Porn, The Mafia, and Me: A True Story

When the leader of the free world does nothing after an American journalist is killed it emboldens the rest of the world’s leaders to do the same or much worse.  That’s what the publisher of the NY Times said (according to Michael Schmidt, a top NY Times reporter) to the people who write and report for him this week.

In normal times of international protest and government-sponsored murder, all done amid a constant vigilance to maintain some sort of modicum of balance in the free world, this would go without saying.

But these are not normal times.

Uh, yeah, Dan, that’s an understatement.

When I was fresh out of journalism grad school in the late seventies I was a reporter at Daily Variety’s Chicago bureau.  No, it wasn’t the Times or the Washington Post but we covered lots of hard news.  Not to mention, I was thrilled to have the job – actually, any job.

In that way, the times, then AND now, are still normal.

This made me recall a particular dicey situation back then when I was covering the local porn industry.  Um yeah, the seventies were rife with porn.  Though not as rife as we are today when it’s so accessible and so…free.

No disrespect, Stormy. #horseface? #isHeSerious?

These were the days when downtown movie theatres showing porn were de rigueur in every big city and ran day and night.  These theatres, depending on what they were offering, attracted all types of people – straight and gay, couples and singles, professionals and civil servants.  Especially cops.  Loads of cops would drop into the local porn palace during the day for a quick fix.

I know this is true because I, too, was there.

Well now I’m intrigued…

Relax.  It was on a professional basis.  As a still closeted gay guy I had no interest in what was being offered by the porn being shown in downtown Chicago.  Though suffice it to say if I were a straight cop doing that beat I might have occasionally dropped in to see what’s up.

So no judgments here.

No, I was there because I had to report the weekly Chicago movie box-office grosses and this huge old movie porn palace, once the home of vaudeville shows, smoky band singers and chorus girls, was on my list and made a lot of money.  Or so it was reporting.  The problem is, my local film exhibition sources told me they were not making anywhere near the money I was reporting.

In other words, I was being lied to.

Well now i’m ANGRY.  #channelingmyinnermoviejournalist

Not only that, but common knowledge was that the Chicago porn industry was controlled by the local Mafia.  This meant that the running of the theatres, the money to make and advertise the films, all of it, was filtered through some guys.

My assignment was to go to the theatre, try to get some real numbers and, if I wanted, see if I could find out anything about the guys.

When I looked slightly nauseous at the prospect of this assignment, our bureau chief, who had his feet up on the desk and no intention of going out in the field on this or pretty much any other story at that point in his life, sort of smiled.  And said:

Don’t worry.  They don’t kill reporters.

SO COMFORTING

It was sort of a joke but sort of not.   When I pressed him on this, because at heart I’m (a bit of) a coward, he tried to reassure me.  One of those assurances was that the amount of publicity the Mob or any big time organization would get by killing a journalist from a prominent news organization wouldn’t be worth it.  It would shine a light on what they do and put their entire operation in jeopardy.

He framed it as your basic risk-reward scenario where it was not wise or worth the time for the mob do go after our profession.  Threats, perhaps.  Intimidation maybe.  But death?  Not so much.

Me, accepting the assignment

This could only seem logical to a young reporter in the late seventies because, indeed, it was.  If Nixon didn’t have Woodward and Bernstein or any of their family members murdered, and who was more connected than him and his minions, I figured I was safe.  Hell, Mario Puzo was still walking around after WRITING The Godfather and exposing some of the Mob’s darkest secrets.

Not to mention, there was so much money on the mainstream crossover table that the last thing murderous men wanted to appear to be was murderous.  That just wouldn’t sit well with the legitimate public you were seeking to continue to buy the goods you were selling them.

Mob Logic #alsocomforting

With the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by a gang of envoys of Saudi Arabia’s government in Turkey three weeks ago, this is no longer the case.  Especially since the very public refusal of sitting Electoral College Pres. Donald Trump to believe some guys who brought knives, guns, a bone saw and a CORONER to meet an American journalist at a foreign embassy could possibly have engaged in pre-mediated murder.

The official denial by the MOB Michael Corelone  I mean, youngish Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, convinced him, we are told.  They were involved in a quarrel and fighting by hand, which led to his (Khashoggi’s) death.    In fact, our Electoral College POTUS went on to say that with a multi-billion dollar arms deal at stake that could cost us a lot of new jobs this is no time to jeopardize our relations with this particular foreign country.

Is it 2020 yet? #MuellerHURRY

And to think there was a time when the Mob was worried that the murder of an American journalist in pursuit of the truth might actually hurt their bank accounts and turn the American public against them.

Well, this is no longer the late seventies.  We now are officially under Mob Rule – 2018 style.

Frank Sinatra – “Strangers in the Night”

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UGH… White Guys

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Do you know what the hardest thing about being a white guy in America is these days? No, the answer is not NOTHING – though I know more than a few of you have already responded that way. The correct response is – OTHER WHITE GUYS.

We’re just awful with international white American male privilege this week. Truly, it’s off the chart. There’s the swimming doofus savant Ryan Lochte getting away with stupid drunk behavior at the Olympics in Rio and then going on TV to lie about it, thus ensuring the lie would mushroom into an international incident that pulled focus away from all athletes participating in the last week of the Games.

DING DING DING

DING DING DING

How about Kurt Metzger, actor and a writer for Inside Amy Schumer, who posted a bunch of snide, nasty rape joke/remarks on social media this week, not only sparking outrage from the entire comedy community but thus ensuring he will never write for Ms. Schumer again. Nor anyone else – at least in the near future.

Lastly, there is The Trump we call…well, many things. Making a major pitch to African Americans across the country to vote for him this week while speaking to an almost ALL-WHITE audience in the small (and almost all white) town of Dimondale, Michigan. Asking for the vote “of every African American” he tried to sway the Black community with phrases like “ …What have you got to lose? You’re living in poverty” when only 27% of US Blacks are in poverty and just 9% are, in fact, even unemployed.

Snow knows

Snow knows

See, there is no way to make up for this. None. Nada. I could work at the Sisterhood Bookstore in L.A. (if, indeed, it was still open – or if neighborhood bookstores even still existed) for the rest of my days and it would never counteract the mess Metzger continues to perpetrate.

If I volunteered to live in poverty in every thriving Black neighborhood in the country for the next 10 years it wouldn’t matter to any Black person I know nor would it change how insulted and marginalized most non-Whites I know are by the Orange Genius of Nothing but Himself.

As for swimming, there aren’t enough years at the gym, in the water or on a lobotomist’s table, that would allow me to substitute myself as a dumbass punching bag for elite athlete cliché behavior that would even approach Lochte himself.   The guy is millionaire several times over and couldn’t even get someone to dye his hair blonde the first time without turning it some bizarre tinted shade of green? Unless that was on purp…. OK, let’s not even go there.

Gurl.... NO

Gurl…. NO

I used think as a gay guy I was partly exempted from the white male privilege thing because, after all, what we’re really talking about is patriarchal STRAIGHT white male privilege, right? Yeah, but then I heard about that douchebag Milo Yiannopoulos who trolled the fabulous Leslie Jones online spouting a bunch of racist, sexist bile at her and the reboot of Ghostbusters that got him banned for life from Twitter. A writer for Breitbart News and a self-proclaimed cultural libertarian, Milo publicly reasons that he can say anything he wants to anyone and not be labeled a racist because he’d be “the first black-d*** sucking white supremacist in history.”

Nice. Not to mention Stephen K. Bannon, chairman of the entire Breitbart News website, was just named Orangina’s new campaign manager. That is just how incestuously awful this has all become. (Note: Aaargh, apologies for even using the word incestuous).

unsee, unsee, unsee, UNSEE #HELP

unsee, unsee, unsee, UNSEE #HELP

Listen, we white guys of any sexual persuasion can also be as likeable, seductive, and as fun as anyone else. I have met more than a female or two who publicly and privately confessed to be willing to overlook the fact that Flipper Ryan has been arrested twice for public urinating and disorderly conduct prior to his most recent arrest in Rio because there is “just something about him.” Sure, we all know what that is and it’s not the glossy black Rolls Royce Ghost he owns which is often seen with him driving behind the wheel in the gated community where he lives in Charlotte, NC.

Ugh. It gets worse.

Ugh. It gets worse. #isthisarequirement?

But these are exceptions to a rule of order that seems of late to be spreading like wildfire. Why just this past week I was appalled to see a Facebook posting from a very funny female student of mine who professionally lives in the comedy world. It seems that some “bro” who didn’t think one of her videos was amusing enough decided it would be appropriate to write to her and say: The ONLY thing you have going is that you’re cute. Zero value other than fuckability.

Rage Meter spike

Rage Meter spike

I was appalled. But the best I could do was comment that he was a sad, little boy. I considered trolling him back since I did have his contact info but you can’t reason with privilege. You can only hit them in the pocketbook/wallet or their nether regions and neither seemed likely from my vantage point. Though I have been and continue to be encouraging towards her – as if that makes up for anything.

Movies have tried to tackle this issue in roundabout comedic ways. Some Like It Hot, Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire all require white males of privilege to act as females in an effort to narratively prove to them in the end just how good they have it. In 1970 pioneering director Melvin Van Peebles did a movie called Watermelon Man centering on a bigoted white insurance salesman who wakes up one day to find out he’s Black. Heck, in 1964 there was a studio film called Goodbye, Charlie where blonde and beautiful Debbie Reynolds (Note: That’s Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia’s Mom) plays a chauvinistic womanizer lost at sea who is somehow reincarnated as a woman.

Really not sure how this would play to today's audiences #relic

Really not sure how this would play to today’s audiences #relic

So clearly, none of this has done any good at all.

What will make the difference? Hell if I know. Insight means nothing if it doesn’t happen to the right people. Which doesn’t mean conservatives, necessarily. Given the world we live in, all of us could stand to learn some lessons in understanding that however you were born you likely have some privileges over someone else.

Which begs the question of how I, a white male of privilege, will proceed through my remaining years of privilege that, every so often, seem anything but. How do I avoid playing the world’s smallest violin and indulging in too much whiiiiiiiiine? Well, I can’t, entirely. The best I can do is say on behalf of all of the other asshats in my tribe – I’m sorry. It’s not much but it’s heartfelt. Which, now that I think about it, is yet one more typical response from a male of privilege – thinking that a mere apology will do.

Off the Grid

 

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Certainly going to an academic conference in Atlanta and spending a lot of time with some dear friends you haven’t spent a lot of time with in years while you’re there is not going off the grid. Especially if your guilty pleasure is HGTV Land – a place where you see others buying Tiny Houses (Note: That’s 150 sq. feet) in the middle of nowhere or a family of six voluntarily uprooting their lives to live in a South American jungle in what looks like a ramshackle hut with no indoor plumbing.

I mean, where’s the cable? Not to mention, how about reception? Because I need to call…oh wait I cancelled that. Still, I was supposed to finish…Right, I was told that can wait another few weeks or more. In fact, that’s why I’m here.

Here is not necessarily Atlanta – a city I had never been to before this past week and rather enjoyed. Here is also not hanging out for several days at a Hilton with a room full of academics who were far more hyper analytical about films and television than me (Note: Yes, it’s possible and more about that in a moment). Here is actually just being there, or more directly – anywhere but where you and I, let’s call it WE, usually are.

that's trippy, mannnn

that’s trippy, mannnn

Full confession – I don’t much like travelling or even roughing it. I enjoy my pad, my things, my friends, and my routine. This doesn’t mean I don’t crave going out and seeing places or spending time in a new city with people I don’t know. It is simply to say – even before you had to take your shoes off in an airport and wait on 60-90 minute lines carrying all kinds of stuff you probably don’t need/want people to see that will nevertheless be scanned (along with yourself) by state of the art technology – the idea of interrupting my flow of work for a journey felt….frivolous, difficult and even a bit scary. Especially if it meant hassling with planes, trains and automobiles as well as all of the other people who love them and use them.

Liz Lemon for President

Liz Lemon for President

This, sadly, sounds very American and slightly privileged and, frankly, I’m not particularly proud of it. On the other hand, neither am I ashamed of it. Because I suspect more than a few others feel the same way. I’m not talking about the dream vacation somewhere exotic. Certainly any of us would crave this if we could afford it. Rather this is all about short trips – making an effort to break up the day, the week or the month with an adventure. Stepping out of your comfort zone to do something, anything you might not ordinarily do.   Even if it’s just for part of a day. Or perhaps even…a group of days?

It’s a mind clearer. An eye opener. It likely won’t be a revelation – I mean, the very nature of revelations is that they’re rare. But it could very likely lead you on the road to one.

An adventure needn’t be exotic. Despite my normal state of malaise, every week or so even I manage to walk our pooch down a new street in a different direction and discover something I hadn’t seen before. Would I do this without the pooch? Certainly, not! But dog walking for a dog owner, like academic conferences for a college professor, are necessities of life. So once they get you out of the house, it’s a bit easier to break up the routine and encounter something new.

Me, every night

Me, every night

I can’t tell you exactly what a unique discovery will do for you but through experience I’ve found that at the very least it gets you out of yourself. (Note: And for some of us, that can only be a good thing). It also gives you bizarre snippets of knowledge.

For instance, did you know that groups of straight men are really into group-watching Frozen? An academic I know presented a whole paper on it where he shared this video you might or might not have seen. (Note: Thanks Sean!)

And, being in Atlanta, of course there was a panel on Gone with the Wind. Were you aware that if you check out the archive at the University of Texas at Austin you will find three types of letters written to its producer David O. Selznick during the three-year period between when the film was first announced and produced? The first set of letters suggested possible movie stars who would be good in the lead role; the second were suggestions from white people of African Americans they knew that would be good for playing the roles of the…gulp…slaves (Note: Often these were the real-life domestics of the white people themselves and even included a request from Eleanor Roosevelt, who got her own childhood maid an audition for Mammy which said maid nervously flubbed). The third group: well, this was from another large gaggle of white people who themselves wanted to play the roles of the…SLAVES.…in the film…because, well….they specialized performing in…BLACKFACE. Really.   Yes.

Yikes

Yikes

To realize the latter stack of those letters were written during the lifetimes of millions of senior citizens still on earth is to prove just how much, or perhaps how little, the world has changed, depending on your perspective since then. Consider that the next time you speak to or even see someone over 85. Or try to describe or even write someone in that age group. Makes you consider what the world would make of what’s going on in Election Year 2016 a mere 85 years from now, doesn’t it? Well, whatever it is, can’t all be good.

Am I exaggerating to state that you don’t know what slight change of perspective or even creative urge a small amount of knowledge will spark? I don’t think so.   And even if it’s nil it could at the very least come in handy the next time you are forced to make some idle chatter when you’re at a place you did not choose to be. Who among us doesn’t crave some additional thoughts for that?

Though this is a viable second option

Though this is a viable second option

And wait, here’s another one – do you know most people in Atlanta don’t speak in southern accents? Okay, how provincial does one have to be to even think that, he said embarrassingly. Fine, then here’s one other final thought – did you know there is also a new major urban renewal project in the city, that came into being from a student’s graduate thesis, which has created many miles of revitalized winding swaths of road with people, condos, stores, bike paths and actual human interaction in a previously slightly undesirable area of city located on the former Beeline train tracks of Krog Street – that is somewhat similar to the High Line revitalization in New York City – that…. Uh, well…you can see it for yourself.

Groovy

Groovy

Heck, the entire Atlanta trip was worth it if only because it allowed me to realize that the future will not include society letting the rest of our major cities crumble. Living in nightmarishly traffic-ridden, infrastructure crumbling Los Angeles, it’s easy to think that. But if that isn’t happenin’ in Atlanta or New York, it for sure ain’t happenin’ here. For one thing, we Angelenos are much too vain…

As is anyone who writes a blog or refuses to deviate from their own little routines. Which, admittedly, most of us are. But if you’re gonna be self-involved it helps to occasionally involve yourself with something and someone else. Not only does it break up the monotony of and preoccupation with you, it has a side benefit for the rest of the world – you (meaning we) — just might learn something.   And pass it on.