The Next Generation

I spent the last two weeks reading 30 original screenplays and television pilots from graduating college seniors and here’s what I know –

It is a dark, dystopian world out there where pretty much NO ONE tells you the truth.

Of course, I already knew that but I’m almost three times their age.   I mean, when I got out of school in the seventies I knew the world could be a crappy place but what I was equally sure about was that there was also hope.

At least there was hope for better fashion #whoamIkidding #imkillingit

This was because I was as sure as shit that my friends and I were going to be able to change things.  At least a little.  I knew this as sure I knew I was going to live alone and lonely in a huge Malibu beach house, clutching my Oscar as I fell asleep.  That is if I didn’t die in my twenties of some horrible disease, a fact I was 100% convinced was a 50-50 possibility.

Well, of course I was wrong.  Here I am almost more than middle-aged in a relationship of 32 years with nary an Oscar in sight, living way, way across town in a house in the Hollywood Hills.

Yeah, I’m cool

Like many dreams, mine were fairly off but not totally unrealized.  Personal life aside, I did make it to L.A. and the movie business and worked in several categories where one could conceivably get nominated for an Oscar.

Right.  I know.  A grown up with a dream.

This, of course, is the point.  It’s not that my many wonderful students don’t have dreams.  It’s that judging from the past few weeks the majority of them don’t believe their best fantasies can take hold and flourish.

pretty much!

And, I mean, who can blame them?  Sometimes I turn on the news and can’t believe what I’m hearing and seeing.  When I read the newspaper it’s even worse.  And I came of age in the Nixon-Watergate era and spent the last years of my pre-teens watching Robert F. Kennedy get shot live on TV.  And this was several months after that same station almost got to cover the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. live instead of merely its bloody aftermath.

Those extreme acts, combined with a seemingly endless war in Vietnam and the Ohio National Guard murdering four innocent students who happened to be walking by anti-war protestors at Kent State University, made it seem like there was nothing the elders of the American status quo wouldn’t do to hold onto their power.

The general message to the young was:

We will literally kill you in a war or at school if you get too uppity and, if you don’t believe us, just give it a tryYou could easily find yourself in jail, overseas with a gun or in a morgue for doing nothing more than disagreeing with us if you’re not careful. 

Then or now? Does it matter? #Amen

We didn’t realize it at the time but in truth the country did have a modicum of sanity left.  As young people we innately understood we lived in an environment where freedom of speech was the norm, our federal elected representatives had just put the de-segregation of society into law and journalists were almost universally lauded by most, if not all, as the sacred last bastion of truth-tellers.

It was a world that had suddenly and almost completely gone totally off the rails but somehow we knew it was salvageable.  We had gone to the moon, you could still burn the American flag in the street and not get arrested and, if all else failed, the pleasures of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll would get you through until you entered what could only be described as the blissful golden Age of Aquarius.

Plus.. we had Cher

I so want that for the young people that I teach who are going out into the world today and it angers me each day that they have come of age into an alternate reality of stupidity, division and denial.

No one middle-aged can imagine what it’s like to grow up in a time where you could easily and routinely be shot up in your school.  In the sixties and seventies we had fire drills, not re-enactments of how to act or where to hide when a random gunman might happen to enter the building and aim a military style assault rifle to your head or the head of your friend, or younger brother or sister.

This is their reality. #sadtruths

As much as most of my contemporaries might have loathed Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and later, Ronald Reagan, none of us grew up hearing the president of the United States making allowances for white supremacists.  Or calling the American press the enemy of the people and degrading the indisputable facts they report as fake news.

Or, more importantly, respond this way when asked in front of the White House if the U.S. is about to go to war in the Middle East:

I hope not.

ARE YOU FREAKIN KIDDING ME?!?!

Say what you will about any of those men (Note: And I’ve said plenty) when they spoke it was with a definitive thought, not with the vague possibility that at any moment something absolutely horrible can and probably will happen so we’d gosh darn better be on guard for….well, anything.  And by anything he truly means ANYTHING.  Just ask him, as the press often does, if you don’t believe it.

Dystopian?  Dark?  Sadly, I fear these young people have it exactly right and I couldn’t be more pissed off about it.   We all should be.

The Who – “My Generation”

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