Revolting

Any era but this one seems to be the mantra of the day and who can blame any of us?   If the world isn’t falling apart, or at least regressing, well, it’s doing a pretty darn good imitation.

This is where nostalgia comes in because, well, when things seem this bad who can blame us for wanting to escape to the gauzy dreams of pre-selected luxurious times gone by?

This is where artists come in and in Hollywood there is no higher art than being a creator in film and/or TV.  Or is that TV and/or film.  It’s so confusing these days as to which medium gets first billing.

Don’t ask this guy what Netflix is… #spoileralert #heiswrong

But let’s table that discussion for now.

Much has been made about Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood in recent weeks.  Everyone seemed to love the recreation of the period but many balked at the context.

Are we really supposed to look back nostalgically at the 1969-era machismo of a nearly washed up leading man of TV and spaghetti westerns and his loyal, impossibly handsome stuntman?  Well, when the almost has-been is Leonardo DiCaprio and the sweet natured uber-hunk is a delectably shirtless 55-year-old Brad Pitt…come on, we all know the answer to that.

That’d be a YES MA’AM

And anyway, I dare you or anyone to look away when Brad peels his vintage tee off on that roof.  Because you won’t.  And you can’t.

But why spend all this money revisiting the Manson family murders for the umpteenth time, bathing Margot Robbie in impossibly flattering sunshine and white go-go boots as Sharon Tate?   Is presenting her in this new Tarantino-esque light (Note: No spoilers here) really worth all the trouble?  And who the heck is Quentin to take it upon himself to do that, anyway?

The latter is the real issue for critics of the film and its nostalgia.

Mary McNamara, the LA Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critic, went so far as to call out Once Upon A Time… as nostalgia porn, likening it to the equivalent of a cinematic MAGA hat for its narrow, reductive and mythologized view of a world that didn’t exist.

Girl said whattttt?

That is unless you were a member of the white, male, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, culturally conforming, non-addicted, mentally well, moneyed elite.

Okay but….what film world really does exist???

Every artistic project is told through the lens of its maker, for better or worse.  The worse is that there are not enough non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-heterosexual, non-able-bodied, non-culturally conforming, non-money, non-elite making the highest profile content in order to round out the picture.  (Note:  I purposely left out non-addicted and non-mentally well because it’s show biz and, well, who are we kidding?).

I was driving in the car with my husband the other day listening to an old John Mulaney comedy special (Note: Yes, we do that sometimes) where Mulaney did a hilarious bit about all of the illogical characters and plot holes in the classic Back to the Future. 

In it, the comedian muses at how any mainstream studio could green-light a film where a teen travels back in time and almost sleeps with his mother, one where his only real friend is a man in the neighborhood three times his age who he meets with secretly AND is a crazed, criminal loner of a “scientist.”  Not to mention a thousand other twists of logic and convenience that were as likely to happen as not anything ever.

I HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR 3 DECADES!!!!

Now I can’t tell you how long I have been waiting – okay, THIRTY PLUS YEARS – for someone, anyone, to bring up these and many other moments of silly suburban wish-fulfillment contained in the script pages and prized cinematic moments of all three Back to the Future films.  Cause as a gay kid from the boroughs of NYC all they ever offered to me was a twisted Leave it to Beaver on steroids non-reality that I could never relate to or imagine ever truly existed.

Where is/was MY Back to the Future, I used to wonder?  Well, until someone creates a gay, Jewish superhero kid who is befriended by an eccentric Holocaust survivor down the street, I guess that it doesn’t exist.

I would see that movie #doitchairy

Sure, I’m being a bit flip but the truth is that is some small way, I am STILL waiting for it.

Thinking about all this and more led me to recently begin writing a period piece all of my own.  In doing so, I discussed the idea with a female friend and former student/now colleague who suggested I watch a one-season now defunct but very fine Amazon series that took place in a similar era entitled Good Girls Revolt.

Now how is that I, a journalism school grad who majored in magazine writing and came of age (and came out) in the seventies could have missed a show about a group of twenty-something gal magazine researchers who were aspiring to be writers in the 1969/early 1970s era?

feeling that Mad Men-esque energy #whereisjonhamm

If they couldn’t have been me they certainly could have been the older sisters I never had or the more experienced mentors I wish that I had met and related to at the time.  Because god knows I wasn’t getting very many breaks or invitations to hang out after hours from the straight guys in power.

Well, the fact is, gay or not I’m still a guy and the title, I don’t know, it seemed strange – like one of those borderline offensive Girls Gone Wild  vintage videos.  And with so much out there I guess it wasn’t a must see.  I mean, much as I don’t run for the macho stuff do I really go out of my way to look for shows with four female protagonists??

I guess not, since once I started my binge and got into the show I began to vaguely remember having heard more in its initial run about it, the book it was based on and the real female writers who wrote and created both based on fictional and real characters, some of whom even I knew about at the time.

Boo for me for not paying attention..  Like – BOOOOOOO, boo, boo.  What kind of typical faux macho…guy….was/am I?

I am ashamed.. so very ashamed

But more to the point, why was there only ONE season of this very fine and, for me, unusually period accurate depiction of a world that, after watching, I couldn’t imagine millions more wouldn’t be fascinated with?

After all, this was an early streaming series on Amazon, a service that wanted to take chances.  And it was female-centric (a key demographic), got good reviews, great audience reaction and respectable ratings in comparison to other Amazon renewals at the time.  Well, a lot of factors worked against Good Girls

#1 was that its premiere was two weeks before the 2016 presidential election, a time when a significant number of males in the country were rebelling against anything too female-centric, especially if it was on TV and let off even a whiff of women’s lib. (Note: #Hillary4Evah).

Me, thinking about November 2016

More importantly and #2 –

The head of Amazon at the time was Roy Price, a guy who didn’t get the show and at one second-season story pitch asked the show runners to use the actresses’ names when proposing future episodes because he hadn’t taken the time to learn the names of the characters they were playing.

Of course, little did he or any of the rest of us know that in less than a year he would be forced out of his job amid accusations that he harassed, this time sexually, Isa Dick Hackett,  not a character name but another real female show runner of another Amazon show, The Man In The High Castle.  Coincidentally, Ms. Dick Hackett is an out lesbian who also happens to be the daughter of Phillip K. Dick, the novelist who wrote the book on which the High Castle series is based on.   (Note: A play on words based on the surname of both the novelist and the show runner were among Mr. Price’s more noteworthy utterances reported during that time period).

This, in turn, was followed by the many revelations surrounding Harvey Weinstein from his accusers and the emergence of what we now sometimes all too glibly refer to as the #MeToo era.

There’s nothing glib about the story of the cancellation of a promising show like Good Girls Revolt, of course, most especially when it’s considered in light of all the attention a film like Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood is now receiving.

The only IT girl of the moment

Sure, I admittedly very much liked the Tarantino film but after watching the one season of Good Girls and learning of the circumstances of its cancellation, and my own initial indifference/ignorance towards it, it’s easy to see why so many are currently so publically over the whole Tarantino/DiCaprio/Pitt of it all. (Note: And not only women).

The fact is, until many more diverse voices get to create material with actors and directors from their communities who are every bit as bankable as a Tarantino, DiCaprio or Pitt, an inequity of point-of-view that is as world worn as the nostalgia those names so often propagate will dog their every achievement in the zeitgeist.

That’s not so much an objection to their POVS but to the fact that so many of us don’t get to see ourselves and our worlds reflected back at us at a time when being seen and heard is no longer a luxury of entertainment but a necessity for our very survival.

“Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell

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Dressing Up / Dressing Down

This week a photo popped up from the 1984 medical school yearbook page of Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam of two White classmates – one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robes.

Gov. Northam initially said he was one of the young men in the picture, then quickly recanted and said he was mistaken. Then in a Saturday press conference he apologized anyway, noting the photo was offensive and racist but adding he himself had not looked at the yearbook in more than 30 years and that his memory was not entirely clear.

He then further added, or rather admitted, that the very same year – 1984 – he did indeed do blackface as Michael Jackson when he entered a dance contest in San Antonio.  The governor, a medical school graduate whose yearbook nickname was Coon Man, was 25 years old at the time.

So. Many. Questions.

There have been many calls for the governor to step down but as of now he refuses, stating: I cannot in good conscience choose the path that would be easier for me to duck the responsibility to reconcile.  Coincidentally, his lieutenant governor, the person who would replace him, is Justin Fairfax, a Black man.  Both are Democrats.

Racist actions, racist jokes, and racism generally have no party affiliation, class distinction or sexual persuasion.  On the other hand, given Electoral College POTUS’s statement of “…you had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” after the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. eighteen months ago and the proliferation of hate crimes across the country since by various white people shouting or wearing hats trumpeting Trump’s Republican clarion call of Make America Great Again, it is hard not to see this as otherwise.

That boy’s smirk will forever be imprinted on my brain

This is particularly true when one watches news footage of the Charlottesville rally and takes in the anti-Semitic taunts (Jews will not replace us!), the proliferation of White males wielding torches, some in hoods and robes, and the death of one young woman there to protest these actions that was mowed down and murdered by a car driven through the crowd by one of those supremacists.

It almost makes you long for the days of Gov. Northam’s blackface.

Well, almost.

Definitely #TooSoon

Speaking of the mid-1980’s, here’s a story:

Around that time, I was invited to a Halloween party.  I was close to Gov. Northam’s age and as such was also a bit enamored with performers whose look and talents I admired but could never measure up to in real life.

As an out gay guy I longed to do something outrageous but I was not yet ready to dress up as Liza Minnelli.  Still, my sister had left her black sequined blazer in my hall closet and somehow I had asked her if it was okay to use it to play dress up.  Being who she was (and I was), the answer was an immediate and overenthusiastic YES!!!!!!

You know I would have slayed

But who to go as??  Sorry, Liza was (still) out because I was not THAT out.  Yet.  Though I’m not even sure I’m that out now, which I suppose is its own kind of self-loathing.  But I was determined to use the jacket because, well, it was so, so… faaaabulous.

Wait, I have it, I thought.  I’ll do….

BILLY PRESTON!!!

This was a very versatile jacket

Who?????, you millennials might say?  Well, Billy Preston was a big pop star in the seventies and eighties that toured with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Little Richard, and had a series of hit records that included Nothing From Nothing, Will It Go Round in Circles and a duet with Syreeta Wright called With You (I’m Born Again).

Better yet, he wore sparkly jackets as loud and even louder than the one in my closet, had great hair (as I did at the time) was about my height and even rumored to be…gay!!!!

It was a no brainer.  I was going to be Billy.

Um, this story is making us nervous, Chairy.

So being the gay that I am I did several pre-rehearsals of the outfit days before with the jacket.  Only to get just the right pants, shirt and glasses to go with it. (Ahem) I gotta admit, it was pretty good.  But something was not quite right.  Hmmm.  Well, maybe….the hair.

Billy Preston not only had good hair but was known for BIG hair.  I mean, HUUUUUUGE.  Like a ginormous Afro.  I felt a little uncomfortable but this was my one chance to be comfortable being a little flamboyant.  So I went to a costume store on Hollywood Boulevard and bought the biggest and cheapest Afro wig I could find.  When I got home and put it on I gotta admit (once again), it and I looked….fabulous.

OK well, not AS GOOD as Billy

Still, on the night of the party, and me being the insecure gay that I was, um, am, I  began thinking, I could do better.  Looking in the mirror I saw this was really good but in my heart of hearts I knew this COULD BE….great!!!!

There was one basic physical difference between Billy and I, aside from our fingers’ ability to glide across the piano keys from one end to the other and, who was I kidding, it had to do with skin color.  I bent down in the closet, below the full-length mirror, and opened a wooden box I kept inside with a carving of the insole of a shoe and spied a cornucopia of POLISH.  Black, brown, taupe, white…No, it absolutely had to be Black!!!

And then….I STOPPED.

Um, Chair (Note: Not my name at the time but I’ve changed it to protect the guilty), what the hell are you doing???  Are you kidding???  You can’t!!!!

AHHHHH!!

Still, I longed to go that extra yard, to make that difference.  To be fabulous.  And really, who would know?  Just a handful of people at that party.

As I reached for the polish it was like the ghosts of every Black performer and person I ever knew slapped my hand down and gave me the stink eye.

I don’t think so, they collectively warned.  You will NOT have that thrill.  You CANNOT use this to get yourself off for five minutes and call it a day.  You WILL not.

Oh thank god #relieved

And so, I quickly closed the box, shamed I had ever thought about it.  More than 30 years later I am ashamed, to this day.  Only now I am actually appalled, so appalled I hesitated to recount this story.

We are all flawed and we ALL have our prejudices.  Some are right out there, some are just below the surface and others are so deeply engrained that we still fail to this day, to even recognize them, much less cop to them.

But here’s the bottom line to the Northam argument:

You can have murderous thoughts – we all do from time to time in our lives.  But that doesn’t make you a murderer.

This is helping me process Zac Efron as Ted Bundy.. keep going

You can also have racist instincts, sexist desires or homophobic leanings, but this will not make you any of those isms.  Unless you ACT OUT on them.

And the good news is that even if you do ACT OUT there is hope.  You can admit what you’ve done, take your lumps and chastisement, work to do better, go out of your way to make amends, and then remind yourself many times over in perpetuity that you will always NEED to do better in this area, and then pass on that message to others.

What makes you guilty, and one of the ISMS, is when you mumble and gurgle and squirm, twisting yourself into an amnesiac pretzel, all in the name of self-preservation.

Bye Gurl. Bye Boi.

If we’re to survive as a country of honest to goodness humans (Note: And so far the jury is out), we all need to rip the Band-Aid off and take our medicine before the collective We can get any better.

This doesn’t make me of any one of the rest of us much better than the Electoral College POTUS or Gov. Northam.  Just more evolved and self-aware than we were when this all started.  Which is at least a start in itself.

Billy Preston – “Nothing from Nothing”