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

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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.

Define Hero

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There are many heroes in the world but there is a certain kind of hero that feels indigenous to the U.S. because of the opportunities that exist here if you have good timing, the right kind of talent and a little luck.

Many have said of late that the United States is on the decline – the inevitable downslide of any #1 World Superpower. Like the Roman Empire and countless others before us, there will be a point at which the influence of the U.S. will not be the primary one in the world. I’m not perceptive and certainly not expert enough to know if we are at or approaching that moment. What I am sure of, though, is that despite this country’s many challenges it still possesses a majority market share of the world’s attention and enough economic rags to riches possibilities that, if managed correctly, can create a certain type of successful individual with just the right blend of superpowers that we deem hero-ic.

No.. No... not you

No.. No… not you

Certainly, the latter applies to the rescue workers of 9/11, the everyday individuals who hold families together, the people who spend their entire lives teaching in a small elementary or high school for what in the corporate arena would be considered a pittance, or the many military men and women who have sacrificed their lives protecting the Homeland.

Those are all a given.

But let’s discuss a different kind of “hero” – the kind of people we often claim as our own American Heroes – meaning they are nothing more and nothing less that a real American success story.

Okay, perhaps HERO is not the right word to use before, after or during the July 4th holiday. One can hear the complaints now – There’s nothing heroic about making lots of money, even if it’s from your talents!! Or — clearly you don’t know any of our men and women in uniform, and we KNOW you haven’t spent any time in a Veteran’s hospital, homeless shelter or cancer ward, because then you’d know our TRUE AMERICAN HEROES.

Oh, please

Oh, please

No one is taking anything away from them. But let’s be honest about what we value day to day and who we lavish our attention on – i.e. the people that we look up to.

Hero: a man (or woman) of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.

The people we most admire in 2015 culture are those with abilities and qualities. Courage is good and nobility is to be lauded, at least on paper. But ability and quality – give us more of those.

Oprah Winfrey

Kim Kardashian

Beyonce

Steve Jobs

Barack Obama

Rod Serling

Jerry Seinfeld

Warren Buffet

Jon Stewart

Hillary Clinton

Now we’re talkin’. And no, I’m not putting Donald Trump on the list. And yes, I have put Kim on. It’s 2015, yo.

Don't worry, we haven't forgotten you too, Miss Tay Tay

Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten you too, Miss Tay Tay

When we’re honest across-the-board and through the current generations about those in the culture we consider our American heroes – that’s a cross-section of who really comes to mind. (Note: Of course this is subjective – it’s MY list of what you’re thinking – but try to make a convincing case that on some level I’m NOT right. You can’t).

Show biz, politics, pop culture. And you can’t really be born wealthy to make the list. We like people who came from nothing and made something out of themselves. As if something were at all definable. And sorry those to the manner born. You can be lauded and rich and successful but you’ll never really be who we Americans consider to be a hero. Hence NO TRUMP. As for Franklin D. Roosevelt – he’s long gone (NOTE: Clearly!) and was our absolute exception in that category.

We don’t need to go over the above names one by one. Look them up on Wikipedia, consider the last generation or two, read and/or watch the media and think about the people this country has been known for as of late. There is no REAL Indiana Jones. He was a fictional American hero. Truly.

I want to add another name to the list you may or not know – Nina Simone. Some of you might be saying – huh? Or whom? Well, watch the current and riveting documentary now steaming on Netflix entitled, What Happened, Miss Simone? And then get back to me.

Stream me now

Stream me now

Quick background: Nina Simone was a brilliant American singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist. She had several hit songs in the fifties and sixties, recorded more than 40 albums before dying 12 years ago in France and is generally considered by many in the music biz one of the greatest singer/musicians who ever lived.

Check out her famous recordings of I Put A Spell On You, I Loves You, Porgy, Little Girl Blue, Mississippi, Goddamn and Young, Gifted and Black and you’ll see why.

But what the documentary allows one to learn, or re-learn with a greater impact, is that Miss Simone was born Eunice Waymon in a poor North Carolina rural town in 1928, was a musical prodigy who played piano at 3, and studied relentlessly to be the first Black female classical pianist in the world.

Meaning, she had the talent but was born into the wrong time. So after a prestigious music school rejected her due not to her lack of talent but because of the color of her skin, in the 1950s she began playing piano at small clubs to support her family where she was told in order to make money she had to sing. Which she did – and in a way unlike anyone had ever heard before.

Many young people today are unfamiliar with her work in large part due to her role as a Black activist at the time. She marched with, performed for and befriended the gamut of civil rights warriors – everyone from Malcom X to Martin Luther King to Stokely Carmichael. Disgusted with racism and white America, she eventually chose to leave her country of origin and settle in Africa (Liberia to be exact) and then on to Holland, Amsterdam and eventually Southern France.

The talent was heroic, the activism was more than heroic and the trips and resettlements abroad were necessary – though it makes her no less an American hero for speaking up, singing out and being counted.

She has the requisite personal problems in a show business/pop culture bio – domestic abuse, financial ruin and mental illness. But what this film also clearly shows is a snapshot of someone who could have easily been one of the names on that above list had she been lucky enough to have been born 20 or 30 more years later.

Preach

Preach

Or not. The truth is – we will never know. Perhaps it was really the times that made her what she was (Note: Or any of us) and without that turbulence the right sparks might not have ignited. If so, that makes her journey even more heroic in my mind.

I am currently writing a movie about a man you have probably never heard of – another American hero but, by my earlier definition, someone who would not be on the above list. That is because he wasn’t famous, but instead chose to take on corruption in small town America as the editor of several local newspapers and wound up paying a huge financial and personal price for it. He is one of many American heroes but he’s the unsung kind – the opposite of who we’re really talking about in our heart of hearts when we publicly hold up the ideal of the most outstanding among us.

That is not my prejudice or judgment and it is not good or bad or anything in between. It just is. That’s who we are.   And well, why tamper with perfection, right?

Especially in, on or around our Independence Day weekend.

The Art of Seduction

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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.

Reality Check

How do you be real but not boring?  How do you write what would (or could) happen but not make it a mind-numbing, contrived story? And finally, is it okay to lie when you think you’re fighting for a larger issue of something that is true?

These are all questions that surfaced this week when watching the return of  NBC’s “The Voice,” the premiere of  the new TV series “Smash” and the public relations nightmare of the Susan B. Komen Foundation, a charity that, among other things, has raised multi-millions of dollars for breast cancer research and awards still more millions of dollars in grant money to organizations that support women’s health.

Do these seem unrelated?  Not really.  One is actual life (Komen), one is total fiction (“Smash”) and the third is a hybrid of both – a television “reality” show (“The Voice”).  The question is – which is the most real to you and in turn is the reality that, on any given day, you are going to choose to live in.  (Obvious Note: the most real is not necessarily where you are choosing to live).

Relax. I haven’t found you out – we all live in some non-reality.  And it’s not really a weighty question.  But these days it is a relevant one.  Because you need to be aware of the rules of the reality you’re living in to navigate it properly, even if the world you’re choosing isn’t real at all.

Let’s start with what is the most real– the Komen Foundation – which in a way is being anything but real this week.  It’s particularly on my mind because my Mom died of breast cancer in 1999 and one of the first positive healing steps I took for myself in her memory was to do the Komen 10K “Run for the Cure” to raise money to fight breast cancer and pressure, guilt or cajole friends and acquaintances to donate money in my mother’s name.  If I couldn’t bring her back, I figured at least I could help in the fight to prevent any other women from enduring the 7 years of cancer treatments my Mom had to deal with prior to her death.  It was a good step.  On several counts.  The run helped me more than I imagined and I also imagine that the money, or my participation, helped someone else in some very small way I will probably never know.

Needless to say I and many other runners, judging from the public outcry, were more than disappointed – okay, royally pissed off – when we found out this week that Komen some time ago hired this woman named Karen Handel to be its senior VP.  Turns out Ms.  Handel is a virulent right wing Christian who ran for governor of Georgia a few years ago on a campaign spearheaded by a crusade to shut down and de-finance Planned Parenthood, and was accused of secretly continuing to do so in 2012 with Komen grants to PP due to the belief that PP was advocating abortion rather than just providing women education and legal health alternatives.  Meanwhile, Komen founder Nancy Brinker went on television and publicly denied Ms. Handel had anything to do with Komen’s decision to deny millions of future dollars to PP.  But her story was quickly contradicted by Ms. Handel a day later when she admitted she was instructed by the group (Komen) to find ways to back away from PP.  Still others in Komen came forward to state that the plan it came up with to change its bylaws was indeed an attempt to distance itself from an organization that had took a public stance against anything like pro-life views.

Fraying at the edges...

If this sounds like the plot of a bad episode of a Lifetime TV series (or miniseries) – it is.  You can just see – Dana Delaney as the right wing Handel, Debra Winger as Komen founder Nancy Brinker, and perhaps Viola Davis (before she broke through in “The Help”) playing the poor woman who has breast cancer but whose treatments are defunded, who is also mother of a teenage girl (Willow Smith’s first starring role) that Planned Parenthood was last week able to help but this week, well – not anymore!

However, this isn’t a TV movie – this is real life.  And even though in real life these things don’t end happily, like in a TV movie, in this case it sort of did.  Social media quickly exposed the scam and within days Komen not only reversed its policy but Ms. Handel resigned (or was given her walking papers) in a big cloud of black smoke, fueled by tens of thousands of very, very outraged liberals and even non-liberals who had raised money for the foundation all these years.  (Note: Word is that the foundation is covering up more grant giving prejudice and its integrity might be permanently lost in the future).

The point is (and yes, I have one –- )  a choice was made in real life by the Komen Foundation to not be real – to sort of fake it and/or cover up truth for political or personal beliefs – and not come clean.  Things being what they are these days, enough people didn’t believe their story and uncovered the sort of truth.  See, in real life, the powers-that-be always had primary control of the narrative, like writers and documentarians do.   But that balance seems to be shifting thanks to the immediacy of You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and —- ? Beware the 2 or 3 readers of this blog who find and will find themselves among the power ranks.  The dreaded, consciously evil Internet might actually force manipulators of the real truth to be more real in the future.  Or conversely, they might find more intricate ways to bend the truth so craftily than not even You TubeTumblrTwitterfaceBook can stop them.  Only time, and perhaps a future Lifetime TV movie, will tell who comes down on the winning side.

——–

Of course, real is certainly not the primary agenda of most television series (Lifetime or otherwise).  It is more just the mere evocation of something that can pass for some better, more entertaining version of real.  That certainly seems to be the agenda of the new NBC show, “Smash.” But curiously it’s lead-in on NBC, a singing competition called “The Voice,” which features budding singers in the familiar reality of a reality show, feels infinitely more real AND true and (for my money) is actually much more entertaining than anything being pushed by the expert entertainers behind “Smash” (which include Steven Spielberg).

It's what they want you to think...

You don’t ever know what artists are going for when they create a TV show, aside from ratings, but if we are to believe the promos and interviews, the creators of “Smash” really believe they are taking their audience inside the making of a Broadway musical.  There is no reason to doubt it since many of its creators, writers and performers have actually worked on Broadway musicals.

Having known a few people over the years from the NY the-a-tre who have actually been on Broadway, it’s hard to imagine any of them saying lines like: “I don’t know why I expect people to be civil in this terrible business,” or to sum up Marilyn Monroe with thoughts like “Marilyn wasn’t about sex, she was all about love.”   But it especially feels unreal to think they would get someone to finance and jump on the bandwagon to make a Broadway musical about an iconic person who was the subject of a previously grand flop of a Broadway musical some decades before (“Marilyn: An American Fable”).  Nor is it easy to accept they’d be tempted to do so because they have the singular temptation to perform and write a single musical number about, of all things, baseball (!) in a show about the sexiest movie star who ever lived. (Note: Yankee Clipper baseball hero Joe DiMaggio was at one time married to said movie star).

Bedazzled Yankees' jerseys are flying off the shelf!

All of this happens in “Smash” – and more.  Or perhaps, less.  Certainly, less reality.  Okay, you can’t judge a show by solely a pilot.  And, I mean, does it have to be real?  Well, not if it’s objective is to entertain.  But can it be entertaining if it evokes little reality to a situation?  Not unless it’s really really bad like “Showgirls” or even moderately mediocre like last year’s “Burlesque.”  “Smash” is neither of those.  It evokes none of the nuance, rough edges or full reality of 2012 New York but its clichés and circus-like atmosphere aren’t quite campy enough either.  It exists more in a nether land  of, well – oddness.  As it unfolds it can either be that a) in this case full reality is not preferred or that, b) clichéd reality is much more entertaining because c) we know it, d) we want to escape, and e) hell, it does have a few toe-tapping fun songs to disrupt us from the slow economic recovery and international crises that have become our true reality.

Except – except – if we want to truly escape reality – why has reality TV become a genre all its own and why is the most popular series program on the major networks this week a reality TV show that serves as the lead in — (that means it airs right before it in industry speak) to “Smash.”  I’m talking about a sublime show called “The Voice” that yes, on paper should be contrived and cliché as “Smash” can be and as manipulative and perhaps dishonest as the Komen Foundation has been on the national stage.  On the reality honesty meter, “The Voice” should come in third place to Komen and “Smash” but the truth, according to my Chairmeter, is that it leaves them both in the dust.  Far, far in the dust.  In fact, in our ratings (and the Nielsen’s) it is #1.

That’s because “The Voice” knows what it is – and doesn’t try it hide it.  It’s a reality show fantasy with feel good endings.  But like all good entertainment it traffics in the real by using actual real life people who tell their own stories, often a bit more unvarnished than we are used to from talent competition shows like “American Idol” or fictional shows that present the making of a Broadway musical.  (Certainly more real than some real life charity organizations).  “The Voice” features singers who are 40, even 50, men and women who are not always attractive, young and older people who are openly gay and bring their  spouses  partners, performers who perform in pairs, vocalists who sing everything from opera to down and dirty soul, and famous pop/rock/country star judges who actually must face some (but not all) of the same rejection as the contestants.  Is that why it’s a ratings bonanza?  Partly.  But also because it uses real, often times very experienced actual singers who are real life tested and entertaining.  The fact they haven’t yet become stars feels like the only odd and made up thing here since one can imagine hearing the voice of any of the contestants on their iPod right now –  the 50 year old Black Diva; the preppy male opera singer with the Josh Groban range; the sweet voiced but 37 year old undiscovered country singer.

I can't argue with anything that features chairs so prominently

“The Voice” evens the odds at a time when getting a break seems impossible in today’s economy while “Smash” feels like a piece of fantasy that puts the 99.9% of us who are in the majority out of the running – not exactly an appealing scenario right now.

Unlike Komen ,“The Voice” takes us from the reality to a real life that is possible.  And unlike “Smash” it knows how far to stray before we find its stories ridiculous.  And unlike all of our all too real lives, it can be counted on to always give us a believable happy ending, despite whatever adverse circumstances its hero comes up against.

If only real life could indeed be counted on to be just like that.  Then we could all keep running forever – both alive and happy.

Santa’s Vixen

 

Twas the night before Christmas and on the West Coast...

It’s that time of the year in the world of show biz
When it’s spooky and silent, even if you have kidz
Cause the town closes up and all calls go unanswered
Leaving new screeners and old TV shows to be cancelled.
 
Yes, just when you thought there was hope you’d break through
The red carpet rolls up and there’s nothing to do
Except to go home and spend time with your loved ones
Or open a bag of Top Ramen with no one.
 
You had hoped to buy presents but didn’t earn the money
Or you do have the cash, but you don’t have a honey
Or you’re doing quite well and you’re happy as pie
Except you can’t help but think that this dream soon will die
 
Cause HBO just nixed “Hung” and “Bored to Death,” too
They grew tired of cable sex and a stoned sleuth half-Jew?
But for Mike White’s new “Enlightened,” a big fat renewal?
Well, it’s a little new age-y and not very cruel
 
Perhaps that’s the secret, since Kim K’s divorce
Be a little more real, and a little less coarse
Wait, that doesn’t make sense, cause K’s still get big ratings
And Revenge is a hit, while Glee’s quickly abating.
 
American Horror’s taken Ryan’s attention (and I can’t say I blame him)
It’s got sex, blood, guts AND, no divine intervention
I’ll bet he goes home and eats more than Top Ramen
And Jessica’s Golden Globe nom surely must calm him. 
 

Not a creature was stirring

 
Hmm, let’s make a new plan, we can switch to the movies.
A lot more respect and a lot, lot less hooting
But did you see “Twilight,” or sit through “Transformers II?”
How about “The Green Lantern,”  or that “Scooby Doo 2?”
 
Well “Drive” was a hoot and this year Woody’s done well
At least it shows you can also be old and still very much sell
Or if you’re young there’s the Black List for scripter’s unknown
Even when they’re not made, you get deals and great phone
 
Go Gosling, Go Bullock; Coop, Pitt and Jolie, I can see you!
Go Cruise, Clooney and even Ms. Streep now feels brand new
Still it’s tough not to think of how much can go wrong, 
Or pretend the list of disasters aren’t incredibly long
 

Ry in his cap

It’s so tiring thinking of ways uber-defeatist
Or just running in place while Sorkin’s sold his next fetus,
I did once read that selling your body could actually work
But three hour gym days drive everyone berserk.
 
Wait, what’s that I see – off there in the distance,
It’s a Hollywood God – no, it’s Ben Affleck.  Or Matt Damon?
I can’t see their faces;  cause it’s her, you damn fool.
She’s Marilyn Monroe and she’s sitting right by a pool!
 

Santa Baby

 
 
No, it’s not Michelle Williams, though she’d actually do
Could you imagine that “Dawson’s Creek” girl’d one day make you drool?
Ill bet that Michelle never thought that would happen
How could she when even Van Der Beek didn’t pay attention?
 
Look Marilyn’s nodding, I think it’s what we just stated
Or is she blowing me a kiss, and my sadness has just abated
No she meant what she said and she said what she meant
She was looking at us, not that clone of Clark Kent
 
The smartest of people is what I think are cool
And the ones that I met in that hip acting school
Or the grips on the crew who are nice and just real
Not the ones who just used me while copping a feel
 
Wait, are you a mirage that everyone sees
Hey Mar, I’m DeNiro, “you talkin’ to me?”
You know that I am, and now try to break free
And don’t fret like the rest of the fish in this sea.
 
A real life is precious as precious can be
Like Taylor’s Krup Diamond which, by the way, just sold to me
The mistake that you make is you try to fit in
When the ways you are different is what gives you the win
Your smile and your brain and your sweet disposition
And the art that you bring to each difficult mission.
 
I made my mistakes but at least they were mine
Now go and make yours cause to me, you’re divine
Woah, I think she’s just vanished, along with the pool
And it had to be her cause I’m feeling so cool
 
And as I look up in the sky on this bright L.A. night
Where once there were not any stars in my sight
There is Marilyn saying with everything that she feels
Believe in your talent,  you are the REAL DEAL.