly we here at notes don’t want to outlive whatever usefulness we currently retain in the world.

LUST: SEX AND THE SINGLE MILEY

sigh.

sigh.

Never has so much been made of so little.  That’s actually a quote famously appropriated by the late actor David Niven when a naked guy streaked across the stage at the 1974 Oscar ceremonies.   But it applies here.

Like any parent, we don’t like to see our kids grow up and become sexual.  But when exactly is grown up enough for sexuality to be employed when it’s your own kid?  16, 18, 20, 25…50…or never?   I’m not a parent but if I were I’d have to vote for never.

If you don’t know about (or have never seen) the MTV VMAs, here’s the problem – former tween star and now 20-year-old recording artist Miley Cyrus did a song and dance number of her hit tune “We Can’t Stop” at the Video Music Awards last week where she rolled her tongue around like a snake charmer, bumping, grinding and (get your urban dictionary out) twerking across the stage against or dangerously close to the crotch area of tall, hunky and rappy 36-year-old male singer Robin Thicke, who has cultivated the oily persona of a studly, very well-endowed lothario in his hit song “Blurred Lines.” The latter may or may not be true in life, but who am I to say? Entertainment Weekly this week famously called it all a “teddy bear orgy” but, then again, who am I to say or even re-appropriate that phrase?

The bigger issue is this: we Americans are pretty hung up about sex, aren’t we?  Yes, I’m purposely including myself in that because while I was watching the Miley/Thicke spectacle (which I then re-watched several times) I groaned, called it gross, and was generally turned off – wondering why Hannah Montana felt compelled to become a fifth rate version of a Sunset Blvd. stripper on national television and why a guy who is height-advantaged, considered hot and, okay, some sort of talented (and is married to the very talented and very hot actress Paula Patton) felt the need to carouse onstage in front of an international audience with a girl young enough to be his…stepdaughter?

As if that wasn’t threatening enough to me and Middle America, he was wearing dark shades and dressed like a high class (if there is such a thing) pimp in a tighter version of the black and white vertical striped pants I wore to one of my own high school dances in the seventies in order to make me look taller.

Just don't say his name 3 times!

Just don’t say his name 3 times!

Certainly that has nothing to do with his involvement with Miley, as a very successful female writer friend of mine argued.  She’s (Miley) of age, she was (or still is?) engaged to be married and isn’t a Disney star any longer.  Why the international headlines?  Why can’t women own who they are?  Why are sexy girls given the scarlet letter when sexy guys are given the term of…well….stud, or even young buck?  In other words, what’s Miley to do?

She has a point, I suppose.  But had the dance moves been a little better, the routine a little more clever, or the 36 year-old guy a little bit more of…well, something…it all might have been sort of funny.  It wasn’t.  Nor was it the end of the world.  At the very least it’s the beginning of a new one for Ms. Cyrus.  Stay tuned to wherever it’s headed.  Which, odds are, has to be up.

GREED: MIDDLE EAST WARS, SYRIA – NOT Syriana

syria-political-map

Unfortunately, we have a tendency in the summer to see events through the lens of a popcorn movie, preferably a sequel.  In our minds, this reduces even political atrocities like the current mass nerve-gassing of thousands of innocent men, women and children in Syria by a power-hungry dictator to the Oscar-winning George Clooney movie Syriana, which didn’t even take place in Syria and, in fact, wasn’t even released in the summer.

Sadly, the realities revealed in the real Syria these past few weeks seem to be signaling the involvement of the United States in yet another awful geo-political struggle in the Middle East.  This is seen as unavoidable in some form by both sides of the political spectrum and surely signals the end of a carefree summer.

It is doubtful, however, whether even the best civics teacher could explain the pros and cons of this extremely complicated situation in ways in which those of us just emerging from the summer of ’13 (that’s 2013) could reliably understand.  Try as they might on network news, or on CNN, MSNBC and FOX (let’s list them all together and be fair and balanced here), it’s still not happening for those of us not in the know of these things.  Which really means – all of us.

The best I’ve come across is an article in this weekend’s Washington Post.  It breaks down the pros and cons of US involvement in Syria and gives a basic understanding of the political situation there in general.  Think of it as – Syria For Dummies.

(Note:  This title in no way meant to diminish the tragic circumstances.  It’s simply the strategy of good teaching: to make something digestible, first reduce to its simplest form and then begin to add layers).

GLUTTONY: DOWNTON ABBEY & YOU

Someone close to me likened the hit PBS series Downton Abbey to crack in its purest form.   As a faithful follower, I know this is so.  However, as a life long culture vulture, I’m not quite sure why the lives of the aristocrats living in a countryside British castle at the turn of the 20th century along with the servants who love and, well, serve them has such a hold on its worldwide audience.  Perhaps because it’s so different than the world in which we live in today.  Though the writing, acting, directing and castle itself could have something to do with it.

In any event, the fourth season starts being broadcast in England sometime this month and is set in the roaring twenties.  It will also introduce race into the equation with its first Black cast member, a singer in the traditional of jazz great Cab Calloway played by acclaimed British actor Gary Carr.  I suspect this is not just novelty casting but will be used as a way to continue to tell the story of the vast cultural shifts of the times as the upstairs-downstairs way of living slowly begins to unravel.

Hellllloooo Gary!

Hellllloooo Gary!

It should be noted that my students have a particularly hard time with the social mores shown in period pieces even though they are historically accurate.  For instance, I’ve given up even mentioning either the book or movie version of Gone With The Wind in class since the Mammy character and the sashaying young black maid seems to take them out of a story quicker than the foot and a half sized cell phone you see in early 1980s American films.   Yes, I know – those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.  You try telling them that.

Finally, DA does not officially premiere in the US until January 2014.  That’s a shame.  Given how connected the world is via social media and the rest of the web, it’s very difficult to wait four months without spoilers to begin a series that is, admittedly, a street drug.  Of course, you can get someone you know in London to send you DVDs that come out midway to late in the fall season.  Or you can do it another….no, I am NOT advocating that!  Am I?  Well, as Will Ferrell once joked on SNL, ‘Maybe I am and…maybe I am…”  (Note to law enforcement:  That’s a joke).

SLOTH: LAZINESS AND THE MOVIES

Do you smell that?

Do you smell that?

Someone has to say it – 2013 has generally been a crap year for movies.  Sorry, it has.  There were a few of good films.  But nothing great or particularly unusual.  I’m leaving out Fruitvale Station because people I trust really like it and I haven’t seen it yet.  Though I very much enjoyed The Spectacular Now and Cate Blachett was wonderful in Blue Jasmine even if the film as a whole somehow disappoints (uh yes, that’s just my opinion).

Still, there’s hope.  What I’m hearing through sources is that Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are great being weightless in GravityInside Llewyn Davis is a very cool movie from the very cool Coen Brothers and two actors who were different kinds of movie stars in the seventies will be up for Oscars in two other films.  They are Robert Redford in a practically one-man tour de force in JC Chandor’s All Is Lost and Bruce Dern (yes, he’s Laura’s Dad) as the difficult father in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. 

I want to see all of these and many others I haven’t heard anything about.  But just as much I want to see Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks, which tells the story of what happened when the writer of the Mary Poppins books, PL Travers, came to Hollywood and is finally convinced by Walt Disney to allow him to film her story.  Emma Thompson plays the writer and Tom Hanks plays Walt.  But that’s not why I care.  See, Mary Poppins was my favorite film as a child and I played the record endlessly on my little “victrola” (that’s what they called record players, sonny), at the turn of the century.

Do not write in and tell me you’re disappointed in me for wanting this film.  Or  — that I will be disappointed.  I know both already.

PRIDE: STRANGEST NEW FALL TV SEASON ENTRY

OK that's it.. I'm done.

OK that’s it.. I’m done.

I’m not going to belabor this.  Something called the DIY Network (it stands for Do It Yourself) is doing a reality show called Vanilla Ice Goes Amish.  In it, the king of nineties White Rap immerses himself in the Amish community to learn how they do construction work.  This will be an offshoot of the network’s current home renovation series, The Vanilla Ice Project.  And why not?  When I want to hear about how I break into the 2013 rap scene I’m going to call The Property Brothers.

ENVY: ME AND QUEEN JANE

Anyone who thinks 75 year-old actors have lost their looks, timing, talent and general star appeal need only watch Jane Fonda in the final scene of last week’s episode 7 of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.  In just under four minutes, Ms. Fonda gives a master class in creativity and craft.  Alternately dramatic, funny, coquettish and powerful, she plays each moment to the hilt without ever going over the top or calling attention to herself beyond the requirements of the scene.  That’s rare in television acting and even more rare in the movies these days.  Newsroom star Jeff Daniels put it best in a recent interview:  She comes in prepared and you just watch 2,000 Oscars and 1,000 nominations work.

PS – Ms. Fonda has given immense credit to Aaron Sorkin’s writing for her bravura appearances. But as any writer knows, tour de force scenes such as these can go horribly wrong, especially when you don’t have exactly the right person acting them.  See, cause it’s all made up.  Stay tuned.

WRATH:  IT’S HOT!!!

This summer, which has not yet ended, is best summed up by Krissy Chula’s YouTube video rant of several days ago.  Yes, it’s a little raw.  But so was Richard Pryor.  I’m not saying she’s a star.  Yet.  But the video has gone viral and will soon be nearing 1,000,000 views.

The humor, the rage, the weather – it all speaks to where we are now – maybe at this very moment.

Or maybe… we’re here:

Hubris

icarus

Q:  What do you do when your real life exceeds your wildest fantasies?

A:  Keep it to yourself.

This is what comes to mind when I think of Seth MacFarlane as host of the Oscars.

By the way, the above is a quote from James L. Brooks’ very excerptable and very prescient screenplay for Broadcast News, an original script that was nominated for but did not win the Oscar in 1987 (that went to John Patrick Shanley’s more audience-pleasing Moonstruck).  Mr. Brooks’ dialogue was spoken by a somewhat empty-headed, pretty boy reporter (a much younger William Hurt) being groomed for network anchorman to a nowhere near as attractive veteran reporter (Albert Brooks, who incidentally now looks much better and younger than Mr. Hurt) being passed over for the job.  Imagine Seth MacFarlane 25 years from now, no longer well-groomed, svelte and hip but bald, pot-bellied and sallow-faced, talking to, say, a much older Seth Rogen, who right now could stand in for the young Albert Brooks and will likely look as good or better than the older Albert Brooks in two and a half decades, and you might get what I mean.

He has nice teeth.. I guess?

He has nice teeth.. I guess?

In any event, I have no idea if Mr. MacFarlane expected to one day be on the Oscar stage hosting but clearly it is reasonable to believe that two long-running, mega successful television series (Family Guy and American Dad) and one mega successful film (2012’s Ted) that one writes, creates, directs, voices and, by default, stars in before the age of 40, is enough karmic largesse to make any of us believe that this quote could certainly come up in conversation to categorize at least parts of his meteoric professional rise.  Well, if not in his mind, than in ours – or at least mine.   And that is the point.

Mr. MacFarlane’s belief in himself to the nth degree and beyond is what has made him wildly successful and popular and this is responsible for his crude, tacky and, to me, mostly unfunny stint as host of the 85th annual Oscars.  It’s not hard to imagine his very same frat boy type jokes about Star Trek, boobs, Chris Brown beating up Rihanna, and 9 year-old Quvenzhane Wallis one day dating George Clooney going over really well to a group of his bros in his parents’ basement, as one reviewer stated, without a peep of protest.  The trouble is, and the reason for the backlash despite a rise in the ratings (and it was only a 3% rise from last year – not the gargantuan one being bandied about), is that he’s performing to an audience of a billion people watching the Oscars.  And a lot of that core audience are not his bros – meaning, straight white guys of a certain age – but includes ladies with boobs.  And gay men – who mostly don’t think too much about Star Trek, don’t care much about ladies breasts (save, I guess, the representatives of the Gay Men’s Chorus who shared the stage with Mr. MacFarlane in a climactic moment of self-loathing irony during the boobs number), and are certainly protective over Rihanna and little diva in training QW.

Eh, not sure the audience was loving it either

Eh, not sure the audience was loving it either

Still, and perhaps rightfully, Mr. MacFarlane made a choice to be 1000% himself on Oscar night even though he was performing not in (his usual medium of) voice-over and animation and, depending on who you are, he may or may not have made the right call.  What is inarguable is that in making his choices for the evening he chose to indulge in the exact mindset that brought him and his comedy to the worldwide center stage in the first place. – hubris.

Hubris:  an excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.

It takes a certain amount of hubris to succeed as any kind of creative artist in show business.  I mean, one big clue is the phrase itself – SHOW business, meaning half of your job is to SHOW who you are through what you do.  To SHOW it without hesitation, to SHOW it boldly, proudly and to anyone who chooses to look at it.  To SHOW it despite the naysayers and with unbridled confidence to the world at large even if you are insecure, nee dying, on the inside.  And even if you are and can’t hide it, you can at the very least SHOW THAT to your audience fully and endear people to you that way.

Seth (I feel as if all this pillaring of him allows me to call him that now) was like a giant id dancing around the stage on Oscar night.  Howard Stern on steroids.  But — do we want Howard Stern hosting the Oscars? (Oh, now don’t tell me he’s next year’s host?!)  This kind of act works great in animation or on the radio or occasionally on the stage in a book musical (see Book of Mormon).  But the Oscars are theoretically supposed to be about the movies.  Not a frat boys’ obsession with Captain Kirk or the boobies of ladies that you want to ogle.  Unless — they can be.  Which is what some (but not all) people are saying.  While the rest of us (okay, maybe just me) are saying:

Just because in your wildest fantasies you can do anything you want doesn’t mean you should do anything you want.  Just ask Mel Gibson and Chris Brown.  When some fantasies are beyond your wildest dreams, maybe there’s a reason you yourself didn’t think of them.

But hey, that could be just me.  In my own informal survey of about 40 of my college students aged 20-22, about 90% were perfectly fine with Seth, in fact they thought he was pretty fun.  This is also borne out by the ratings numbers – which did rise 11% in the key 18-49 demographic, a bottom line kind of thinking which could be all ABC and this year’s producers really cared about.  As for my students, primarily, it was the guys who were most enthusiastic but most of the gals didn’t seem to mind either.  This, however, did not sway me one bit.  Though it did make me feel a bit….well, out of the mainstream.  Which is how I’ve felt most of my life anyway.  And that’s absolutely, totally 1000% okay.  In fact, it’s actually great.  Which could also be my own form of hubris, albeit expressed in a different form.  After all, one person’s excessive pride or arrogance could be another one’s salute to their favorite body part of choice.  Which begs the question posed by Oscar presenter Jane Fonda post ceremony:  If you want to stoop to that, why not a list all the penises we’ve seen?

You can't argue with someone you looks THAT good

.. and you can’t argue with someone that looks THAT good

The night after the Oscars I moderated a panel where a different sort of hubris was the star – a more life-affirming positive kind.  This occurred when three successful graduates of our program – one director-writer, one writer-director and one younger screenwriter – spoke to our current students about their paths to whatever professional good fortune they were now enjoying.

The stories were all the same.  A larger than life and seemingly illogical belief in your ability to “succeed”, a fierce dedication to the kind of work that you wanted to do, and an almost inhuman amount of enthusiasm and good humor along the way that caused people to want to be around you.  These kinds of strategies brought one of our grads a seven-figure plus studio sale on a script she wrote – one of the hottest scripts on Hollywood’s Blacklist.  It brought another alumn numerous on-camera network commentator spots that exceeded his wildest fantasies because it was nothing he ever desired, plus the ability to direct what are now five feature films.  It also has given the third the opportunity to support himself as a paid screenwriter for 20 years, writing numerous studio assignments and taking time out to direct a few of his own independent features, all the while living a more traditional life of husband and father during that time.

The new secret to success?

The new secret to success?

As I sat and listened to their stories I thought about my own, and that of many of my friends in the business.  Times and technology have changed but the basic scenario hasn’t.  Belief in oneself despite what the world is telling you, an almost superhuman work ethic, and willingness to, at least at some point in your life, occasionally be the kind of person others want to be around.

I guess, in the end, it’s all sort of a form of hubris.  The decision to make is:  do you want to use your powers for good – or for evil?