Open Books

Does anybody really want to be private anymore?  Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and their many future and inevitable iterations would say otherwise.

The idea that each of us can express opinions on a mass scale and actually be heard – well, read and seen, which are close but not exactly the same thing – feels revolutionary.  Rather than shouting in the wind, or to your family and friends, one can literally shout at the world these days and it is entirely possible that a person or mass of people that one’s never met will see, hear, perhaps even listen… but most importantly RESPOND.   Of course, not always kindly.  File that under be careful what you wish for.

Oh days of yesteryear

Still, one could argue the situation these days is a lot more preferable than it used to be.  There was a time not so long ago that one could die in frustration with one’s inner thoughts or angry outer thoughts that the world too often turned away from.  Certainly not everything one has to say or voice is important to the world but what is certain is that it is very much important to that person.

We all, each of us, have at least one thing in common and that is the desire to be heard, and in turn, hopefully, understood.  By someone.  Or many.  Why?  Well, it varies.  Sometimes it’s on an interpersonal issue with someone we know.  In other more existential moments it is on larger topics and what we believe about ourselves.  about the world, and about humanity.  And in loftier but no less meaningful moments it is about a pressing desire to proclaim what is RIGHT AND WRONG in  ALL of the aforementioned orbits.

It really is hard being the smartest person in the room

When we can’t stop shouting about an instance, an argument or an issue, it’s more than pressing.  It’s crushingly personal.  And we can’t shut up about it no matter how much we try or don’t attempt to.  This, in particular, is where a 2017 life comes in handy.  Even if one doesn’t receive a direct response (DM) there is a feeling that somehow, somewhere, someone listened.  And might act on what was said.  By US.

Oh, and by the way and on a very much-related topic – this – more than anything else – is the dirty little secret about being a WRITER.  (Note:  Though certainly, not the only one).

Was someone spying on me? #meeveryday

On a recent and quite brilliant stand alone episode of Girls, Lena Dunham’s emerging writer Hannah Horvath is summoned to the breathtakingly gorgeous and sprawling apartment of a famous writer played by The Americans’ Matthew Rhys.  It seems Hannah has written a think piece for a feminist blog about this man, one of her all-time literary heroes, and his misadventures with a series of four different college age women he mentored and taught with whom he had unwanted or perhaps manipulated wanted, sexual relations.

Hannah tells him she wrote the piece as a means of support to thousands of young women who are forever scarred by a situation of abuse at the hands of someone more powerful.  But the writer makes a powerful case that although her words are brilliantly executed by someone with rare talents, they only tell a partial story of what she merely chose to see based on second and third hand accounts that she read.  For to be a true writer, he tells her, is to not only respect all sides but to dig deeper into one’s subject and understand reality, motivation, connection and situational circumstance in order to truly determine what constitutes the truth.

At which point, Hannah and the author have their own new interaction that EXACTLY mirrors one of the aforementioned circumstances, leaving it to the audience to determine who was right or wrong.  Or if, indeed, such a thing even exists at all.

Oh how I’ll miss you, Girl #hannah4ever

There are all types of writing and each has their individual demands.  But what they all have in common are two very specific things:

1. The truth

and…

2. What the writer believes the truth to be.

Of course, there are few absolutes in the world outside of math and science and lately even those have been brought into question.  Which really only leaves us with #2 and brings us full circle.

As both a writing teacher and someone who annually reads numerous works of writing from all over the country for various grants and scholarships, it becomes joyously and sometimes painfully obvious to me that when reading a writer one learns as much about that person as one does about the issue or subject being presented.  Often more.

You can’t help but begin to wonder – why of all the subjects in the world did this person choose to concoct a story about homeless LGBT youth?  What happened in their background that provoked this individual to pen a story about a 1930s honkytonk in the southwest with such fervor?  Who would choose to devote years to telling the tale of gnome who appears to a young lad in the middle of a cornfield at turn of the 20th century Midwest?

Or a tiny sprite of a girl who loves eggos

I choose these because in the last year all three have been among the most outstanding student and professional pieces I’ve read from young, unknown authors.  And in the cases of at least two of the three (Note: I do not know the author of the third) I know the writers revealed quite a bit more about themselves than they ever intended.  And to their great credit.

I’ve quoted it before but it bears repeating that no less than six famous writers are credited with having once famously stated (and I’m paraphrasing because five of them most certainly did):  Being a writer is easy.  Just open a vein.

And add to that in less witty parlance:  There is no other way to get to the truth.

Perhaps (?) (!) that was what Margaret Atwood was doing in the early eighties when she wrote the now famous A Handmaid’s Tale – a work of fiction in a dystopian world that not only went on to become a best seller which has since never been out of print but has spawned both a feature film and an upcoming Hulu television series where Ms. Atwood herself makes a cameo guest star appearance.

And…… PEGGY!

In her story, a Christian fundamentalist movement takes over the United States -which reeks of pollution and sexually transmitted diseases – and installs a totalitarian regime that subjugates women and forces a particular class of them to serve as the term vessels of unwanted pregnancies to a more powerful group of men forcing their wills on them for what they believe to be the ostensible survival of society.

Well, of course this is a work of fiction!

Fact almost seems more surreal than fiction these days

So much so that Ms. Atwood herself penned a piece several days ago for the NY Times explaining where she was and what she was thinking when she first wrote her perennial bestseller.

As well as what she could offer as to it’s meaning in what has been promised to be a new and improved United States that will once again be great again.

It’s a curious position to be in – addressing the real possibilities of a fictional story written in the past of an unimaginable dictatorial future some believe we are headed towards in the present.  But like any great writer she demurred on how prescient she was, attempting to be vaguely encouraging without providing answers.  In the age of what we’re constantly being told is instant communication, it’s up to all of us to draw those conclusions in the present.  Loudly.  For our futures.  Revealing not only where we stand but real parts of ourselves.  Before that is no longer a possibility.

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Little Girls Blue

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 2.48.07 PM

The pop blues singer/icon Janis Joplin died in 1970 at the age of 27. But in the thoughtful, evocative new PBS American Masters documentary Janis: Little Girl Blue filmmaker Amy Berg shows us how in 1962 she dared to challenge the racist and sexual stereotypes in small town America and how dearly an emotional price she paid. Sadly, it’s a price that is still paid in some form by many outspoken women of all ages in today’s world – be it Hillary Clinton, Lena Dunham, or your Mom, sister or friend whenever they fight for equal pay or dare to call out intractable members of the white male heterosexual power structure in the worlds in which they travel.

Welp, that was easy

Welp, that was easy

But back to Janis, who I refer to by first name since I feel like I knew her – even though I didn’t. That’s what happens when you grow up incessantly listening to someone’s music and somehow believe that in many an odd song they were – and to this day are – somehow speaking directly to you.

Among the most upsetting remembrances from Janis’ many friends and family members was right after she left her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas – a place where as a non-traditional female she was bullied relentlessly all though high school for, among other things, supporting integration in the early 1960s and wearing loafers without socks. This was no small feat in Port Arthur, which sported a very active branch of the Ku Klux Klan, among whose members were the families of the very males she saw daily in high school. (Note: One assumes these males also expected the girls to wear heels, or at the very least some form of foot undergarment with their other shoes).

That Girl

That Girl

Still, it would only get worse when she moved to Austin, Texas – where she discovered she could really sing and became enmeshed in the blossoming local folk music scene. As was her way, Janis immediately stood out from the crowd. She could not only use big words like indignation but she could sing like the very popular Black blues singer Odetta – whose voice she could mimic perfectly according to one of her best friends at the time.

In any event, after gaining a bit of a following in Austin as both a solo singer and member of a local blues band called the Waller Creek Boys, the guys at the nearby universities somehow began to resent her wanton ways. So being that each year their local fraternities had a tradition of nominating various males they didn’t like as the town’s ugliest man and plastering the winner’s picture on the front page of their local paper, The University News, it came to be that on Sept. 5, 1962 nineteen year old Janis Joplin picked up the paper that morning and found a prominent photo of herself for all the town and beyond to read and see with this exact bold-faced banner headline printed above the fold:

JANIS WINS UGLIEST MAN!!

Ain't no way

Ain’t no way

It crushed her, her band mate and friend at the time, Powell St. John recalls, unsuccessfully attempting to hold back his tears some 50 plus years later. Saddest thing I ever saw. To that point, I’d never seen Janis cry. Janis had a tough exterior. But it really got her. Got her bad. I said, ‘Janis, they don’t mean anything to you. They’re not even in your class.’ 

Her younger sister, Laura Joplin explains it another way. 

It became increasingly hard for her to fit into a group of angry, angry men who liked to pick on her…So where does she go? What does she do?

Janis gives us San Fran late 60s realness

Janis gives us San Fran late 60s realness

What she did was go to California. Where in just five years she becomes an international superstar. And in five years more dies of a drug overdose – most likely, surmises the documentary, precipitated by loneliness and a profound lack of self-esteem and hurt she carried around with her during the less than three decades in which she lived.

Thankfully times have changed somewhat. But not fully. And certainly not nearly enough. And in the case of some men – many of who have recently become emboldened by a throwback wave of sexism and racism they disparage as political correctness– not at all.

Sounds about right

Sounds about right

Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic presidential candidate, is being routinely attacked and mocked each day by the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump as an unbelievably mean, nasty enabler of her philandering husband Bill Clinton. Mr. Trump routinely covers his ears and mocks the sound level and tone of her voice and several months ago derided her for taking too long to go to the bathroom on a commercial break at one of the televised Democratic debates. Lest one think Mr. Trump is the only straight white guy who disdains Mrs. Clinton’s manner, both Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Bob Woodward and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough several months ago separately took Mrs. Clinton to task for being too loud or too shrill.

As opposed to whom – Mr. Trump?

In a steaming retort this week to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (Note: Yes, she’s part Native American) criticisms, Mr. Trump for the umpteenth time publicly smeared her with the snide ethnic slur of Pocahontas, this time in a national news conference right after he secured enough pledged delegates to become the Republican presidential nominee. Imagine snidely referring to the only Black female senator we have EVER had – Carole Moseley Braun in the 1990s – by saying, oh who, Harriet Tubman? Or perhaps stating, Right, I assume you’re talking about Mammy? Or maybe referring to a Jewish female senator like Barbara Boxer or Dianne Feinstein as, who, Queen Esther? How about calling some Latina American politician Eva Peron? Well, he did just call New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susana Martinez, a Hispanic woman, slow.

Amen, sister

Amen, sister

I loathe writing about Donald Trump. I want to make that very clear. He’s truly a boil on the ass of the United States. An infected, puss-filled scourge of narcissistic infection bent on destroying everything in his path that can’t be used to feed his minuscule ego. Minuscule, as in tiny? Yes.

Only people who are deeply insecure and feel extremely small way down inside feel the need to consistently pump themselves up by hurling massively nasty, racist, sexist, bullying insults at others when challenged. But there’s just something a little different when he goes after strong women who publicly challenge him on the issues of the day. Rosie O’Donnell was a fat, disgusting pig. Fox news commentator Megyn Kelly was described by a euphemism for her menstrual cycle – blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her…wherever. Republican challenger Carly Fiorina – no idol of mine – was put down by casually asking us to imagine having to look at that face everyday.

We'll join her #ImwithCHER

We’ll join her #ImwithCHER

Lena Dunham, the multi-hyphenate Emmy award-winning creator, writer, director and star of Girls has undergone similar public indignation. Read the comments on her, as I have, via any reputable online news source. Fat, cow, disgusting pig, only begin to tell the tale. But is that to be expected with online comments? How about the question The Wrap TV critic Tim Molloy asked her two years ago? I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show? And your character is often nude for no reason…” Would they ask this of the more shapely female actresses on, say, Game Of Thrones? 

Lena has her cake and eats it too #yougo

Lena has her cake and eats it too #yougo

As for Ms. Dunham, it was interesting to note on the finale of Girls this season that she chose to have her character backtrack in her career development through the season but emotionally mature in expected ways by its end. When her best friend hooked up more than casually with her ex-boyfriend, who she still probably loves, her character noted she wanted to boil a rabbit in a pot or stab them both in the heart. But instead she acted out inappropriately with those around her, controlled her rage and hurt feelings towards her besties and eventually left them a fruit basket by their door as a peace offering. She figured out a way to move on in her own inimitable way – not through power grabbing or insults but simply through self- actualization.

This is perhaps a 21st century version of what it means to be a woman/human these days and perhaps it’s progress. Now only if some of our more moronic males would follow suit. Mr. Trump can lead them in this direction. But he most certainly won’t.

Which means that in the name of all the females in our lives – not to mention everyone else – we’ll have to do it for him. By increasingly making him and his kind irrelevant.

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.

Sympathy for the Devil

Homer-Simpson

My response when people tell me I’m going to hell:

Oh good, cause that’s where all my friends will be!

It’s kind of a tart, easy answer that ensures I won’t win any new buds in certain circles, but those are not circles I want to be in anyway so these kinds of answers work for me.  Plus, as a lifelong provocateur with a big mouth, especially when I’m pushed, I actually love annoying those who in my mind are a little too self-righteous and judgmental about the rest of us.  Hmm, I guess that means anyone like me – except on the other side.

This all got me thinking about Lena Dunham and Girls, James Franco in Oz the Great and Powerful and Don Draper/Jon Hamm (because they are now the same person) in Mad Men, as well as Hannibal Lecter, Dexter and pretty much any role Al Pacino has ever played.

What is it about devils and devilish behavior?   And what puts them and the way they act in that category?  Why are there some devils we love to love?  And other Lucifers we fear and hate?  And still other Beast Masters we are kind of intrigued by and want to spend time with yet publicly want to deny, or at least distance ourselves from until the doors are closed and we can luxuriate in all of their nastily seductive, id-like, primally deceptive dirtiness?

Woah, excuse me while I don’t wash up.  Ever.

The Divine Ms. Dunham

The Divine Ms. Dunham

I happen to love Lena Dunham – everything about her – which is why I don’t really want to meet her and be friends with her.  Decades of experience tell me I will be severely disappointed because she can never live up to the hype.  NO human could.  Which is why I suppose I’m looking forward to Hell.

In any event, this is because Lena Dunham is NOT Hannah Horvath, the oft-vilified lead character on Girls just as three decades ago Murphy Brown, from the self-titled TV series, was not a real person anyone could feel threatened by despite then Vice President Dan Quayle’s hysterical reaction to her.

However, this did not stop the zeitgeist from attacking and defending Murphy Brown, dubbed by Mr. Quayle et al as a scandalous role model of single motherhood for young women and the future of the American family in the 1980s, just as me writing and ranting about my love for Lena/Hannah likely won’t now quash the outcry against her.  Outcries such as the LA Times’ TV critic Mary McNamara who recently wrote that Hannah was a “lovely but irritating wild child running around the playground shouting vagina at everyone and peeing in the sandbox.”  Okay – I suppose she’s entitled.  But when she suggested that “someone needed to put that kids’ clothes back on and show her where the bathroom is,” I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to make the short drive down to her office (hopefully in the middle of the newsroom) and take a dump on her desk in support of my current favorite TV heroine.

That's it Hannah, ignore the haters!

That’s it Hannah, ignore the haters!

The latter is not only because I am a bit Satanic but because I love that Dunham is representing being a writer in your twenties with seemingly unedited indulgence (Um, yes, she’s edited – Judd Appatow is one of her producer’s for God’s sake!).  And THIS is because I am here to tell you that for most writers and many others in their 20s (and obviously sometimes beyond) it’s about always thinking you’re right and usually not caring enough if you’re not to stop your behavior.  That’s the brilliance of the show and why it and Dunham’s Hannah is so cringingly uncomfortable when she plays ping pong topless with her flab bouncing; leaves nasty messages for friends not listening for the millionth time to one of her problems; and tries to manipulate everyone around her for a free ride with money or attention so she can create something brilliant that the world must have and see for its own survival.

I mean, I certainly feel and have felt that way.  Who hasn’t?

Okay, well then let’s just say I have felt (sometimes feel?) that way and don’t find any of those traits particularly objectionable, unsympathetic or devilish for what now should be obvious reasons.  Though perhaps, you do.  The devil, as they say, is always in the details.

Still, the dramatic strategy used for Hannah is be all out in all of your flaws and don’t worry about being sympathetic if you can also be honest and entertaining.

Well, then – what about the charm of other blasphemes? Like:

A look behind the curtain

A look behind the curtain

James Franco’s version of the title character in Oz, the Great and Powerful

Here’s a two-bit circus magician whose goal through his movie is to become rich and powerful and famous while bedding as many unsuspecting women along the way as possible.  These are lofty goals to some but obnoxious ambitions to many others.  Yet members of both groups have pushed the movie to over $300,000,000 at the worldwide box office in just a few weeks.

Oz was helped by being a prequel to an iconic movie seen by more people in the world than any other.  But it also has a fairly unsympathetic lead who gets by mostly on counter charm and the goodness of others who want to believe and will inevitably be disappointed by him — until they’re not and in turn lead him to forever change for the better.

Dramatic strategy: We’ll root for the Devil in all his sin because he’s fun and underneath it not so bad.  And since he’s a famous character, we know he will come around in the end.

Still, this will not convince everyone.  As one of my students said to me, “Franco seemed stoned through the whole movie, do you think he was?  And why do I want to watch that, anyway? “

I had no answer for either.

Where there's smoke...

Where there’s smoke…

Don Draper/Jon Hamm on Mad Men

He’s an ad man who manipulates the public for profit, stole the identity of the dead soldier next to him, is a serial adulterer (until perhaps recently – though we don’t know for sure), a chain smoker and a disrespectful lout if someone gets in his way.  He is also always the best-looking and best dressed guy in the room, a brilliant ad man, a loyal friend, and the guy every guy wants to be and every woman wants to have – partially because he is rumored to be the best lay in New York City in the sixties, which is really saying something.

Dramatic strategy:  Incredible looking devils who will maybe move a mountain for a lost puppy, if they decide they’re worth it, can do anything else they want as long as they give us a wink and a nod.  You know it’s true.  I know it’s true.  Why fight it?  In real life or on television.

Donuts anyone?

Donuts anyone?

Dexter on Dexter

If Dexter were writing this (and perhaps he is) he would offer no justification for being a serial killer who has gotten away with countless murders while sacrificing the lives of his wife, girlfriends and friends plus the sanity of his police detective sister.  Everything about him is beastly, especially his choice to maintain a double life as a caring father to his young son and expose him to all kinds of potential bloodiness.

Having watched every episode of Dexter, I sort of feel like one of those women who fall in love with a guy who has been sentenced to consecutive murder sentences and will spend his next five lifetimes behind bars.  This is because somehow I know he has been either misunderstood, judged harshly for a momentary indiscretion or is really a moral guy who has been forced to take unorthodox action for the greater good because, damn it, somebody had to.  And besides – if you knew him like I did – you’d get it and know that he is not unlike any of us.  And, in the end, may be better.

Dramatic strategy:  The dark passenger devil inside us has to breathe at some point and it’s better to root for a fictional killer than spend the rest of our lives in prison, on the lam or in a box underground before our time.  Plus we ALL want to murder someone at some point in our lives. Which makes it universally interesting to see how it will play out.

Who's hungry?

Who’s hungry?

Hannibal Lecter

He’s the Devil among Devils – a killer so brilliant and crafty that he subverts all expectations among his ilk.  This is probably because he also manages to be the Court Jester of Devils if the Joker were the kind of sophisticated dinner companion one would have at a $50,000 a plate charity dinner. This is also probably why he’s starred in at least three huge films, many more bestselling novels, is the subject of a new NBC show, and has become an irrevocable part of American folklore.

Dramatic Strategy:  As Joan Rivers once famously said, “If Hitler had five good minutes, they’d put him on The Tonight Show.”  Can we talk?  Well, he most certainly can – but in a really, really funny way.  Plus, he knows how to eat.  You.  Me.  And any one of us.  And we all love danger.

Finally, there’s…

In the flesh?

In the flesh?

 Al Pacino in Everything

He began as Michael Corleone in The Godfather but between recent portrayals of Roy Cohn, Jack Kevorkian and now Phil Spector, he may indeed be The Devil himself.  And if you have any doubt, note Pacino actually did play The Devil (or himself) in The Devil’s Advocate, though his character was named John Milton, which seemed to imply something about Paradise Lost though I was never quite sure what. Side Note: I much prefer Robert DeNiro’s take on Lucifer in Angel Heart because his character was named Lou Cypher (get it??).

Dramatic Strategy:  No one does loveable old coot as The Beast like Al.  Still, there will be an update after tonight’s showing on HBO of Phil Spector despite the fact that writer-director David Mamet calls it a fable; Phil Spector’s wife says its inaccurate; and everyone knows that on both counts the Devil is anything but.

There are numerous other sympathetic Satans but I think we’ve covered the basics here.  So – one final thought:

Anything about this list jump out at you?  Anything at all?

(Silence).

Anyone?  Anyone?

(More silence).

tumblr_miu9i6OX4X1s4tfa9o1_500

The correct answer:  All the above Devils we truly love are men and there is not a woman among them.  And forget Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, we don’t love her.  Not really.  Nor did we love Charlize Theron in Monster.  Or Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest.  Even Meryl’s ghastly Miranda Priestley doesn’t win our sympathies. They were campy, cultish heroines.  But loving and reveling in their nastiness?  Uh, uh. 

However, I DO love Lena/Hannah for what she dares to do that I couldn’t.  And though I do not see her as The Devil but I am willing to accept some of the public outcry and admit that others perhaps rightfully do.  What I can’t understand is – why can’t she be accepted among The Devils we love to love — like all the other men who came before her — rather than be treated as The Young Woman that we love to hate???

The Art of Seduction

Screen shot 2012-11-29 at 09.58.17

Pres. Obama took many of the members opposing him in the Republican Congress to dinner, lunch and then lunch again in the last 10 days.  Meaning, he asked them out on a proper date, arranged a place to dine and – in a stroke of grand presidential largesse – picked up the tab.  (Note: Presumably the President paid, not you or I in the form of an expense account write off.  Though like all dates, we will probably pay in other ways).

No biggie, you might say.  Long gone are the days when someone in any kind of position of power, meaning a person with their own expense account, could possibly be swayed by a dinner date with someone they don’t particularly like or agree with and, on the surface, are certainly not attracted to.

Uh, well – if you are indeed the you who is saying that, here’s the answer you sooo don’t want to hear —  YOU ARE WRONG.

Most of the many members of Congress who went on these dates not only reported that they had a good time, but came away now impressed by a president who in the last five years they had grown to discount, dislike or disown.  Some even went so far as to brag at how these meals represented a new beginning with a man they have finally gotten to know and enjoy – a man they only wished had come forward (or come on) to them sooner than the four plus years it took HIM to finally ask them out.

Well, upon hearing all this, all I could think of was – uh, welcome to our world, guys. We ALL want to date the most popular and desirable guy or gal on campus ESPECIALLY when we claim we have no interest or attraction.  And now that you’ve had that first date — take it from someone who has been in your exact same position — you will not be able to rest until you AND HE do it again in an even more spectacular way.  Well, that is if you can get him to approach you again – what do you think will do it a second time now that you’ve had a meal, or what will he have to do to get you to not only do it again but to take it to yet another level?

Flowers, candy, jewelry, a flat screen?  Precisely what can he do for you (or to you) to, as they say, keep sealing the deal for a second, third, fourth (or life?) time?

Unless this is your Big Man on Campus...

Unless this is your Big Man on Campus…

Let’s face it – life is just one big date and at some point we are all reduced to being the guy or gal on the sidelines waiting for our dream prom king or queen to come down off their thrones and agree to go out on the town and then eventually back home with us forever.  Okay – perhaps this isn’t entirely true since not everyone is attracted to power and popularity.  But what is true is everyone is attracted to something.  And with the right kind of seduction, any one of us can be had.  Or to reverse the thought – HAVE.

Discussing seduction is sort of like talking too much about what makes something funny.  Once you begin to analyze it, it ceases to be the very thing that intrigues you.  It’s also akin to a fan of magic twisting the arm of the magician to reveal a trick that, once unmasked, you learn wasn’t very magical, or particularly difficult to begin with.

But seduction is about A LOT more than the lure of illicit sex cloaked in an undercurrent of danger and..well…sex, sexiness or…well…just plain sex.

Writing is a seduction.  You use all the tools at your disposal to entice people into your story.  In live encounters we tend to think of these tools solely in terms of looks, power or wealth (well, mostly looks).  But in truth it’s much more diverse.  We all use many things in our bag of tricks in order to “seduce” our prey.  In real life, it’s humor, looks, strength, violence, intelligence, kindness, even feigned indifference (ever hear of playing “hard to get?”).

Getting your audience to crack up? (Too easy, couldn't resist)

Getting your audience to crack up? (Too easy, couldn’t resist)

You can do all of this and more using the written word too.  You can also provide structure on the page for your story in the same way you can provide it for a potential lover by building a routine or place for them to come to with a solid foundation – employing traits such as reliability and escape all in the form of a trip to a far away place you would never go to or even think to go to by yourself.  Even if you did think of it (the trip), part of the allure could be the irresistible strange force you (or they) will meet that would change your life – something you could use in your work or, perhaps, you could find in either a lover or a good book, film or play written by someone else.

Students get REALLY uncomfortable when I discuss this kind of stuff.  I mean, no younger person wants a middle-aged person to talk to them about anything vaguely having to do with what they see as, um, seduction (really, sex).  Yet once I discuss this in the context of writing or any of the other arts…..I see their eyes begin to light up as they contemplate their particular plan of attack with their desired prey (the audience).  What will they use and in how many parts each?  Jokes, smarts, sex (again?!), action, athleticism, violence (only on the page of course), kindness or even anger and rage?

Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas and star Kristin Bell this week set a record with a Kickstarter campaign to raise $2 million to make a feature film of their now defunct TV series (they raised the money in 2 days instead of the allotted 30 days because they had already seduced audiences (and the network?) with what they did previously on the small screen).  In fact, so enduring was the seduction, the audience still desired them 6 years after being cancelled and now desperately WANTED a film – and this time the seduction wouldn’t be as difficult as raising their Nielsen ratings a point or two – willing to donate up to $10,000 a piece for small rewards in record time, with others left bitterly disappointed that they too couldn’t open their wallets and be a part of things.

Get ready for your closeup, kid.

Get ready for your closeup, kid.

I’ve probably given to 20 kickstarters over the last few years and I’m hardly rich.  But even as a generous donor for any number of creative project fundraisers, I’ve never come close to being a part of something like this.  I mean, we’d all do best to forget trying to stop global warming and imagine something the world really wants – like a return of their favorite long-cancelled TV show.

Fox News will no doubt attack this as socialism or laud it as being free market enterprise – I’m never sure which these days.  But if they’re smart, any movement or government or network worth its weight in quid pro quo lobbyists will try to seduce its audience on issues far more unsavory, just as every production company will figure out a way to seduce you by “any means necessary” in order to see John Carter, Hangover 3 or Die Hard 28.  So doesn’t it makes sense to try it on something that on paper is not as big but can produce quite profitable if not potentially large results in direct relation to its seduction quotient (in the company’s case, cost of seduction = dollar cost)?  And do it from the ground up instead of waiting until you’ve already spent $250 million (125 times that of the VM movie) on your production budget?

But the harsh fact of reality is the studios are going the way of the music industry – not waking up to the needs of their loyal and long term audiences and, for the most part, staying with formulaic programming.  That is, until the formula changes (which it has already, except they don’t know it).

The free market has already recognized this and has prompted creative individuals to find original ways to seduce their new backers using the personal touch of a series of cameos (what they see as a group) in a film, individual screen credits, personal thank yous, set visits and limitless signed souvenirs.  It’s a new, more direct method of post millennium involvement in the process of creation – in the ability to reach millions with the mere post of an offer on our public bulletin board of the web.  Imagine notesfromachair as an international uber blog that somehow turned into the world’s most popular weekly must read and you can see the parallels for a journalistic start up (Note: I’ll leave it up to you to determine if that is the beginning of a seduction).

And when in doubt, just post a shirtless pic of Ryan Gosling.

And when in doubt, just post a shirtless pic of Ryan Gosling.

See, the market has changed and young people don’t view illegally downloading films on bit torrents as stealing.  They’re used to getting everything for free on the web – and they do it.  In droves. Despite my explaining copyrights, gross and net points (ethics?).  Why not a chance to become a virtual movie producer or be a part of the creative process in the same way they (or many of us) participate in their favorite video game?

As the creator of a property it can also be quite financially beneficial to involve (seduce?) your audience from the get go.  Because, well, if you self-finance you don’t have to worry as much about terms like gross and net because you share gross from dollar one.  Or if you don’t, you receive an upfront distribution fee payment (from a supplier desperate for content) or must decide to shell out an upfront payment for the favor of distribution from a studio like Warner Bros – which the VM producers did for their new film – either way you are still coming out ahead.  People will have a guaranteed means of seeing your movie but you don’t have to pay for the 20%  studio overhead.  Or for your financier’s (nee studios’) other movies.  On the latter, when I worked at several film studios in the 80s it was commonplace to charge things to not necessarily the movie you worked on but to other films where it wouldn’t be noticed.  Each film had a number attached to it and though I didn’t have a particularly large expense account many, many others did and they charged many, many things to many, many movies that did not benefit from those expenses.  Not charges in the league of houses and cars but a lot of smaller things that in the end did add up.  And I have no reason to believe it is any different now.

Insert obvious "wink wink" here.

Insert obvious “wink wink” here.

Government leaders have been doing all kinds of seduction for years, including both fear and promises for a better future.  Some would argue, as Rachel Maddow does in her terrific MSNBC documentary Hubris, that the United States was seduced by fear of a possible nuclear attack into the second Iraq war by the Bush-Cheney regime – a war that didn’t have to happen but was carefully planned out for much more financial than national security reasons.  You can also seduce people to support you into a particular course through aspirational “gifts” or programs for the poor while you’re stealing the country blind.  That, of course, was also the subject of Evita, the megahit musical about the wife of Argentinean dictator Juan Peron.  Not that I’m making any comparisons here.

In the pop culture zeitgeist, the nation gets seduced by the idea of being a billionaire like Donald Trump until Trump goes too far with his political views and suggests Pres. Obama was not born in the United States.  The seduction stopped there because Trump’s modus operandi of seduction – i.e. apprenticeship riches guaranteeing a path to becoming even richer – was taken away and he had only his personality, belief system and expertise in political persuasion to rely on.

Seduction strategies were far more effectively used by companies pushing advertisements for cigarettes in the Mad Men era via the Marlboro Man or razor blades using naked models who urged young men shaving to “take it off, take it all off.”  Of course, these days we do have the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue – which in some way will seduce males and perhaps a few gay women into buying a magazine in which the revealing suits are somehow connected to the idea of being an athlete.  Or is it perhaps a reward for being the elite of your class?

If not that, then there’s the shirtless Diet Coke guy who needs to do nothing more than sip the soda half-naked in order to tempt a whole group of ladies into crossing over the line to purchase the bubbly treat which somehow promises them a more primal treat of their own.  Seduction or just plain eye candy or both?  You be the judge.  Unless you’d rather look at Uber Swede Johan – the guy with the blonde Brad Pitt-like hair in the commercial for Gevalia Coffee – who explains to a group of ladies just how much he – meaning his coffee blend – will take care of them and care for them if they just drink it (him?) up.  This is a caring unlike, say, the makers of Starbucks or Sanka – though he never mentions any of his competitors by name.  Of course, he doesn’t have to with a stare like that and the locks to back it up.  Plus, it’s wise for him not to because, lets face it, you don’t want either the spell or his aroma to be broken.

Television hyphenate Lena Dunham seduces audiences with an odd combination of wit and uneasiness; bad and often unattractive choices; and truth and humor in similar ways to that of her comic male counterpart, Louis CK.  Neither one’s public persona is traditionally attractive and, in the view of some (not me, however), neither is attractive at all.  Yet, in fact, they’ve both become sort of geekishly seductive because of what they do offer (decide what that is or isn’t on your own) rather than an absence of what they can’t offer.  Which should be a lesson to all of us.

That come hither stare

That come hither stare

All of this is not say to that the gals and I can’t be had by a Bradley Cooper/Jon Hamm sandwich or that Angie (Jolie) and Jen (Anniston) are still not respectively the ultra naughty and innocently tempting Veronica and Betty of the celebrity zeitgeist for the rest of you.  But these are rare specimens who ironically are also smart enough, despite their looks, to both be developing other aspects of themselves.  Angie, for example, is going to direct a big studio movie and is a mother to a gaggle of kids.  Jen flips houses, is getting married, is the go-to Hollywood rom-com gal and seems to be generally having a better time on the beaches of life with a bigger choice of friends and partners than most of us.  Plus – she smiles A LOT.  Which can be, and often is, a seduction unto itself.

Creative types on that level are expert seducers not only with their looks and talent but because a. they’ve had A LOT of practice and have gotten really good at it AND b. they understand it’s all a big construct in order to achieve their higher goals.  This can be seen or used as a positive or negative in an endless amount of ways but to deny it as fact is to avoid an essential component in what makes the world go round.  Of course, what’s even worse is to believe that each of us, in our own particular way, can’t play the game as well as they do.

LOLz

One of the most memorable numbers from the classic 1952 film “Singing in the Rain” is a little ditty called “Make ‘Em Laugh.” On the set of a not-so-good movie, the best friend pianist (Donald O’Connor) of its depressed male star (Gene Kelly) tries to cheer him up by doing a series of pratfalls, funny faces, odd dance steps and various other musical twists and turns while dispensing reassuring adages and advice guaranteed to lift his buddy, and pretty much everyone else, out of the doldrums.  Of course it works, and by the end of that film everyone (well, mostly) lives happily ever after, as most popular movie characters in the 1950s did.

In some ways, times have not moved forward all that much.  These days humor is constantly being used to change people’s thinking, or at the very least help them escape and/or make them feel better.

We live in an iron ironic age when everything is fair game and, unlike years ago, is easily accessible.  Google any outrageous or filthy word, phrase or comment and you’ll find some sick or hilarious joke somewhere.  (I know this to be true because I just did this for a birthday message to someone only a matter of days ago).  Research any big issue and you’ll find someone somewhere has done a parody of it in film, television, the web or in your own back yard.

On the flip side, today’s popular humor is often unintentional, whether in real life or on the pop culture scene.  What one person says seriously sometimes becomes a national joke.  On the other hand, what another person off-handedly cracks jokingly can resonate to great affect worldwide.  And – on yet another flip side – it can also land with as much deftness as a lead balloon and be met with everything from deadly silence to international outrage.  In short, we don’t live in a Warner Bros. musical anymore (if we ever did) even if our humor sometimes feels right out of the 1950s.

I prefer Andrew Rannells pre-New Normal

I couldn’t help reflecting on all of this and more in the last two weeks, especially since seeing the L.A. production of our South Park boys’ Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “Book of Mormon” – a musical that is about as far away from “Singin in the Rain” as you can get but no less entertaining.  Granted, I have a sick sense of humor – but any show that sends up religious hypocrisy by featuring a fever dream where Adolph Hitler and Jeffrey Dammer have sex with misguided Mormon missionaries as live dancing Starbucks coffee mugs look on, is doing something right in my book.   And before you dismiss me as being the twisted, sick, immoral far-left liberal that I admittedly am, just note that this show also won 9 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, this past year and is touring all around the U.S. (and eventually the world) with a record zero protests at its door.  That’s a far cry from when I was a kid and the sight of some live naked draft-dodge talking hippies onstage in the musical “Hair” caused a national freak out.

With a presidential election looming in less than two weeks, religious and political humor is in full swing at the moment.  In this season alone we’ve been treated to the meme of The Eastwood Chair –Clint Eastwood’s embarrassing or perhaps hilarious, depending on what side of the aisle you’re on, attempt to lampoon an inactive Pres. Obama at the Republican convention; Pres. Obama’s self-admitted long onstage “nap” at his first debate with Mitt Romney (also spawning alternating doses of hysteria and hilarity dependent on your left or right leaning); Mitt Romney’s trumpeting “Binders Full of Women” from his Massachusetts past in their second encounter (which, you gotta admit, is sort of funny all around); the “Horses and Bayonets” Pres. Obama joked were Mr. Romney’s weapons of reference for a ready 2012 military during the third debate: and various other uber-meme-y catch phrases like #Romensia,” “#legitimate rape?,”#Obamaloney,” #YouDidntBuildThat, #The47%” and #BigBird.

Meta meta meta.

A small group of humorless talking heads, mouths and pens can regularly be seen or heard self-righteously bloviating on television, radio or in print, stamping their feet and bellyaching about the political correctness of any one or more of these phrases. But to all of them I say this – plainly and quite simply: BITE ME.

I’d much rather have a lot of word-play, offensive though it might be to some group of us all than have the political violence of 1968, when disagreement over race, politics and social mores spawned a lot more than hurt feelings, hate speak and, (heaven forbid!) an attempt to re-secularize American society away from the doctrinaire fundamentalist views of a particular national religious doctrine.  (I mean, most of the wars of the world – historically and, in fact, currently – are fought over the latter alone, if you think about it).

And yes, because this is my blog, I’m particularly singling out those who Tina Fey so aptly named several days ago in a speech on reproductive rights — all you self-proclaimed ultra religious “gray-faced men with the $2 haircuts” who want to lecture women on what rape means.

Ms. Fey’s jokes about these older men who see a child conceived through the violent crime of rape as a “gift from God” for women would not exist without the middle-aged male politician who made this unintentional sickly humorous remark, much in the same way that Ms. Fey’s brilliant impression of Sarah Palin wouldn’t exist without the former Alaska governor turned reality TV star. In fact, speaking of Ms. Palin and humor, the mother of single Mom abstinence crusader Bristol often likes to use her own unique brand of 2012 yuk-yuks in her incessant Facebook posts.  Her last noteworthy attempt, categorizing our bi-racial president’s policies in Libya as “shuckin’ and jivin’,” an old Jim Crow term widely used to categorize a certain type of shuffling, irresponsible Black man, was seen as downright hilarious to her many loyal supporters.   I find this, Ms. Palin and almost any remark she makes to be particularly offensive for various reasons but remember – I also found the religious fever dream in “Book of Mormon” hilarious, which would no doubt in turn be deemed humorless and probably equally offensive to at least some of the Romney clan (I’m not naming names) if I could muster enough tickets (or even one!) or get them a group rate for a family theatre party.  Plus, we haven’t even gotten to what the reaction would be from Donny and Marie Osmond, who in a weird and hilarious twist of fate are actually scheduled to follow “Book of Mormon” into the Pantages Theatre with their new live Christmas show.  Talk about equal opportunity offending!

Remember to wear your magic underwear!

The contract that is America, as opposed to the 1990s era Contract For America that Newt Gingrich and the Republican majority in Congress unsuccessfully tried to push during the Clinton administration, calls for inclusion of all opinions: humorous, deadly serious, and everywhere in between as long as no laws are being broken.  This is as true for jokes by and about the Tea Party as it is for all the down home humor you get at, say, a meeting of the Green Party.  It’s as true for Bill Maher as it is for….well, I can’t think of a right wing equivalent off the top of my head but let’s say that unintentional huckster by the name of… Glenn Beck?

We now interrupt talking about Glenn Beck with Jon Hamm in a bathing suit.             YOU’RE WELCOME.

It also goes for all things apolitical.  I mean, the one movie in November my students are insisting we all watch together is Lifetime’s “Liz and Dick,” starring Lindsay Lohan.  (I am choosing to take this not as a personal failing of mine but to own it as my own little successful attempt to show them there is no differentiation between “high” and “low” art).  Sure, they all are dying to see Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and are anticipating “Life of Pi,” “The Impossible” and “Cloud Atlas.”  But for unbridled sick humor – well, they’re under 30 and Lindsay is their gal.  Yes, it’s a new world.    But in some ways, it hasn’t changed it all.  (Does anyone aside from myself and a few gay friends remember “Valley of theDolls?”)

Ladies in Red

All this is to say that I, for one, am looking forward to the humor in the 2012 election results – no matter how they turn out.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m entirely partisan and will want to slit my wrists if every important candidate of my choice doesn’t win – which means ALL OF THEM.  But I will resist because there is good chance that if most or even one or two of my main picks win – especially Pres. Obama, Elizabeth Warren (Mass), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Tim Kaine (PA) and Alan Grayson (FLA) – or in the unlikely chance that they all win and the Dems take back both the Senate AND the House, thereby giving Nancy Pelosi back the Congressional gavel – I will also have lived to see Ann Coulter’s head explode on national television… live and over and over again in blood-curdlingly graphic, murderous sound bites.

Oh relax, I’m just joking!

Sort of.

The Star Treatment

roll out the ole’ carpet

Here’s what Girls creator-star Lena Dunham said when asked if she worried that the lead character she plays on her semi-autobiographical HBO series would be sympathetic enough to grab an audience.

“I don’t always like myself, or all the people on TV,” admitted Dunham. “Also, why can’t 25-year-old women make miserable mistakes like Larry David?”

What was most memorable about Ms. Dunham’s response was not only that it was unrehearsed and honest (you spend enough years in show business and you can tell when celebs are blowing smoke up your keester) but the reaction she got from the her fellow Sublime Primetime panelists of 2012 Emmy nominated writers (almost all male) on stage at the WGA Theatre with her. They LOVED her for it.  So much so that they broke out into spontaneous applause, along with the rest of the audience, in one of the few exchanges of the entire evening of speakers that anyone will probably ever remember.

One of these is not like the others…

That was a far cry from the previous awkwardness of these middle-aged guys when the nervous moderator among them finally had to ask her a question. At almost half their ages and, well, a lot more stylish, it felt like they didn’t know…uh… what the heck to make of her (personally I loved the black and white polka dot dress, pixie haircut and arm tattoo that read “STAUNCH” in honor of Little Edie from “Grey Gardens” fame but hey, I am a gay man).  Plus, they looked afraid, very afraid – as if she were the future and, clearly, they would have no part in it, at least not in a starring role.

Perhaps this is nonsense and I’m reading into it.  But…I don’t think so.    Yet Ms. Dunham was not the only one in the group that made everybody a little uneasy that night.  There was also Matthew Weiner, creator-writer of Mad Men, the series that put AMC on the map and won him six of his nine Emmy Awards, including the Television Academy’s statuettes for best drama series four years running, that is until this past week.

Okay, maybe nervous is not quite the word for what they felt towards Mr. Weiner.  It could have been equal amounts of respect, awe, fear and, well, maybe even a little jealousy.  Yet whatever it was quickly began to dissipate when he made some of his own confessions about the cultural phenomenon he created.  When pressed to analyze the success ofashow that doesn’t seem to have a particular genre and, therefore, no strong marketing demographic, Mr. Weiner didn’t appear to have an answer until the panel and audience’s uncomfortable silences gave him a long moment to think of one.

“I think its commercial uniqueness,” he said of Mad Men,  “is that it doesn’t have a formula.  More than any other show I’ve ever worked on, people’s (the writer’s) life experiences wind up on the show unaltered.”

Shameless excuse for another picture of Jon Hamm

And that proved to be another seemingly unrehearsed answer that actually felt real, especially if one considers Mad Men was indeed turned down by every commercial and cable network several times for just that kind of uncategorical reason before it finally found a home at the then fledgling AMC network five years after Mr. Weiner had written it as a spec pilot (and admittedly right before he was convinced it would forever wind up in his drawer as the lovely writing sample it had functioned as up until then).  Also, like Ms Dunham’s response, Mr. Weiner’s answer was particularly memorable for that evening because the idea of writing a successful TV series NOT in a specific genre or WITHOUT a certain demographic seemed almost counterintuitive to what everyone on the panel and in that room of would-be writers had been hearing about TV for years from studio executives, market research studies and more than a few professors (though, hopefully, not this one).

Still, rather than the spontaneous applause given Ms. Dunham, Mr. Weiner’s answer was met with a long, immeasurable dose of awkward silence where, much like an episode of Mad Men, everyone had to stop and think.  This was probably the second most memorable response of the evening and might have even given Mr. Weiner a bit more of the already ample cultural gravitas he enjoyed prior to the time the evening began.

So — Why spend this long on Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner?

Well–

Simply as an illustration of how easy it is for two clear WINNERS of one evening to become two clear LOSERS of another (And in the same week!).  Yes, I’m talking about the Emmy Awards.  Because when both Mad Men and Girls failed to win a single trophy on 2012 Emmy that night, and that’s exactly how both Lena Dunham and Matt Weiner were categorized by the media and, perhaps, by more than one or two of us. THE big losers of the night.  The people who went home empty-handed.  The race-horses who were bested.  Who were no longer thoroughbreds.  At least by the latest (American?) standards.  Yes, that’s how quickly the tide, or perhaps in this case, worm, or perhaps even more apt – stomach – can turn these days.

Do these look like losers to you?

I had the great mis fortune…uh…honor (?) of being in the audience at this year’s Emmy Awards and witnessing the Dunham-Weiner downfall.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  It’s certainly fun if you’ve never been or if, like me, you spent your entire childhood preparing for the next award show and reserved the prime spot in front of your family’s television months in advance.  Plus, who doesn’t like something nice and shiny (assume you too are winning or will win one, because this is part of the fantasy, let’s face it) that you can use to prove to yourself and anyone else who asks in perpetuity that you’re truly wonderful?

Except after the time I spent with both Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner several evenings before I couldn’t help but feel, well, — sort of sick to my stomach through parts of the Emmy evening and for days after.  This feeling began to painfully increase when I went to the Governor’s Ball and found myself seated beside not one but two tables of the cast and creators of the BBC’s much-lauded Downton Abbey.  Both of those tables also had zero.zero Emmys between them – though the show did chalk up one supporting actress win for the unstoppable Maggie Smith  (who was not in attendance and whose award was, somehow, nowhere to be seen). Still, because it’s DAME Maggie Smith, THE Maggie Smith, a venerable acting institution, that didn’t seem to really count as a true Abbey win.   And it certainly didn’t stop a group of many of us naysayers from saying and even believing that technically, on Emmy night, those stuffy period Brits, for all intents and purposes, really had been shut out (that’s double goose egg again if you were keeping count) and that we Americans had emerged as victorious over the dominant British crown as we had almost two and a half centuries before.

We’ll let Shirley speak for us in Season 3. USA! USA!

But back to Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner.  As if the lack of awards for them weren’t already enough to make them the cultural losers of the night, there was even more indignation yet to endure.  Spotted in a Prada dress on the red carpet, Ms. Dunham was lauded in many tabloids in the next day days for also being the fashion LOSER of the evening (they didn’t see the cute black and white polka dot dress on the panel I saw!) while Mr. Weiner was reported on as being THE morose and drinking loser of the fall 2012 awards season, along with the rest of the cast and crew of Mad Men.  This happened when more than one media outlet reported Weiner and company were spotted licking their woundsat an undisclosed restaurant or hotel location far away from the confines of the festive (AND VERY RED!) Governor’s Ball.

Red with envy?

Note:  Truth to be told, I actually saw Mr. Weiner and his wife hurrying out and walking against the crowd from the Governor’s Ball just as the rest of us poor schnook audience members were being ushered in.  He didn’t look happy but neither did he look suicidal.  He simply seemed like a guy who had enough and wanted to leave before he got trapped among another crowd full of people who would demand a suitable reaction, or perhaps even a pithy response, to one of their inane questions when clearly there was none.

Considering all of the above, I offer this observation both for you and for myself.  It is very worth noting, especially if you’re any kind of creative person – whether active, aspiring, studying or retired – that today’s designer outfit IS tomorrow’s thrift store reject –which will inevitably come back into style the day after that as retro chic — until it’s worn out its welcome and lands in the trash bin once more, only to be recycled again if yet someone else decides its hip and cool and groovy.

On the other hand, there ARE classics that never go out of style.  Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner are two of those.  And there are a lot more if you go looking for them (look in the mirror and you might even find one).  They’re not always the latest thing, but that doesn’t take away from their style, workmanship or lasting appeal to the right audience.  Nothing and no one tempts anyone on every day of the week.  Except sex , pizza, a nice glass of wine and maybe Angelina Jolie. Though I’ll bet at least two, or perhaps even three of those, have their naysayers.