Truth to Power

There was a Law and Order episode on this week where a young and ambitious female investment banker accuses her firm’s billionaire client of rape and is eventually offered a $5 million a year job at a competing firm that will require her to keep a low profile. Which ostensibly means dropping her case.

This being the fictionalized world of both Law AND Order, the young woman, who was indeed raped and rightly accusing the slick billionaire of sexual violation, eventually decides NOT to take the money (Note: A guaranteed $20 mill over four years) and instead stands up publicly to him in court. When asked why on the witness stand she proclaims – parroting the words of our beloved Lt. Olivia Benson, nee Mariska Hargitay – it is because “I will not allow him to steal my dignity one more time.”

I light mine every night. #SaintOlivia

The proclamation of dignity vs. submission, and the forfeiting of personal wealth and power for a greater good (i.e. standing up to criminal behavior and thus saving other potential victims) is, to say the least, reassuring. As is, as always, the show’s subsequent final credit, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER DICK WOLF.

But life is not an episode of Law and Order where people are convinced to do the right thing because we all want to live in moral clarity. Where we all have a conscience that moves us to the better choice. Where good wins out in the end over evil. Or at least over selfishness, money and immoral actions.

You can’t appeal to people who are sociopaths. Who don’t live in aspirational morality. In trying to “do the right thing” and “be better.” To make the right choice that will benefit not only us but the most people.

Those who live primarily in selfishness and self-aggrandizement, whatever their reasons, are playing a different game. Putin, Trump, or whoever you like. When power and money and ego are at the center of your world you are working for yourself.

Gag me

You might occasionally note to the outside world that you are NOT working for your own inner world and might even convince yourself of that from time to time. But inside you instinctively know better. You have a knee jerk reaction about what makes YOU feel good. About yourself. About what you exude. About what you can provide for LOYAL FRIENDS and FAMILY MEMBERS around you. Even about what you can provide for “your people.” In your country.

But the definition of “your people” has less to do with who you will lead by their birth into your world and your responsibility to them, and everything to do – once again – with loyalty. But to the state – which in your mind – means to YOU.

This skewed view of the world means that anyone who disagrees with you, and those who most certainly look down on your world view, are not your problem. You will go around them or mow them down. They are not your responsibility. In fact, in many ways, they are your enemy. Because they are getting in the way of the agenda you seek to execute and provide. Essentially for your FOLLOWERS.

A 90s cartoon that is all too real now #help

This is essentially how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon thinks. His uber nationalistic view. His determination to tear down the international liberal world order he sees as poisonous. He doesn’t want his kids to go to school with “Jews” because, as his ex-wife stated, he doesn’t like their “values” and “whining.” Bannon’s background is militaristic, two terms in the Navy, and someone who was educated at Harvard, weaned by Goldman Sachs out of the military and then went to work in Hollywood, selling syndication rights for multi millions of dollars for Seinfeld (Note the irony), which made him personally rich. And then opening his own consulting firms where he made hundreds of millions in international deals worldwide with clients such as a Saudi Prince who was one of the richest individuals in the world.

A striking image

Bannon actually was educated among Jews, made money for and with them and then somewhere along the line (or perhaps he always felt this way) decided they were a turn-off once they provided the experience and means he benefitted from in order to enable him the platform to hang with the big boys and create his own international power platforms. Which he did quite ably. He boosted alt-right racist and sexist ideology at Breitbart News in order to blatantly challenge an accepted morality that the majority of the world operated on. Who knows how he really felt at the time? Was it a means to the end or did he really believe this stuff? Perhaps both. Perhaps either one. What seems clear at the moment is that it almost doesn’t matter. What is clear is that what he sees is the big picture of power. And like Trump and Putin, it is a world where there are pockets of power that he and a handful of others control.

… and all too easy to get drunk on that power

There is not an overall mass morality. The MORALITY is survival and power, POWER and SURVIVAL – of the FITTEST. The idea of what is “right” – whether it’s okay to “rape” a woman, deceive a small group of people who don’t understand, or an entire state or country who won’t ACCEPT, this order, is immaterial. It’s not particularly in the picture. It doesn’t fit into HIS world view. And really, HE doesn’t appear to have much conscience about it. Certainly, HE doesn’t fit into a Law and Order episode “arc” or morality.

Fin, for the win

The sooner we can all accept this, that we’re not playing the usual game, the more effective and psychologically better off we’ll be. You can’t intellectually argue with this kind of ILLOGIC. You can only accept this is THEIR view of the world and work with those who share a more traditional similar morality or right and wrong to save the world. You cannot expect THEM to play under your RULES. You can’t play poker with people who by themselves decide deuces are wild and one-eyed Jacks are higher than an ace without telling you. Or perhaps inform you after the fact and expect you to play under these rules. Which they assumed you should have known. Or always knew and are now lying about.

Some say it’s a matter of perception

What this means is hardball. It means resistance. We can’t act like a hurt school boy or gal who is in a relationship with the absolute wrong person but thinks if they only reason with the person that they love and they know (deep down) LOVES THEM, they can get them to change. This kind of continued, emotional, prolonged attempts at negotiation are the very definition of insanity.

What we need to do is distance ourselves and breakup with a person who doesn’t hold our values. We need to be very, very strong and not be seduced by whatever seductions or appeasements they may offer. We need to be vigilant, as we would with any person, or people, who we are ENABLING to ruin our lives. Contrary to what we think, in LOVE and in political power struggles of self-determination, the CHOICE is always ours. We DO have the POWER.

You got that right, Chairy.  #MaxineWaters #TruthtoPower

Here are two links immensely helpful in shedding light on this psychology. One is by Molly McKew, a woman I caught on cable news who has spent her adult life consulting with leaders opposing Putin.

The other is a detailed history of Bannon’s worldview formation and strategies that recently ran in the Washington Post.

Real information is THE most powerful weapon of the 21st Century. Don’t be clouded by populist rhetoric or shiny new promises. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. So to speak.

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Twenty First Century Films

popcorn

Movies aren’t what they used to be.

This is the GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION!

Movies suck.

What did you binge watch lately?

There is NOTHING to see at the movie theatre!

Can I borrow your Netflix password?

Movies, in general, have taken a critical bashing as of late and it’s not entirely unwarranted. Let’s face it, the Suits are drunk with sequels and superheroes and don’t really give a hoot what makes sense or doesn’t if it can deliver millions of bodies in potential theme park rides, sequels, spin-offs and merchandise.

Oh how the mighty have fallen #TeamJen #Argowho?

Oh how the mighty have fallen #TeamJen #Argowho?

Films have taken on the business school lingo of a precious asset – a property that exists not solely for its financial value at the theatrical box-office or, heaven forbid, its creative content. Rather, they are seen in most of the top towers and executive suites as a commodity to be leveraged into many, many smaller and larger off-springs –much like a Triple Crown winning horse that is put out for gelding after it serves the greater good.

That’s fine. For them. But it’s not the entire story of 21st century film.

Quite randomly last week I came upon a new list put out by the BBC. NO, DON’T STOP READING! This list actually applies to you – the moviegoer. Or more broadly, the movie fan. Instead of surveying critics and audiences to compile a list of the 100 greatest movies of all-time, or some such subset that would spotlight drama, comedy, action or presumably, even porn or snuff films in the future, they tried something novel. (Note: No, not an actual novel, as in reading – we all know no one does THAT anymore).

Why read when you can see Emily Blunt in the movie version? #duh

Why read when you can see Emily Blunt in the movie version? #duh

Yes, the Brits had the tenacity to compile a list that I, Mr. Movie Fan, had never seen before. That would be the top 100 films of the 21st CENTURY.

Huh? What is that – a list of 10, or maybe 20 movies, most of which none of us have ever seen before? Or want to see? No, surprisingly not at all.

Okay, technically the list is of 102 films and it does stem from 2000-2016 which means the first year it charts is technically not a part of the 21st century – which began in 2001 (Note: Apparently 2000 was an irresistible film year one couldn’t turn away from). But who really cares? The point is, this is a very narrow period where 177 film critics from every country in the world (Note: Antarctica was the exception, which brings up the whole question of climate change and access we don’t want to get into) actually agreed there were 100 plus movies, many of them AMERICAN, that are actually worth watching, remembering and…wait for it…HONORING.

Believe it Olivia.

Believe it Olivia.

In case you are wondering – no, there is not a sequel in the bunch.

In case you are further wondering – yes, there is exactly ONE superhero film in the bunch and you probably have already rightly guessed which one is indeed The ONE. (HINT: Uh no, it’s not The Matrix. Plus, Neo is not really a superhero and anyway, he first appeared in 1999. As for the 2003 sequels – well, let’s not go there).

Which is the pill that helps me take a nap?

Which is the pill that helps me take a nap?

What this list reminds us of is that – WAIT, there are lots of movies I’ve enjoyed in the last 15 (okay 16) years. Sure there are too many clunkers, or cynically made assets. But maybe, just maybe it’s worth forgetting the Netflix password every once in a while and instead go out to an actual theatre before the art form, as we know it, dies altogether. Or worse yet – becomes solely a corporatized asset.

Please be good. Please be good. Please be good. #clingingtohope #heygirl #lalaland

Please be good. Please be good. Please be good. #clingingtohope #heygirl #lalaland

A complete list will be shared below but how about just the top six right here?

  1. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)
  2. In The Mood for Love (2000, Wong-Kar-wai)
  3. There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas-Anderson)
  4. Spirited Away (2001, Hayao Miyazaki)
  5. Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater)
  6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry and written by CHARLIE freaking KAUFMAN, OKAY?)

All of them original, beautifully made and meaningful. Are they my top six or your top six? Perhaps not. But they are inarguably as good as many of the classic movies from decades before.

Added bonus: This phrase being added to our world.

Added bonus: This phrase being added to our world.

Certainly, any LIST inherently has its head-scratchers and personal duds and this one is clearly among them. Notice I stopped at six because #7 is Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which you couldn’t pay me enough money to endure five minutes of ever again. Perhaps this confirms the long held belief that I am a philistine, but that is not the point. We all have our personal Trees. And in fact, I’d pay to watch other glorious Malick films such as Badlands and Days of Heaven over and over if you didn’t bring up the subject of #7 ever again.

That dinosaur sequence though. #neverforget

That dinosaur sequence though. #neverforget

As for some others The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men and Inside Llewyn Davis ranked #10 and #11 respectively. David Fincher’s Zodiac was #12 and Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant Children of Men was #13.

 You want less, well, pretentious? (Your word, not mine). Pan’s Labyrinth was #17, Mad Max: Fury Road was #19, The Social Network was #27, and Wall-E was #29.

Favorites of mine like CHARLIE freakin’ KAUFMAN’s Synecdoche was #20, while Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation was #22, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was #24, Christopher Nolan’s Memento was #25 and Pedro Almodovar’s Talk To Her came in at #28.

Let’s also give separate credit to The Dark Knight at #33 because, well, think of the odds against the whole thing working the way it did when there was merely a blank page and no real concept but a history of…ASSET. 

See Ben, this is how it’s done.

See Ben, this is how it’s done.

As I continued down the list I came across any number of films (40, in all) I hadn’t seen, some I really didn’t care for (Okay, I admit it – I’m too old for Wes Anderson) but others I had forgotten had come out in the not so distant past. Of the latter how about: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, City of God, Brokeback Mountain, Melancholia, Moulin Rouge, Inglorious Bastards, The Great Beauty, The Hurt Locker, Her, Amelie, The Pianist, Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, Spotlight (Note: I have a very short memory) and Requiem for A Dream.

What pleased me most about this list is that it coincided with the first week of the fall screenwriting class I teach.  The list of top 100 films on everyone’s mind are usually the 1, 2, 3 classic movie punch of Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Casablanca. Certainly, these are all great, timeless movies – as are many of the others on that usual classics list.   But for young people – as well as for some of the rest of us – consistently remembering these as the best of what the big screen has to offer can’t help but feel a little depressing at some point. Because it evokes a golden age that is long gone and, very likely, will never return.

Le sigh.

Le sigh.

This is why the BBC did Americans and moviegoers worldwide – not to mention the future of film – a great service by compiling this new grouping of films. Perhaps it doesn’t evoke a new golden age (though maybe it does) but it does prove the movies are alive and well and can be for some time to come. Though only if we get out our pods and mosey on down via our people mover of choice to check some of them out. Judging by the newly motivated faces on some of my students perusing the list, this will continue to happen in the near future. But at the very least, we could give them a little help.

The Chair’s Immodest Proposals

Screen Shot 2015-08-23 at 12.31.23 PM

Almost 300 years ago Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay called A Modest Proposal suggesting that the poor in Ireland sell their children as food to the rich so as not to burden the upper class with the sight of so many raggedy moppets as they walked through the streets.

Our blue vs. red state divide has not quite gotten there – yet – though we are well on our way. As the summer doldrums begin to wind down and the bottom of the pop culture and political barrel is scraped (Note: You know it’s bad when you’re re-watching reruns of shows you’ve already seen – last week – broadcast on yet a different cable channel broadcasting reruns) what’s a legal U.S. citizen to do? Certainly, not read.

Getting lost in one’s thoughts seemed the only choice. This despite the advice once overheard at a 12-step meeting;

Your mind is like a dangerous neighborhood. Don’t go in there alone.

Not being an addict and never one to listen to too much advice, A LOT of original thinking occurred this week that unearthed more than a few immodest proposals. They might not quite rank as Swiftian but they are certainly more entertaining than this year’s unavoidable summer replacement series – The Republican Apprentice. Of course, so is the dentistry of almost 300 years ago.

No... I don't mean that kind of Swiftian. #differentBadBlood

No… I don’t mean that kind of Swiftian. #differentBadBlood

In that spirit, here are some not immodest but very necessary proposals. Yes, they are bold but we need to make America great again. Or as Howard Dean once said: YEEEEEHAHHHHH!!!!! (people remember him, right?)

  1. All global warming deniers are to be shipped off to Antarctica to work on restoring the polar ice caps. If there is indeed no global warming, they will discover once they get there that the ice caps are not melting and no work is necessary. If not, they stay for 10 years to see for themselves that the frost has declined yet another 12% during the decade, which in turn caused our temperatures to increase half a degree per year. When they return in 2025 it will be 115 degrees in August and they will be REQUIRED to continue wearing their Antarctica outerwear in the hottest town in either the south or Midwest. Actually, make that Death Valley, where it will be 146 degrees in August, 2025.
Thanks a-holes

Thanks a-holes

  1. Mega churches must be cede 50% of their fortunes to the unborn fetuses of all the children they will force women to bear against their will in states where their contributions to pro-life or anti-Planned Parenthood initiatives are successful. They will also be stripped of their tax-exempt status and that money will be used exclusively for gay wedding cakes.
Still cracks me up. #MissYouJon #COMEBACK

Still cracks me up. #MissYouJon #COMEBACK

  1. Scandalized, shamed or even disliked celebrities will be required to clean the latrines of every soundstage they have ever worked on or dressing room they’ve ever trashed – with a toothbrush (Note: non-electrical). In the meantime, all of their money will be donated to charities whose causes have been enabled or made necessary by their bad behavior. If they don’t contribute an applicable charity will be named for them. Here is a partial list of this year’s names: Bill Cosby, Katherine Heigl, Cara Delevigne, Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Robin Thicke, Gwyneth Paltrow and Donald Sterling. Tom Cruise is on probation but will be watched closely during 2016.
Oh god I don't even know what to do with you.

Oh god I don’t even know what to do with you.

  1. Politicians must become journalists and journalists must run for office. This will happen impromptu though will be supervised by a citizen’s volunteer army headquartered out of the old Fox News and MSNBC/NBC buildings. Both will be available because the politicians will have caused their ratings to plummet by making no new policy decisions.  #gridlockgonewild #bloodfromwherever
  1. Any citizen can make an arrest for someone driving 5-15 mph down the street in their car while on their cell phones. The offender will then have their vehicle impounded, their phone confiscated and a microchip installed underneath their wrist that shocks them each time they use a mobile device at any time during the next year. Furthermore, drivers who take up two parking spaces, touch the yellow line of the space next to them with their vehicle or park their SUV in a spot that is clearly labeled COMPACT will be murdered. That’s right, murdered. They will hand over the keys to their car, be strapped to a pole and the driver of the car parked next to them will floor the gas and either split them in half or decapitate them. As the rest of us cheer. Those who don’t cheer will meet a similar fate for not cheering.
This is starting to get serious.

This is starting to get serious.

  1. Florida and Ohio will no longer be allowed to vote since they seem to not only tip the balance of elections unfairly but both are too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. Except minority voters. They will continue to be allowed at the ballot boxes to make up for all those years where their votes weren’t counted. This policy will last through the next election cycle when new voting regulations will require every wealthy resident of those two states to line up at their local polling place with their birth certificate and most recent tax return. The latter must then meet the approval of a special IRS agent employed at each location to detect fraud.
  1. Anyone refusing to provide goods and services to transgendered individuals anywhere on the gender continuum will be forced to live as their opposite sex indefinitely or until they vow never to discriminate again. If they agree to non-discrimination and break the agreement, then it’s a one-strike rule and they will forever be condemned to the same fate as the individuals they refuse to allow to be their true selves. Also, there will be no wardrobe consults from the LGBT community. #uglysthenewblack #gayagenda
  1. The word dude can only be used in reference to people on a ranch. Otherwise it’s $250 a pop, which will accrue in a fund distributed each year to aspiring fiction writers. Individuals choosing to end a spoken declarative sentence with a question mark will pay $100 per violation, since they tend to be younger. Those fees will accrue in a government account in order to supplement social security and unemployment benefits for future generations.
that's $250, Marky!!

that’s $250, Marky!!

  1. There will be a moratorium on films based on superheroes or comic books for the next 25 years in favor of stories about actual human beings. If there is no measurable decrease in box office revenue during that time the law will be extended another 25 years. If revenue increases, any references to superheroes or comics will be outlawed for future generations. If revenue decreases, there will still be no comic book or superhero movies made until science discovers a viable alternative.
What... no Iron Man 4??

What… no Iron Man 4??

  1. In the next 30 days, the manufacturers of all TV and audio equipment will be required by law to come up with a single, user-friendly remote that can regulate power, channels and audio. Those will be their only three uses. And the device will be equipped with a lifetime battery. Companies who DO NOT participate will have to start new manufacturing operations based ENTIRELY IN THE U.S. and pay unskilled labor DOUBLE THE MINIMUM WAGE. #technomania #bringjobshome .
  1. Saturday Night Live, Sesame Street and the entire Law and Order oeuvre will be given to all illegal immigrants to study for a 30-day period. If any individual in question can pass a test on any one of the series at the end of that time they will automatically be declared American citizens with the irrevocable status that goes with it.
Stabler/Benson 2016

Stabler/Benson 2016

  1. Members of the NRA will be required to play Russian roulette with their weapons each time a school, movie theatre and army base mass shooting happens. If they die their assets will be distributed to survivors of the fallen. If they live they will not be able to use Obamacare for medical treatments, even after they go bankrupt from health costs. An assault weapons ban in Congress would automatically rescind this law.
  1. For every sports analogy made by a newscaster (“This is the Senator’s Hail Mary Pass” or “It’s bases loaded and two outs in the ninth in the life of this bill”) a reference must be made to a Broadway show. This will be done until phrases like “A Chorus Line” are used to refer to the new freshman class in Congress or “Oklahoma” means something more than a Republican stronghold.
  1. Dogs will be regarded with the special status reserved for religious institutions. This means that society will worship them in their homes and shelters and spread the words of their good deeds. Not to mention, all contributions to their upkeep will be tax deductible. Forever. (Note: Make that all animals).