The Real Millennials

If you want to know what millennials are thinking about become a college professor. And if you really want to know, become a college writing professor.

May is end-of-the-semester time. That means all the original screenplays and TV pilots come in and you spend an intensive two weeks reading them, becoming immersed in worlds of THEIR making – not YOURS.

The majority of these worlds are fantastical, dystopic, and superhero-ish, and suffer from an overuse of social media, technology and the word “I.” Right?

Plus BRUNCH! and AVOCADO TOAST! right??

Wrong.

The majority of these worlds are realistic in origin and deal with themes of sexual abuse, suicide, drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, and domestic violence. At least mine, did. And I suspect in thousands of home and college offices across the country, so did a significant majority of many of the others.

Oh sure, there is the usual market share of family dysfunction and unrequited, coming-of-age love. That is a generational constant – a sort of baseline, if you will. But if you think you KNOW what is on the minds of today’s young people by simply perusing the pages of Wired or Seventeen, or by scrolling the tweets of Arianna Grande, Kylie Jenner, and Justin Bieber, think again. Because they have quite a bit more to say about the world and the majority of it is not pleasant.

Exhibit A: Teen Vogue #getit

This does not bother me as much as it makes me feel sad and oddly encouraged. On the latter point, I, too, was not particularly upbeat on the page at that age. (Note: And sometimes not even at this one). But looking back it’s easy to realize that being able to vent what I was seeing, experiencing and imagining all around me from what I was living is what got me through it. I shudder at the thought of what might have happened had I not had that outlet.

Still, what I didn’t have to battle was the mis-characterization of my generation as superficial, unfeeling and selfish. Self-indulgent, yes. But every younger person is thought to be that at some point by their elders – a too large group of whom have way too much invested in wanting them to suffer the school of hard knocks in much the same way they did.

Sad, funny, and true

The baby boomers (even those of us on its tail end) were never at our worst considered unfeeling or lacking depth. In fact, we were often condemned precisely for feeling too much and thinking too hard. (nee bleeding heart liberal).

In retrospect, that was a pretty easy cross to bear as a young person. An older generation will always lose when they essentially argue against the classic teachings of Jesus, Mother Theresa, and Melanie Safka (Note: Look her up).

More than just rollerskates!

But this new group of people moving into true adulthood have all that AND the battle against a perceived superficiality and laziness that, for the most part, I’m just not seeing. Or, more importantly, reading. Because the latter is where the truth really lies.

No one chooses to write about sexual abuse, mental illness or domestic violence because it’s fun or they think it’s going to sell. You can take that to the bank, even if you can’t do necessarily the same with scripts based on those themes.

And yet, how do you argue with brutally honest depictions of neglectful parents, miserable spouses waging part-time war against their kids and full time battle against each other, or a young woman so undone by the pain of a past sexual trauma and the darkly repressive reality of 2017 that she has no other choice but to return to the people who never understood her in the past and will in no way ever understand her in the future. (Note: One astute friend of mine wisely categorized this to me over the years as revisiting “the scene of the crime” and I can think of no better phrase either in fact or in fiction).

… and yet this is what awaits them. #sigh

I’m not sure of what you see when you turn on the news and watch an electoral POTUS who smack talks dissenters in the crudest of language (“nut job” “disgusting pig”) or laments to a class of military college graduates he’s supposed to be inspiring after three months in the Oval Office that he “can say with great surety – no politician in history has been treated worse or more unfairly” than he has.

(Note: Nelson Mandela? Lincoln? Or dare I say it, by His very own birther hand – Barack Obama?) (Note #2: I will leave out #Hillary in the spirit of #TooSoon).

Way, way, way too soon

I was reading a New Yorker profile of the great filmmaker James Ivory this morning (“Howard’s End,” “A Room With A View”) and in it he spoke of Maurice, the gay-themed romance he directed and co-wrote in 1987. It was based on a novel E.M. Forster wrote in the 1910s that was not published until after his death in 1971 primarily because it dealt with the author’s very own homosexual feelings at a time where it was dangerous and illegal to be that or think so/it.

Mr. Ivory noted that at its core the story was really no different than several of his films – “muddled young people living a lie.” Yet what I remember as a still young(ish) single, gay person after seeing it was literally a gigantic rainbow of romantic hope in a perilously sad, repressive time.

.. and yes, starring Hugh Grant.

This is because it was released at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. This was an age where even a NY Times piece touting the film at that moment took pains to reassure readers that it was about love, not “bathhouse promiscuity” and rightly imagined that skeptics would likely greet its release with comments like “Is so defiant a salute to homosexual passion really to be welcomed during a spiraling AIDS crisis?”

Well yes, they did say stuff like that – and a lot worse – in not only editorial pages but on the floors of the Senate and House of Representatives. And, through gross omission and frequent moral judgments, in our very own Oval Office. And we know, in retrospect, how that went.

I thought I erased those memories!

You write (substitute any creative endeavor) about what you see and experience around you at the time – consciously or unconsciously. There is no other way to do it. From where I sit, and read, there is quite a lot going on that we should be troubled by. Yet what should reassure us is that many in our younger generations are not hiding their feelings but attempting to deal with them by expressing them with some sort of positive actions – by art, or yes, in real life, look around – much like we did.

It might be nice if we paid a bit more attention and listened to what they’re really doing and saying instead of saying and doing exactly what our generation’s elders and naysayers tried with us.

After all, what would (Jesus/Mother Theresa/Melanie Safka) do?

“Beautiful People” Melanie

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Make Lemonade (Not Orange-ade)

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How do you comprehend what on the surface feels incomprehensible? Well, the first thing you do is start with the facts.

Fact: The election of Donald Trump to president elect is NOT a MANDATE. It is shocking, disappointing to many of us, an upset (in more ways than one) and, and, and… But mandate – um, NO.

POPULAR VOTE TALLY – 2016 Presidential Election (as of 11/10, 8:00EST)

Hillary Clinton – 59,923,027

Donald Trump – 59,692,974

I am not a person who lives in denial. Decades of personal psychotherapy and watching Oprah have taught me one important lesson – OWN who you are and live in the truth, and your truth.

And here is THE TRUTH.

More people in the U.S. voted for Hillary Clinton to be president than voted for Donald Trump to be president.

Speechless

Speechless

House speaker Paul Ryan can go on television all he wants and talk about the “mandate.” Trump campaign manager Kelly Anne Conway can snidely gloat on CNN and MSNBC, as I saw her doing last night and this morning. The “crooked media” can continue to feed into the narrative of the upset (Note: And upset, it was – remember, truth) and the mass rejection of Hillary Clinton and her policies (Note: mass rejection, it was not – remember, the truth cuts both ways). But you cannot live in DENIAL. Well, of course you can – this is America, for now – but for argument’s sake (and our collective sakes), let’s not for now.

Our country’s president is determined by an Electoral College vote based on the popular vote but somewhat weighted to give a bit more balance of power to people who live outside major populated and/or geographical areas. Perhaps this needs to change or perhaps not. But the TRUTH is, math is math and numbers don’t lie.

Therefore –

TRUTH #1 – Donald Trump has won the electoral college vote to be president.

TRUTH #2 – Hillary Clinton has won the popular vote to be president.

Do we need to bring in Matt Damon for an assist here?

Do we need to bring in Matt Damon for an assist here?

Truth #2 is no small thing, no matter how the media or your Republican uncle, or frenemy next door neighbor, or contentious spouse or racist, sexist, homophobic social media troll, spins it.

It is no small thing because it means MORE PEOPLE in the U.S. preferred the direction Hillary Clinton wanted to lead the country than did in the road Donald Trump promised to lead us down. Again, REAL numbers DO NOT lie.

I am a liberal Democrat. I’m gay. I’m Jewish. I am a writer and a college professor. I guess what I’m saying is that I am technically the elite that the rural, working class voters have rallied against behind Trump.   Well, they can choose to believe that Pres. Elect Trump, a billionaire who freely admits he doesn’t always pay his bills to the working class people who do work for him, will improve their lives more than Hillary Clinton would have. They can believe many things about him. But what is  patently, factually true is that THEY ARE OUTNUMBERED.  More PEOPLE believe in Hillary Clinton’s policies. When the final tally is in it could be up to 500,000 – 1,000,000 more (for a live count, click here)

Every little bit helps

Every little bit helps

That should be more than heartening for those of us who are now claiming to be every form of devastated because it means the NUMBERS ARE ON OUR SIDE. No, seriously, this is the TRUTH. Retort all you want with but we lost, that’s not how it works, we’re screwed, maybe I can really move to Canada, what if there’s a nuclear war…but, once again, we need to live in truth. And the truth is that, good or bad, you have to accept what is before you can make changes for the better in your life – and the lives of others.

So here’s my conclusion – we losers, we deluded Hillary/Bernie supporters – actually have an advantage. There are more of US than there are of THEM. We just have to figure out a way to harness that and work within the system to elect other national leaders that share our points of view. This is the task of every election cycle and every generation. Consider the electoral map of just millennial voters

 

If only millennials voted (18-25)

If only millennials voted (18-25)

Now what does that tell you about our electoral futures???

So buck up, have a drink or two (or ten) this weekend. Or your vice of choice.   And tell someone off. Like I just did when a telemarketer called and asked:

Telemarketer: How are you today, Chair?

And I answered…

Chair: Awful, Donald Trump is president.

And he then paused for 10 seconds and replied:

Telemarketer: Well, maybe he has some positive thing to offer

And I then said:

Chair: No, he’s a racist, sexist, mentally ill homophobe who shouldn’t be trusted with the nuclear codes.

Upon which there was more silence. Until I hung up.

aftermath

aftermath

Lest you think I’m always this even-handed and perfect in real life.

That being said, we all fall off the wagon from time to time. Hell, two paragraphs ago I pretty much said US vs. THEM when I really do believe in STRONGER TOGETHER. But when you fall as my parents taught me long ago – and Hillary Clinton, a true patriot and brilliant woman, reiterated – you just have to brush yourself off and get back up again.

we will honor you hillary

we will honor you hillary

Consider this a fall.

But not a permanent injury.

And certainly not the end.

Not by a long shot.

 

PC University

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There’s been quite a lot of swill in the air lately about political correctness. Mostly on how our society has devolved to the point where you can’t say anything anymore and how the nation’s college campuses have greatly contributed to this trend with affirmative action-based helicopter parenting under a doctrinaire, left wing manifesto of bland, overly sensitive inoffensiveness.

Bull crap.   Or horseshit if one prefers the non-p.c. version of bull crap.   And this is particularly the case when it has to do with college campuses and, more broadly, the millennial generation.

Interestingly enough, a lot of this criticism has been coming from any number of aging baby boomers that are no doubt pissed off at a slightly more benevolent world (well, in some sectors) that they no longer understand and thus feel excluded from.  Or perhaps now that many have college-age children, or need them in their audience to stay relevant, they simply mourn the days when they (or others) could utter a racial epithet, gay joke or sexist remark without having their reputations twittered to death all over the world. Though they could simply resent the fact that their kids don’t have to endure the hard knocks that they believe made them into the strong, successful adults they are today. It could be just that.

Is this how boomers see millennials?

Is this how boomers see millennials?

I feel like I can say this because I am a baby boomer. I am also a college professor who gets along quite well with my students – even when we vehemently disagree – which we often do in everything from movies to politics to Beyoncé (Note: Don’t hate me, she’s talented but I just don’t get what the big deal is).

Still, I find a great kinship with them because in some small ways – even if only generally – they seem to be living their lives by the sort of mythical moral code that was set forth in the 1960s in Broadway shows like Hair and albums like the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. That would be a world where it was not cool to disrespect people of other races, sexual preferences and religions “just because” you want to make a point and are too lazy or annoyed to do otherwise. For these views, some of my students have granted me honorary millennial status. Though I’m sure in the minds of many of my fellow boomers I am simply the cause of their limited thinking – exhibit A for why our educational system is a disaster and, in turn, our American Empire will continue to decline. How can you lead when you’re so willing to go the extra mile for peace of any kind? And how can you wind up being #1 when you make a conscience choice to use equal amounts of intellectualism, heart and reality to make the most important decisions in life?

How? The same way Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S. twice. And why he would probably win a third time. The. World. Has. Changed. Have a seat or deal with the alternative. The latter is the option almost everyone I know 55 or over is desperately trying to keep at bay these days – irrelevancy, death or, perish the thought, The Republican Apprentice. (Note: Yeah, you know who I mean. Don’t make me say it).

He who should not be named

He who should not be named

Here are two articles that surfaced this week in The Atlantic that brought this on, were forwarded all over the web and much discussed on TV and the media platform of your choice.

The Coddling of the American Mind – In the name of emotional well being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like.

&

That’s Not Funny – Today’s college students can’t seem to take a joke

As refutation to these I would offer up a third piece in Vanity Fair this month entitled,

Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse 

It will reassure anyone who believes recent college grads have a too-politically correct view of the world or that sensitivity TRUMPS boorishness.

The four writers of these pieces – three of whom are boomers, the other of whom is merely 41 years old – were on various news and entertainment outlets promoting their work, including HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

The fifty-something Caitlin Flanagan (That’s Not Funny) essentially covered the National Association for Campus Activities annual convention in Minnesota where 350 colleges came to book numerous acts, including comedians, for appearances at their schools that year. Essentially, she seemed in shock that two white students from a college in Iowa didn’t want to hire one of the convention’s most popular performers – Kevin Yee, a gay comic with a Broadway background who closed with a song about a gay man and his “sassy black friend.” Yes, he got hired by other schools but – Imagine, they thought the kids at their small Midwestern school wouldn’t get what he did??? How PC of them!!!

Look at your life, look at your choices

The writer and Mr. Maher essentially backed up that and numerous other groundbreaking revelations with quotes from comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, both of whom recently noted they won’t play college campuses anymore because the environment is too-PC.

Question: What Jerry Seinfeld joke could possibly step over the line of political correctness?

Answer: Well, it was actually a line where he says people are scrolling through cell phones these days like they’re a gay French king. Right. Okay. Judge for yourself.

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Full confession: I didn’t think it was funny because it was perpetuating a straight guy stereotype and had no context within the rest of the joke. Yet when an edgy comic like Lisa Lampanelli rides the gay guys in her audience by calling them “faggots” and insults the sexual appetites of her GBF (Note: Uh, gay best friend?) I’m on the floor because in that same moment she lets us know where heart really is.

More troubling is the idea in Coddling, which bemoans the fact that certain words and phrases that either are or can be perceived as sexist, racist, or homophobic are listed as microagressions and discouraged in college classrooms. That is unless they are put into context. The authors vehemently write this way of thinking contributes to students being in a constant stage of outrage, even towards well-meaning speakers trying to engage in genuine discussion. They further argue shielding students from this is bad for the workplace and…bad for American democracy, which is already paralyzed by worsening partisanship.

Huh?

Here’s the thing. No one is saying you can’t use most words or phrases in a campus-based discussion – only that in an open learning environment what you say is positioned in a context. What makes colleges special is that they are a safe space where you can discuss tricky issues in a way that is too often NOT done in the real world. Does this mean college is NOT the real world, and sensitive matters demand guidelines upfront, especially for 18-22 year olds? If we’re at all to cover new ground and empower them as they get older to create new and perhaps even more innovative ways to move society forward in any sort of productive manner — Yes.

Gear up

Gear up

Of course, there’s another reason for this – words change. When I was in elementary school African-Americans weren’t even called Black people, they were Negroes. Actually, THE Negroes. That’s also the term Martin Luther King used in his I Had A Dream Speech. Not to mention queer was an insult to gays – who at best were referred to clinically as The homosexual. Yet queer has been adopted by many under 30 in the LGBT movement as their current word of choice. Not by me, of course, because, well, I AM a BOOMER.
My autobiography

My autobiography

Oh – and lest any of us forget – the time period I’m referring to was also a time where crude sexist men could diminish a woman’s thoughts or questions by saying or even implying she was having her period. What’s that – you still can? Oh.

The final refutation to all of this should, of course, rightfully come from the millennials themselves. This is what you will get when you read about the group of Wall Street, marketing and other types of college grads as they wax poetic about scrolling through pages and pages of nubile, sexy or otherwise available young prospects on the dating app Tinder even as they are sitting in a bar with other real live prospective sexual conquests right there before them. One guy in the story bragged he slept with 5 women in 8 days – Tinderellas, he called them – noting with those numbers you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year! Another guy said he scored 30-40 per year via Hinge, another app, by selling himself as a boyfriend kind of guy even though he wasn’t and had no intention of changing. (Note: In fairness, Mr. 100 did chastise him by saying, ‘dude, not cool.’).

Don't go looking for the Goslings

Don’t go looking for the Goslings

This is not so much the end of the world but a mere continuation of the one they inherited. When I was a younger gay man I couldn’t understand the idea that when you picked up someone at a bar you called them a trick – as if you were a prostitute turning over customers. To me, it devalued the sexual act and myself as an individual. Of course, that was my feeling and hardly anyone else’s. I remember being called a nun, part of the skirt and sweater set and by one boyfriend, hopelessly middle class.

Yes, I’ve written about him before and he called me that a lot. I suppose there are worse things. In fact, I know there are. But you can’t say them to someone on any number of college campuses. Thank God. God, that is, as you know Him. Or Her. Or even if you don’t.

Ahead of Your Time

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It’s a sort of a tradition at our house on holiday weekends to at some point excitedly tune the television in to a Twilight Zone marathon.  (Note:  That would be the original black and white series first broadcast from 1959-1964, in case you were wondering, rather than any subsequent remakes or sequels).

What is unusual is not so much that we here are consistently entranced by the inventive storytelling and enduring themes of a classic television show – almost anything artistic that lasts has those qualities and more.  Rather, what stands out is that on any other particular day of the year we would only have to walk several feet over to our shelves of DVDs to watch any one of those episodes on our big screen TV, desktop or laptop computers at any time of the day or night.

These days we all have to be reminded of what’s really good from time to time, don’t we?  Yes, we’re living in a new golden age of television but sifting through it all has become a challenge that most of us simply don’t have the time for.  I don’t know about you, but too often I am willing to settle.  I think – all I want is to be entertained a little, or laugh a little or even be prodded to think a little bit more on a subject I hadn’t considered by what I’m watching.  And have it last in my mind a little bit longer than the time it takes to suck down a single Mentos.

... or really if it involves any home design with these two.

… or really if it involves any home design with these two.

We read and hear constantly about how a continuing explosion of networks and a myriad of new streaming opportunities make this the optimum moment to be what the entertainment biz calls a content creator.  And how privileged this new generation of Millennials (along with everyone else who is older, not dead and still working) are to be among those whose stuff is getting read, seen or generally played with via those or any other venues.  But…well….. here is what the top 1%/chattering class of those bull crappers are really saying:

You young people who are writers, directors, actors and even producers?!  Yeah you! Do you know how LUCKY you are?  There are so many places where all that stuff you make can now be seen.  So don’t complain to us about how difficult it is to get views or how much you’re not getting paid.  This is the LAND of opportunitythe wild west of new media landscapes.  Don’t you all realize how GOSH DARN fortunate YOU ALL ARE to even be a part of this????

original

(Note: I might add that the same goes for middle-aged and older creative people.  It’s just that the top 1%/chattering class chooses not to include the rest of us among the content creators because, with some exceptions, they are not quite as interested in the types of content that we are creating).

So – here is both the really ugly and really reassuring truth about all of this:

It is no easier or difficult to be a writer, director, actor, producer or any other type of artist than it ever was.  The same blank canvas still exists and it still takes the same single-minded leap of faith, ingenuity and ever so slight craziness to believe that anything you have to say will prove interesting to anyone else or even be listened to.  That is both the challenge and, when it really works and lasts, the ultimate reward.

Twilight Zones don’t happen without a gigantic leap on everyone’s part  – the hardest and longest being from its creators. Nor does something light and classic on the other side of the spectrum like…well…I Love Lucy.  A 1950s television show about a Manhattan housewife married to a foreign musician we can’t understand, played by a “B” movie star and her real-life, non-actor foreign musician husband who we also can’t understand?  Are you kidding?  Well, this better be the funniest thing we’ve seen in years.

Still America's sweethearts

Still America’s sweethearts

Ah, yes – and lucky for them and for us it was.  In the same way that the unique idea of dealing with the timeless dramatic themes of conformity, prejudice, sexism and totalitarianism in a futuristic and alternate universe has also kept The Twilight Zone alive all this time.

One could go on and on with examples from the artistic discipline of one’s choice.  I simply chose The Twilight Zone and inserted I Love Lucy in the back-up position because they were most easily at hand and on the tube this holiday weekend.  And we’ve already established how much I – and we – enjoy easy.

It is not the wrong time for those of us in the Business of Show, or in any other business, to remind ourselves that the viability of one’s new idea can’t be measured so much against what’s out there but by what’s in there – meaning in your heart and soul and mind. Oh, pooh pooh that idea all you want – or as Bette Midler said several decades ago on her fine comedy album, Mud Will Be Flung Tonight – “hiss and boo your own selves” – it’s true.  Too many of us are not willing to go there nowadays, myself included.  There’s an emotional risk to failure and that is rejection, embarrassment, shame and depression.  There is also a financial risk and that’s loss of home, status or just plain poverty.  And certainly it’s no more fun that it ever was to be poor these days.  Probably less.

Still, the ugliest and tritest truism about art, and its even higher counterpart, innovation, is that nothing great is ever accomplished by dwelling on the what will happen instead of concentrating on the what could be.  That means taking a risk and going with what really moves you or gnaws at you.  No, this does not mean living in an artistic cocoon without taking in reality or the rest of the world.  That’s the kind of thing the top 1%/chattering class and all the other naysayers in your life and brain say to get you off track.

Not your ideal working environment

Not your ideal working environment

Take The Twilight Zone, for example.  At the time of its conception Rod Serling was a long form dramatic writer for live television who had served in the military and was married and had children.  It was the 1950s and he had a family to support and he didn’t have a chance to live in an artistic garrote and WRITE merely for himself.  So what did he do?  He embraced the most popular art form of the day but wrote about subjects he cared most about in just about the most commercial structure imaginable.  What were those subjects?  Oh, simple ideas fit for mainstream consumption in the escapist times of the fifties and early sixties.  (Note: Insert sarcasm here). Ideas that were ANTI-GOVERNMENT, ANTI-WAR, explored SEXISM TOWARDS WOMEN and addressed that popular old subject we’re still all always so willing and anxious to talk about – DEATH.

As I viewed Twilight Zone this weekend I was once again amazed to rediscover the timeless themes Mr. Serling managed to feature that few of us have the nerve to tackle today.  For example, Time Alone At Last in season one dealt with a bookish bank teller who loved to read classic literature but was perpetually ostracized for being strange and behind the times in then contemporary 1950s America.  Season 2’s The Obsolete Man went a step further and centered on the execution of one of the last thinking intellectuals living in a now totalitarian state where only people who are of direct use to the whims of its corporate-run government entity have the value to live.  Coincidentally, the leads in both episodes were played by veteran character actor Burgess Meredith, who gained greater fame the following decades as the original Penguin in the Batman television series and as the grizzled old trainer of Rocky in the first of all 22 of those films.  Hey, as Peter Fonda once told me his father Henry once told him: You go where the work is.

Meredith in Time Enough At  Last

Meredith in Time Enough At Last

Mr. Serling was also probably one of the first male dramatic writers on television to so prominently focus on feminist themes and address the devaluing of women in American society.  Season 2’s Eye of Beholder, first broadcast in 1960, is one of his most classic.  A woman with a bandaged face has endured her 11th and final (per legal limits) plastic surgery to make her face not necessarily beautiful but simply what is considered for the times to be normal – or at least not as ugly as the horrible features she was genetically cursed with.  But when her surgeon finally unmasks her he and everyone else cries out in horror that there has been no change at all while simultaneously we in the audience see for the first time that the woman is not only blonde and beautiful but everyone else in the room – and in society for that matter – are all hideously and literally pig-faced.  Look around at all of the surgically mangled faces of 2014 humans worldwide – especially those of women, who still face more stringent societal standards of beauty than men – and one can’t help but long for a fictional Twilight Zone limit of a mere eleven surgeries when the subject of voluntary facial augmentation comes up.

Are you sure we're not on Santa Monica Blvd?

Are you sure we’re not on Santa Monica Blvd?

Interestingly enough, as the 1960s continued and the feminist movement began to take root, along with The Twilight Zone, the series chose not to play it safe but to go even deeper.  One Serling-produced episode in Season 5, Number 12 Looks Just Like You, focused on a young, futuristic woman with a pleasant face who is refusing to go along with the government mandated surgical transformation all young women and men of 17 must endure. Forsaking their own genetics, each must decide which of several scores of prototypically beautiful yet perfectly vapid faces, bodies and minds they will choose to transform into.

Being like everybody, isn’t it the same as being nobody?, questions the young woman. To which her perfectly transformed doctor can only reply, Hey, what you need is a nice instant cup of Smile.

A nice instant cup of Smile, if such a thing existed, might be what any number of commercial production companies and their vast audiences would prefer nowadays. But that does not mean that it has be what we content creators make for the selling.  In fact, it is really up to the creator – the first line of defense for the integrity of the artistic endeavor, to fess up and take responsibility for the creation much in the way Mr. Serling did in his storytelling for not only that episode but the entire series.

Preach, Rod.

Preach, Rod.

On that note, this might be a good time to mention that the genesis of The Twilight Zone actually came from the extreme censorship Mr. Serling had to endure at the hands of the networks and sponsors who chose to cut and then severely edit much of the work he had done before it.  The final blow came on a drama he wrote that was broadcast in 1956 called Noon on Doomsday. Inspired by the real-life case of Emmett Till – a young Black man of 14 whose eyes were gouged out as he was brutally beaten and then shot to death for merely speaking to a White woman in Mississippi one year prior – Mr. Serling persevered as first the setting of his story was taken out of the South – and then his young Black male lead was changed to a Jewish pawnbroker – until the final, watered down product focused merely on the actions of a generic foreigner in an unknown town.

But had Mr. Serling thrown up his hands in disgust and walked away right then and there, or just simply thrown up, we would never have The Twilight Zone.  It was only when he decided to beat the marketplace at its own game and partnered with another producer who liked his idea of using a science fiction setting to tackle all of the timely yet difficult subjects he aspired to write about (in other words – owning the idea of that foreigner in that unknown town but making him anything but generic) that any television network or sponsor would come onboard.  Which is not to say they did so without continued rancor or distress at just how timely and topical Mr. Serling would choose to be.

We should all be wary of countering the lesson of The Twilight Zone with comments like – oh, but times have changed, it’s not so easy to do that stuff these days, or even thoughts like, well, for every Serling there are hundreds of those who don’t make it and, quite clearly aren’t geniuses, but could do decent work, what about them?  To say this is to miss the point entirely.  No great or even good idea happens on the first try and most geniuses are merely just hard-working people relentlessly going about their jobs with dogged determination in a self-created world where giving up is not an option.  People like Serling have no idea if and when they will ever be successful – or if their new idea will ever be accepted.  They just keep going.  And that is the recurring theme of creation whether it’s digitized, computerized or merely presented  – for your approval –  in black & white.

 

Changing Landscapes

Screen shot 2014-04-20 at 12.20.05 PM

It’s interesting how things come to your attention.

I know what I’m going to write about here 50% of the time – it becomes clear mid-week.  Something moves me or demands to be spoken about.  I see patterns to experiences that make sense and they get grouped together in my mind – like the items in a grocery cart that when looked at as a whole are uniquely you whether you like it or not. (Note: Yes YOU – do NOT put back that box of Skittles or step away from the Oreos).

Another 25% of the time there’s a breaking news story, entertainment scandal, or offensive thing that begs for attention.  Whitney dies; the Oscars happen; Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has a brain freeze mid-debate during his misguided quest for the presidency; or Transformers 32: Robot Drone Wars makes $732 million in its opening weekend at the box-office when I’m 97 years-old and the world’s final ironic middle finger in my direction demands I hold off on all the meaningful words I had planned to say in my last blog in order to actually write about the universe of crap I’m sadly leaving behind.

A glimpse at Grampy Ginsberg

A glimpse at Grampy Ginsberg

Luckily then, there’s the other 25% of the time.  Who knows what hits you.  It could be anything at all or perhaps even nothing.  The latter is when Holly Van Buren, my dear friend and inveterate notes editor/image chooser, will point out that thing to me that nudges it all in the direction of a certain subject I might speak of.

That’s what happened this week.   But not in the way either of us thought.

A middle-aged man owning his widowhood.  (Note:  Middle-aged?  Was she trying to tell me something?)  Actually, it’s a great article in a blog called Modern Loss and was written by an editor at St. Martin’s Press.  Very heartfelt.   A little sad.  Like most writers this man is working out his feelings through honest words – in this case losing his longtime, uh…partner… friend… …lover(?) of 25 years.  Okay, but does that mean that Michael Flamini can’t call himself a widower, even though both he and his fella, Gary Lussier, each rather hilariously turned down the others’ marriage proposal (even when it finally became legal) during the space of that quarter of a century?  That is the question that is asked, and then answered there.

It does not denigrate Michael’s essay in any way to say that what is most significant about his essay at this point in time for me is not his story in particular – and his story could certainly be mine with a few revisions, we’re within the ballpark of the same age.  Rather, it’ s about the person who casually gave it to me.  And the fact that it was casually given at all.

Holly is in her late 20s and a dear friend (editor’s note: this is generous, she is mere months from 30).  She knows I adore her and she also knows I respect her talents for many things, the least of which are putting together the captions and photos for NFAC and for helping to edit it when I’m not quite making the sense I thought I was.

Why thank you, Chairy.

Why thank you, Chairy.

Holly was also my student briefly in the previous decade, and then worked with me at school and co-taught several writing classes with me where – together – we worked with any number of students even younger than she is. I’ve also remained in touch with many of these students long after graduation and more than one or two have also become personal friends while the rest remain in my life in various other ways.

What makes that all meaningful to anyone but me is that any one of these young people – all in their twenties – would be just as likely to forward this article referencing a gay man’s widowhood to me.  Not to mention the likelihood that others of their peers I haven’t heard from in a while but might be just as likely to drop by – might also decide to send it.

There would be no hesitation at all about subject matter.  No judgment on lifestyle.  No consideration of crossing a line of any kind.  No thought at all, in fact, that this couple were really any different than their parents or peers or any other two people who had decided for whatever good, bad or indifferent reasons, to love each other and cohabitate for more than a night or two or three or more.

How the millenials see it

How the millennials see it

We in the gay community, or any minority of your choosing, tend to believe that true change comes in the form of the right to be married or to receive equal pay to others who do the same job we do.  We might also think it arrives in the form of membership to a former exclusive neighborhood or country club or perhaps being the first of our kind to achieve something else in some other arena.

All of the above is certainly true.  These are much needed evolutions of laws and opportunities in society – not to be negated by any means.

But if you want to know what real change and acceptance looks like – it is the change I see around me everyday in the faces of Holly and those younger than Holly and the casualness of her, or them, passing on that article to me.

It is the faces of young kids enjoying their 2 Moms, or their 2 Uncles from West Hollywood or even, and most especially, from Peoria.  It is that moment when you hear that over 60% of evangelical conservatives under the age of 35 are pro-gay marriage and are fighting to rid the Republican Party platform of anti-gay language.  It is the strange look on the faces of older White men who were once virulently anti-queer when they find out one of their children or relatives are gay, lesbian or transgender and, rather than shun them, do a total about face publicly of beliefs they had always assumed were intractable.

homosexual-lesbian-edgy-cool-gay-pride-month-ecards-someecards

It is the mere fact that Holly and most other straight people in their twenties can identify with the pain a gay person twice their age might feel at the loss of their significant other.  It is that disconnect they have when they see this gay couple treated differently than any other couple they know.  And it is the anger and sadness they express when they realize this couple does not have the same rights that other couples, or even other single people, have in more than half the states in this country. They truly don’t understand it.

This is what change looks like.   In small gestures that often go unnoticed, as well as larger statements in public life that draw the spotlight of everyone’s attention.  But is it the former that begets the latter or the other way around?  Hmm, I wonder.

As great as all of this is – and it is great, have no doubt – it should not give activists or any one of us any reason to rest.

???????

I’m fortunate enough to be a double minority (at the very least!) – gay and Jewish.  Granted, I’m a bit of a lapsed Jew considering last week I ate Chinese food on the first night of Passover (no matzo rolls, included) and made pizza on the second night for my partner and me.  Still, I am and forever will be Jewish.  It’s the way I was raised – the feeling I have about justice, education, polyester knit pants suits and yes…food.   More specifically, it is my love of all things chicken – soup or otherwise – in addition to a constant craving for lox, bagels, black and white cookies, and yes, Chinese take out food, especially on Sunday nights. (Note: Okay – maybe the latter is for the very specific subset of NY Jew).  Not to mention my lifelong affection for Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler, despite whatever missteps they might make (Note #2:  Fine, the latter also has something to do with my other minority – though perhaps it may not).

All this said, imagine my surprise this past week when I also happened to read the story about the town in east Ukraine where newly installed pro-Russian forces were ordering Jews on the street via official government pamphlet that they are ALL required to pay a $50 fee to register as Jews at an official government building and to submit a detailed list of all the property they own. And that failure to do so would cause immediate deportation and a surrendering of all of their possessions.

(Note:  Several people in the local Ukrainian government did question the authenticity of the story for several days but it was then later confirmed by many other international news sources).

Does any of this sound familiar?  Well, it should – for many reasons.

We know that the last place this happened to Jewish residents of a country so publicly was in Nazi Germany – or, more rightly, in the plethora of movies and TV shows depicting Nazi Germany that have been seen by those of us who didn’t live through that particular hell in the many decades since.  Yes, there are numerous individual anti-Semitic outbursts worldwide, even in this country (Note:  Like last week’s incompetent former KKK member who went on a Heil Hitler shooting spree near a local Jewish facility in Kansas and managed to kill only three non-Jews).  But nothing so insidiously Nazi has so publicly happened in the context of an in-progress, power-shifting government takeover (Ukraine) by one of the three leading military powers in the world (Russia).

One’s initial thought, particularly as a member of said minority, is merely another version of what was said by the Ukrainian naysayers.  And that is 

– Pshhh, this kind of thing doesn’t happen in the civilized world anymore.  It’s been so condemned worldwide that no one would dare do it again or be dumb enough to think they might even be able to do get away with doing it again.  Certainly not by a superpower like Russia that just so publicly (and victoriously?) hosted the Winter Olympics on the worldwide stage, right? 

– Though wait…didn’t…um…Hitler’s Germany also host the Summer Olympics to much fanfare on the worldwide stage in…uh…19….36???

– Wait, if they did it then – who is to say that in just a few years there won’t also be….uh…..what????  Nah….  Wait, what?????

Are we carrying the torch?

Are we carrying the torch?

This is what it’s like to be part of a historically persecuted minority.  There is always some tiny part of you, if you’re alert or even half-conscious, that is looking over your shoulder to make sure all is okay.  You want to let down your guard, and sometimes, perhaps not often enough, you do.  Yet there are always events like the happenings in that little eastern town to bring you back to reality again and cause you to question just how much change is really possible.  I myself will admit to thinking the Ukrainian news story was actually a piece written for The Onion when I first saw it – that’s how willing I’ve been to chill out and be California mellow these days.

Often times people tell me I shouldn’t answer back a right wing crazy at a dinner party, or even more publicly.  Or post the latest incendiary homophobic statement made by a fringe member of Congress like Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) on Facebook.  That it calls more attention to a crazy position that might otherwise go ignored.  But this is exactly why I do it.  To nip this sort of thing in the bud.  To stop it before it can fester any further.

This is why I’m so touched by Holly, her peers and those coming up right behind her. They make me confident through even their most casual behavior and/or actions that the world has changed for the better, at least temporarily, and that it won’t be as easy for the baddies to get a footing because the belief system is just…well, different on the part of many people than it has been.  Though not nearly enough or in nearly enough places.  Like anything else, we’re all a work in progress.

Like all things in this country, it takes time

Like all things in this country, it takes time

As Chris Matthews once said in a popular MSNBC commercial (yes, I’m gonna go there)  —

American history is about…a battle between those who want to extend freedom, opportunity and rights and those who want to restrict them. In the end, those who fight to enlarge our liberty tend to win.

Let’s hope that he’s correct and that this also applies to world history. And that the next generation keeps leading us in a progressive, rather than regressive, way.

On the whole, from the chair I’m fortunate enough to sit in at the moment, it looks pretty good.  But I’m still gonna watch my back.

MILLENNIALS: A Love Story

Narcissist couple taking self portrait.

My students, usually aged 20-23, are, as a group – smart, motivated and kind of terrific.  So I’m sick of the media, as well as others, picking on them. The selfish millennials.  The Me, Me, Me Generation.  The narcissists who live off their parents as long as they can, don’t want to do hard work, strive for fame rather than creative or intellectual achievement, and are far more concerned with how many friends or followers they have on social media than the people who like or even love them in real life.

As Bill Clinton said about Barack Obama during Mr. Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton: “GIVE. ME. A BREAK.  This whole thing is the greatest fairy tale I’ve ever seen…”

Though I don’t have Bubba creds, as a screenwriter, journalist, teacher and human being I can tell you that cleverly made up stories, like both clichés and really good lies, ALWAYS have a grain or two of truth.  As does all great fiction.  So it’s not wholly untrue that the insults cast about against young people today have zero reality to them.  But it also doesn’t mean that, on the whole, they are correct.

We all know it's true

We all know it’s true

Or to put it another way: just because the new mocha and carrot cake cupcakes from that great bakery in your neighborhood taste lousy doesn’t take away from the fact that their classic vanilla and chocolate ones, which far outnumber the former anyway, aren’t still fantastic and wouldn’t win you first place on Cupcake Wars.  Given the choice, most people go in for basic flavors (which, for my money, are always better), yet they are never featured upfront as the specials of the day.

A non-Jon Hamm drool worthy pic

A non-Jon Hamm drool worthy pic

And no, I don’t think I’m pushing the metaphor.

I just finished reading 26 screenplays in 12 days, notes and all, from these young people and I can tell you what’s on their minds -–forbidden love, dysfunctional parents and families, escape from their troubled or mundane worlds to a mythical or alternate one in the past or future, society’s vacant value system and lack of responsibility to future generations, and the general existential tragedy of life as seen through a broadly comedic or intensely overdramatic lens or mindset.

Yes – all the things that bothered the Generation Xers, the Baby Boomers and I suspect each new coming-of-age group back through the decades and centuries of time remain intact.  Sure, the packaging might be different because we’ve gone from carrier pigeon, to Pony Express, to snail mail, to email, to texting, and to Twitter.   But the actual themes, passages and journeys in existence remain constant.

I know how difficult it is to write even a bad script since I have done it many more times than I care to remember.  So I can also tell you that while some (or even many) of these young people write their screenplays in between periods of YouTube gazing, web surfing or gchatting, their sentiments are equally sincere, if sometimes over or understated – just as all of my peer group’s are were.  Perhaps that’s why they are being over-categorized and subtlety dissed, just like we were – but with an even nastier streak.

Eyeroll

Eyeroll

Time Magazine hurling insults at The Me Me Me Generation in its recent cover story harkens back to 1967 when the magazine, during in its heyday, voted its annual Man of the Year award to the 25 and Under.  The difference is, 45+ years ago Time went out of its way to profile and categorize all types of people in this new generation in various POVs and color shades of the rainbow.  Last week, however, the only famous millennial it quoted in its entire cover story was Kim Kardashian.

Said Kim:

“They (millennials) like that I share a lot of myself and that I’ve always been honest about the way I live my life.”  (“Ha!” – The Chair)  “They want relationships with businesses and celebrities.  Gen X was kept at arm’s length from businesses and celebrity.”

Well…okay.

When I asked 25 of my students several years ago about Kim and their peer group’s fascination for her they simultaneously laughed in my face and groaned.  It wasn’t at all what Kim did or didn’t do that made her interesting, they agreed, but “how ridiculous she is” and “how much some people make a fuss about her.”  In other words, it was the postmodern version of a Kim Kardashian existence that intrigued them, not the now about-to-be new Mom herself or the vast Kardashian empire ($80 million and climbing) that she, her sisters and her own mother created by not being particularly good at anything but being famous.

We can at least thank them for this brilliant parody

We can at least thank them for this brilliant parody

There have been individuals of every generation well known for well, not very much.  Consider the classic line towards the end of the movie musical Gypsy, based on the memoirs of renowned performer stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, when her press agent tries to get her to lighten up in front of the lens of a photographer, who is about to shoot her naked in a bubble bath for a huge spread in Life Magazine:  “Smile Gyps, show us your talent!”   To which Gypsy throws back her shoulders and shoves out her breasts.*

The difference is, of course, Gypsy Rose Lee was never held up as representative of her entire generation.

This all reminds me of what it was like when I was a reporter for Variety (1977-1983, I was 5 years-old at the time, obviously) and every year they’d put out an anniversary issue where they would ask us to do trend stories.  I hated those stories.  Because they always involved generalizations about a group of people or professionals or ideas that were conveniently being grouped together so we could reduce them to a catchy sociological phenomenon or cultural stereotype.  I think it was the year of the woman at least 3 times during that period and perhaps oh, I don’t know, 15 times since.  There has also been the emergence of the gays and gay power or – as it used to be called back in the day – the PINK mafia.  In the 60s it was Black power.  Before that it was the rise of the immigrants.  Now, it’s the rise of illegal immigrants (the least offensive term), or, to put it more kindly – the emergence of The Dreamers.

Something like that...

Something like that…

It’s all sort of the same thing when you get down to it because it’s the story of our country, if not the world.  A group emerges onto the scene that somehow seems to threaten the status quo, who in turn fears it will (and perhaps is) beginning to lose its power.

But writing from the other side of the generation gap it’s easy to see this simple fact:

Everything, after a time, makes way for the new, whether that thing likes it or not.

I’m around the new a lot and generally like what they’re about.  I talk to them.  I even hang with them occasionally.  It could be that I like them because I’ve taken the time to know them and not categorize them.  I also understand the unvarnished truth – that they’re not here so much to take over but continue with us on the journey – and then steer the ship when, inevitably, we no longer can.

(* The line (and all the lines) from “Gypsy” were written by the very brilliant playwright/screenwriter Arthur Laurents.  Lest anyone think movie characters think up what they say themselves)