The supposed finale episode of the Jan. 6th hearings happened this week and they happened to coincide with the death of theatre-film-TV icon Angela Lansbury.
Timing aside, you may be asking:
Chair, how do these two events have anything in common?
Because as far as we can tell, death is final and a TV series, even a real-life, limited one, never truly ends.
Well, let me explain.
It is true that no TV show, be it a limited series, news program or super indie non-network offering that was once viewed somewhere via some barely gettable online platform, is EVER safe from resurrection, rebooting or, well, theft.
And that not even Elon Musk, the richest human on the planet, (Note: Okay, the italicized may be questionable), who was last heard to be confabbing with Russian President and fellow Bond villain Vladimir Putin, has figured out a way to truly cheat death.
Despite all evidences to the contrary.
Yet each – the TV show finale and the Death – reminded me of what we now refer to as 21st century tribalism, AKA a term that most appropriately describes the world as we now experience it, at its best AND its worst.
Definition, please —-
Tribalism is the state of being organized by, or advocating for, tribes or tribal lifestyles. Human evolution has primarily occurred in small hunter-gatherer groups, as opposed to larger and more recently settled civilizations. So in a political context, tribalism can mean discriminatory behavior or attitudes towards out-groups, based on in-group loyalty.
Let’s start with Angela Lansbury, since speaking of her is much more pleasant.
There are few in any group who have not been positively touched by her talents. One of the most accomplished performers in the entertainment business over a seven-decade career, Dame Angela momentarily made many tens of millions of people better with such iconic performances as Jessica Fletcher on the long-running TV series Murder, She Wrote; Broadway’s original Mame, in the Tony-award winning self-titled lead role; and in three indelible, Oscar-nominated roles, most notably as the forever evilest mother of them all in the 1962 classic suspense drama, The Manchurian Candidate.
But the part that probably brought her the most and broadest attention, especially from young people, was her voicing (and singing) of Mrs. Potts in Disney’s perennial animated classic, Beauty and the Beast.
It is not an exaggeration to write, as I have before, that seeing Ms. Lansbury make her entrance down a spiral staircase as Mame on the set of her rambling Beekman Place penthouse to a roomful of Manhattan sophisticates back in the mid-sixties, is what made me first want to be in show business as a little boy.
Up until then I felt that I didn’t fit in anywhere and all the sassy retorts and sparkly glamour I was suppressing on the inside (Note: barely) were destined to eat me alive unless they and me finally got out.
But once I saw her version of Auntie Mame emerge in her glittery gold pantsuit and take her nephew (who was about my age at the time) by the hand and introduce him to her world of….brilliance… I knew I had found my tribe.
I didn’t know how I could get to them or when I would but I knew it was where I belonged. In a place where I could talk uncensored about the theatre, politics, or pretty much anything else happening in society while simultaneously being stylishly dressed and slightly (ahem) snide.
If it wasn’t always the loftiest of goals it at least gave me a framework I could modify to my personal style. And, as the years moved on I would become, well hopefully, a bit wiser and more truly sophisticated myself.
I would learn that what I at the time mistook for being city-sophisticated meant merely being smart, educated and open to all opinions on the issues of the day without losing your sense of humor.
As for being snide and stylish — okay, that hasn’t changed, much. Or at all. Some things are just baked into your cake.
So yeah, Dame Angela gave this 10 year old A LOT. So much more than a reality TV performer turned the unlikely POTUS (#45) and most powerful human on the planet, has done for his followers.
Watching the compilation of interviews and clips of January 6, 2021, how is one not grabbed by the mob mentality and violence against law enforcement and sacred government landmarks like the Capitol Building, not to mention the salivating mouths of armed followers threatening personal harm against elected representatives from all FIFTY states they were forcing to hide inside their coat closets and elsewhere for protection?
Generations of Americans took their kids on tours of the Capitol. What do you say about a tribe of people smearing feces on the walls of those same offices?
How do you respond to this tribe’s construction of a medieval gallows and rope from which to hang the sitting Vice President of their own political party because he would not turn his back on every citizen who voted in the 2020 presidential election and not ratify duly counted votes submitted by each of the states?
Moreover, how can anyone respect their tribal leader, who represented everything they were standing for simply by sitting back and letting their violence and mass hysteria continue, and allowing the pleas for help from the broad swath of citizens they threatened, citizens he was elected to also represent, go unanswered, all the while watching it play out on television and by every account salivating at the pandemonium he presumed would allow him to illegally stay in office?
How does anyone of any American tribe root for an illogical, 18th century temper tantrum as the answer to an imagined 21st century dispute fueled by 19th and 20th century resentments?
Hell, if I know.
I want to reason with other tribes, come to some sort of consensus and build our society up as best we can. I don’t seek their approval, merely our coexistence based on the rules and a shared, rational reality.
I wish I could say the same of them based on what I saw in the Jan 6th TV finale – and see elsewhere.
The latter extends to the reaction of Alex Jones, the alt right shock jock and snake oil pitchman who has spent years spreading lies that the deaths of elementary school children at the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary massacre was staged by actors. Mr. Jones was ordered to pay almost $1 billion in damages to their surviving families this week and, as the verdict was being read, was broadcasting his reactions live, laughing and mocking these parents and survivors as he solicited his listeners to buy more of his fake potions so he could continue his legal appeals.
It also extends to far right conspiracy theorist Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), as he faced his opponent for re-election, Wisconsin Lieutenant Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Black man, in a televised debate.
Asked to say something positive about his opponent, Sen. Johnson noted that he appreciates that Barnes had loving parents, a school teacher, father who worked third shift, admitting he had good upbringing. Before pausing and quickly adding: I guess what puzzles me about that is with that upbringing, why has he turned against America?
Of course, the week prior Sen. Johnson, who is now ahead in the polls, was on tape telling a group of several thousand supporters on the campaign trail that Democrats don’t particularly like this country moments after lamenting over all the anger and division in the country.l
Talk about adding fuel to the fire.
Well, Full Confession:
I may be a snide, partisan and only sometime stylishly dressed Democrat who has spent most of his life in and around show business, but the one thing you can’t say about me is that I am not a thoughtful listener who doesn’t reason things out logically or someone who doesn’t like engaging with both sides of a debate.
But where does that get you?
What do you do when you are faced with tribes who operate on a set of alternate facts as they riot and lie and put their virtual hands over their ears in order to get their way at all costs?
One thing you can do is go to the head of the snake and subpoena their tribal leader to testify under oath about what is true. Treat him no differently than any other member of any American tribe if and/or when it is proven that he or they have committed crimes, or even lied under oath to those tasked with carrying out the law.
Sure, that’s one alternative. And the path the bi-partisan members of the Jan. 6th committee have chosen to take.
But there is another.
Grab some old Angela Lansbury recordings and remember that in a civilized society there are still peak moments of pleasure to be had.
Even if the majority of them seem rooted in the past.