Define Hero

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There are many heroes in the world but there is a certain kind of hero that feels indigenous to the U.S. because of the opportunities that exist here if you have good timing, the right kind of talent and a little luck.

Many have said of late that the United States is on the decline – the inevitable downslide of any #1 World Superpower. Like the Roman Empire and countless others before us, there will be a point at which the influence of the U.S. will not be the primary one in the world. I’m not perceptive and certainly not expert enough to know if we are at or approaching that moment. What I am sure of, though, is that despite this country’s many challenges it still possesses a majority market share of the world’s attention and enough economic rags to riches possibilities that, if managed correctly, can create a certain type of successful individual with just the right blend of superpowers that we deem hero-ic.

No.. No... not you

No.. No… not you

Certainly, the latter applies to the rescue workers of 9/11, the everyday individuals who hold families together, the people who spend their entire lives teaching in a small elementary or high school for what in the corporate arena would be considered a pittance, or the many military men and women who have sacrificed their lives protecting the Homeland.

Those are all a given.

But let’s discuss a different kind of “hero” – the kind of people we often claim as our own American Heroes – meaning they are nothing more and nothing less that a real American success story.

Okay, perhaps HERO is not the right word to use before, after or during the July 4th holiday. One can hear the complaints now – There’s nothing heroic about making lots of money, even if it’s from your talents!! Or — clearly you don’t know any of our men and women in uniform, and we KNOW you haven’t spent any time in a Veteran’s hospital, homeless shelter or cancer ward, because then you’d know our TRUE AMERICAN HEROES.

Oh, please

Oh, please

No one is taking anything away from them. But let’s be honest about what we value day to day and who we lavish our attention on – i.e. the people that we look up to.

Hero: a man (or woman) of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.

The people we most admire in 2015 culture are those with abilities and qualities. Courage is good and nobility is to be lauded, at least on paper. But ability and quality – give us more of those.

Oprah Winfrey

Kim Kardashian

Beyonce

Steve Jobs

Barack Obama

Rod Serling

Jerry Seinfeld

Warren Buffet

Jon Stewart

Hillary Clinton

Now we’re talkin’. And no, I’m not putting Donald Trump on the list. And yes, I have put Kim on. It’s 2015, yo.

Don't worry, we haven't forgotten you too, Miss Tay Tay

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten you too, Miss Tay Tay

When we’re honest across-the-board and through the current generations about those in the culture we consider our American heroes – that’s a cross-section of who really comes to mind. (Note: Of course this is subjective – it’s MY list of what you’re thinking – but try to make a convincing case that on some level I’m NOT right. You can’t).

Show biz, politics, pop culture. And you can’t really be born wealthy to make the list. We like people who came from nothing and made something out of themselves. As if something were at all definable. And sorry those to the manner born. You can be lauded and rich and successful but you’ll never really be who we Americans consider to be a hero. Hence NO TRUMP. As for Franklin D. Roosevelt – he’s long gone (NOTE: Clearly!) and was our absolute exception in that category.

We don’t need to go over the above names one by one. Look them up on Wikipedia, consider the last generation or two, read and/or watch the media and think about the people this country has been known for as of late. There is no REAL Indiana Jones. He was a fictional American hero. Truly.

I want to add another name to the list you may or not know – Nina Simone. Some of you might be saying – huh? Or whom? Well, watch the current and riveting documentary now steaming on Netflix entitled, What Happened, Miss Simone? And then get back to me.

Stream me now

Stream me now

Quick background: Nina Simone was a brilliant American singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist. She had several hit songs in the fifties and sixties, recorded more than 40 albums before dying 12 years ago in France and is generally considered by many in the music biz one of the greatest singer/musicians who ever lived.

Check out her famous recordings of I Put A Spell On You, I Loves You, Porgy, Little Girl Blue, Mississippi, Goddamn and Young, Gifted and Black and you’ll see why.

But what the documentary allows one to learn, or re-learn with a greater impact, is that Miss Simone was born Eunice Waymon in a poor North Carolina rural town in 1928, was a musical prodigy who played piano at 3, and studied relentlessly to be the first Black female classical pianist in the world.

Meaning, she had the talent but was born into the wrong time. So after a prestigious music school rejected her due not to her lack of talent but because of the color of her skin, in the 1950s she began playing piano at small clubs to support her family where she was told in order to make money she had to sing. Which she did – and in a way unlike anyone had ever heard before.

Many young people today are unfamiliar with her work in large part due to her role as a Black activist at the time. She marched with, performed for and befriended the gamut of civil rights warriors – everyone from Malcom X to Martin Luther King to Stokely Carmichael. Disgusted with racism and white America, she eventually chose to leave her country of origin and settle in Africa (Liberia to be exact) and then on to Holland, Amsterdam and eventually Southern France.

The talent was heroic, the activism was more than heroic and the trips and resettlements abroad were necessary – though it makes her no less an American hero for speaking up, singing out and being counted.

She has the requisite personal problems in a show business/pop culture bio – domestic abuse, financial ruin and mental illness. But what this film also clearly shows is a snapshot of someone who could have easily been one of the names on that above list had she been lucky enough to have been born 20 or 30 more years later.

Preach

Preach

Or not. The truth is – we will never know. Perhaps it was really the times that made her what she was (Note: Or any of us) and without that turbulence the right sparks might not have ignited. If so, that makes her journey even more heroic in my mind.

I am currently writing a movie about a man you have probably never heard of – another American hero but, by my earlier definition, someone who would not be on the above list. That is because he wasn’t famous, but instead chose to take on corruption in small town America as the editor of several local newspapers and wound up paying a huge financial and personal price for it. He is one of many American heroes but he’s the unsung kind – the opposite of who we’re really talking about in our heart of hearts when we publicly hold up the ideal of the most outstanding among us.

That is not my prejudice or judgment and it is not good or bad or anything in between. It just is. That’s who we are.   And well, why tamper with perfection, right?

Especially in, on or around our Independence Day weekend.

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Brave New Bruce

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I spent several hours with Bruce Jenner in the eighties. It was on the patio of either his manager or publicist’s house in Beverly Hills and I was interviewing him about a new production company he was starting. Or well, maybe it was at his house. I can’t recall. And anyway, that’s not what was important.

What is important and what I do remember quite distinctly is that Bruce Jenner was in full tennis whites – shorts and a collared short sleeve shirt – and that he was beautiful. Not sexually beautiful necessarily – although perhaps he was – but physically attractive in a way that did not fit the binary we’ve established for gender identity.

Mr. Jenner had the floppy straight hair I had always coveted framing an oddly androgynous face that seemed not all male yet in no way female. He also (still) possessed the massive legs of an Olympic athlete. A decade before he had won a gold medal representing the US in the decathlon – a grueling 10 event sport that is routinely acknowledged to be one of the most physically demanding competitive events in all of sports. I remember thinking – this guy is big but just doesn’t seem strong enough to do that. Not to mention, there’s nothing hyper-masculine about him. Where was the physical verve, the testosterone, the veiny muscle definition of a guy guy? Oh well, maybe he just got tired of training. Also, he spoke in a gentle, caring manner that reminded me of a neighborhood librarian I once liked when I was a kid – not the person who only some years before was awarded the defacto title of jock of the world.

Yes, I really did want that hair (and still do, really)

Yes, I really did want that hair (and still do, really)

I remember thinking at the time, oh well, I must be stereotyping. I guess one of the joys of being a reporter is that if you do your job right, you learn something new on every story.

Oh, and one last note before we change the subject — there was absolutely nothing SEXUAL about him. (And trust me, I was on the lookout for that at that time). Not a whit. Well, perhaps if I had been a woman. Which I most clearly wasn’t and, as it turns out, he most unclearly – was.

Hindsight may be 20/20 but none of these observations could have prepared me 30 years ago for what I heard several days ago on ABC’s 20/20 as I watched Mr. Jenner’s two hours of revelations about himself to Diane Sawyer. Proclaiming to the world that ‘I Am A Woman,’ he confirmed that, yes, he is transgender, yes, he wears women’s clothes at night and has sporadically donned dresses at various hours and in public for most of his life, and that most definitely yes, he is in the process of fully transitioning from male to the female he always felt he was inside. It was also announced simultaneously elsewhere that the E! Channel will in late July begin broadcasting an eight-part documentary series focusing on Mr. Jenner’s journey as a transgender woman which he very much hopes will be able to do some good in the world.

Followed by cameras on his own terms

Followed by cameras on his own terms

It is not at all lost on me that I never gave even a second thought over the years to any of my observations about Bruce Jenner after that one time I spent with him. Just as I am also positive that his recent announcements have in no way shaded, colored or in any way informed, influenced or twisted any of what I know I felt and/or experienced at the time in his presence all those years ago. I figured he never quite looked me in the eye and fidgeted a bit because he was more of a physical guy and not very articulate. The vagueness to his focus – well, perhaps he was being shoved into this interview and had other places he’d rather be. The fact that he didn’t seem terribly interested to engage in the usual give-and-take conversations I always seemed to get out of my interview subjects – hmm, it was probably just that I was too gay for an Olympic hero, or too east coast ethnic for this perfect specimen of mainstream Christian Americana, or even worse – just not worth the time for a guy they’d put on the cover of a Wheaties box.

As is often the case with such feelings – wrong, wrong and WRONG. My insecurities were ALL ABOUT ME. They had NOTHING to do with him – meaning, the other person. A good psychiatrist might call it projection. Even a mediocre one could figure it out and call it that.

But there is also something else going here. How we treat transgender people or those hiding in a closet or, in fact, ANYONE we think we know but don’t — or even that other someone we are meeting for the first time.

Sometimes you can't see everything in just one glance

Sometimes you can’t see everything in just one glance

We often have absolutely NO CLUE what their really story is.   At least not after one meeting. Oh sure, anyone can defy the odds with a lucky guess, or even an educated one. But the ugly truth is – we never entirely know what’s going on in someone else’s mind or life – and certainly not entirely what’s inside another person – even when they are as close as the very dearest person to you.

In other words – as George Eliot so wisely first wrote in 1860 in her novel The Mill and the Floss:

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

(Note: Yes, George Eliot was really a she – her real name was Mary Ann Evans – and No, I did not know she first coined the phrase off the top of my head (see above note) – I had to look it up.

Also good advice

Also good advice

I have taught three transgender students in the last 18 months – that I am AWARE of. Not a shocking number but still not NOTHING and more than the total number I’ve taught in my entire 10+ year teaching career. (Note: That is, I think). You might assume their presence would be unsurprising to a guy like me but indeed it was not. What I can also report back is that each one of them – every single one –were the BEST writers in their group. This is not to generalize and say that Bruce Jenner would be a great writer if I had taught him but only to mention that clearly this is a community of people filled with talent who have something to say. Which is no different than any subset of people we all encounter everywhere.

Therefore, it might be appropriate as Mr. Jenner goes through his transition and we all become more educated and aware of this new subset of human beings who have nevertheless existed for quite a while under our collective radar, to be a little nicer and a lot more understanding. I’m all for zero censorship in art, but could it hurt Conan, Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman and a ton of other talk show hosts/comics to desist with the Jenner jokes for awhile?

Let's take it down a notch, Ok?

Let’s take it down a notch, Ok?

That goes twelvefold for the tabloids, the paparazzi and the salacious infotainment shows. Yeah, I know he’s got his own docuseries on TV and is a public figure but really, it won’t kill anyone’s careers to lay off for a bit. And that goes for the rest of us at the office, through email or in the privacy of our own homes. There’s enough salaciousness to go around. How about following the Duggars to church and recording some of the public sermons they’re listening to – and then discuss, email or pass around social media? Or insert another Kim/Kanye reference somewhere, anywhere, and to anyone – Lord knows they won’t mind. At least, I don’t think they would. Though I guess I shouldn’t say for sure.

They didn't even mind when Amy Schumer threw herself in front of them... literally. #goAmy

They didn’t even mind when Amy Schumer threw herself in front of them… literally. #goAmy

The amount of bravery it takes to go on national television and speak your non-mainsteam truth to an international audience is, well, immeasurable. I don’t know about you but I find it challenging to be consistently real every minute of the day without the cameras rolling. Heck, Ben Affleck just lobbied a PBS series on family genealogy to OMIT the fact that one of his distant relatives from centuries ago was a slave owner from an episode they had already filmed about the actor. Imagine what lengths any movie star goes to in order to hide the real truth about any potentially controversial area in their contemporary lives for fear of reprisal? I don’t have to imagine, I’ve seen it happen time and time again over the years from a sometimes front row seat in the entertainment industry. What Mr. Jenner has told the world pales by comparison in the salaciousness department. And by a lot.

So say the Queen!

So say the Queen!

As a gay person, one’s journey to come out is among life’s most significant events. That’s because try as we might to be like everyone else, we’re in the minority and will probably always be. In turn, that means there will always be a portion of the accepted majority who will always see us as different, other or just plain sick and inferior.

As times change and being gay is now cool among most of the younger generation and even some of their elders – and certainly far less controversial to the mainstream than the young version of me could ever have imagined when I interviewed Bruce Jenner all those years before – it’s time for another group to stand up and take the heat: the transgender community.   They have an unexpected new public face – a 65 year old man who has been married three times, fathered six kids, is grandfather to many more and has raised even more than that. He was also once the most famous male athlete in the world with a gold medal to prove it. And now he’s telling us that he’s going to become…a woman?

Yeah, he is. Deal with it. He’s earned the right by living in his own skin. We have a Black president who is the product of an inter-racial marriage, genocide is now going on in Syria, the Holocaust really did happen and the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist.   Now which one of those is the most shocking anyway?

Rear view

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I’ve been told one or twice over the years, certainly never more than two times in a 12-month period as far as I can recall, that I have a nice butt.  This is not something I advertise or, really, am particularly proud of.  I don’t do anything to maintain it, I never think about it because, quite frankly, I can’t see it, and certainly it hasn’t really gotten me much that I know of except a few compliments now and again.  The latter has always puzzled me since I would think of all the wonderful things family, friends and the general public could flatter me about this would not be one of them.

Then again, I’m not complaining because as an ex of mine used to jokingly say – though I realized after two years of his bull that this was not really a joke – I accept all free-floating compliments.

How to take a compliment

How to take a compliment

No, this is not a piece about the world’s obsession with Kim Kardashian’s butt.  Though certainly the provocative pictures of her very shiny and – since there’s no other way to say it I will – very large and very toned posterior that was designed to “Break the Internet suggest that if it were I could probably increase my readership at least twenty thousand fold.  Nevertheless, I am still choosing not to go there.  This should not be surprising since I have also opted for so many decades to not do much of anything about the sporadic compliments I have gotten about my own behind.

At the end of the day all this really proves is not only do I know little about generating (m)ass appeal but that I am probably just about the worst person alive to market my own ass(ets).

OK OK we get it...

OK OK we get it…

Still, as a writer and college professor I am a pretty good provocateur and poser of questions.  And while once again I will state this still is not a piece about KK – though she certainly has managed to dominate the proceedings so far, huh? – I can’t help but wonder out loud in print:

  • Why something or someone gets attention in our world?  OR
  • If it’s ever possible to know other than by trial and error and personal taste just what the best subjects, persons and events are to either work on, research or let your eye or mind generally wander to?  AND
  • Once these things get stuck in your craw, which ones will you, not to mention the entire world, choose to indulge in briefly, sporadically, intermittently or endlessly? OH, AND — ONE LAST QUESTION
  • Given the disposable nature of subject matter in our ever-evolving age of information, do any of these decisions or choices even matter?

This all came to mind this week because we people on Earth for the first time in, well, EVER managed to land a spacecraft on a comet.  Not the cleanser but a real live celestial object made of ice, dust and gas located 317 MILLION MILES AWAY.  This alone might not seem exciting to non-science geeks except when we’re told that the constant stream of 24/7 photos from the surface of that non-cleanser just might answer the age-old questions of: how the World began, how Earth was first formed and if humans are the only intelligent beings in the universe.

While NASA/the US is usually in the lead on these types of things it is interesting to note that the achievement of the Rosetta Spacecraft was due to 10 years of perseverance by the European Space Agency.  Not to mention those cheers and congrats of victory took place in Germany and were not in large part due to what we here in the US consider to be our greatest asset – American exceptionalism.

Oh, who cares about that and who says we’re not exceptional – we can still lay claim to Kardashian’s gluteus maximus!  And who says we’re not into science the way we once were when we’re clearly leading in um… anatomy.

You had to know this picture was coming

You had to know this picture was coming

You might dismiss me as Mr. Sarcasmo.  So many of my family and friends have over the years while still sporadically applauding me about my own tushy.  But the facts speak for themselves.  KK’s photo spread (no pun intended) on both the cover and inside the pages of a little known publication called Paper Magazine, is now close to getting 20,000,000 views.  Have there been 20 million views of the comet’s surface or the space probe Rosetta?  Well, perhaps.  But are you willing to take that bet???  No, I didn’t think so.  (Note: And for those who are willing, which of those images were you most excited to see first?  Be honest).

Nope. I won't accept it!

Nope. I won’t accept it!

Well, of course there is a time for science and a time for bottom feeding, right?  Intellectual advancement for mankind does not depend on a majority of us viewing space photos – just on a select few understanding what they mean, interpreting them and advancing knowledge that will cause others to make discoveries for the betterment of mankind.  Other discoveries made by NASA over the years are responsible for the science behind the MRI imaging tests that will likely prolong your life, the artificial limbs that allow those with disabilities to move about like never before, and the clear Invisalign braces that two years ago finally freed me from a lifetime of crooked teeth.  And most of us don’t know how the heck any of them work or why.  Or even care to understand them.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then why care about Rosetta’s photos since clearly there are others around more well-versed than ourselves to do the dirty work?  Meanwhile we get to fantasize endlessly about oiled up derriere photos of… many people – as we simultaneously benefit as a people from the scientific findings of others.

Does this help us focus?

Does this help us focus?

Well, because in the US – as well as many other places in the world – we live in a free society where everyone gets to vote (okay, mostly everyone) and decide how much money goes to science in order to explore.  We also all collectively decide by our voting of what is popular and trending just what the priorities of the world should be and how our time, money and attention will and should be allocated in the future.  Some ancient societies were built by peasants and ruled by royalty who chose to construct up and out.  Other civilizations were and are about survival and the worship of a God, Deity or Figurehead of choice with more of a focus on piety that can get you into the Afterlife rather than what benefits you in your present life.   Some have even chosen to simply revel in the decadence of the day, pleasure seeking and partying their lives away with the most desirable among them – or at least available to them – as long as possible.

Several weeks ago there was an election in the U.S. with the lowest voter turnout in 72 years – meaning only 36% of eligible voters showed up at the polls.   The age group with the lowest turnout figures was those 18-29 years old, accounting for only 21% of all total voters.  When that is broken down to simply Democratic voters, the number drops down to 13%.

Good Grief

Good Grief

This will cause a shift away from issues heavily favored by young people – such as the preservation of the environment.  The new Republican controlled Senate is touting a heavy shift towards oil drilling with a promised passage of the Keystone Pipeline.  In simple terms, that means digging deeper into the Earth than ever before up into Canada in order to excavate as much oil as is inhumanely possible.  It will also mean that the Senator who will be put in charge of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will be James Inhofe (R- Oklahoma), one of the leading climate change deniers in the country who authored the 2012 book:  The Greatest Hoax:  How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

No, I don’t think the majority of young people were spending their time mooning at the backside of KK instead of voting.  Her audience extends far beyond that, and in the case of those photos it could indeed skew a bit older and much more male.  They are also not to blame for our shift away from science to social media.  That’s Mark Zuckerberg’s fault and since he already turned 30 years old in May he’s clearly not so young anymore.

... but I still wear a hoodie everyday

… but I still wear a hoodie everyday

There instead seems to be a mass exit away from…. what shall we call it…. reality and a growing emphasis to a more short-term, pleasure driven, hedonistic – or at least egoistic culture that has ironically been fueled in part by our recent technological advancements.  These toys allow us to watch the trending showdown between the surface of a heavenly body many millions of miles away and Kim Kardashian’s buttocks.  We enjoy each together, alone and apart from the scrutiny of anyone else.

And we enjoy it at our own peril.

Hello Dolly!

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This week Sony Pictures announced it has closed a deal with Mattel for what it believes will be the movie studio’s next big global franchise: a live-action comedy film built around —- BARBIE!!

This is not a joke.

Here’s a quote from the film’s producers, Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, whose credits include: Men in Black, Gladiator, Catch Me If You Can, and Sweeney Todd.

Barbie…is a cultural symbol whose career choices have been as unlimited as her wardrobe.  She is about empowerment, but never at the expense of fun. Our hope is to capture all of these aspects of Barbie in a modern take of the character that can appeal to moviegoers of all ages.

Yes, because nothing says female empowerment better than a…Barbie doll?

I think I might have heard Gloria Steinem say that once but I’m not sure.  Though I’m positive that Barbie, smart gal that she is and certainly much more intelligent than myself, could remember.

Hey Babs, where's your medal?

Hey Babs, where’s your medal?

You can talk yourself into anything, especially in the movie business.  That’s one of the classic mantras learned by those who survive at the top of the Hollywood executive heap for decades on end.  Though it’s more than just talk.  On some level, you do really have to believe what you’re selling.  That’s the moment when the logic gets twisted to the point of an intricate uber-pretzel where, when you make your final announcement, it really does all sound exactly right.  Though not always for the reasons you’ve advanced.

Meaning Barbie: The Movie is much more about financial empowerment than anything having to do with women – young or otherwise.  Not that the two are mutually exclusive.

Someone's gotta pay the mortgage on the dreamhouse...

Someone’s gotta pay the mortgage on the dreamhouse…

I do believe that Mr. Parkes and Ms. MacDonald really believe what they’re selling.  As does the very talented Sony Pictures chairperson Amy Pascal, a veteran executive who was mentored on her way up by writer-director Nora Ephron, one of the first women in the business to write and direct big successful studios films.  Would Nora have taken on Barbie for the big screen?  Well, we’ll never know that.  But…did Nora happily play with her Barbie dolls as a little girl, so galvanized by her message of female empowerment that she would enable young Nora to climb to the top of the Hollywood heap as one of its most successful creative talents?

Uh, somehow I doubt it.  More likely she galvanized Nora, who was neither blonde, 11.5 inches tall or as traditionally beautiful as Barbie, to figure something else out.  Not to put arguments into her mouth against her will, but adult Nora did once famously write in regards to her decided lack of shapely, Barbie-like breasts: If I had them, I would have been a completely different person.

Oh Nora, we love you just the way you are.

Oh Nora, we love you just the way you are.

Not only did Nora know that but I know that.  And Amy knows that.  And Walter and Laurie might or might not have known that but, for the reasons I’ve stated above, probably no longer know that.

Yes, it is true that young Nora did grow up in a different time and Barbie has evolved to a lot more than the size of her breasts.  But there is still a general theme here that holds true.

The Barbie doll has been courted for years by film studios that were eager to turn her into a cash cow for the big screen.  And why not?  She’s known as a multi-billion dollar brand and has been around since the late 1950s – which seems a perfect time for the birth of an almost one foot tall female with perfect features and luxurious blonde wavy hair who has a centerfold’s figure, doesn’t put on weight and never, ever ages.

Some of the best reporting on the Barbie Movie was done by Deadline Hollywood.

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The website reveals that a major factor in Sony taking on Barbie over many other studio suitors was the story pitch the producers brought in with screenwriter Jenny Bicks. Ms. Bicks is well known for her work on female-centered comedies with a twist, including the television series Sex and the City and The Big C, as well as the big-screen What A Girl Wants, starring Amanda Bynes.

Apparently Ms. Bicks’ winning pitch was a contemporary tale that “allows the character Barbie to use her personal and professional skills to step into the lives of others and improve them, almost like a modern-day Mary Poppins.”  She will also be alternately surrounded by her many friends, including her boyfriend Ken (as if he wasn’t already a living doll!) and various Mattel-franchised cohorts.   Deadline goes on to say this will enable the casting of a new young actress to play the title character as well as other unknown or established stars as friends and family.

We live in a time of irony.  You can make anything ironic.  Even something iconic.  But does anyone really think of Barbie as a Mary Poppins who goes in and fixes other people’s lives in even a non-ironic or even ironic way?

Don't drag me into this!

Don’t drag me into this!

Isn’t Barbie a kind of a…well…blonde bubblehead stereotype with a fabulous body and the perfect man?  Even when she was a brunette?

No?  Oh wait – I get it.  In this movie Barbie will be insecure deep down – fixing other people’s lives but never really paying close enough attention to her own. But then one day, through fixing other people’s lives she realizes: Hey, wait a minute, maybe my own isn’t so great?  Ken is a bit of a jerk airhead and really the slightly less attractive guy is the one for me.  And all those clothes I’m known for – maybe I’m going a bit overboard and should really stop dressing like a, well – Barbie Doll – and start behaving like an empowered woman.

CUT!!  Wait a minute.  I said, CUT!  Um, I don’t think so.  There is NOTHING ironic about that.  Certainly not from Mattel’s standpoint.  And it’s very retro 1970s speak. This is Barbie.  You can’t fuck with the franchise.  Barbie is cool.  Everyone wants to BEEEE  Barbie.  So – how do you do a movie like that and cause Barbie to change but maybe have it be more like Clueless or Legally Blonde.

Didn't Anna Faris already make this movie?

Didn’t Anna Faris already make this movie?

Oh  wait, no.  I see —  Barbie doesn’t change.  Not really.  Barbie is not IRONIC – she’s ICONIC.  So it’s all about the world making assumptions about her and changing the WORLD, right???  Barbie has to change the world to her way of thinking.  She’s gonna glam it up – and fix people’s lives – like a millennial Mary Poppins.  And earn RESPECT.  That’s right, respect.  People look down on blondes and even some brunettes (Note:  Barbie now has various hair colors) with perfect figures – especially when they’re 11.5 inches tall and have the perfect ass, boobs, man,  uh  — hands!

Barbie will show ‘em, though.  Like Elle in Legally Blonde she’s not dumb, she’s just been judged.  And like Mary Poppins, she’s practically perfect in every way.  But she’s going one step beyond both of them. Only the naysayers don’t realize it.  So she’s gonna show them and change the world – or at least the lives of the people who need her and, oh hell – let’s go for it – the whole town they live in.  Heck – let’s make it bigger (it’s a tent pole), the entire city who needs her.  Wait – how about the State?  Country?  C’mon – go biggest or go home – SHE CHANGES THE UNIVERSE!!!!!!

Are. They.  Kidding???

Watch out Mars!

Watch out Mars!

Okay, I suppose you can make anything entertainingly and acceptably ironic.  It’s all in the point of view and execution. But is this really the best we can offer young women nowadays? On the other hand, maybe this is THE best argument for having Hillary Clinton as president in 2016.  Which will probably be the year Barbie comes out.

(Note:  Oh no, dear – Barbie isn’t gay.  She’s not THAT ironic).

I mean coming out as in – gets released at movie theatres.  Hmm, maybe it will become a campaign issue for Hillary (Side Note:  Why do we always call her Hillary but Pres. Obama is never Barack and Boehner is never John?).  And what will the future La Presidenta think of the Barbie brand of feminism? By that time Hillary Clinton will be a grandmother for almost a year so clearly we’ll need another issue to discuss with her on the campaign trail rather than whether she can balance her babysitting duties with getting back into the political workplace or even if she really wants to or even should at this point in her life.  What could be better than the Barbie-ization of today’s world?

I could think of a few better things...

I could think of a few better things…

Yes, Barbie now not only has blonde, brown, red and probably several other colors of hair (not to mention races) but there is now Architect Barbie, Zoo Doctor Barbie, News Anchor Barbie, Rock Star Barbie, Race Car Barbie and even…Presidential Candidate Barbie (look out Hillary!). It’s been that way for some time and she has more careers (130 at last guestimate) than you can shake a stick at.

OF COURSE, I KNOW THAT.  But in all of those variations, she still basically looks the same – a plasticized, perfectly proportioned version of femininity that can only be achieved using carefully engineered parts produced on an assembly line.   (Note: Contrary to what we’ve been seeing in Beverly Hills lately, medical science has not quite achieved that in real life – yet).

It hasn't?????

It hasn’t?????

Some of it is about what we teach young people about perfection.  The social upheavals of the 60s and 70s questioned and changed what we were teaching the new generation, particularly young women, about expression – until they didn’t.  Strange as it might seem to the advocates of Movie Barbie, there was a time when I was growing up in those social upheaval years where Barbie had begun be thought of as ridiculous – as ridiculous as Playboy bunnies or GI Joes.  Men killing people and women with perfect bodies rocking a pert ponytail were not seen as something to aspire to.  And then, somewhere along the way, it became more tolerable.  And then, well – a choice.  You could have a great body but you didn’t have to be an idiot – although even if you chose to be one it would be okay.  You didn’t necessarily want to kill people but you once again could – under the right circumstances.  For example, if your country was really threatened.  Because after 9/11 all “give peace a chance” bets were off, right?  We all now kinda like a GI Joe machine cause we know there are reasons we will have to fight on these shores and better to be prepared at the very least.

Here’s the studio thinking in all of this.  Well, it’s not exactly this but it does go something like this:

Of course, you can do a Barbie movie outright – all blonde and sort of, uh, bouncy – but that will probably/mostly have an appeal to red state America. 

How about presenting it with irony – that will also appeal to the snidies in blue state America.  The red states won’t necessarily see the irony but the blue states will so it can be optically correct, intellectual AND fun for both demographics. 

And the young people?   Well  – they’ll just see it.  It’s not up to us to tell them what to think.  We’re just trying to entertain the masses – not educate them.  As Samuel Goldwyn once famously said, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union!”  Yuk yuk, yuk.

It doesn’t much matter how much anyone bitches and complains (NOTE: Except for me) we will have Barbie: The Movie.  But let’s be real about Barbie and not try to hide it in a bunch of horse dung about the feminist twist blah, blah, blah.  Sony’s publicists either got to Jezebel very early on or they’re not as savvy as we all thought because even they are saying ‘oh, girl power, Jenny Bicks, Sex and the City, truly funny concept, blah, blah, blah, Amy Pascal, female empowerment, blah, blah, blah, bah, blah.

Seriously?

Seriously?

Sorry Jezebel, ain’t buying it.  Don’t promise me chicken fingers and deliver tempeh.  To my way of thinking, that’s like spending tens of millions of dollars on an ad campaign to convince the world that the top 1% of this country are all job creators and not mostly just ultra-rich people.

Words have meanings.  Say what you mean.  Don’t bait and switch. Or buy the bait and switch.

Yes Sony, you are making a movie about Barbie – who is a doll version of a girl with flawlessly proportioned girlie features that almost no real life woman possesses – or if she does now she will eventually not possess them.  What does it say about young women who are less than that when they always have to be shown the light by the perfect-looking ideal they will never be?  Mary Poppins – Miss Practically Perfect In Every Way – was one of my favorite films in 1964 – when I was under 10 years old.  And it was made when Barbie still WAS the ideal.

.. and maybe that carried on through 1968. Right Jane?

.. and maybe that carried on through 1968. Right Jane?

It is truly ironic that Barbie is being remade into some kind of new aspirant and that we can’t think of any way forward other than to go backwards.  It’s also interesting the first letter in ironic is “I” because dolls are about the id and traditionally Barbie –with her appetite for new wardrobe and hairstyles – has always taught girls to be, on some level, all about the “I” – themselves.  Not to change the world.  At least the real world.  That would be the pervue of a Susan B. Anthony doll.  Or the Marie Curie doll.  Or perhaps even the Hillary Clinton doll.  But then again, they’re not 11.5 inches tall with perfectly pert bodies and a ponytail of practically perfect hair.  No, you can’t have it all forever.  Not if you are human and don’t have a plastic surgeon and toymaker stylist with you 24/7.

In 1993, there was a famous group called the Barbie Liberation Organization.  It was a rogue guerrilla organization whose mission it was to reduce gender stereotyping and the way they went about this was to perform “surgery” on 300-500 Barbie dolls and switch the silly girlie sayings she spoke via the tape implanted in her backside with the more macho expressions used by G.I. Joe.  The group then put the dolls back on toy shelves where unknowingly customers bought them for their kids, who quickly recognized the supposedly genderless remarks they were unintentionally  (or perhaps intentionally) being fed were anything but since the opposite doll as saying them.  The group caused a bit of a stir, but Mattel never responded publicly, the times changed and finally, they disbanded.  Here’s a video of what they did and how they did it.

These days there is a famous young Ukrainian model and “breatharian” named Valeria Lukyanova who subsists on “cosmic micro-food” in order to maintain her Barbie-like figure (and face – check it out!) She hopes to one day be able to nix food altogether and survive on nothing but “light and air.”  Not to mention Justin Jedlica, a young man who has had more than $150,000 worth of 100 cosmetic procedures to look like a human-life Ken doll.  Don’t believe me on that either – lookie here.

AHHHHHH!

AHHHHHH!

Certainly movie studios are free to do as many mass market, franchise films as they like.  It is also understandable that they like to do this a lot given the fact that the way they stay in profit is not so much from their property’s theatrical release but through all of the ancillary revenue outside of that release that enables them to exist as a profitable corporate entity.  Hence, dolls are the PERFECT subject for a feature.

What is not acceptable, however, is the lie or the massaged untruth.  If the parents of young girls want to empower their daughters there are innumerable sources of entertainment, art and other cultural and intellectual endeavors that will enable such behavior.  Watching Barbie: The Movie will not be at the top or even middle – or probably even at the bottom of the list.  In all likelihood, given the infinite possibilities, it would not even be on that list at all.

Come Back or Go Away!

Screen shot 2014-03-23 at 1.33.30 PMSometimes you just want to tell someone or something to go away.  Heels that aren’t high enough (Note: Teenage Chair is still mourning the loss of platform shoes); pork roast dinners (Note #2: It’s not a Jewish thing, just the sight of it makes me rickety); and hair with so much pomade and/or other product that it won’t move in the wind (Note #3 – Okay, perhaps it’s just flowing locks of any kind that I crave).

If you’re in the entertainment biz there is also slightly more serious fare you might want to give the ol’ heave-ho to.   These would include people who get undeserved studio deals because they have no discernable talent other than one to charm and persuade – which if not talent, is at the very least is a great asset to possess in 2014.

Standing around the Writer’s Guild this week discussing the latter subject, one of my peers concluded that these very same people become slaves to their profoundly clueless perception of their severe lack of talent and that this, in turn, gives them the supreme confidence and ability to soldier on and win at the business of show despite what any measurable mathematical calculation of real creative acumen would allow.

For example, this week doyennes of the fashion world became outraged when the sacred cow of magazine covers in their universe – Vogue – graced two people on it who many readers saw as the symbol of everything they don’t want as their style cover couple:

More like.. #enoughalready

More like.. #enoughalready

Granted, this might be a step forward from paper-thin, meal deprived models wearing half of a dress that would only lie right if it were draped on a skeleton in the front of the room of a 10th grade chemistry class.  Still, one can understand Vogue readers collectively rolling their eyes, sighing or yelling ‘Go away’ as they hurl the Kimye issue across the room and accidentally break a window due to the sheer weight of paper from all of the additional ads the duos mere presence undoubtedly caused to be purchased.

Feeling cynically depressed yet?  Well, don’t be.

On the flip side of this, there are just as many times that collectively we are all as likely to shout COMEBACK! (or Come back!) at a talented person or commodity or thing that we love that has been absent from the spotlight for too long or secretly seems to have just disappeared for no reason.  Though writers are clearly on average the most cynically depressing in the creative bunch (Note: You will just have to trust me on this), it is interesting to note that my aforementioned Writers Guild discussion segued into one where myself and my peers also listed many famous and infamous talents who were too long absent and whose new works we longed for or whose past works we still reveled in.  Plus – some of them were even friends, acquaintances AND people YOUNGER than us who were a lot more successful and wealthy.  While that entire group might admittedly evoke some envy, we also concluded that their every achievement cause us to be hopeful, excited and more motivated than ever to delve back into our own work because they show us what is possible in the best-case scenarios as they move us or make us laugh.  They also seem to push the collective consciousness just a teeny bit more into the kind of world we want to live in.  Rather than take a job away from us, they also inspire confidence that, contrary to what my parents and numerous T-Shirts you can buy on Café Press say, Life IS (or can be) Fair – even if it’s only sometimes.

I know this is all certainly true because the best show on television, Mad Men, is once again returning to the airwaves on AMC beginning April 13.

All Aboard!

All Aboard!

Sure, it’s a short seven-episode season 7 in 2014 with the final seven scheduled for the final season 8 to be broadcast sometime in 2015.  But that gives us a full 12-18 months for MM’s creative outcome to percolate in the cultural zeitgeist and raise the collective bar a little more, much in the same way Breaking Bad did the previous two years.  And certainly, we could use that.  I mean, God knows who else besides Kimye Vogue editor Anna Wintour (aka our Miranda Priestly prototype) has planned for future cover models.

Therefore, in the spirit of all this and more, the following are a list of some of the other COME BACKS/COMEBACKS and GO AWAYS we will look forward to, wish for or…sigh…dread might happen or not happen in the foreseeable future.  (Note:  Certainly any one of the occurrences or non-occurrences will add or subtract from our collective cultural zeitgeist only as we each see fit – rendering our national average impossible to figure out.  If for nothing else other than self-preservation, it’s probably safer that way).

1. The Comeback

We cherish you!

We cherish you!

Literally the best industry news all week was that HBO is in serious talks for a 2015 limited series return of the cancelled-too-early comedy, The Comeback, with star Lisa Kudrow, who co-created the show along with producing partner Dan Bucatinsky and director-writer Michael Patrick King almost a decade ago.  The docu-style, meta reality series followed the adventures of Valerie Cherish, a seemingly washed-up sitcom star from the 1980s who gets a shot on TV again playing the small supporting role of the older Aunt Sassy on a new contemporary half hour show where she often finds herself shunted to the side and mistreated in favor of younger and fresher talent.  To make matters worse, poor Valerie has also agreed for cameras to film every moment of her real life as a potential reality television show documenting the process.

Mere words cannot describe the sheer glee we fans of this much-overlooked gem feel now that one of our favorite programs – unfairly cancelled after a mere 13 episodes – has a chance at a comeba….well, you get the idea.   The mess of Valerie Cherish’s life managed to be hilarious, cringe-worthy and uncomfortably, heartbreakingly real almost all at the same time.  I myself sometimes had to turn away from the screen for poor Val, guiltily laughing at the indignities of show business realities she willfully subjected herself to weekly.  Yet, like most of the rest of us, she somehow always got through it all with a pasted-on smile even as invisible tears of sadness and occasional joy ran down her face.  PLEASE COME BACK!!

2. Brackets

Maybe we should bring Nate Silver in.

Maybe we should leave this to Nate Silver.

 What is with this word???  Every year at this time I read the newspaper, watch TV or read/see on the web bracket this or bracket that with an accompanying list of sports teams.  Now even the President is getting into it and we have to listen to all those crazies once again criticizing Barack Obama for spending time on the same type of foolishness that each one of them appears equally into.  Hmmm, next thing you know they’ll be criticizing him for going to the bathroom just like them instead of tending to the biologically defying duties of the Oval Office.  I mean, how dare he???  Plus, I bet Putin doesn’t go to the bathroom.  Clearly.

Which brings us back to the dreaded bracket.  Will someone please write about what the hell they really are and why we should care when gambling is illegal in the U.S.?  Oh wait, really?  Gambling is illegal in most places where the bracket counts?  Yeah, it really is.  Trust me, I know.  Even if I don’t know what the hell the term bracket actually means.

Finally, even if sports had nothing to do with this subject I’d still be annoyed because to me brackets really only evoke images of buying those metal thinga-majigs from Ikea or the hardware store that I nail into the wall and put shelves on, only to have them then fall apart, usually knocking me in the head or on the foot as they do.  Then I have to hire a handyman to fix the whole damn thing and it costs me a lot more money than if the word had never come up in my life.  So either way brackets are almost guaranteed to be a losing proposition. The verdict?  GO AWAY!!

3. Charlie Kaufman

Where are you??

Where are you??

He’s a screenwriter who is my age, been nominated for the Academy Award three times and won once, and has never written any original work I didn’t like and respect.  And I’m not even jealous or envious!  Even his last film, Synecdoche, New York, which he also directed, was quite brilliant in my humble opinion despite its mixed reviews. (Note: I remember literally snorting in contempt as several couples left the movie theatre at the showing I attended – those mental midgets!)

Still, it’s been five years since Mr. Kaufman has had an original screenplay made.  Yes, there have been talks he’s once again going to collaborate with Spike Jonze, who directed his scripts for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation (Michel Gondry directed his Oscar-winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and that he himself will write and direct a movie called Frank or Francis that has gone in and out of financing.  But so far – zilch.

My guess is our biggest hope lies with a new Kaufman television pilot for FX, How and Why, to star Michael Cera, John Hawkes and Sally Hawkins.  It tells the story of a man who used to be a TV science guy for kids who gets fired and starts a new show in a small town where Michael Cera is his boss and weird supernatural stuff begins to happen (Note: As if the former weren’t enough).  Yes, they had me at Charlie Kaufman but this idea sounds Great. COME BACK!  NOW!!!

4. The New Male Buzz Cut

If he can't pull it off...

If he can’t pull it off…

STOP IT!!  Just STOP IT right now!!!  Especially if you’re over 35.

I’m sorry, call me crazy (and many do) but this is the butt ugliest haircut for guys in the world.  Pretentious, affected, too coiffed and too contrived.  In short, you’re not too cool for the room when you think you’re too cool for the room.  See, Ryan Gosling is not too cool for the room and he doesn’t have the haircut.  He’s just cool.

Oh yeah, you know the one I mean.  Okay, Macklemore looks cool in it but he’s a rapper and he just won a well-deserved Grammy (Note:  Yeah, I’m on team M and not team Yeezus).  But the parade of male celebs who have gone the super buzz route just because their stylists told them to, only to be followed by every other gay guy at the gym and every straight guy who thinks they can have Adam Levine’s love life if they do this same hairdo along with one or several tattoos, is maddening and just plain dead wrong.

Stay away from Leto!

Stay away from Leto!

If you’ve got good hair revel in it cause it won’t last forever.  I say this not out of bitterness, but out of kind-hearted envy and personal experience.  Plus, you will look back at photos 20 years from now and wonder why you were wearing the post-millennial equivalent of a Nehru suit on your head.   GO AWAY!! 

5. Brussel Sprouts vs. Kale & Quinoa

Hello gorgeous

Hello gorgeous

As a child of the sixties and seventies, I grew up thinking vegetables were these soggy sweet, soupy things from a can that were rancid.  In fact, the words Del Monte and Birdseye still literally make me nauseous to this day.

The re-invention of the fresh vegetable as a thing of beauty across America and the many options for its preparation to the masses was one of the only great things to come out of the 1980s, in my mind.  That is, aside from meeting my life partner.  We can thank many people for this, most notably Alice Waters, one of the leaders of the organic food movement and founder/chef extraordinaire from Chez Panisse. (Note:  No, she had nothing to do with the partner and I meeting, but still…)

In tribute to Ms. Waters then, it is with great joy that I wholly endorse a revival of the much ignored but very, very tasty brussel sprout.  Not sure why but they seem to be everywhere these days as the vegetable of choice in restaurants across the country.  They’re good for you (High fiber/low fat) and very easy to make (roast them with a little olive oil and salt ‘n pepper at 450 degrees for 15-20 mins.) and in my mind beat both kale and quinoa into the ground.  Not to say the latter two are bad – just tiresome.  They’re tolerable, even good sometimes, but they’ve become sort of like watching any movie, TV show, commercial or anything else featuring Ashton Kutcher.

7. Hannah Horvath

hateeveryone1

She is Lena Dunham’s alter ego on Girls and I love both the show and the character.  But like any best friend or love partner for life you occasionally need a break.  This is what’s happening these days with Hannah and us.

It’s hard to watch the twenty-something version of yourself at your worst and most insecure slowly destroy your life and every meaningful relationship you’ve ever had scene by scene with that rare combination of extreme narcissism and neediness.  Luckily, there is only half an hour more for this season and Hannah can go away to regroup while we can recall why we are forever grateful to have our twenties decades behind us.  (Note: For those of you who don’t fall into the latter category, our deepest sympathies).  GO AWAY – but only for a while.

8. The Homosexual

Imagine my surprise to read this week in both the NY Times and The Advocate that the word homosexual has been officially deemed an “offensive term” by GLAAD and will be avoided at all costs by the paper of record.  Apparently, this has something to do with the fact that if you take the term gay marriage and call it homosexual marriage it will sound funny – sort of like the equivalent of referring to an African American person as colored in 2014.

Wasn't this enough this week?

Wasn’t this enough this week?

Well, as a gay/homosexual person I am officially confused.  Not in a sexual or lifestyle way – just in an old-fashioned I’m not sure kind of fashion.  And if I’m left scratching my head, I can only image where you must be.  No wonder my transgender friends are up in arms.  Society can barely keep up with the speed in which we’re coming out so you can imagine what it’s like for the keepers of Webster, Wikipedia and Strunk & White.

Here’s my suggestion.  Let’s just call everyone male or female because…Wait, that won’t work either since some people prefer gender non-specifics.  How about human beings?  Too clinical?  What about Mary?  Butch?  Ahh, forget I brought it up.  And you may continue to call me a homosexual  – as long as you’re not Antonin Scalia or Rush Limbaugh – because even if they called me gay I’d know what they really mean.  COME BACK!

9. Super hero movies and 3-D

NO MORE!

NO MORE!

Until you hear otherwise, we here at notesfromachair don’t want to hear anything more about them.    We don’t care that Man of Steel was one of the 10 top grossing movies worldwide in 2013 or that Ironman 3 was….NUMBER #1!???????  

We. Are. Done.  We didn’t see Gravity with those hideous glasses and we still loved it.  We watched Frozen at home and happily sung along to Idina Menzel, not missing a note while the ice in our glass of Diet Coke clinked back and forth.

Yet that same year we were tortured with what seemed like ten and a half hours of a bad Superman reboot that made us long for Christopher Reeve and a multi-million dollar (though nearly unintelligible) cameo from Marlon Brando as his father.  Not to mention the only 12 minutes we saw of our favorite film actor, Robert Downey, Jr. somehow managing to maintain his dignity as he meandered through Iron Man 3.

One day the movie business pendulum will swing the other away and we will hopefully still be able to see and hear. If not, please let us know how it goes.  Until then, do not tell us anything about Man of Steel: Superman vs. Batman.  Isn’t it enough we’re showing you this dumb fake trailer? GO FAR, FAR, AWAY!

10.  24/7 Airplane Travel Disaster Porn

I am planning my first trip to Italy in May and don’t like flying to begin with. So is it too selfish to ask for a moratorium on sensationalizing human airborne tragedy?  My motives for this are not SOLELY selfish, just mostly.    Sheer terror does that to you.  GO AWAY.

11. THE CLINTONS

And we can't stop.. and we don't stop!

And we can’t stop.. and we don’t stop!

Let’s face it, Hillary is running for President in 2016 and will soon be saturating the airwaves.  Bill was dubbed the Explainer-in-chief for the brilliant, powerhouse speech/argument he made at the 2012 Democratic convention that many feel was key in helping win Barack Obama re-election.  Finally, I saw Chelsea Clinton promoting the Clinton Global Initiative this week on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and she is not going anywhere but up.

There is no use voting on this.  They Clintons never went away and they are never going away.  Therefore it makes it impossible for them to come back or to even have a Comeback.  Sometimes life is like that.  And it not only takes hard work, confidence and determination, but real creative talent.  It’s rare but when it happens all the rest can really do is sit back, watch and enjoy the show.  Let’s face it, these days we’ve earned the right to be truly entertained.

MILLENNIALS: A Love Story

Narcissist couple taking self portrait.

My students, usually aged 20-23, are, as a group – smart, motivated and kind of terrific.  So I’m sick of the media, as well as others, picking on them. The selfish millennials.  The Me, Me, Me Generation.  The narcissists who live off their parents as long as they can, don’t want to do hard work, strive for fame rather than creative or intellectual achievement, and are far more concerned with how many friends or followers they have on social media than the people who like or even love them in real life.

As Bill Clinton said about Barack Obama during Mr. Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton: “GIVE. ME. A BREAK.  This whole thing is the greatest fairy tale I’ve ever seen…”

Though I don’t have Bubba creds, as a screenwriter, journalist, teacher and human being I can tell you that cleverly made up stories, like both clichés and really good lies, ALWAYS have a grain or two of truth.  As does all great fiction.  So it’s not wholly untrue that the insults cast about against young people today have zero reality to them.  But it also doesn’t mean that, on the whole, they are correct.

We all know it's true

We all know it’s true

Or to put it another way: just because the new mocha and carrot cake cupcakes from that great bakery in your neighborhood taste lousy doesn’t take away from the fact that their classic vanilla and chocolate ones, which far outnumber the former anyway, aren’t still fantastic and wouldn’t win you first place on Cupcake Wars.  Given the choice, most people go in for basic flavors (which, for my money, are always better), yet they are never featured upfront as the specials of the day.

A non-Jon Hamm drool worthy pic

A non-Jon Hamm drool worthy pic

And no, I don’t think I’m pushing the metaphor.

I just finished reading 26 screenplays in 12 days, notes and all, from these young people and I can tell you what’s on their minds -–forbidden love, dysfunctional parents and families, escape from their troubled or mundane worlds to a mythical or alternate one in the past or future, society’s vacant value system and lack of responsibility to future generations, and the general existential tragedy of life as seen through a broadly comedic or intensely overdramatic lens or mindset.

Yes – all the things that bothered the Generation Xers, the Baby Boomers and I suspect each new coming-of-age group back through the decades and centuries of time remain intact.  Sure, the packaging might be different because we’ve gone from carrier pigeon, to Pony Express, to snail mail, to email, to texting, and to Twitter.   But the actual themes, passages and journeys in existence remain constant.

I know how difficult it is to write even a bad script since I have done it many more times than I care to remember.  So I can also tell you that while some (or even many) of these young people write their screenplays in between periods of YouTube gazing, web surfing or gchatting, their sentiments are equally sincere, if sometimes over or understated – just as all of my peer group’s are were.  Perhaps that’s why they are being over-categorized and subtlety dissed, just like we were – but with an even nastier streak.

Eyeroll

Eyeroll

Time Magazine hurling insults at The Me Me Me Generation in its recent cover story harkens back to 1967 when the magazine, during in its heyday, voted its annual Man of the Year award to the 25 and Under.  The difference is, 45+ years ago Time went out of its way to profile and categorize all types of people in this new generation in various POVs and color shades of the rainbow.  Last week, however, the only famous millennial it quoted in its entire cover story was Kim Kardashian.

Said Kim:

“They (millennials) like that I share a lot of myself and that I’ve always been honest about the way I live my life.”  (“Ha!” – The Chair)  “They want relationships with businesses and celebrities.  Gen X was kept at arm’s length from businesses and celebrity.”

Well…okay.

When I asked 25 of my students several years ago about Kim and their peer group’s fascination for her they simultaneously laughed in my face and groaned.  It wasn’t at all what Kim did or didn’t do that made her interesting, they agreed, but “how ridiculous she is” and “how much some people make a fuss about her.”  In other words, it was the postmodern version of a Kim Kardashian existence that intrigued them, not the now about-to-be new Mom herself or the vast Kardashian empire ($80 million and climbing) that she, her sisters and her own mother created by not being particularly good at anything but being famous.

We can at least thank them for this brilliant parody

We can at least thank them for this brilliant parody

There have been individuals of every generation well known for well, not very much.  Consider the classic line towards the end of the movie musical Gypsy, based on the memoirs of renowned performer stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, when her press agent tries to get her to lighten up in front of the lens of a photographer, who is about to shoot her naked in a bubble bath for a huge spread in Life Magazine:  “Smile Gyps, show us your talent!”   To which Gypsy throws back her shoulders and shoves out her breasts.*

The difference is, of course, Gypsy Rose Lee was never held up as representative of her entire generation.

This all reminds me of what it was like when I was a reporter for Variety (1977-1983, I was 5 years-old at the time, obviously) and every year they’d put out an anniversary issue where they would ask us to do trend stories.  I hated those stories.  Because they always involved generalizations about a group of people or professionals or ideas that were conveniently being grouped together so we could reduce them to a catchy sociological phenomenon or cultural stereotype.  I think it was the year of the woman at least 3 times during that period and perhaps oh, I don’t know, 15 times since.  There has also been the emergence of the gays and gay power or – as it used to be called back in the day – the PINK mafia.  In the 60s it was Black power.  Before that it was the rise of the immigrants.  Now, it’s the rise of illegal immigrants (the least offensive term), or, to put it more kindly – the emergence of The Dreamers.

Something like that...

Something like that…

It’s all sort of the same thing when you get down to it because it’s the story of our country, if not the world.  A group emerges onto the scene that somehow seems to threaten the status quo, who in turn fears it will (and perhaps is) beginning to lose its power.

But writing from the other side of the generation gap it’s easy to see this simple fact:

Everything, after a time, makes way for the new, whether that thing likes it or not.

I’m around the new a lot and generally like what they’re about.  I talk to them.  I even hang with them occasionally.  It could be that I like them because I’ve taken the time to know them and not categorize them.  I also understand the unvarnished truth – that they’re not here so much to take over but continue with us on the journey – and then steer the ship when, inevitably, we no longer can.

(* The line (and all the lines) from “Gypsy” were written by the very brilliant playwright/screenwriter Arthur Laurents.  Lest anyone think movie characters think up what they say themselves)

Culture Vulture

Each week pop culture seems to offer an irresistible topic of conversation.  Perhaps it’s the online, multi-tasking, Facebook and Twitter-heavy world we live in, but more and more it’s easy to feel that there is not just one topic but six or seven or twelve to choose from — many of which are not so much amusing, but, well, alternately awful, trivial or downright distasteful, and only occasionally uplifting.  And unfortunately, quite reflective of the world we currently live in.

In honor of this predicament, this week and this week only (unless I decide to do it next time cause that’s how this stuff rolls in 2012…uh, don’t worry, I won’t) we present a mash up of the nonsense for the week ending March 23rd  .  At least as it looks from the seat of a chair, which can be cushy or hard, depending on what’s happening and to whom (who?).

Television encores: “Mad Men” returns and “Smash” is renewed.

Hello gorgeous

Does one counter the other?  I’m not so sure. The NY Times on Friday gave what we consider an unfair review of the first “Mad Men” of the new season – noting that because it has spawned so many 60s nostalgia themed spin-offs, there is no irony left when filmmakers show “an adult smoking a cigarette with one hand and holding a baby in the other.” Like many reviewers and non-fans, this critic misses the point.  No great film or TV show is ever really about the time period.  That is just the window dressing.  It is always how interested you are in the characters and what they, and they alone, uniquely do in said time period.  The challenge of TV is keeping the people and situations interesting through season after season – a whole other story in itself.  Oh, and in actuality it is that very FAMILIARITY with characters and their world/era that make people want to watch and commit to a television series.   You can wear out your welcome if you don’t come up with engaging twists and turns and new and bizarre crises but you want to also feel you can depend on – something.  Therefore, the verdict is out for me if that is the case with the new season of “Mad Men” because

  •  a. I have not yet seen the first episode of the best-written show on television. (It is – deal with it)
  • b. Past seasons have all managed to work their magic in strange and even more surprising and unusual ways than the one before (“Past as prologue” – as the NY Times writer so wisely pointed out in her review) and
  • c.    Cultural critics love to diss critical darlings after a certain point in time because it’s just more fun to write diss than bliss  (as I can attest from my past, present and obviously future life as a vociferous cultural vulture).

Bottom line: Don’t assume that because something is familiar it’s growing tiresome.  If that were the case there would be no happy long-term relationships.  Which there are.  Again, you’re gonna have to trust me on that one.

Oh, right  -– I forgot about “Smash.”  Uh, it was renewed for a second season.

They're multiplying

Yes.  It was.

Despite the fact that It

  • a.  Loses a lot of its audience from the number one show in the U.S., “The Voice.”
  • b.  It’s expensive to make and
  • c.  It’s a string of soapy clichéd clichés.

But NBC needs a hit and the show’s idea was the brainchild of Steven Spielberg, the King of All Entertainment, who also serves as executive producer.  Enuf said.  Because still, I don’t want to criticize a show where you get to hear Bernadette Peters do a song from “Gypsy” or any number of real Broadway performers do their thing on national TV.  No gay man in his right mind would do that because you would run the risk of getting barred from what is said to be the upcoming movie version of “Gyspy,” starring Barbra Stresiand currently being written by “Downton Abbey”’s Julian Fellows.  Yes, I’m fickle.

Interent killed the newspaper star:  Variety is for sale.

This might not seem like a big deal to you but it is to me because – well, being a Variety reporter was my first real journalism job out of college.  Once known as the “Bible of Show Business,”  Variety  has seen its audience erode due to 24/7 news and competition from the snarkiest entertainment blogs known to man and has been officially and publicly put on the market by its parent company of the last few decades, Reed Business.  Variety was founded just past the turn of the century by the Silverman family, who owned the paper when I worked there (some years past the turn of the century).  Like most mom and pop businesses, they eventually gave into the corporate giants chasing them, and said corporate giants eventually found or find themselves in the familiar position of shedding their once valuable asset due to the “changing times.”  Bob Dylan once wrote in the 60s, “the times they are a changing.’” This was seen as both a good and bad thing.  But I’m just not sure which is the case here.

Hooded Racism: Trayvon Martin

A 17-year-old Black youth named Trayvon Martin was apparently gunned down in central Florida this week by a man on Neighborhood Watch who was suspicious of the young dark-skinned man in a hoodie and on the phone with his girlfriend who, it turned out, was armed with nothing more than a pack of Skittles and some iced tea.  There is a 911 phone recording where the Neighborhood Watch guy clearly calls the deceased a racial epithet.  There is also a strict Florida law that allows those feeling in danger and in the presence of a potential criminal to stand their ground and defend themselves.  Among all of this, aspiring Republican presidential nominee Rick Santorum campaigned at a shooting range the next day and when the former senator cocked his gun and began gunning down a paper target of a man, a random woman from the crowd yelled “pretend it’s Obama.”  At best, these are indeed very confusing times, as Dylan implied.   At worst, well – you can fill in the blank.

Sugar Rush or Toothache? Food Network’s Sweet Genius

“Sweet Genius,”  a TV show where four dessert makers endure three grueling tests of their chocolate, baking and candy-making skill under the critical eye of host Ron Ben Israel – a dessert mogul who looks like Dr. Evil, talks like a Bond villain, and presides over the festivities in a set that resembles the underground lair of Willy Wonka’s evil twin — returned to the air after a too long absence.  Yes, I watch this crap because it’s fun.  But not as much fun as it was last season.  The show was a surprising limited hit over six episodes and the network has had time to think about it and in its full season two decided to make its host less demanding, less dictatorial and the show much less weird (e.g. they eliminated the odd computer voice that ominously analyzed the water and salt content of each food on a conveyor belt).  In other words, they’ve done what most film and TV production company’s like to do – round out the edges to appeal to the greatest number of people, therefore losing the very reason people loved the “asset” to begin with.  By the way, my TV writing student Alyssa makes much better cupcakes for class each week than any dessert I’ve seen on the show this year and she covers the cost of her own ingredients.  Just sayin’.

My Tribute to the Hunger Games

Girl's got range

The biggest thing in the movies this weekend is “The Hunger Games” and I assigned it to all the film writing students to see because you can’t ignore a cultural phenomenon if you want to be in the biz. I told them they need to go in with an open mind and open heart because no one sets out to make a bad movie.  However, and this is just between you and me – the film looks deadly dull and hopelessly overproduced with elements and themes from about five different movies I saw in the 1970s when I was in college.   This is not the attitude I want to pass on and I can only hope that I will be pleasantly surprised at the theatre when my (somewhat) open mind is fully expanded to a higher state of love and acceptance.  But I seriously doubt it.

One Final Note from Ms. Houston

Whitney Houston had cocaine in her system at her time of death, and it was revealed in an autopsy that the cause of death was drowning (in her bathtub).  Ms. Houston  also had marijuana, alcohol, Xanax and a muscle relaxer in her system. Still, most of us secretly believe that fame, fortune and a little bit of exceptional superhuman talent at something are the holy grail answers to pretty much all of our problems and most likely everything else.

Hottest Inmate: Clooney swoons even in jail

George Clooney got arrested for demonstrating about atrocities in the Sudan.  He paid a fine and is out on the street once again as he continues humanitarian work while earning gazllions of dollars making pretty much any movie he wants.  Fame, fortune and talent are not necessarily a bad thing and perhaps can mix well – depending on how the mixing is done and by whom.  I’m being serious here.

Flour Power: Kim K’s unfortunate encounter

cleanup on aisle 3

Meanwhile, Kim Kardashian was flour bombed.  (I’m now joking but this is true).  Definition of Flour bombed?  This means you’re walking the red carpet wearing a dark-colored designer outfit and someone dumps a bag of white flour on your head and your ultra chic suit.  If you have dark hair, this is even more spectacular because of the color contrast, as it was here.  Said Kim “bomber” was arrested but Kim isn’t pressing charges.  Do not take this as a defense of Kim’s legitimacy or evidence that I consider her a talent of any kind.  Or want to analyze her fame or fortune quotient, which are obviously quite higher than mine.

A Flashy Girl from Flushing

I drive down the famed Sunset Strip on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood and keep seeing a larger than life Billboard of Fran Drescher with the ad line, “The Mouth is back,” and the title of her second season TV Land  comedy – “Happily Divorced,” about a woman who was married to her high school sweetheart for years only to recently find out he was gay.  But they’re divorced and they’re still close friends.  Yes, this is based on Fran’s real life and Fran and I, we share a lot.  She’s from Flushing, Queens as I am.  She’s Jewish, as I am.  Her ex-husband is gay, as am I.  We’re also roughly the same age and I found her hilarious on “The Nanny,” as I’m sure she found herself too.  Then, why, oh why, couldn’t I laugh even once at her new show???  Also, I wonder — does this mean my shtick is tiring for people who have been in my life for decades and are much like me?  Am I boring everyone around me, physically and virtually, even my readers?  How do you know when you’re dull, boring and beside the point?  I worry about this and vow to do better not only with my talents but with limited fame and fortune.  But for now, well, can I just have a cupcake?