A New/Old Golden Age?

Art, historically, is always at its best and most provocative when it can be in opposition to something – when the artist disagrees with the government she lives in. – Hanya Yanagihara, Editor in Chief, T Magazine

This week the New York Times published a special issue of its Style Magazine entitled — 1981-1983 New York: 36 Months that Changed the Culture.

Among the many articles, stories and sidebars is an accompanying 12-minute video of interviews at a photo shoot of 21 actors who had their breakthrough moments in the city as young artists at the time.

Click to watch the video!

There are lots of familiar names, many of them now stars, all of them respected at their craft not only onstage in New York but often in film and television.   Not to mention, one of them is now even running to be the next governor of New York.

Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick , Cynthia Nixon, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Willem Dafoe, Nathan Lane, Harvey Fierstein, Ed Harris, Loretta Devine, Joan Allen, Elizabeth McGovern, Mercedes Ruehl, Victor Garber, Amanda Plummer, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Michael Cerveris, Mia Katigbak, Stephen Bogardus and John Kelly.

It was impossible to know at the time who in the above group would:

1- Create roles so indelible that they’d live on forever in the pop culture landscape.

2- Become rich and famous beyond their (and our) wildest dreams.

My face when I think about SJP’s wallet. Yes, we’re looking at you shoe lady!

3- Continue to be doing avant-garde, cutting edge work so many decades later.

4- Change your life with a single performance or film appearance or, perish the thought back then if you were a true artiste, weekly TV show.

And perhaps, most importantly (at least for them):

5- Survive long enough to attend or even be wanted at a photo shoot/class reunion in the year 2018 organized by the NY Times about the city’s once-in-a-era cultural scene.

It is easy to look back and write about an iconically fertile or low period in artistic and political history. But it is one mean feat of supernatural ESP to know that this is what’s going on in your particular time at the time and be absolutely right about it.

Amen, Andy Bernard. Amen.

The truth is, everyone thinks that both the time they’re living in and the work they’re doing is important, artistic, relevant and potentially world and/or life-changing. Either that or they assume there is nothing at all important about it – certainly nothing people would ever look back on decades later in wonderment or nostalgia.

Of course, both viewpoints are incorrect. No one really knows which times are or will be relevant to other generations and how or in what way. Sure, you’ve got gut feelings about stuff, especially in 1980s NY where people on the artistic scene slowly began dying around you from an unnamed plague. But in that moment, it isn’t easy to fully realize how time will remember it or if you and/or your generation’s work will live on or be forgotten. What is even more likely is that you won’t be right about it.

OK maybe we had a good idea about this guy #legend

Cases in point:

— I remember working with a 17 year old Cynthia Nixon on a little known Robert Altman film, OC & Stiggs, in the early eighties and thinking: She’s so sweet and smart, not to mention natural in front of the camera – I hope the biz of show doesn’t eat her alive. I never dreamed I’d see her on Broadway a year later seducing a major movie star onstage right before my eyes, go on to win two Tonys, then follow it all by becoming a female role model/TV star on Sex in the City.  And now a run for governor? Are you kidding???

Oh she’s the real thing alright!

— As the arts editor of my college radio station I got tickets to see this off-Broadway play called Vanities in the seventies where a very young and very unknown Kathy Bates played one of three friends whose lives we trace though high school, college and post graduation. She was fun AND sort of sad simultaneously, the kind of fantastic NY actress you knew would work forever but would probably never be a star because, well, the business…SUCKED!!

Which it didn’t because in the eighties she became a local Broadway legend playing a suicidal daughter in night, Mother and in the early nineties became an Oscar winning, axe-wielding movie star in Misery.

And then win an Emmy for playing a HEAD in American Horror Story

The latter was, by the way, five years after I had worked on the movie version of ‘night, Mother and was tasked to arrange a private pre-release screening for Ms. Bates so she could take in the work done by Sissy Spacek in the role SHE had originated. Again, I thought, this business…SUCKS! Which, of course, it didn’t once again and, in fact, only showed how wrong one (okay, I) can be – TWICE. And in two different decades.

— Then there was the time in early eighties NY where I saw Harvey Fierstein playing a gay, Jewish drag queen in his play Torch Song Trilogy and considered just how wrong I was a third time (ok, maybe that was #2) about what could and could not be accomplished in a business that, at the end of the day, actually might not at all always totally…SUCK.

Oh.. hello, Mother

This might be hard for younger people today to imagine but the idea of a gay guy from the boroughs playing a gay guy from the boroughs in a play he had himself, a gay guy from the boroughs, written about the relationship a gay guy from the boroughs has with an impossibly closeted gay guy he’s in love with and his own impossibly know-it-all Jewish mother seemed…well… impossible at the time. Until it wasn’t. And never would be again (Note: Especially for this gay guy from the boroughs) thanks to people like “Harvey,” who worked in cheap, roach infested, barely standing stages far away from the harsh glare of world-changing and international recognition.

You can never be great – in life or in art – if you’re forever thinking about being great or are sure you will never be great because the odds are against you and the times you live in just don’t allow it.

Also avoid self aggrandizing

All you can really do is put everything you have into your work and your life (both of those being art) in the best way you can, revel in each action and task with as much enthusiasm as you can and – hope for the best.

I still have to remind myself about living in the moment and enjoying each task at hand, unconcerned with result and I saw most of the above unlikely actor/stars in their iconic performances all those years ago in the early eighties.

I was killin’ it and didn’t even know it!

Of course these days it sometimes takes journalistic behemoths like the NY Times to remind us that the eighties – a decade many of my peers consider hideous beyond words because of its ethos of Greed is Good, big hair and the AIDS plague – did indeed have its moments in hindsight.

That is among many other things we depend on them to remind us of daily these days. Which is the subject of another story. Though the lesson is the same – stay focused and do the work as best you can – even if you think no one is listening and despite what you perceive your odds are for success.  Because the future – yours and all of ours – just might surprise you — and us – if you (nee We) just keep going.

Nina Hagen – New York New York (1983)

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This Art is My Art

Screen shot 2014-02-02 at 12.30.30 PM

Here’s a thought:

Art is a lie that reveals the truth  

–  Pablo Picasso

I googled the above quote when I came across it last week, un-credited and at the center of someone’s Twitter page, because those words sounded too profound for any person on social media in 2014 to have come up with on their own.  #sorrynotsorry.

Well, it turns out I was right and that tweet did not come from that twit.  Not only that but said twit did not gain me as a follower for failing to give Picasso credit.   That might sound harsh but I was even harder on myself for not knowing Picasso said this very famous phrase that I pretty much had never heard of until I came across it in my quest for more information on a political story.  I mean, how old am I and where do I get my news???

Like everyone else these days – I get my news from everywhere.  Except it isn’t always news.  Sometimes it’s a lie, sometimes it’s a version of the truth and very, very, very seldom, it is actually the truth.

OK.. maybe mostly lies

OK.. maybe mostly lies

Of course, the truth is sort of overrated.  Long ago I realized not to press the person who was dumping me for the absolute unbridled facts of what went wrong (Note:  You don’t necessarily want lies, just a slightly softer version of their reality).  I also gave up on getting unvarnished feedback from everyone and their mother on everything that I write.  As any veteran writer will tell you, the latter will only lead to disaster.  Much better to seek the opinions of a few trusted friends who will give you a Picasso-esque version of a critique – which in the end is no less valid than the brutal beating you could receive from a studio executive, editor or nameless critic in your own field.   Plus, it’s usually worth a lot more.

It is not that any of us should advocate for lies or deception or existence in a dream world.  But sometimes what is true, beneath all the buzz and talk and data, is not what you are plain staring at.  Sometimes the absolute truth is an interpretation from someone with a better take than yourself – someone who has waded through all the options and the facts and the sides of something, and has come up with an alternative look at it that feels much more right than a thousand page document or photo album that simply presents the facts.

This is why we need artists (and art) and why I believe, as many before me have believed, that we all have an obligation to produce it in our own individual ways.

It is not a waste of time – nor a road to economic destruction any more than stubbornly sticking to your version of only what you see before you without input from anyone else.  Part of being a human – an advantage, actually – is the ability to process and reason information for yourself and those around you and to consistently put it out into the world as you live your everyday life.

Sometimes this system can go awry.

Sometimes this system can go awry.

We all do this with every decision we make, the work we do, the people we love, the friendships we make, and the conversations we have.  But we sometimes get hamstrung by what we perceive as the facts rather than to stand back and use simpler logic or artistic interpretation in order to shed light on the truth of an event or problem or simple everyday occurrence.

In my googling, I came across an article in Psychology Today that discussed Pablo Picasso’s dilemma more than a century ago in 1906 when he wanted to push the boundaries of what made a great portrait.  One of his early subjects was the renowned writer Gertrude Stein and after reworking his painting of her one too many times he was not happy (NOTE:  Uh, that’s right, Picasso was no different than the rest of us in that regard).

Anyway, eventually he came back to what he was painting and decided rather than to get as close as possible to the absolute objective truth of what we see when looking at Ms. Stein, he would give us his more extreme interpretation. This mask-like, more flattened portrait became very famous and an early signature of Picasso’s Cubist period.  It was also a favorite of Ms. Stein’s (the only reproduction of me which is always I, for me, she said) even as it was rejected in many other circles at the time as an indulgence that didn’t look enough like her.

When challenged about his Stein portrait, Picasso famously answered his critics this way:

Everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will.

Picasso's lady

Picasso’s lady

I suppose it’s up to us to decide whether Picasso’s tart retort refers to what Ms. Stein will indeed look like one day when she gets to be, say, my age – or whether the will he refers to is his own determination to so commit to the truth of what he sees when he paints that one day his image will overtake what the rest of us see when we look at, or even think of, Ms. Stein.  Or perhaps, it’s simply a little of both.

The great thing about art – whether you’re the maker or the audience – is that when it’s operating at its highest level it captures a version of the truth that can resonate the essence of what is real, what you see before you, better than what is actually right before your eyes.  It needn’t cover everything but must cover an essence of the artist’s chosen everything.

In a society of rational thought and laws and everyday reality, this is too often seen as a kind of flighty indulgence that doesn’t have any real meaning unless you’re talking about a Picasso (Note:  And even then…) But certainly that is no longer accurate by any stretch of even the most unimaginative when we rationally examine our present day lives.

Does anybody truly believe Reality TV is real?  Or that Fox News is fair and balanced?  (Note:  I’ll bet if you got Bill O’Reilly soused he’d even accede to my way of thinking).  And to be fair — I love reading the New York Times but its iconic motto of All The News That’s Fit To Print certainly begs the question of why some stories are fit and others are not and who decides which is which.  There are times when a particularly witty tweet from Andy Borowitz or a very astute Facebook post from one of the many friends I have who are smarter than myself, has given me a truer assessment of a contemporary issue than anything I read on the subject in the paper of record or any conclusion a so-called expert committee comes to after examining the so-called hard data.

You just can't argue with gems like these...

You just can’t argue with gems like these…

Pete Seeger, the famed folksinger-songwriter, died this week at the age of 94 in the home he built himself in upstate New York.  I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Seeger play at a small anti-Vietnam War demonstration at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens when I was in high school, and I thought he was old then. (Note: This was after his censored appearance on CBS’s The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour singing Waist Deep in the Big Muddy – a metaphorical song he wrote about Pres. Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War). I also wondered why someone so well known would take the time to be at this somewhat tiny demonstration when people like Jane Fonda were making international headlines with their own Vietnam War protests.  My logical thinking, forged by the American educational rewards system of bigger is better, at least audience wise, was that if he were really famous and important he wouldn’t be spending his time singing to me and a bunch of others in, of all places, Flushing – the uninspiring town where I lived.

We'll miss ya, Petey.

We’ll miss ya, Petey.

Faulty as this reasoning was, no doubt some people (many?) still think this way.  Consider we are still paying the most attention to:  who sells the most records, tapes CDs downloads (whatever!), who makes the most news; and who is voted the best of anything in our worlds.

Yet the very essence of Mr. Seeger was his ability to travel to all kinds of places much more obscure than Flushing and use his words to express the plight of the people.  And, quite simply, he never stopped doing it.  You might not have heard of him but you have certainly heard of several iconic songs he wrote and/or made famous, such as If I Had A Hammer, and We Shall Overcome.  The truth of those songs came from decades of seeking out the truth in hundreds of small towns and talking to thousands of working class individuals through which or whom he could employ his art to tell their truths.  Or at least THE truth in the way that he saw it.

One could argue lines like “If I Had A Hammer’s…It’s the hammer of justice, It’s the bell of freedom, It’s the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters, All over this land…” have spoken an equal or perhaps much more effective political truth than a library full of factual reports on the economic analysis of inequality.   Or that they rank far superior to the many multi-million dollar opinions from some of the most respected think tanks in the world on why, during many of the decades in which Mr. Seeger lived, we needed or didn’t need to go to war.

By the way, this is not pie-in-the-sky hippie talk.  Consider what usually stops and starts wars (Vietnam – Iraq – WWII).  It is general public outcry or too many deaths among the masses of survivors willing to risk everything that finally wins the day (Note: usually it’s a lot of both) after too many years or decades or even centuries of fighting.

Artistic expression is an indispensible fuel to this change.  Just as it can also be used selfishly to whine, piss people off and/or generally just entertain.  Like this little ditty starring Nathan Lane and the cast of Jersey Boys directed towards Fox News’ Sean Hannity after he floated the idea of leaving his home state of New York in order to relocate to more right-leaning states like Texas or Florida.

Click the picture for the full (brilliant!) video

Click the picture for the full (brilliant!) video

Okay so maybe this video – or your essay, painting or photograph or play or movie – is a little whiney.  And you’re absolutely positive it will never bring peace on the battlefield, end global warming or even make you a dime. (Note:  I’ll bet Mr. Lane would have done that for free if union rules had allowed him).  You still must try to do whatever you can to contribute to your own version of truth telling.  And that is because even the very best of any of the above in their fields don’t do this alone.  They are merely one element contributing to an overall collective truth at any given moment in time – one in which, like it or not – we are all some kind of part of.

Quacks

christmas09_large

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Notice I did NOT say MERRY CHRISTMAS or BELATED HAPPY CHANUKAH.  This is because I’m done being religiously correct.  You heard me – RELIGIOUSLY CORRECT.  Bah humbug.  I am so done.  No, actually…I am just beginning.

I just read this to my partner of 26 years and he said – Here we go – did you get to the part about Jesus being Black yet?

No, not yet.  Wait…you mean Jesus was as Black as….Santa Claus?

So much ground to cover here.  And we’ll get to Phil Robertson – that hate-spouting Fool from Duck Dynasty, who happens to also be religious, in a moment.  I promise.  But first, a story.

Many years ago in the 1970s I was minding my own business on the campus of Queens College.  I was 18 years old and a junior (yeah, I was smart for my age, so what – does that mean anyone listens to me any more than they do you?  Uh, no).  In any event, there I was minding my own beeswax when these Jewish guys dressed in full garb – you know the way that I mean – beards, long coats, big black hates – I meant hats! –  and ringlets of hair flowing down past their ears called payot (look it up) – urgently approached me and asked in very relentless and very accented loud whispers:  Are you Jewish?  Are you Jewish?

I could have been Mr. November

I could have been Mr. November

Sensing something was wrong – I mean, duh, my last name is Ginsberg, I’m 5’7” tall, wear glasses and read books, did you think I wasn’t a Yid – I reflexively answered yes.  I mean, what if someone was in danger?  The entire fate of my tribe could hang in the balance.

Boy, was that the wrong response.

Suddenly, these guys shoved me into this large van decorated with religious symbols and Hebrew scripture, shut the door and backed me into a seat.  All around me – and I mean everywhere – walls, ceiling and on TV screens – where images of Jews being tortured or persecuted.  Jewish fundamentalist music played.  Prayer books were put in my hands.  More religious guys paced around and began shooting questions at me about Jewish history.  Another guy offered me a yarmulke and prayer shawl and still another urged me to roll up my sleeves and put on these leather straps called tefillen and said he would pray with me (or was it us, perhaps there were a few others, I can’t recall) – for Us.

Never a shrinking violet and always with a strong survival streak given some earlier childhood traumas that involved bullies on the playground and various screwed up family dynamics, I pushed the guy out of the way, said something like, Uh, no and ran out of the van.  Well, at least I attempted to.  Because being just your average Jew I couldn’t figure out how to open the latch on the van door.  Little did I know that decades later I’d become quite familiar with these things and learn those vans are really trailers which the film industry would rename Honey wagons and they would be the spot where I’d spend endless hours with other regular Jews (as well as people of other religions and even atheists) who star in and make Hollywood movies about still other people whose actions my ultra religious captors would  certainly disapprove of.  Yes, they often do disapprove – even now – along with all the other fundamentalist nutbags from all of the other religions all over the world –and that includes the United States – of anyone who does not fit into their own tightly constructed beliefs.

But back to this story:

Somehow I did get out of that van (did I break the latch?  I was never sure) and survived, perhaps in order to tell this tale to you more than 35 years later.  The lesson?  Well, there are many.  But the primary one is this:  Never get into a van – or really anything – with a religious fundamentalist.   No good will come of it.  It is a sure recipe for disaster and the only way you’ll win is to escape with your life.

Another reason to never get in an unfamiliar van

Another reason to never get in an unfamiliar van

Years later I learned that this van I was shoved into was called a Mitzvah Mobile and was started by the ultra orthodox Jewish sect called the Chabad Lubavitch Hassidism to persuade (nee intimidate) American Jews to adhere to the more stringent religious beliefs that group espoused.  The good news: this didn’t work on me.  (In fact, it produced the opposite result).  The bad news: there are now Mitzvah Mobiles all over the world.

Just one example...

Just one example…

How this vehicle got onto the Queens College campus of the 1970s, I will never know.  (Note:  Well, our film society did have a midnight showing of the X-rated classic Devil in Miss Jones on campus, so there was that).  But what I do know is that those Mitzvah Mobile fellas are no different from Duck Dynasty figurehead Phil Robertson.  Who is no different from Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell.  Who are all only several steps away from the Taliban.  Who is a mere one step away from the Westboro Baptist Church.  Who are only several steps away from the Muslim fundamentalists who hijacked the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Who bear some resemblance to the Ayatolloah Khomeini.  Who is not that far removed  Reverend Louis Farrakhan or the present radical Chabbad sect in Brooklyn.  It’s all the same snake pit.  Which in no way, shape or form resembles the Garden of Eden.

One might argue this is not the correct statement to make Christmas week, or during the time of Kwanza, or even a month after Chanukah.  However, I would say this is precisely the moment for us all to reflect on this:

Any single religious person who tries to persuade you that their way is the high way using any means they deem fair and moral based on their own individual religious dogma is no different than the most radically violent one.

It all leads to the same place.  Eventually.  The Crusades.  The Third Reich.  Osama Bin Laden’s Jihad.  No, this is not an overstatement.  It simply is – fact.

Now, don’t get all fire and brimstone or your tribal equivalent on me.  This by no means disqualifies anyone of faith from speaking his or her mind.  However, it does disqualify them from public insults, intimidations, racist rants and other forms of emotional and or physical discrimination without outcry and consequences.  That is the price for living in a free and civil society.   And it’s a very small one.   Hiding behind a “God” of your own choosing does not exempt you from the rules of a still secular society.

Simpsons+on+Religion.+seems+legit_69dc80_4449964

Which brings us to the charming Phil Robertson, head of the family on A & E’s most highly rated reality show (14 million viewers and counting backwards) – Duck Dynasty.  Here are some of the lovely statements Mr. Robertson made in GQ magazine last week that has gotten him into hot water and, in turn, suspended from his show.

Sorry buddy, but you don't exactly blend in

Sorry buddy, but you don’t exactly blend in

On sinful behavior:

Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.  Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men…Don’t be deceived….Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.  Don’t deceive yourself.  It’s not right.

Or on his experiences working alongside Black people picking cotton in the pre-Civil rights era.

I never with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person…They’re singing and happy.  I never heard one of them, one black person, say, “I tell you what:  These doggone white people” – not a word!  Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy?  They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

Or this excerpt from a sermon in a Pennsylvania church in 2002:

Women with women. Men with men.  They committed indecent acts with each other.  They are heartless.  They are faceless.  They are senseless.  They are ruthless.  They invent ways of doing evil.

Makes you want to have him over for meal, doesn’t it?  Well, that is as long as he doesn’t turn around and try to place your evil head on a platter and announce dinner is served.

Well, unless it's this head, in which case.. i'm in!

Well, unless it’s this head, in which case.. i’m in!

Oh, of course Phil has every right to say whatever he wants.  That’s what free speech is about.  But the first amendment allows freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the press.  It does not guarantee others can’t object to what you are saying or that there cannot be consequences to your actions.  Meaning just as we don’t require a fundamentalist church to marry a gay couple if it chooses not to, a religious fundamentalist whose

  1. dogma equates gay people with bestiality and evil and
  2. suggests Black people (whose ancestors were dragged to the US in chains and forced into centuries of slavery), were always singing and happy…

..IS. NOT. ENTITLED. TO. HIS. OWN. REALITY.   (TELEVISION SHOW, that is).

Because — as Sir Isaac Newton taught us science-believing heathens long ago –

To every action there is always an equal, opposite reaction.

Stocking stuffer?

What is scarier than the news articles on the Duck Dynasty Debacle are the thousands of virulent comments from other fundamentalist supporters who somehow have adopted a dogma so stringent that it leaves no room for anyone that does not adhere to their own rigid, born again rule book.  We Jews don’t really have a hell so their comments that non-believers will burn don’t really rankle me.  But the threats of violence to us sinners (Note: I’m in double trouble being gay AND a non-Christian), not to mention the virulence with which they are written, is a tough road to hoe.

Fringe, you say?  Well, perhaps right now.  But I don’t think so.  The 14 million viewers of DD, a one-hour A & E basic cable show, are nothing to sneeze at.  That’s far more than the number of people who read the NY Times or any other newspaper on any given day.  Though nowhere near as many (41 million) who tune in to view just one hour of Fox News on any average month.

tumblr_m75n3ktXDh1qgh6ru

Of course, there were other stories of intolerance last week.  For example:

  • In Pennsylvania, Methodist Minister Franklin Schaefer was officially defrocked for having the temerity to officiate over the marriage of his gay son and his partner.

Yes it’s true – this week gay marriage was a hot button thorn in the side of the religiously superior.  But make no mistake about it, next week it could and probably will be a woman’s right to choose.  Just as in some Middle Eastern countries it will simply be about the right for a young woman to be educated.  While in still others it can all boil down to being born with the right color skin or in the more advantageous economic class.

Of course, here in Hollywood it’s merely a battle to look young and stay relevant in a business that is as unforgiving of those sins as the Duck Dynasty family is of alternate lifestyles.  Perhaps even more so.  But I’m not going to get into that.

Oh — fun fact: did you know that the creator of Duck Dynasty is a guy named Scott Gurney and that just 12 years ago this very handsome fellow starred shirtless – and often naked – in a movie about the gay male porn industry called The Fluffer? Oh yeah, he so did.  He played an X-rated actor who was “gay” for “pay” AND was a meth addict. 

Uh oh - someone's been a bad boy!

Uh oh – someone’s been a bad boy!

Hmm, but apparently, Scott isn’t taking phone calls these days..  And he also doesn’t answer emails from journalists.  Nor does he speak live in person to anyone asking questions unless presumably they’re, well – members of his own tribe.  Which might not only be optimal but usual.  How are we (I?) to know the truth when we can’t ask?

I’ve been thinking all day about what I would say if I actually did get a chance to talk to him.  Like all writers, my thoughts were many – in fact all over the place.  But like all the mentors before me have taught me I edited and boiled them down to just three words.  These are the words I’d use to describe him and all others who choose to be profiteers on the backs of hate spewing religious zealots hiding behind their own version of God – as well as a way to categorize the zealots themselves.  And all of the zealots the came before them or will follow after.  And those words are:  QUACK, QUACK, QUACK.

QUACK. QUACK. QUACK.

And did I mention – happy holidays?

OMG Stop!

96_frayed

Did you ever have one of those weeks where every big issue in the news and pop culture is annoying?  No, the answer is not every week – even if that is the case.  If you live your life perpetually annoyed then you are not annoyed at all – what you are is a malcontent curmudgeon.  What I’m talking about is a convergence of issues in one weekly cycle of what’s what that has you weighing the possibilities of turning it all off, packing up a slew of books and going underground to become a survivalist.

Since the latter won’t happen to me in this lifetime in that I need to call in experts to hang a picture properly and recently failed twice at reading Proust (it was me, not him), I have made peace with the fact that I will forever dwell in the weekly cycle.  And perhaps you have also.  But that doesn’t mean we have to live here happily during each seven-day period.  In fact, it might just be that weeks like this – particularly SUCKY periods that are so annoyingly dumb and cloyingly stupid – actually make us appreciate all the other wonderfully happy ones.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself right now.

Again, perhaps you are too.  After all, misery loves company.  And remember, it isn’t real misery if it only happens once every few months.  Think of it more as a healthy cycle of intellectual binge and purge.  Or the alternative to living in the woods for a year with several boxes of classic literature and enough food and water to get by.

I've got a spare bedroom!

I’ve got a spare bedroom!

As much as you might think that’s appealing, how much Proust or even Shakespeare can you read in a row while eating prepared vittles from a package or can?  Not much, that’s how much.  Plus, a world where you literally had no one else to complain to could be even worse than this one.

So let’s review those things that had me in a snit… and made me want to scream OMG STOP IT!

1.   ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE COVERS ARE NOT A NATIONAL ISSUE

The twitpic seen round the world

The twitpic seen round the world

One of the top news stories this week is Rolling Stone’s cover photo of Boston Bomber (do we need to say suspect?) Dzhokhar (Jahar, to friends) Tsarnaev – all tousle-haired, doe-eyed and sporting the come-hither look and dark chin scruff of a teenager stoner.  Mr. Tsarnaev is, indeed, all of those things, and also, as the magazine clearly identifies him in very large black type, THE BOMBER.

I have actually read the 11,000 word article that the cover promises is about how a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.  It’s a very good read, a simultaneously awful and fascinating story – which is what good magazine writing is all about.  Does it answer all of the questions its headline promises?  Well, as much as most magazine or even newspaper pieces fully do.  Which is to say mostly, though not exactly.  And, in the world of journalistic reportage, which is always left open to interpretation, that’s sort of the point.

So what’s the problem???  Well, the Mayor of Boston says using this picture is “insensitive” to the people of Boston and still others claim that the story, placement and accompanying image makes Dzhokhar a sort of — rock star?  Never mind Rolling Stone has used images of Charles Manson and O.J. Simpson as cover draws in the height of their notoriousness.

The entire point of the article is that what makes this kid particularly scary is that he has the non-descript visual image of a sort of iconoclastic cool kid.  Hence, the cover image, which has been used on the cover of the New York Times previously, would seem to be the right one.  Would it be more appropriate if Jahar had a long beard, a turban and was wearing white robes?  Well, it’d obviously make many in the US more comfortable.  Among that group are corporate chain stores like CVS, Rite Aid, K-Mart, Stop ‘n Shop and Walgreen’s – all of whom have not only removed the current issue of Rolling Stone from their shelves but have refused to even sell it in its stores.

Here’s what would make me comfortable.  How about K-Mart refusing to sell guns in its stores?  Yes, I know Jahar and his brother didn’t use K-Mart rifles to set their homemade bombs off at the Boston Marathon the way the teenagers in Columbine did.  But at least it’d be one small actual step to curbing future domestic terrorism.  Refusing to sell a magazine, one that chooses to do a timely story that some people might disagree with, is not.

 Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

–      George  Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

Pump the brakes!

Pump the brakes!

2.    KATEWAIT – WHEN A ROYAL BIRTH IS A ROYAL PAIN

Insert terrible "crowning" pun

Insert terrible “crowning” pun

It’s a Boy!  But admittedly, I will never understand the fascination with royalty.   You’re bowing before a person born into privilege who wears a diamond studded crown or fantasizing about having millions of your own subjects who want to touch your garment because of your innate talent or ability to….do what exactly?

Now before you take away my chair (throne?) or refuse to ever let me use the word queen again, let me explain.  I have the utmost respect for the service that the Royal family of England gives back to their country and to the world.  It’s worth admiring.  But why are thousands of reporters from all over everywhere camped out in front of Wills and Kate’s home/castle/car/palace/estate and speculating about a birth, and then a name, that has a 50-50 chance of being either male or female? (Note:  Okay, I suppose they could choose the name “Pat,” but instead went with George Alexander Louis.  How dull.  I mean, my parents even came up with Faith Bari for my sister!).

Yes, this is what it has come to.

Yes, this is what it has come to.

As Holly, my cohort at notesfromachair, pointed out to me several days ago – NBC’s Today sent Natalie Morales to London several weeks ago for KateWait and she had been reduced to knitting on camera waiting for the baby to arrive.  Not only was this not a good strategy for boosting Today’s lagging ratings, it did little to honor the service of the Royal in question. If you’ve ever known a pregnant woman – and all of you have known at least one – do you think her idea of fun is to have gaggles of photographers and supporters surrounding her as she tries to maneuver her enlarged self out of the house and onto the hospital delivery room table?  That was, and is, a royal pain in its truest form.  And it’s not even unusual or salacious – two of the essential elements for news coverage these days.

To repeat: a boy – George Alexander Louis – 8 lbs., 4 oz.  That’s it.  I’m done.  Any further questions…

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3.    EMMY AWARDS ARE FOR SISSIES*

What do I have to do here to get nominated for a goddamn Emmy?

What do I have to do here to get nominated for a goddamn Emmy?

In the last few years of her life Bette Davis enjoyed posing in full makeup on a couch, next to a pillow that said, Old Age Ain’t No Place for Sissies.  Being a sort of gay icon she can use the latter word, as can I* (no – most of you cannot).  As for the Emmy nominations announced this week, the term should be used to describe some of the TV Academy’s choices this year in several categories.

There are lots of omissions but let’s cut to the chase – no writing nomination for the best-written show on television, Mad Men.  By eliminating the series that has been nominated every other of the six years it has been on the air (including four wins), the blue ribbon panel of choosers or perhaps other writers who nominate are saying what – that this year Mad Men wasn’t even the fifth best written drama series on TV?  Haha – that would be as funny as you telling me that they’re going to actually let Kim Kardashian’s mother host a new television talk show in 2013, or…..oh – never mind.

Kander & Ebb famously wrote the lyric: …Everybody loves a winner… for the song Maybe This Time from Cabaret but that’s actually not quite the case in the entertainment industry.  It’s actually more: Everybody hates a winner who wins too many times the way Mad Men creator Matt Weiner has.

Trading her switch for an Emmy?

Trading her switch for an Emmy?

Which is to say nothing of the fact that the most Emmy nominated series this year, American Horror Story (17 nods and one of my favorite not so guilty pleasures) is going against the very overpraised and retrofitted Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra in the best miniseries and movie category.  AHS is likely to lose, because as we established in our previous #2, this country and the world can’t resist a queen. (and yeah, I can say that, too).

Emmy night is Sunday, Sept. 22.  Look for all of my Steven Soderbergh DVDs (including Magic Mike) flying out the window in the hills of Los Angeles at the very moment this injustice is announced – that is if you’re interested in some free and only slightly damaged swag.

You said it, John.

You said it, John.

4.    PRES OBAMA IS NOT A RACIST FOR SPEAKING OUT ABOUT RACE, YOU MORON

Trayvon_Obama

The country is in uproar because a mostly White female jury in Florida found an adult male carrying a gun, who stopped and eventually shot and killed a Black teenager armed with nothing but a bag of Skittles and some iced tea, a. not guilty and b. back onto the streets with the eventual return of the gun he used in the killing.  We have a Black (well, half-Black – which, fyi, means he’s also equal part White) president and a country with a really checkered history on racial issues.  What’s He supposed to do – say nothing?  What year is this – 1923? ‘33? ‘53?

All our Black (or half White) president did several days ago was try to explain the reason for the outrage about the verdict among the African American community by noting said verdict needs to be seen in historical context when he said: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

Uh, does anyone doubt this is true or truly thinks that this is a controversial statement?   Then why is he getting pillared for it?  And why is Fox News letting people like Sean Hannity tell millions of viewers that Trayvon Martin was stoned on marijuana the night of the shooting and clearly capable of aggression (not munchies, dude – like, fighting) when that whole theory has been clearly debunked.

Why Barack Obama wants to bear his soul on this issue to the inevitable vitriol of a vast right wing machine/conspiracy is beyond me – and probably the reason this hopeful guy should be President.  It’s just that…well…when exactly did it become wrong for the president of the US to open a conversation on sensitive issues?   And not even a Liberal conversation.  There has not been a real liberal in the White House in at least 50 years – which should make one wonder if perhaps we could do even better.

The night before Pres. Obama made his remarks I had dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel where I spotted an overly made up middle aged woman with dyed blonde hair and too much jewelry sashay out of her milky white Bentley (approximate cost: $200,000) as she handed her key to the valet.  Taped to the inside passenger side window of her vehicle was a large printed white sign with black lettering that read: OBAMA SUCKS.   This, alone, tells you what he’s up against.

make-it-stop-o

SMALL ANNOYANCES ADD UP TO ONE BIG ONE

1. The barrage of incessant news from Comicon is working my last nerve.  Isn’t it enough you’ve taken over the movies? Why, oh why, are Superman and Batman going to be in a new tent pole film (sans Christian Bale) directed by Zack Snyder?  And why do you need to rub it in all our faces, over and over and over again.  Wake me when its 1968 again.  Please?

Whisk me away, Jon

Whisk me away, Jon

2. The Way, Way Back is the kind of movie I should love, love, love.  It’s a coming of age piece about a nerdy but too smart for his own good kid being raised by a divorced, single mother.  And it’s got some of my favorite quirky film actors – Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, etc.  So why, why, why was it turned into an actor fest of predictability with characters that felt written and not real?  I don’t know the answer to these questions any more than I know how the television works or why the earth is round and not flat – though all have been explained to me numerous times.

A rerun discovery

A rerun discovery

3. Cold Case is a television series that ran from 2003-2010 that I thought I was too superior to watch until several weeks ago when I was looking for yet another reason to procrastinate on some writing. It was created by Meredith Stiehm (she wrote for Homeland and now does The Bridge) and each week tackles a decades (sometimes many decades) old unsolved murder – alternating seamlessly between period flashbacks of then and now in genuinely compelling fashion.  Well, guess what?  This was a pretty freakin’ great network television series.  If you haven’t seen it, catch up with it in reruns on your DVR because it’s not available on DVD due to its music budget – the largest ever for a TV series.  The producers were smart enough to realize that even with good, taut writing and acting, nothing can bring back memories of the decades past than actual recordings from Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, the Police, Journey, and Cyndi Lauper, just to name a few.  Maybe one day the movies will start to do this again, or better yet, try to discover someone or something exciting, original or even new.  At this point, I’d even settle for a group of the studios to STOP and simply take a long hard look at what they’re doing now – and how it bodes for their – and our – futures.    Like the president…

I can dream, can’t it?