Things You Can’t Say

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It was one of those weeks. Suffice it to say – don’t ask.   But if I had said everything that I thought, desperately wanted to say or almost said – I, well…

But then I thought – what’s the point of a blog, anyway? To write everything your best self would never say — to your readers.   Perhaps you’ve had one or two of these same thoughts yourself. Or maybe one or two will inspire you to share some of your own with others? Just think how much better – or worse – the world would then be. And relish it.

To the cop waiting in his patrol car on the top of a hill in front of a shuttered park:

You don’t give a crap about safety. I could see it in your eyes as you barreled down towards me. No, you wanted to give me a ticket because you either had a quota to fill or you’re p.o.’d because you’re short – even shorter than me (5’7”) and it gives you a perverse unspoken pleasure. You hate your job AND you hate your life.

Starting off strong, Chairy

Starting off strong, Chairy

And for the record, I NEVER speak in the car actually HOLDING my cell phone. It’s always on speaker or Bluetooth. But my 87-year-old father is ailing and it looked like the number of one of his health care workers so when the remote failed and I couldn’t find the speaker button I just HAD to pick it up. I tried to explain this to give not an excuse but a context and didn’t expect a break from you. But what I got was a condescending nod and a walk-away. You’re a dick. And you’ll always be smaller than I am – in every area – no matter what arena we’re in. #Copette

To the brilliant Anthony Hopkins:

Transformers 6? Really???? I remember those days when you were doing Equus on Broadway. And this was decades before you won the Oscar for Silence of the Lambs. And well before you did Remains of the Day. Not to mention Nixon, Howard’s End and even Mask of Zorro. It’s brilliant you cashed in reprising Hannibal Leccter in Hannibal and Red Dragon. Mission Impossible 2 – we get it. Even the Thor movies sort of make sense following noble duds like Alexander, Titus and Noah. 

On second thought.... #maybenot

On second thought…. #maybenot

No Tony, I couldn’t turn down$5 million, $10 million, $15 million or whatever you’re getting. But can’t you simply be Iron Man’s grandfather? Or at least a Spiderman super villain? Did you have to go to #BayLand? Fine – alimony, child support or you might lose the house in Malibu. But if you’re simply doing this for some new kitchens, swimming pools or generational visibility, I’m done. Do not #MichaelCaine1980sMe.

To Mitt Romney:

I still disagree with practically everything you stand for and find every other word out of your mouth dripping with condescension – especially when it comes to pushy gay Jews like myself. But I will give you major props for being the only high profile Republican politician to publicly and vocally still refuse to endorse Donald Trump. Who would have guessed you’d out maverick McCain or out boy scout Paul Ryan.   Still, there’s an extremely low bar out there from which to excel. #Bully4Mittens.

I think I need to get my eyes check #saywhaaa

I think I need to get my eyes checked #saywhaaa

To Tina Fey:

You’re great but how many more American Express commercials are there? Two? Ten? And why? Why, why, why, why, why??? (Note: See Anthony Hopkins). One can’t help but think it’s the agents. Except, it can’t be. Not really. You’re too young to be Bill Murray’s character in Lost in Translation. And besides, those spots only aired in Japan. #YoureNotAlecBaldwin.

Paying for her daughters' college tuitions? or funding the Mean Girls musical?

Paying for her daughters’ college tuitions? or funding the Mean Girls musical?

To haters of L.A., NYC and San Francisco:

It’s ridiculously expensive to live here because too many people want to live here. This is not our fault. It is everyone’s fault. Yes, the air is cleaner in Cheyenne, WY and Bismarck, N.D. And houses are a lot cheaper in Waco, TX.

Waco or bust. #shiplap #drinkingtheKoolAid

Waco or bust. #shiplap #drinkingtheKoolAid

So? No one is twisting your arm NOT to relocate there (as much as Chip and Joanna Gaines may try). Or to move here. That being the case – please, can the eye rolls stop towards us when you’re talking in public about American values or in private about where you find the real people who make up this country? And we’ll stop dishing about how dumb you are. Or, well, at least I will. #Maybe.

To visitors in my home:

Yes, we have a movie poster with a picture of Judy Garland on it and another vintage one being framed from the movie All About Eve. This doesn’t only mean my husband and I are gay.

Guilty

#Guilty

It also shows that we have good taste in entertainment and like the color combination of red and cream and how it mixes with the blues and yellows in the rest of the house. (Note: Fine, #Gay). Not to mention, the Citizen Kane poster is too expensive, the Ordinary People poster is too depressing and nowadays Woody Allen gets people too upset. Plus, we can’t afford a Jackson Pollock and will likely never be able to. Still, we do cop to a lack of sports memorabilia, Star Wars toys, and gym class experience. In fact, I, for one, served as attendance monitor my entire senior year of high school P.E. class and never had to change into shorts or break a sweat once in 10 months. #CrazylikeaQueen.

To MSNBC:                                     

Rachel Maddow is my oracle and too often there is a false equivalency made between you and Fox News. Still, your non-stop pursuit of all things Trump is making it impossible to defend you to others.

In the spirit of Roseanne Roseannadanna.. what are you tryin' to do, make me sick??

In the spirit of Roseanne Roseannadanna.. what are you tryin’ to do, make me sick??

Know that it’s one thing to report the news in all of its bizarreness and quite another to broadcast an endless loop of the same incoherent blathering over and over and over again for hours with only a few added sound bytes every few minutes from each one of your paid commentators. Take some of the money you saved by unwisely firing Alex Wagner and hire someone with the guts to do something ingenious – like ambush a real politician against their will and ask them a question no one else has. Then film it. And air it. #SaveHowardBeale.

Hey gurl. #changingchannels

Hey gurl. #changingchannels

To Hillary Clinton:

Good speech. Your Trump hit lines most likely to persuade fence sitters to your side:

Imagine him deciding whether to send your spouses or children into battle.

– Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal.

– I will leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants.

Now make some of the news reports true and choose Elizabeth Warren as your veep.  In a show biz age, she’ll give you the smartest, most solid and sassiest support to take on the Orange Clown.

To #Drumpf:

You’re a mentally ill racist. Go away and get some therapy. Or at least go away. Now be gone, before someone drops a house on you, too.

 

Stereotype Sundae

BIGGAY4

When I read that something called The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop will open in downtown L.A. this spring I was surprised on four counts.

  1. That we’ve come so far that someone has decided to be ridiculous enough to think they could open up a business called The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop and make any money.
  1.  That someone had determined this name wouldn’t offend a significant group of people, perhaps some of them even homosexuals.
  1. That there were already TWO existing and hugely popular Big Gay Ice Cream Shops in New York (the first one opened two and a half years ago), which were spawned by its mobile forerunner, the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, and that they were all created by not one but TWO…Big Gay Men.

AND

  1.  That I – a smaller but probably just as big of heart gay man – didn’t know about any of this and initially thought it was all just one big dumb, and questionably borderline, gag.

So much for my hipness factor.

Well, by comparison, I'm still pretty hip.

OK  – I guess I could be worse…

This all raises a much broader question – what is a stereotype these days and do you marginalize yourself or the particular group of people you belong to by embracing, portraying and perhaps even BEING (or condemning?) the stereotype?

Stereotype:

1. A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image.

2. One that is regarded as embodying or conforming to a set image or type.

Are the two owners of The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop stereotypically gay?  Well, in some ways not at all.  They are very successful, independent entrepreneurs who started a business from ground zero simply by selling ice cream out of a food truck and in just a few years they have three stores in the two biggest cities in the U.S. and are making lots and lots of money.   Clearly, that is a rarity these days.

Yet in some ways they are totally stereotypical – two middle aged homosexuals with a self-professed campy dream who are snide and funny and have a penchant for the eighties TV show The Golden Girls.  Not only that, but GG star Bea Arthur is their store mascot (along with a unicorn) and one of their offerings is indeed named The Bea Arthur – an ice cream cone with vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche and crushed ‘nilla wafers. 

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Inside The Big Gay

Not to mention this side note: Each frozen delight they serve is spotlighted on their website by an array of customers holding up or eating a particular item.  From a sociological standpoint I was particularly intrigued by the two prepubescent boys holding up two cups of ice cream called The Gobbler (pumpkin butter and maple syrup or apple butter and bourbon butterscotch, pie pieces and whipped cream).

Uh…two young boys holding up creamy products advertising menu items from The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop?  If this were the Bible Belt (or even Orange County) there would at best be lawsuits and neighborhood outcries and at worst…well, I don’t want to go there.

Perhaps it’s evidence of how far we’ve come that people’s minds do not “go to that place” of stereotype anymore – meaning somehow connecting anything gay –centric or owned by gay men with the abuse or indoctrination of young boys.  (Perhaps?!) When I was growing up – not all that long ago – this would NEVER EVER EVER have been possible.  And I am still ambulatory, have my eyesight (sort of), and am able to roller skate.

Still got it!

Still got it!

How much diversity do you see within your life, the lives of those within your minority group or how you’re represented in the media and how much is enough?  (Note: Everybody at some point feels as if they are in some kind of minority, even if they’re in the majority). If you’re gay do you proudly proclaim you love Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler in your off hours as a hairdresser, but only at times when you’re not redecorating your apartment or cruising for men clad in leather chaps? Or what about the flip side of the problem, posed by a young African American comedian I saw some decades ago (but whose name I can’t recall, darn it!).  He claimed to have absolutely no rhythm whatsoever (and he didn’t) yet had to embarrassingly prove it to disbelieving people who insisted he demonstrate because a rhythmless Black man didn’t seem humanly possible to them.

One supposes stereotypes do cut both ways – some traits you’d prefer to have (or do have), others you are a bit embarrassed to have (but why?) and still others are a perceived exaggeration of traits attributed to ALL people of your tribe you don’t want anything to do with.

This issue becomes a little more difficult for writers and other artists when representing those minority groups and problematic for audiences who are the spectators.  Just what is your obligation to your crew (or to other peoples’ crews?) Do you have to go out of your way to find a gay guy that doesn’t like Judy (NOTE: I do love her and for some reason most of us do call her Judy) or not show gay men continuously searching for sex?  After all, aren’t most guys – gay AND straight – continually searching for sex, at least in the back of their minds?

The premiere of HBO’s new half hour show about gay men in San Francisco, Looking, presents exactly this challenge.  Starring the very amiable and charming Jonathan Groff, the show seems to consist mostly of a subset of a subset of gay men – urban guys who are mostly dark haired, with varying degrees of facial beards (except for Mr. Groff’s nubile young guy) who mostly look for sex.  It is only in-between that they do a variety or artistic jobs or work as waiters.  Stereotypical?  Well, most certainly.  But all of it or just in certain parts?  And are the characters really stereotypes or just merely post-modern representations of people who, as a given, are a lot more than just that (Sex in the City, anyone?). Well, I for one am not quite sure yet.

4 Non Blondes

4 Non Blondes

By the end of the episode, I – a gay man who has lived some sort of existence in various shades of stereotype – felt as if I had absolutely nothing in common with these guys – nor did I ever.  For one thing, they were much freer than I ever was sexually when I was younger and for another, their friendships and relationships felt so flighty and superficial that I probably would have ran away from them rather than to want to touch them or even gravitate anywhere near them.  (Note:  Or perhaps bitch about their superficiality behind their backs, which makes me another form of gay stereotype, sorry to say).

Of course, as a television show this is both entertainment and a fantasy.  Do we bridle that the rich and powerful Grayson family on Revenge distort patriarchal relationships or that Nurse Jackie is an all-too ridiculous take on people who work in hospitals?  Probably not.  But mostly because there have been hundreds of hospital centered shows with other images (St. Elsewhere, Chicago Hope, Grey’s Anatomy, even General Hospital) and thousands of rich, screwed up, primarily heterosexually oriented families on nighttime time soaps (Dynasty, Knots Landing and Desperate Housewives – gay sensibility though they all were – and do not make me get into the latter).

But how many television series almost solely about gay men have there really been?   (Hint:  You can count them on less than one hand).    That puts an unjust burden on the creators of Looking and it’s an unfair one for a dramatist whose only real job is to tell a story the way it happened or happens in his or her mind.  Dallas Buyers Club, the current historical drama about a straight man with AIDS in the 1980s, was criticized for its narrow focus on its homophobic lead character – a straight guy with AIDS who subverts the status quo and sells unapproved drugs that prolong his life and the lives of others (mostly gay men) – because it leaves out all the simultaneous other proactive steps hundreds of gay groups across the country took at the time in getting their own illegal drugs and protesting the government in other ways that prolonged their own lives.

how-to-survive-a-plage-poster-article

the other Ron Woodroofs

Yet the sad truth is that a narrow focus is sometimes needed in order to maximize dramatic impact in narrative work.  And if you reject that notion entirely consider this question:  What IS that writer to do – not write roles in stories that will likely win its two leads, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto the male acting Oscars this year?  (Uh, not a chance of that).  Just what is the obligation to history, realism and representation when you want to create a satisfying and dramatic story, or live a satisfying, if not at times dramatic, life.

Members of most minority groups would probably answer it this way — don’t give YOURSELF majority status in our overall story when you were really a minority. Don’t leave our real stories out, don’t represent us as one or two stereotypes and DO NOT act as if you’re doing us a favor by merely showing us onscreen at all or say that we’re classically “oversensitive” for complaining at all.  Does that mean we don’t make films like Philadelphia, Gentleman’s Agreement or Schindler’s List anymore?  Okay, now my head is really spinning – all dizzying gay man clichés be damned.

In the case of Looking its creators and lead actor are openly gay and are working for HBO –a network that pretty much allows talent to do almost anything they please.  So one can assume they are telling this story from a personal  POV (which is all any writer can really do) and letting the chips fall where they may.  Yet is that enough or do they (or you, or I?) need to think about being more inclusive, less stereotypical, and overall more universal when writing about ourselves and the rest of our group/crew/tribe or….? It’s the tricky challenge of all this.

I teach my students the more specific you are about a character the more universal you will be.  But if all your characters are of a rarefied subset group of still another group subset and not varied enough – well, their behavior might be real or true to life for you but could easily bore the hell out of everyone else.  I mean, no one’s real life is consistently THAT interesting over the long periods of time that a television series represents.  Not even Oprah’s – trust me, it isn’t.  You only think it is because of the wide variety of people we’ve gotten to see her talking to.

Well, I didn't say not luxurious

Well, I didn’t say her life wasn’t more luxurious

I learned this the hard way many years ago as a young reporter and then-movie publicist attending one too many red carpet events.   I don’t even know when I finally knew I’d had it but perhaps it was when I was a guest at the premiere of A Few Good Men – one of the most lavish affairs I ever remember attending.  It was at the ballroom of the Century Plaza Hotel, there was a full orchestra, great food and Tom and Nicole were right next to me and everyone else, holding hands and walking from table to table along with all of the other stars and most of Hollywood.  At one time this would be dazzling, exciting, unplugged and unleashed fun and decadence.  Yet after so many of these it felt like being the plus one at the wedding of your much richer and more desirable cousin in whose shadow you had always stood in at a time when you were finally ready to be the movie star of your own life.  It looked good and on the surface it would tell a great story but when you really thought about the people and everything that was going on, there was not much there there.

In short, it bore no relation to your truth.  Though this might be different for those who were a part of the film, or fans who very much enjoyed what these people had made and were just happy to be invited to whatever party was being thrown.    Maybe part of the mission in life is to create your own party  – a thought that might sound stereotypical but in reality an action that you can make original and appealing to a lot more people than yourself if you work it the right way.

** Special Chair Note: This week we will begin listing each blog by subject matter with a corresponding and stylish post-it note on the left hand side of the page.  They will then be archived by that category for easier future access.  For your convenience, our beloved Holly Van Buren – editor, photo chooser, and caption writer extraordinaire, has gone back and archived every blog (yes, that’s all 165!) under one of six categories.  Just click on the subject links at the top of the page you are interested in and you will be able to read your favorite posts from the past (Thanks Holly!).  Also, remember to click on the title of each week’s post at the top of the page (e.g. Stereotype Sundae) – in order to access that week’s song!

The 1st Annual Rockers!

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Year-end lists are usually divided into THE BEST and THE WORST.  But here at notesfromachair we’re trying to think of it a little differently – if for no other reason than to stand out from the million other news sources, columnists, cable TV talking heads and bloggers vying for your attention.   That is why we’ve created the first annual ROCKERS – dedicated to anything that has significantly rocked our world in 2012.

For those whose worlds have ever been rocked – which means everyone – this can be either a fantastic or horrible occurrence.  As a Jewish kid I didn’t grow up believing in Santa Claus but my entire existence felt not only rocked but severely threatened when I realized there was no way I could admittedly make Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In stay on TV forever.  At the same time, my very meager and small world was also rocked the first time I saw Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In on TV and realized there were people in the world that I truly did want to hang out with (Note:  Little did I know that a lifetime of hanging out with these kind of show biz types would rock my world in many and too numerous to specifically choose from good and bad fashions).

But getting back to this century — here is a list of our 2012 Rockers.  Not to be mistaken for a Hall of Fame, because these are only good for a single year – not a lifetime.

BEST (nee ROCKIN’) ACTING PERFORMANCE, EXPECTED (but not disappointing):

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Haters gonna hate

Haters gonna hate

Hate all you want but why should Mr. Day-Lewis   Mr. Lewis  …uh Daniel be penalized because we’ve come to expect him to always be (and are tired of him always being) transcendently brilliant?  He literally seemed to pull off a resurrection of a human being who has been dead for more than 150 years from his very first scene as Abraham Lincoln and kept it up for all 3000 hours of the film. Truth of fact, I’m actually a big fan of the movie and didn’t mind the length, especially since almost every other BIG film in the last two months of the year seems to have lasted at least 3000 hours.   Plus there’s the degree of difficulty — try to tell, or more importantly act, the story of an icon and make it seem intelligent, human, funny, real AND come off as a parable for a certain kind of political animal of our times.  You won’t be able to.  DDL can.  When are he and Meryl Streep going to co-star? (staring my 2013 wishlist NOW)

ROCKIN’ ACTING PERFORMANCE, UNEXPECTED (but in a good way):

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Anything but trashy...

Anything but trashy…

Yeah, I’m partial to Coop (uh, that’s what his friends call him and he calls himself – yes, I happen to know someone who knows him – so there).  But given his acting oeuvre, nothing prepares you for the raw, non-movie star type of performance he gives as a bipolar (among other things) guy who is just struggling to live a decent life. Ironically, it’s Coop’s very lack of movie star-ness that has once and for all changed his career and made him into a real movie star – the kind that is famous, good-looking AND can act really, really well.

MOST OVERRATED (nee ROCKIN’ IN A BAD WAY) MOVIE (in every way):

Amour

Oh I wish I could go back to bed...

Snooooooooze.

Listen, I love French films.  And I love depressing films, especially ones about death and dying.  And I love films that have simple or almost no plots.  But Amour depicts an old couple with some financial means in 2012 and what they decide to go through when one becomes terminally ill in a way that NO couple in an industrialized nation in 2012 needs to endure given what is available in 21st century medicine – even when one decides to die at home.  In its attempt to be relentless, writer-director Michael Haneke creates something that is unrelentingly manipulative to suit his needs as a dramatist.  The idea that so many critics have bought into it is baffling and leads me to think that they either do not have enough experience in this area or have a lot of prickly, self-centered old people in their lives who are intent on doing things the most physically, self-flagellatingly painful way possible.  (Fortunately, I do not).  Oh, did I mention the two old people in this movie – even when they were healthy– are the kind of pretentious snobs you don’t really want to spend two and a half minutes with much less two and a half hours?  Yes, it’s very well acted and technically very well made.  But do yourself a favor and spend time with some real live old folks (preferably two in your own family) instead.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, ENDURING:

Mad Men

... or shameless excuse to post a pic of Jon Hamm

… or shameless excuse to post a pic of Jon Hamm

The water cooler show torch has been passed to Homeland and we can’t argue with that.  But there is not a television program on the air that is as consistently smart, well-written, chance talking and socially/politically relevant as Matthew Weiner’s creation.  It never takes the easy way out, stays grounded in reality and uses the 1960s as the lens through which we can see our lives and our history.  And if you think that’s not difficult to do, try writing something in that time period and see how many clichés you will inevitably come up with in even a single scene.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, FOREIGN:

Downton Abbey

Season 3 CANNOT come fast enough!

Season 3 CANNOT come fast enough!

Mainstream American elite culture likes things mostly elitely American.  So how is it that creator/writer Julian Fellowes manages to make the privileged and serving class of post turn of the 20th century England like “television crack,” according to one of my dearest friends?  If I knew, I’d do it myself.  It is in part Maggie Smith playing a bon mot-throwing old rich lady called the Dowager Countess, who is not unlike what we imagine the real Maggie Smith to be were she born approximately 150 years ago to a family of starchy patricians.  But it’s a lot more than that.  Fellowes is now rumored to be writing the new film version of Gypsy for Barbra Streisand.  Well, both are period pieces, after all.

ROCKIN’ TELEVISION SERIES, REALITY:

The Voice

TV's BEST chairs

TV’s BEST chairs

It’s not because a few former students work on this or due to the fact that I wish to God (or whoever you conceive Her to be) that I could be a professional singer.  It’s because this reality competition for vocalists doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age, looks, ethnicity, sexual preference or even past deviant behavior.  It’s all about what you sound like – a sort of faux even playing field that never exists in real life but that you get to experience for a few hours a week as long as the season lasts.  Yes, the grand prizewinner is finally voted on by the viewers, which invariably does create a final commercial-type popularity contest in the last few weeks, but those are the least interesting part of the show.  The real story is what comes before and how the judges – from very diverse parts of the music world – both perform and share their own hard knocks with people who have already had or soon will have more than their own share of the same.

ROCKIN’ CABLE NEWS SHOW, PROBABLY UNSEEN BY YOU:

NOW with Alex Wagner

DVR me NOW!

DVR me NOW!

It’s on MSNBC at 9am west coast time and noon east coast time.  Those interested in this type of stuff inevitably already watch Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Chris Matthews, et al.  But who you probably don’t tune in to is this smart, extremely funny woman who categorized the many faces of Mitt Romney as “the paradox of the mittens” and used to be editor-in-chief of a hip music and culture magazine called The Fader.  Over the course of an hour, she presides over a panel of cleverly perceptive political experts, covers breaking news, and throws in more witty pop culture references than a Saturday Night Live sketch.  It doesn’t matter that she’s 34, female and of Burmese-German-Irish descent but it’s just one more thing that makes her and her show different than most everyone else on cable TV.

ROCKIN’ LIMITED TELEVISION SERIES, QUESTIONABLE TASTE:

American Horror Story: Asylum

My Bad Habit

My Bad Habit

I think the reason I’m so in love with this show is just how sick, derivative and yet unique it almost always seems to be.  Its second season in a mental hospital is a pastiche of every cliché you’ve seen in every crazed, looney tune horror film imaginable.  Its cast, led by the ghoulishly still sexy Jessica Lange, is shameless and the writing doesn’t always bother to follow what we consider to be the tenets of logic.  Still – any show that cross-cuts between a mad Nazi doctor, aliens and a crazy killer named Bloody Face who likes to skin people for sport – and does it all under the watchful eye of nutty nun who use to be a cabaret torch singer, is okay in my book.  Plus, the recreation room at the asylum consistently plays that 1960s hit record, “Dominique” performed by Soeur Sourire, better known as The Singing Nun.

ROCKIN’ DIVAS PUT TO THE WORST USE:

Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler in The Guilt Trip and Parental Guidance.

Cmon Jerry, help these ladies out.

Jewish hall of fame gala?

Okay, I’ve only seen The Guilt Trip and the trailer for Parental Guidance.  But as a gay guy I can tell you – these ladies deserve better!!!  And it’s not primarily their fault.  They want to do films.  But – what are the films being made that they should be doing?  There aren’t any.  And yes, Barbra’s still fun onscreen and Bette, well, I’ll take your word for it that she is too.  But….really??

ROCKIN’ NEW TV CHARACTER, RECURRING:

The Girl You Wish You Wouldn’t Have Started A Conversation With At A Party, Saturday Night Live

Cecily "Very" Strong

Cecily “Very” Strong

SNL new cast member Cecily Strong is irresistibly annoying as that gal….you know the one, trust me.  We mentioned her last week so we won’t drive it into the ground.  But consider how long it’s been since you remembered any new SNL character since Stefon?  Why does it work?  Because like all good comedy creations, she is barely exaggerated.

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/girl-you-wish-you-hadnt-started-a-conversation-with-at-a-party/1422717/

ROCKIN’ WEB MOMENT, VIRAL

No, it wasn’t the cat trick, or the pop singer from another country, or the Olympic athletes doing Call Me Maybe for the millionth time.  It was, quite simply:

The 47 PERCENT TAPE

Mitt Romney’s comments in a closed door fundraiser to major donors in Florida about how 47% of the electorate feel they are entitled to government handouts such as health care, food and housing and are people he can never convince to take personal responsibility and care for their lives got him — in true Shakespearean fashion — only 47% of the electorate to Barack Obama’s 51%.  It also caused him to lose the election by 4 million votes.  However, the award really should go not to the tape itself but to the Florida bartender who secretly recorded it – and, in another irony, to James Carter IV, grandson of perennial Republican punching bag Jimmy Carter.  Carter IV unearthed the tape on the web and brought it to the attention of David Corn at Mother Jones magazine.

Free speech, when it works, rocks.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Second String

“Give me a second. “

When I hear this I’m immediately thinking..

Okay, you need more time.  Whatever…

Great, now I’m getting pissed.  And don’t let the fact that I’m in a hurry and still waiting trouble you because obviously what you’re doing is far more important than what I want or need at this moment.  Which has already passed because you’re so damned selfish and slow.

Of course, perceptions are often wrong.  And even more often than that people get angry about the things over which they are confused, or that they misunderstand based on faulty information. Or even more likely an item or incident they use as an anger substitute for that thing over which they are really angry about (life? the banks? world/your own poverty?  the Kardashian family fame and fortune?). Those things that are too scary to really unleash anger on so  you (we? they?) misplace it to other, lesser-perceived misstatements.

Which brings us back to waiting and my original statement.

“Give me a second.”

No, I (or the ubiquitous they) was NOT trying to poach more time.  (And if only you had asked either of us directly we would have told you). What I was really saying –if you would have engaged me in conversation and really listened to and thought about my response before jumping to your talking/thinking point – was this:

Instead of your first or #1 selection, I’ll take what is considered your second –or #2 – any time.

Yeah I mean you, Ms. Maroney.

See, sometimes the best choice for what ails us in the moment, or in our times, or even on a specific creative project, is the person who is the SECOND-in-command, our SECOND (or maybe even third) choice — the RUNNER UP (or even worse) to  present day fame, fortune and eternal frolic.  Sometimes it takes that very person – the under the radar supporting player or archetypal contemporary day “Bridesmaid” (think Kristen Wiig) – to bring us through the muddy waters and to entertain us and make us laugh or cry, and, most importantly, to put everything back into plain talking perspective and for once and for all and, hopefully, forever, make everything clear.  Forget the bells and the whistles and the fairy dust of the first stringers.  As a famous auto company once advertised about #2’s – often what their status guarantees is they “TRY HARDER.”

And trying harder is what makes you #1 (or used to, at least)…in the first place.  It’s the necessary step along with way before you (we? they?) get complacent in star status.

The most famous #2 of the past week is a  likely yet unlikely choice: a just-about 70-year-old man with piano key teeth, not very good hair plugs, and all the subtlety of Kevin James trying to emulate Adrian Brody’s Oscar-winning star turn in “The Pianist.”  This person, perhaps THE most famous #2 in the world, is a guy we Americans like to call – wait for it –

VICE-PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN.

Ole Blue Eyes

That’s right, the eye rolling, horse laughing, over gesticulating senior citizen on the national debate stage.  The guy some people thought was rude and other people thought was real.  The guy who, everyone agrees, was pretty much a poster child person for plain-talking populism of the quintessentially honest American kind that even the most uninformed among us could pretty much  – whether they agree with him or not – understand.

The perils of the #1 perch often don’t allow for that.  Or perhaps it’s what happens when one reaches #1 status that makes falling from the perch and, in turn, making one wrong move, seem even more perilous for the person that has indeed achieved it.  Or – to give a more musical example – maybe it’s the pressure of simply living up to the qualities that Debbie Harry longed to seduce in her famous #1 song.

Whatever IT is, Pres. Barack Obama, our #1, didn’t have IT when he debated several weeks prior, yet  he certainly did have it four years ago opposite his Republican opponent on the debate stage when he running for, but not yet, #1.  Mitt Romney hasn’t had it for the entire time he’s been #1 on the Republican presidential ticket but for some reason momentarily got it (in some people’s opinion, not necessarily mine), when he was #2 on the stage at the presidential debate with our current #1 American (Pres. Obama).

This is not to say #1’s are not truly the best overall and often don’t deserve to be top dog.  It only means that Mel Brooks’ adage of “it’s good to be king” is indeed all too true.  The cyclical version of fame, fortune and mere age ensures that there will always be a #2 worth watching – a person or moment that is second string now but will one day, through verve or sheer attrition and endurance (and sometimes through a faulty strategy of slightly guarded carefulness on the part of #1 that is thought necessary to maintain power) will temporarily and then perhaps even permanently cause the replacement of the top star.  That is the way of the world.  That is the historical and often necessary cycle of existence.

Buckle up…

So it stands to reason that during the reign of #1s, there are always times when the Big Kahuna will falter and one or more of us subjects would do best to listen, learn and be inspired by the musings of a #2 – or even #6, #7 or #8.  Second stringers don’t have as much to lose but often have a lot more to prove, which in turns gives them the motivation and energy to make the case or to pick up the baton (sports or creative) and win the race when the first stringers either graciously step outside or ask for a much needed helping hand they count on their #2s to provide.  What’s great about this is that it not only often works but more times than not, win or lose, makes the result more interesting and brings about the much needed evolvement and, eventual changes, of the future.

I see this every day with my students – who consistently surprise me with their work.  As a writing teacher, one learns to recognize obvious talent.  I mean, it doesn’t really take a genius to see that – only someone who is more than a casual observer.  But the moments teachers and audiences and, I’d venture to say, citizens of the state, live for are the surprising ones.  We get most excited by instances in which the second stringers, the ones not necessarily destined for greatness, rise up to surprise us in an area we thought they never could.  I see this every semester in creative work – people whose good ideas become realized into art that is more original than you ever thought it could be, not only surprisingly fresh but surprisingly great.  Watching an individual take a step out of the pack due solely to the application of their passion, desires and, above all, talent, is a moment that teachers, and audiences, and societies, do truly live for.

Mr. Biden’s robust debate performance, where he spewed the plain-talking, impolite frustration of most of the American public across the stage in Kentucky, (and for those not enthralled with our veep’s performance, perhaps the same could be said yikes! for Mr. Romney’s penultimate sugar high jabs in his first 2012 presidential matchup) is not limited to politics.  It often rears its head in all of the creative arts, in sports, in our friendships and even family lives.

Can film students, movie fans or anyone else in the public imagine the first string choice of Doris Day as the quintessential suburban seducer Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate” instead of Anne Bancroft?  How about then “Magnum P.I.” TV megastar Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones instead of a now (but not then) film icon we call Harrison Ford?   The record shows that Mr. Ford and Ms. Bancroft were, to put it kindly, the #2 choices for their roles at the time but more than likely they were even further down on most people’s lists.

Really?

Chicago for years suffered with the ubiquitous title as America’s “second city” until some creative type in the Midwest wisely decided to own that derisive term (as all oppressed groups eventually do) and start a improvisational comedy troupe aptly titled “Second City.”  Ironically, this group became not only the best in the business but would then go on to be the primary supplier of performers and creative types behind perhaps the most enduring and iconic comedy troupes in the history of television – The Not Ready For Prime Time Players of “Saturday Night Live” – a show based out of what was and still is considered to be our #1 city – New York.

Live from.. Chicago?

It’s also easy to forget that Terrence McNally, the American playwright who has won four Tony Awards and countless nominations for work as diverse as “Love Valour Compassion,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” “Ragtime” and “The Full Monty” was once best known in the New York theatre community as merely a “famous #2” by dating playwriting royalty Edward Albee.  Or that Katy Sagal, America’s infamous Peg Bundy on “Married With Children” and the star of the cable hit “Sons of Anarchy” was early only renowned as one of three literal #2s when she served as a member of Bette Midler’s trio of backup singers, The Harlettes.

In sports I’m old enough to remember when 15 year old Michael Phelps swam in his first Olympics and won 0.0 medals, gold or otherwise, yet sharp enough to recall that after subsequent record-breaking Olympic gold in 2008, it took this year’s drop to #2 status in the first 2012 race of his fourth Olympics game for him to once again emerge as the #1 swimmer of gold more times than any one else in the entire competition.

This could be a drinking game and we could go on and on.  But perhaps the best example is another political figure of the times who recently won the Gallup poll for the tenth year in a row as – wait for it again – the most admired woman in the world – Hillary Clinton.

She knows it.

Talk about a #2 and then some.  First Lady (but really a #2?) of Arkansas.  First Lady (and not even a #2) of the United States and an object of derision for famously proclaiming she wasn’t interested in staying “in the kitchen and baking cookies.” Then even more publicly proclaimed an inexperienced interloper for trying (and then failing) to create a universal health care plan for all Americans under the direction of her husband, the then president.  Undaunted at being #2, Mrs. Clinton did her job, learned, stood in wait and took her lumps from a “vast right wing conspiracy” she inelegantly said was lying (some might say salivating) in wait for her husband.

But then something funny, or perhaps eventual happened.   Her husband was no longer president and she decided to use her fame, smarts and nationwide experience to run for Senator in New York.  She not only won the #1 spot but became one of the most admired members of one of our most well-known “boys clubs.”  She then used her fame to try and become our Uber #1 in her own valiant run for president, only to be shunted down to #2 status by a guy with a weird name who had way less experience than she did – Barack Obama.   However, she barely had time to leave gracefully before our new #1 called her in to be a different kind of #1 (or is it #2, #3 #4 or even lower) – our Secretary of State and the defacto#1 face of foreign policy to all countries around the world.

In the end, it seems – everyone is #1 somewhere but usually #2 (or below) almost everywhere.  Human achievement does have its limits and the fact is very few of us make it into the hall of presidents or on an international awards stage.  But that doesn’t mean that, in more moments than most people realize, we all have the capability, if given the chance, to be as good or even better than any particular number on the right number of days if we keep at it and are given, or take, the chance.

That’s what Joe Biden accomplished last week.  And that’s why it’s important to keep pushing your rock uphill, downhill or sideways – no matter what your status or scoring is at any random moment in time.

And I said I didn’t like sports metaphors…

An Off Day

Has Meryl Streep ever turned in a bad performance?  I don’t believe so.  But has she given us examples of acting not up to her usual caliber?  Certainly.   (Watch 1982’s “Still of the Night” and report back). Tony Kushner’s genius “Angels in America” set the bar about as high as it could go for a playwright – and pretty much for any writer.  Forget that he won the Pulitzer Prize.  That particular piece of work, which he labored on for years of rewrites as he watched AIDS devastate life around him, will also live on for generations as the quintessential dramatic evocation of a plague whose ruthlessness and scope defied description.  That is why sitting through his musical “Caroline or Change” some years later one couldn’t help but feel  that, well…every brilliant writer deserves at the very least a “gimme.” (okay, that “one” was me – a severely disappointed fan in a severely UNconservative way at the time).  The list goes on an on and most recently ends but certainly doesn’t stop with President Barack Obama.

Split screen is not our friend.

The buzz is abuzz with POTUS’ debate performance last week against his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.  Among the colorful adjectives used: “devastating,” “bumbling,” “crushing,” “mediocre” and  “defeated.”  Even the venerable Dan Rather, who was brought down from his perch atop CBS for daring to suggest Pres. George W. Bush had avoided military service in Vietnam by joining the National Guard (even though Dubya was a member of the National Guard in the Vietnam era and did not serve in the military) proclaimed the next day on MSNBC: “Let’s say it for what it is, he got his clock cleaned…there’s no other way to put it.”

Trivia note:  According to the NY Times, the phrase “clean your clock” was first used on the SPORTS pages (I should’ve known!) of the Trenton Evening Times, July 28, 1908 about a couple of local baseball teams – “It took the Thistles just one inning to clean the clocks of the Times boys.”  This certainly doesn’t make the use of the term any more complimentary, but perhaps knowing its origin does take away some of the sting of this currently overused phrase.

Whenever I hear guys on TV (and it’s almost always guys, let’s face it) use sports metaphors to describe or critique anything but a ball, a puck or pair of human legs reaching their preferred destination, it sets off a warning bell deep in my soul.  But that bell doesn’t zzzing. Instead it tells me in a measured voice we are no longer describing a factual event but indulging in the “oh so witty” (not!) opinion of the person observing such an event.  In which case, you might want to task another person with deciding if your timepiece was indeed really laundered or perhaps even to determine if its bath was as thorough as everyone on the sidelines of its supposed unauthorized spa treatment says it was.

Like many people, especially those in the arts, I’ve been described as overly dramatic, opinionated and argumentative by more than a few over the years (who… me?).  I’m never insulted by these commonly accepted “off” terms because to me this also means that I’m passionate, committed and quite forceful, depending on the day, arena and reviewer.  In fact, there are probably days where my audience (that’s you) see me as passionate where I feel I might be a tad overdramatic; and others where you’re nauseated by my insane opinions while I revel in the fact that I’m so committed to an issue and getting its truth out there that deep down in my soul I truly believe I am the long lost son of either Emma Goldman, Caesar Chavez or Gandhi. (okay, admittedly that feeling has only occurred once or twice).

Some days are better than others in the life of every human just as some performances are superior and some written works are more memorable (or, at least, relatable). Objectively speaking, there is no way to measure how good or bad anything is.  That is why it all comes down to two things – consensus and feeling.  And neither one can be counted on as being absolutely right or wrong.

The general consensus is that the President was having an “off” day (actually it was night) in his debate with Mr. Romney.  And perhaps he was.  Using our aforementioned standard of “consensus” we’d have to concede “off” would be the kind word.  But remember, consensus is not necessarily always correct.  I mean, the Grammy Awards voted Milli Vanilli their coveted Best New Artist award in 1990 and NBC renewed “Whitney” for ANOTHER season AND are giving her a reality show.  So if you’re still so hot on the validity of consensus well…  blame it on the rain.

What about feeling?  Hmmm.  Well, one can only imagine how Pres. Obama felt spending the night of his 20th wedding anniversary on stage in front of almost 70 million viewers debating the jollily avuncular Mr. Romney, who some say charmingly (though I say obnoxiously) joked about the prez being forced to spend his special evening onstage with a slick-haired 65 year-old man and a gaggle of television cameras.  Annoyed?  Preoccupied by a romantic encounter that already was, would happen in the future, or not occur at all because he had chosen to become President at one of the worst times in American history to begin with?  All very possible.  But despite the President dropping a few public hints, we will never quite know for sure.   Though one radio host I listened to the next day speculated that Obama was playing “the long game” (ugh, another sports metaphor), deciding that his strategy was to let Mr. Romney hold the stage unchallenged as long as he liked so in subsequent debates Mr. Obama could then hold the former Massachusetts governor to all the blatant half-truths he had so genially helped himself to.

Further Note:  Al Gore even suggested Obama’s “off” was due to the Colorado altitude and the fact that the president had arrived into town just two hours before show time.  But we all know Mr. Gore and Presidential debates are not a winning combo so I wouldn’t take his analysis to heart

Rocky Mountain “High”

The only thing we can correctly surmise about an “off” day is that every single person in the world has one or more and that no other person in the world can know with full assurance why or if the day is truly off (and by how much) other than the person who is having it.  If everyone batted 1000, there would be no reason for batting averages (jeez, now I’m even using sports?).  If it truly is all good, then does that mean not even one day can ever be bad Oh please! (Clearly, I am not Gandhi’s son).  Finally, if one believes in the consensus (dubious in itself) that it takes approximately 10,000 hours (or 3 hours a day for 10 years) of practice to truly be a master in any one field, isn’t it a good bet that a significant number of those days yield many desirably “off” results in order to allow one to become more proficient in said field, which will subsequently serve as the fuel to vault into the so desired master category a decade later?  

Speaking of which, I caught up with Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” last week – a movie that is quite brilliant in parts and seems to indicate that 10 years of off days in a human life can be just as interesting as 10 years of on ones.

But I digress…

We are all so quick to discount our “off” days as something to be shunned, scorned or avoided that we hardly have time to consider just how valuable they can be.  And we need to do this, if for no other reason than to provide a break from the monotony of our perfection.

I’m kidding, of course – but only in part.  There is a dangerous rumor going around the zeitgeist that every performance needs to be played to the back row and that unless one hits a home run (yikes, I’m doing it AGAIN!) or pitches a perfect game, he (and perhaps one day she) is not worth that gazillion of dollars their multi-year contract ensures they will get paid.

As any expert in anything will tell you, there is a lot to be said for singles and doubles, for punts and for walks (oh, screw it – now I can’t stop!).  Of course, no writer wants to have their play or movie or book bomb but, on the other, hand, it certainly does take away everyone’s expectations for your next work and emboldens you to perhaps take a bigger chance in the follow-up since clearly no one will ever like anything you produce ever again.

We have no way of knowing how on or off anyone, including ourselves, will be on a given day other than to know that either verdict is certainly possible.  More likely, however, is that we’ll fall somewhere in between.  On — but in the judgment of others not as on as we could be or have been in the past.  Or definitely off — whether we (they?) love what we’re producing or are feeling lousy or annoyed enough to have not even gotten out of our bedrooms (for good AND bad reasons) at the time the day began.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what the verdict is.  What matters is that we show up.  This is what people like Meryl Streep, Tony Kushner and Barack Obama consistently do – knowing full well that some days will be judged much better than the ones before or after it – by themselves and, mostly assuredly, by others.

Or – (ATTENTION: ONE FINAL SPORTS METAPHOR!) — as the great hockey player Wayne Gretsky once so eloquently put it:

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

Day of Reckoning

Just because you’re late to the party doesn’t mean your time there is irrelevant.  That’s what I thought when I finally caught up with “The Dark Knight Rises” this weekend and liked it much more than I’d decided I would.  The reason?  It’s a movie that embodies – or more closely swallows whole and spits right back at you – the year 2012.

The cliché one-liner, if I were still a movie critic as I was 30 years ago, would be “a cautionary tale for our times where the HAVE NOTS rise up against the HAVES.”  No wonder Rush Limbaugh was scared.  But as usual he got it wrong.  “Dark Knight Rises” isn’t at all about the villain being named Bane – the same sounding moniker as Bain Capital, the private equity company that is largely responsible for Mitt Romney’s quarter of a billion dollars worth of wealth.

ehh… not a good look.

In “DKR,” Bane is really a HAVE NOT on steroids – a sort of odd, anti-hero who is mad as hell after a lifetime of living in the margins and watching other people getting a chance to be happy and wealthy and so he decides to destroy everything to punish those who are living large and, well, larger.  It’s about the very small 1% of people who had every advantage that a stacked deck could buy (and then some) and made sure the rest of us didn’t.  If the filmmakers really wanted to make a Romney-Bane connection they would have made the villain a billionaire banker – not the crazy person wreaking havoc on them.

But really — that’s beside the point.  Since in this case the HAVE NOTS are much more evil because they feel nothing.  They are nihilistic because they have finally begun to recognize the almost insurmountable odds against anyone growing up in a prison (literally AND figuratively) of poverty; of hopelessness; and in an unsafe world they’re afraid will forever be against them.  Hopefully, this doesn’t sound familiar to you personally or professionally – but perhaps it does.

In any event, Bane announces to the citizens of Gotham (let’s be real: New York)– “We are liberators” who want to return control of the city “to the people.”  But really this is only to distract them until he can launch a nuclear bomb and destroy everything so the world can start anew.  That’s actually the master plan.  A total wipeout of stasis.  A do-over.  A chance to shake the Etch-A-Sketch screen clean.  Hmm.  Does that sound familiar?

Thanks internet!

Well, I’m at an age where I haven’t had any major ailments – yet.  But I do find myself fantasizing about the idea of trading this body in for a younger model.  This is thinking not unlike the supposed “villains” of “Dark Knight Rises,” instead they want to do it with all of society.  These are people who have waited and waited forever from the sidelines – biding their time until they can trade what’s becoming their unsavlageably messy world in for a younger, cleaner, newer one.  The thinking is – sometimes it gets to the point where things, bodies and/or societies are unfixable and there is no other choice – painful and unfair as it seems.

My analysis is my own, but it certainly explains a lot about the 2012 world to me.  You can feel the fevered pitch in the social and political landscapes.  The bubbling intolerance of the times.  Aside from income inequality, it’s also about the desire of some to go back to the social mores of the fifties – though it’s hard to tell if it’s the 1950s or 1850s – when men and women knew their place and there wasn’t so much, well, talked about publicly.

Yes, I’m talking about Mitt Romney and Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, the latter of whom in a television interview coined publicly anew the oxymoron “forcible rape” and more than implied a wacky fringe medical opinion that women who are indeed “forcibly” raped secrete some sort of secret lady potion that prevents them from getting pregnant.  The former has his own awkward reasoning for a 1950s view of women’s choice and a reason to turn the clock back on the Supreme Court ruling of Roe v Wade and assure no female has a choice to a abort a baby in any way, shape or form.

Akin’s report card: F in Biology

But lest anybody get confused, this POV is not solely about religious beliefs.  It’s bigger than that.  It is also about the politicization of that personal morality at a particularly dark time in American culture.  A time when it’s not enough to be able to believe what you believe – you also have to make sure everyone else believes it – or at least is forced to adhere to your doctrine.  As a child in the 60s and 70s, I was brought up to understand that living in the United States meant the opposite.  The whole point was that we were always at least working towards a “live and let live” doctrine that didn’t exist in almost any other country on the globe.  Sure, things weren’t perfect here – but the one virtue we operated on is that our ideal was that you could choose your own morality (well, within reason), find your tribe in some town or city in at least one of the 50 states and no one could really say or threaten to do anything about it.

Now we’re in a global crisis and globally-speaking, it doesn’t feel that way anymore.  And “The Dark Knight Rises” is simultaneously shedding a huge spotlight on it while cashing in on it, both in real life and on the screen.  In the movie perhaps there is an obviousness to the fat cat privileged characters doing charity benefits for the poor saps living well below them in Gotham City but superhero films are nothing if not, in many ways, archetypal.  And anyway, why not since those facts couldn’t be any more obvious in real life?  Turn on the TV, your computer or walk the streets of Manhattan – more than ever before you can feel the money and the lack therof depending where you are geographically.

Perhaps part of the lure of the more popular than ever fantasy movie land genre is the violence and the excess of archetypal behavior.  There certainly always was darkness to the comic book genre where humans have special “powers” that make them different as they focus outside and inside themselves and the fight between “good and evil.”  But Christopher Nolan has taken the “Batman” series to new depths of darkness and desperateness in 2012 Gotham.  Lucky him, he is doing it in a particularly dark and desperate time in the world.  Hmm, lucky him?  Well, maybe.  My students think so.  But with good fortune comes responsibility.  And given the fallout from the film, one could argue he isn’t solely lucky at all.

As I say to my students, you can’t plan where your film (or even television show) will fit in the zeitgeist.  All you can really do is write about what you feel and what you see, especially when it takes a couple of years at minimum from conception of a script to its release date.  Of course, some people have an innate ability to have their hand on the pulse of what is happening and what will be happening because, well, it’s part of their talent and them being who they are.   Madonna used to be like this.  Christopher Nolan still is.

Seeing the writing on the wall.

He has tapped so into the darkness – so much so that not only have his Batman films made a fortune, they have the distinction of having caught the attention of at least one very disturbed individual who appropriated its onscreen nihilism and took it one step further into real life.  This in NO WAY MEANS Nolan and Co. bear any responsibility for the Colorado shootings or that “Dark Knight Rises” should be censored one bit to soften the blow of what’s going on today.  The price of freedom/lack of censorship means that horrible stuff as well as good stuff can happen at any given moment and arise out of any random piece of action we do or art we create.   What it’s ultimately about (and certainly what “Dark Knight Rises” is about) is balance – or light and dark –  of good and evil, or corruption and honor.  And there’s a cost to each when we live in a world that willingly traffics in enough freedom to allow free market indulgences of both.

Which brings us to our financial system.  In the world of “Dark Knight Rises” the HAVE NOTS (meaning most of us) rally together to torture the rich because they know only one thing for certain – the game has been rigged against them.  It’s the ending of the great 1969 Jane Fonda film “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” where you find out the dance was fixed all along (sorry, spoilers here), or like watching Babe Ruth lose the World Series for the Yankees instead of becoming the hero he became.  Or even worse, watching a hero like Lance Armstrong, who emerges victorious over not only the powers-that-be but over a killer like cancer, give up when the authorities finally manage to prove their case against him.  Or perhaps the most succinct analogy, to borrow from another archetypal pop culture fantasy — it’s like watching as the curtain is pulled back and exposes the fact that the Wizard of Oz is not only not as powerful as was advertised but that, in the end, he really has no power at all.

Pay no attention…

Of course, that is only one side of a story that could be taken two different ways.  For despite its pseudo happy ending coda for the sake of the franchise and studio, Nolan’s final “Batman” film captures the rage and verve or our times perfectly.  Not only for the Have Nots, but — for THE HAVES.

I mean, to hear the haves tell it, there was a long period in our history when people made a lot of money and no one got to know how or how much.  And that was preferable, civil, even moral.  This was also a period when people didn’t do or say so many sexual things en masse for all the world to see and, if they did, all of their sex talk/actions certainly weren’t being publicly accepted by the large mass of the country.  An era where men were men, women were women and it was clear which was which and what the rules were.  And a time when certainly rules that ensured that when people deviated from such behavior that they were punished.  Or at least if not punished, certainly not accepted as engaging in an alternative (read publicly acceptable) lifestyle. (Because let’s face it – anything goes for any of us, but especially the 1%, if we are at least willing to have the courtesy to hide it behind closed doors where it belongs).

One has to feel a bit sorry for those who felt like they played by the rules and came out on the top 1% – rigged game though it might be.  In essence, they achieved quite a lot but in 2012 are forced to live in a world whose majority now pretty much hates them for being so clever.  This is harsh, I know, and truthfully it still doesn’t go against the idea that we 99% don’t hate the rich.  It’s not the rich we really hate.  It’s the system that got them there that we despise and the failure of many of them to recognize and/or admit publicly the corruption and do something about it rather than circling the wagon and protecting their young – as most human beings are want to do when times are hard – that we very much and particularly loathe.

But it is ok to hate Mr. Monopoly.. greedy bastard.

I’m not sure what the answer is to any of this – or if indeed there is one.  Like the movie business, the one thing we know is certain about society, aside from death and taxes, is change.  “Dark Knight Rises” is pretty bold about the change – literally in its computer graphics; creatively in its merger of larger than life comic book superheroes and believably tortured moral human drama; and publicly as a symbol for one of what is turning into a small handful of mass gunmen in America right now who have gone off the deep end.

As a writer I always ask myself and my students – why right now?  Or, more to the point, as a former teacher once commented to me when explaining any good Shakespearean play – “why this day?”  That’s the rule of thumb for fiction.  A story can start a million different ways, so why did it start here?  One can’t help but feel this should be the question we ask ourselves right now about real life in 2012.  In addition to what the ending should be.  As all good writers know, endings dictate beginnings and vice-versa.  So it is only in the understanding of both that we have any insights into what our true Act II struggles are really about.  And if we can begin to identify the real reasons behind out true struggles, perhaps we can begin to write the real ending – the happy ending – that we deserve.

A famous writer (okay, Socrates) once wrote – “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Liberal or conservative, religious or heathen, moviegoer or pop culture hater – it feels like a good time to take that advice and intelligently move forward.  While we are all still around to do it.

All this from “Dark Knight Rises?”  Perhaps there is some small hope for the movies after all.

Hidden Costs

“Everybody has to pay the piper,”  “You don’t get something for nothing” and “No one gets off scott free.”  These are only three of the annoying sayings that get invoked over and over again by my family and have become the punch line to many of the sad, sick Larry David moments of karmic payback that seem to dog our existence.  They also serve to insure that none of us will ever get too complacent if any good fortune comes our way because it will inevitably cost us more than we will possibly know.

I used to think this was just a neurotic Jewish thing – Woody Allen’s version of “the horrible and the miserable” from “Annie Hall” where he tells his girlfriend Annie we should be happy we’re “miserable” because we could be in that small class of people who have “horrible” lives due to some handicap, awful crime, or genocidal atrocity. Yes, this was before political correctness vis-à-vis the physically and emotionally challenged and anti-depressants but, anyway, you get the point.  We (my family, I mean) are all inevitably doomed.

This all came to bear this week when my partner and I became what I always feared – people who buy washer-dryers and get excited about it and then get screwed by the system we should have been watching out for.  My feeling is that it probably served me right for getting gleeful about appliances in the first place.  How did this happen?  When did I become my Mother? Grandmother?  Aunt?  God knows, my Dad didn’t care about this stuff – in fact, when he and my mother got divorced he used to buy cheap socks and throw them out so he didn’t have to do laundry.  Sorry, Dad.  It’s true.

As for my partner, myself and our washing machine (no, that’s not a new French film), our non-musical sheer glee at this sleek new toy was quickly replaced with anger, disgust and then murderous rage once we began the purchase of those gleaming new fangled “bargains” and soon found out that those three of the most annoying sayings in the world that have gotten invoked by members of my family for decades (two of which I think I actually started. Oops.  © Rick Perry) are actually true.

Yes, I am here to report that the washer-dryer was expensive but on a major sale yet after the two year service agreement, delivery charge, gas hookup, tax and cart away fee for the other appliance from 1972, the sale price was actually 33% more than advertised and definitely above the sticker price were the whole thing not on sale at all.

Hidden costs or a sign of the times? Be more mechanical and hook up your own damn machine and, while we’re at it, cart it away, Mr. Lazy Bones, you say?  Uh, I’d wait if I were you.   Fifteen minutes after the delivery man left, the machine gushed water all over the laundry room, ruined the flooring, rendered the back door impossible to open because the wood floor swelled and, insult to hidden cost, the company two weeks later that sold us this lemon has not made good on its promise to compensate for losses despite me spending the equivalent of two 12-15 hour days harassing them in a way that I’m sure you, kind readers, could imagine only I, the Chair, could do.

An isolated instance?  This happens to everyone? Grow the eff up?  Gosh, I hope not.  But maybe. Perhaps as Charles Barkley noted last week on “Saturday Night Live” is this is simply a WPP?

Click here to watch the sketch

 

Actually, I think it’s a national (international?) trend.

Sunday night we go to see “Hugo” at a cool theatre in Hollywood where they charge $1 extra for movie tickets because it’s a flagship theatre.  I’m not a 3-D fanatic but I get the fascination and, after all, it’s Scorsese and it’ll be worth it to see it under optimum conditions.   And it’s a Sunday night. And it’s been playing for a while, so no line.  We go up to the box-office.  Cool.  I’m excited.  That’ll be — $39.50?  Huh?  No, how can that be?  For two tickets?  Well, it’s a 3-D show.  But….how much….Well, we charge $3.50 a ticket for the 3-D glasses.  Huh?  That’s our policy.

The industry's torture device

FINE.  We see the film.  I hate those freakin’ glasses.  It’s like having a small television resting on your nose, especially when you’re already wearing your own eyeglasses.  And the movie – it’s beautiful to look at, imaginative but maybe my inner child was asleep during the first hour due to the extra $3.50 apiece because, well…okay, subject of another discussion.  Still, it’ Scorsese, right?  Until we leave the movie theatre and there’s a big basket and an usher with a sign that tells us you need to RETURN the 3-D glasses you just paid $3.50 apiece for.  So — the extra $7 was a rental fee?

Tick Tock

I now hate Scorsese and precocious French children even if they are orphans.  But of course, that will inevitably cost me, too.  Perhaps in new, politically correct French readers or maybe in ways the universe has not yet decided but is currently planning in its quest to level the playing field and make us all pay the inevitable piper.  (It’s those European socialist ideas, courtesy of  Mitt  Obama, I tell ya!) Bottom line…it won’t be pretty.

All this talk got me thinking about other hidden costs.  Actually, the hidden costs of  everything.  Because truly, everything costs something even if it’s free.  You can’t ever get back the two hours (three if you count traveling time) you lose when you go to a bad movie.  Or all the money and lost time you’ve spent on counseling if you’re still in a bad relationship and dead-end job and do nothing about it.  And you might have more valuably spent your time reading Proust’s “Remembrance Of Things Past,” Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” or even watching the entire series of “The Wire”  (the show that everyone claims to be the best written show on television and which I haven’t yet sat through – though I have had an astrology reading) than spending 4, 6 or even 8 years of college if you can’t get a job in you field and are saddled with student loan or personal debt you’ll never pay back.

Except –

  1. What if the movie was great, even life-changing?  Then those 2-3 hours might be among the best of your life.
  2. What if those counseling sessions were the only thing that has gotten you to make major changes in your world that have given your life unexpected meaning, joy and balance?
  3. Perhaps those 4, 6 or even 8 years of college taught you to think in a way you would have never dreamed possible and spurred you on to not only a job in your field but a creative vocation in life that has given you the kind of creative (and even financial) gratification that only a handful of people ever manage to get a fraction of after endless decade upon decade of existence?

I bring this up because the first 3 negative results and the last 3 positive results have all happened to me in my very short life so far.

Hidden costs?  Always.  Look out for them.  Beware of the charlatans.  And – watch your back  (Especially at a Sears sale).  But there’s another saying my family lives by, even though we don’t joke about it – “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  Take a risk.  Try it.  Jump in.  There’s a ying and yang to the world.  No one gets off scott free.  (I certainly don’t – and continue not to).  But if you play it right, the piper can very much be worth paying.  Even at, perish the thought, far above the full retail price.