Tribes

We all have our tribes, be it by race, religion, sexual orientation or even…hair color.   It’s often nice to be a part of something larger than oneself but if you’re at all curious (or just get bored easily) you can’t help but be intrigued by the OTHER. For example, I for one have always wondered – DO blondes really have more fun?

OK Marilyn…we get it

Those of a certain generation might remember that old ad slogan while anyone under 30 probably has no idea. That’s another tribe – the over/under 30, 40, 50 and….so on.

What I can also personally attest to is that once you do indeed become a “so on” the ranks begin to thin a bit and your tribe often needs to expand – if for no other reason than practicality. The alternative is being left entirely alone or slowly driven crazy by the very same people who at one point provided you comfort, excitement and the fuel to simultaneously remake and/or bend the world to your will.

In America we call that – living your best life. Not sure what it is in other cultures but I’ll wager that as an expression it translates pretty well – not unlike one of those universal traffic signs.

I caught up with the movie Black Panther this weekend and enjoyed it far more than I expected to for any number of reasons. But principal among them was that it chose to use the superhero genre to look at what it means to stay a member of one’s own tribe to the practical exclusion of much of everything else.

Deserving of the (box office) throne

NO SPOILERS HERE, don’t worry.

Still, what is fascinating about the film is that it manages to advocate extending a hand to outsiders by sharing your wealth and gifts AND staying especially loyal to the very tribe who nurtured you through the years. The latter is especially the case to members you may never have met and who may be far less fortunate or classy than you and applies even if you think you don’t have much to offer.

What a concept. If I were a religious person I might say that sounds like the teachings of Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Allah or…God? But being a heathen I define it simply as decency. A no-brainer. After all, no tribe has the market cornered on morality. Except mine.

I’m joking. I think.

for that over [age redacted] crew

The very fact I really liked Black Panther was yet one more small step away from my natural state of tribalism.   To whit, I don’t generally care for superhero films. I mean, they’re okay – sometimes fun. But, well, I was a kid who didn’t get the appeal of superhero comic books. They seemed silly, unreal and unlikely.

Except the 1960s Batman TV series – the bane of most superhero comic book fans’ existence (I think?). But the 12 year old me could never turn away from Tallulah Bankhead as the Black Widow – not to mention Adam West or Burt Ward. Which should tell you all you need to know about my childhood.   Or me.

Allow me to present… the Batusi Dance #thisisreal #ilovedit

Yet here I am all these decades espousing the virtues of Black Panther.   And asking questions like:

  • How is it that there has never been a major studio movie about a superhero of color?
  • Why is this one of the few, if only, movies of its kind to directly tackle contemporary issues of race and ethnicity with a fully coherent story AND have cool action scenes and more than a few witty lines – while still being entertaining?
  • How can so many really good actors be that f’n good-looking?

I mean…. #hott

Speaking of good-looking and living your best life, after getting home from Black Panther, and probably looking inwards for some contact with something from own tribe, I decided to watch a few episodes of Netflix’s new Queer Eye – a reboot of that early aughts Bravo series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

You know the one. It’s where a bunch of gays saunter, macho walk and/or swish into another guy’s mess of an outer and inner life and make him over. Well, to be fair, they more try to make him the best of himself within budget, reason, time constraints and what raw material there is to work with.

Oh hello honey

If that sounds snide chalk it up to my Queer way of putting things because truly, I don’t mean it to be. Many of us gay guys in general have been doing it on ourselves for years, especially those of my generation who as teenagers didn’t really have a discernable tribe and were often left to blend in – usually badly – and out of necessity had to self-teach ourselves a way to blossom into our true selves without our tribal elders.

So why not have a show where we use our talents for the greater good and, in doing so, show people we aren’t so damned…scary? Threatening? Different? Satanic? Unacceptable? I never could really figure it out.

Every episode would end like this

At least that was the overriding subtext of the original series. Times have thankfully changed a bit since then and the new one no longer seems intent on trying to prove anything. It more seems like a romp where they don’t necessarily change an uptight straight guy’s life but can also help an aesthetically challenged gay guy clean up his outer and/or inner act.

Even when the subject is a Southern, redneck, overweight, older straight guy (the subject’s self-characterization, not mine), it’s not about the queer quintet subliminally getting acceptance from the heterosexual world. The redneck wasn’t uncomfortable with the Fab 5 (he seemed to adore them from the outset), he was hopelessly uncomfortable with himself and spent most of his time sad and by himself, watching TV from an old, stained barcalounger.

One of these is not like the other

So within the settling of reality television, it seemed perfectly normal – if not downright formulaic – to watch a group of experts using their pooled tribal talents to transform yet another human life for the better. The fact that they were queer – substitute any other OTHER you like – seemed almost beside the point. Like choosing a red color palette instead of one that was blue or green.

(Note: Hopefully the subjects will evolve and extend to women, senior citizens of either sex or those of any age landing anywhere on the continuum of gender identity).

Sure, it’s staged and yeah, it’s not saving the world. And no, not all gay guys know about clothes, home design, hair, food, or culture (Note: Certainly not culture, I mean check out your neighborhood gay restaurant or bar and see just how delicious and relationship ready your selections seem).

I’m sorry… what did you say? I got distracted by Antoni the food guy #imean

It is merely one part of a tribe showing the rest of THE WORLD who they are, how they roll and just how fabulous IT and THEY can be. But instead of keeping the knowledge or fun (or whatever) to the like-minded, it’s inviting them into your party and morphing said world forward in some small way.

Immigration can achieve similar results. It happens in the theatre, where people sit together and watch a show live. I see it in the classroom everyday – or, well, at least every other day.

Blondes don’t have the market cornered on fun. That was just an old Madison Avenue ad line – a come on that left out all the other colors. Though it was thought of by one of the first female advertising executives in the 1950s. Who also happened to be Jewish. And the daughter of Russian immigrants.

Think about it.

The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar – “Pray For Me (from Black Panther)”

Inspiration Points

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 9.39.09 AM

If you’re in the entertainment industry and are particularly depressed about your career beware of the following thought as you tumble further down into the abyss:

I had hoped to inspire A LOT of people.

It’s embarrassing to admit one has these thoughts but, well, there it is.

The business part of show business is nothing if not about the accumulation of the A LOT – from audiences, to money, to attention, and to things, some of them even human.

Oh sure, we all have our own self-destructive reasons and the therapy bills that have unearthed them. But to simply inspire – maybe that’s not such a bad goal? And to some extent it is one of the almost guaranteed fringe benefits of the territory.

Just be sure to fact check those inspirational quotes!

Just be sure to fact check those inspirational quotes!

If you’re an art practitioner of any kind, anywhere, trust me at some point you will (and probably have) inspired someone – and probably more than one. You might not mean to but if the work is done right – or sometimes even wrongly – it will happen.

Of course, it might not be your work itself but your work ethic. Your determination and commitment to get things done. Though it can simply be just your output.   Whether or not it’s famous or you are. Which does not mean the famous aren’t inspiring. It’s merely to say sources of true inspiration come in all proportions and to various degrees – and in all sorts of sizes and shapes – from misshapen to minuscule to oversized. For in reality, to be or create an object of inspiration it is ironically really more about letting your work or you just be what or who it is.

I realized this long ago as a teacher and it admittedly satisfied the dark side of my “inspirational” desire. This is not conceit. Most, or at the very least, MANY teachers inspire. If you’re even halfway decent at it, it comes with the job. Usually you’re older and more experienced and your students are many young people whose specific task in those weeks and months is to learn – from YOU. It is inevitable that you will inspire one or two or more of them over the years. (Note: Which doesn’t make it feel any less good when it happens, by the way.)

Ok well we all can't be Mr. Keating #ohcaptainmycaptain

Ok, well, we all can’t be Mr. Keating #ohcaptainmycaptain

But let’s get back to inspiration and the industry that often claims it – show business. Truth be told, I never really loved the actual industry. Though I thought I did. Actually, I thought that I LOVED it. I really did. But once inside there are moments that cause it to lose its luster. While talents are appreciated and one needs a modicum level of talent to succeed (Note: Yes, even the ones you deem mediocre are way better than the mean), the upper echelon of success – the kind that comes with both inspiration and adulation – is a slippery slope. Many people who reside in this area are truly inspiring. But they also have to work hard to avoid the seductive part of being an adulated inspirer and not fall victim to the bottomless pit of it all.

Well, who among us are not up for some good seduction? There is something irresistibly appealing about anything that seduces. On the other hand, when you’re seduced into something that does not mean you are inspired by it. Being dazzled and being inspired are two different realities.

... and I call those two realities Jon and Hamm.

… and I call those two realities Jon and Hamm.

Dazzling implies being blinded – which means you are temporarily frozen. And what you are seeing is not entirely real. How can you be inspired by a reality that never existed?

Well, I suppose it’s possible, you say. This is what all the great works of fiction are about. I don’t think so. The truly great works do BOTH. They are not solely tales of smoke and mirrors. They are reflections of existence made of whole cloth. They have a weight. A ballast. They are not light and airy – though on some level, take the great romantic comedies of yesteryear – they can appear to be.

Marilyn Monroe – the movie star – wasn’t inspiring. But she sure was dazzling. Marilyn Monroe – the person – from everything I’ve read from before and after her death – truly was inspirational. And sad. Sometimes it is the trajectory of the journey – how and why she managed it – and where she made it to despite the greatest of odds against her. There is inspiration in that.

the world's candle in the wind

the world’s candle in the wind

Inspiration is not necessarily better than dazzling, by the way. Just different. Both are wonderful in their ways. What am I inspired by at the moment? I suppose Hillary Clinton. No, this is not a political ad. But really – how does she keep going at 68? How the heck does she persevere? Isn’t she, well, tired? Of the bullsh-t? I mean, if I am and you are, imagine how she feels.

I imagine Trump is not tired at all. Which is why, in my mind – dare I say it – he’s dazzling. He LOVES the show. You can see it when he speaks before large crowds. Not unlike the way Bruce Springsteen loves to play for three hour plus at a pop onstage (Note: I once saw The Grateful Dead jam for four plus hours at the Nassau Coliseum – at least I think I did – but that’s a different story).

The memories come streaming back...

The memories come streaming back…

But re Trump – a friend sent me an article about how when Hitler used to speak publicly before huge amounts of followers he’d actually have an orgasm. It feels more like that with some dazzlers, doesn’t it? Though we will never quite know for sure – or want to in this case.

Movies from the 70s inspire me. The Godfather, Network, Annie Hall and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. YES, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Watch it again as I recently did and marvel at how it was so far ahead of its time – and how timeless it remains. (Note: I get the reason for the upcoming remake but when this happens always ask yourself this ultimate question – Did they not get it right the first time?).

Oh Laverne #ihopeitsgood

Oh Laverne #ihopeitsgood

Bette Midler live always manages a moment of inspiration. Anything Gaga is bound to occasionally – even among the misses, which is inevitably why someone can be inspiring to begin with, they dare to miss. The dialogue of Billy Wilder. Omg.   Certainly the prose Jonathan Franzen. Spending years on his lyrical novels of brilliant word combinations and storytelling (Note: Did you know he had his computer specifically dismantled from internet access so he could write in a room without?) when less and less people read. I’m sure it bothers him but I doubt that’s why he writes. Likely, he does it for all the same reasons everyone does, I imagine. He has something to say and he has to get it out. It’s not a choice, really. It’s that or somehow implode.

Which I guess is the key to being an inspiration. You do what you do for yourself. Without result. And let others make the call on how they feel about it. Which, as Stephen Sondheim once so eloquently wrote, they inevitably will.

Oh – I forgot about Michael Phelps. Did you watch him swim and win his 22d (and last individual) gold medal and become what is undeniably the great Olympian of all time? You have to.