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

Advertisements

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.

Comic Con

Screen shot 2014-02-09 at 11.39.38 AM

I have a confession to make.  I’ve always hated comic books.  Actually, that’s not true.  What I really never liked were superhero comic books.  I do love a good Peanuts or Archie.  To all the young people I know and have taught:  Please don’t hate me for telling the truth.

This would put me at a horrible disadvantage if the sole way I still supported myself these days was as a screenwriter.  As I tried to explain to a student recently, at one time the majority of projects in the biz that people really wanted to work on ranked this way:

  1. Movie dramas with characters
  2. Subtle and broad movie comedies.
  3. Television
  4. Geek-related ventures on either of the above that involved explosions, computers, cartoon people or anything from Marvel, DC or that ilk.

If you were in the last group you had peers and an audience but not much street cred (Note:  Walt Disney accepted, though somehow it was he rather than any of his employees that got credit for anything Disneyesque.  Plus, he never did superheroes.  He was the superhero).

What do you mean.. was?

What do you mean.. was?

Well, what a difference a handful of decades make.  Comics have taken over the industry – if not the world – and not the kind you see at the Laugh Factory or on a cheap cable special.   Which seems sort of apt since more and more we’re living a comic book existence.  This is apparent every time you turn on your television or surf the web and see the surgically altered faces on almost all of your favorite actors.

Though here in Los Angeles it’s obvious every time you step into a store that isn’t located in a shopping mall in Sunland.

This is not meant to be a putdown of comics or superheroes or even cartoons but merely an observation of where we are.  This week it was announced that the Emmy award-winning Mad Men writing team of Andre and Maria Jacquemetton would next be tackling the DC Comic book series DMZ for the Syfy Channel.

Dynamic Duo (far right)

Dynamic Duo (far right)

It doesn’t get more prestigious for most writers than Mad Men, though it is certainly more financially lucrative to be on any number of television series and movies.  So it certainly says something about us and them that after all of the choices open to this dynamic duo after six years of riding the MM crest that they have decided to devote themselves to a pulp tale centered on a young man in the near future, Matty Roth, who lives in the demilitarized zone of Manhattan after a second American Civil War.  He might not dress like a superhero but certainly, in post apocalyptic red and blue state America, he will at some point have to emerge as one.

If you think I am pushing the metaphor or overreacting in even the slightest we can look at all of this another way.  Here are the top 10 grossing movies worldwide in 2013:

  1. Iron Man: 3
  2. Despicable Me 2
  3. Frozen
  4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  6. Fast & Furious 6
  7. Monsters University
  8. Gravity
  9. Man of Steel
  10. Thor: The Dark World

If we were to look at this list for the U.S. and Canada only the rankings might shift around one or two places but the films themselves would remain exactly the same.  Oh wait, there would be one change – Oz the Great and Powerful would replace Thor, which would drop down two notches to #12. Do you see where I’m going now?

What are you trying to say Chairy??

What are you trying to say Chairy??

Okay, fine, I’ll be a little bit more blunt.

Anyone arguing that Fast and Furious, Hunger Games and even Gravity aren’t super hero movies in a cartoon world, well…uh….I suggest you watch some footage of Russia’s President Putin at this week’s Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Sochi and tell me whether you believe the flesh and blood star of a current worldwide spectacle isn’t simply our 2014 version of The Terminator.

No, I’m not going to say I told you so.  But like Matty Roth in post apocalyptic Manhattan, we’d all better get on board with this kind of thinking in order to survive the inevitable global warming-over meltdown of everything we’ve ever known.  To this end, I propose some new lenses and labels for how we look at and categorize all current and future newsmakers in the world and the events that surround them.  (Note:  This will also save a lot of creative time if any of the above rights are purchased or even thought of as the subject of a new Hollywood movie).

The Incredible Sinking Man

hc-under-the-water-under-the-bridge-20140121-001

In a live, near two-hour television press conference, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) announced that he fired some of his top staff people for causing the largest four-day traffic jam in the history of the world.  This was due to their choice several months ago to close down multiple lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey leading into the George Washington Bridge (Note: the world’s busiest bridge) behind his back.  However, now the governor’s former people are seeking plea deals through high-priced lawyers while he and his present people are countering this disloyalty by calling them idiots and releasing accounts of their misdeeds as 16 year old high school students.  All of this while Gov. Christie, previously the most popularly touted choice among Republicans to run for president in 2016, couldn’t even get Texas Gov. Rick (“oops”) Perry to pose for a photo op with him on a recent trip to the Longhorn state.  How much lower will he go?  If anyone thinks they can predict, well, I have a bridge I can sell you…..

Puff The Magic Drag, Man

666a5547f3ad8b951c648b87a6fc11ed08a10b066cc1ca17ec70d64510ba31ed

When I was 20 years old I was too afraid of getting less than an A minus in college in any one subject.  So I can’t imagine how I’d be if I had the adulation of half of the young people my age around the world, were loathed by the other half and possessed $130 million to both play with and use to ease the pain.  I do know that I would be thrilled that I could make my living as a singer – a talent that not all the marijuana in the world could convince me to believe I had.  Still, you can’t smoke up foot long doobies on a private plane with your soul-patched father or allow friends to egg the mansion next door to your mansion without getting some sort of….blow back (Note:  See what I did there?).

Dude, Where’s Our Woodstock?

A future action comedy about a group of baby boomers who hold the twenty-something owners of a string of pot dispensaries hostage because they are sick of all the legalized marijuana/nee commercial appropriation of their drug of choice for the masses.  Soundtrack by: Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The New Riders of the Purple Sage and anyone who’s left alive from the original Grateful Dead.

Captain Douchebag

It's all going according to plan....

It’s all going according to plan….

There is no other name for Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly.  Yes, he’s a foot taller than me, has a million times more money and certainly can sue – but I don’t care.  This moment of writing it publicly just made it all worth it.  You can’t have the child of a man who died during 9-11 on your TV show, yell and berate him for his anti-war views and top it all off by saying “your Dad would be ashamed of you if he were alive” and then get off without periodic bitch slapping for the rest of your national (or unnatural?)  lifetime.  At least not by me.  I’m nothing if not Captain IDontForgetAnAHole.

Queen of the Hills

hilary v rand 3

Hillary Clinton’s moniker might have to one day be retitled The Bionic President because we all know that in order to have survived this long she must have some special sort of armor that the rest of us mere humans were born without.   We also know the latter title will probably be the one to last because eventually Mrs. Clinton pretty much gets everything she sets her mind to.  Unless she’s simply content with where she is now – writing the best tweets and texts the world has ever known.  I know the latter would be my choice.  But then again, I’m not that kind of queen.

The Salacious Sex Six

Woody Allen & Mia Farrow & Dylan Farrow & Moses Farrow & Ronan Farrow & Soon-Yi Previn.  It’s horrible.  All of it.  From every side.  Which means that someone will make it into a film at some point.  Or a web series.  Or a comic something or other in the second new millennium.  What is Alan Alda’s line about funny in WA’s Crimes and Misdemeanors  — Comedy is tragedy plus time?  This is why everything in this paragraph will eventually be deemed offensive, inoffensive, moot or in need of a rewrite.  Which one is it now?  That’s not for me, or you, to decide.

The Inhuman Thing

The new name for Oscar if movies keep going down the too narrowing road they are now on.

The Straight Arrow

Will it be a strike?

Will it be a strike?

What everyone fears will be Jimmy Fallon’s upcoming super hero tag once he starts steering the ship of The Tonight Show in the next few weeks.  Though perhaps he will surprise us all and be The Not So Straight Arrow.  No, we don’t mean it THAT way.  Although in a comic book world, unlike television, anything is possible.

The Fifth Ring

Ruh-Roh

Ruh-Roh

This will be Hollywood’s take on the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.  It all started when that snowflake stayed intact and didn’t light up as the fifth ring. Question:  Doesn’t Putin know that there is ALWAYS a gay on the light board???  #Homohubris.

Some of you might not agree with our take on the inevitable comic book/cartoon world of the movies and in life. This is your prerogative.  So for all of you doubters I have just one last thing to say:  The #1 film this weekend – by a lot – with an estimated $69.1 million at the box-office in just three days – is:

THE LEGO MOVIE

Your future has arrived.  And it is our present.  Though not necessarily the one we all asked for.  Or,  is it?