LGBTay-Tay

When Taylor Swift gave a surprise performance of her new anti-hate song, You Need to Calm Down, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the modern LGTBTQ movement at the very place where it started – NYC’s Stonewall Inn – it made an impact.

After all, the 29 year-old singer/songwriter is one of the best-selling recording artists of all-time with over 50 million album sales and 150 million in single digital downloads.  She’s won 10 Grammys, was included in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters back in 2015 and has appeared three times in Time’s 100 most influential people, including 2019.

She’s a goddamn icon

Whether you are fan, frenemy, enemy or simply indifferent, it is undeniable that once Tay-Tay sets her sights on, or music to, a subject she carries an indefinable weight towards changing hearts and, more importantly, minds on said subject.

As a gay man of a certain age I do not take any support for granted, especially hers, and finally understand that each small and large gesture are essential building blocks forward.

A TS lyric like, shade never made anybody less gay in a song heard internationally more times than any of us likely ever will be, can’t move the needle alone.  Still, it can certainly be the single straw that breaks the back of hate in all sorts of different people for all sorts of different reasons.

YAY TAY TAY

At this point it might be worth remembering that it was on the day Judy Garland died that a group of trans people, gay men and drag queens stood up to police harassment en masse at the Stonewall Inn and birthed the modern gay liberation movement.

The fact that they rioted in the streets of Greenwich Village for several days, refusing to be targeted where they lived, did not happen just because a gay icon was gone, as the history books like to simplify.

However, it would not be overreach to write that when that final straw dropped on that specific day, a bunch of us were extremely pissed off, much more so than usual.  Just like you don’t throw a lit match onto a gas station or sass your Mom and Dad just after they’ve gotten home from a double shift at work. There are limits to what any of us will tolerate on a very bad day.

Even Joan has limits #nowirehangers

You can’t blame it on the sass or the match or the day or the shift.   It takes the combination of some or all of those elements (and more) to fuel the uncontrollable fire that was sure to come once all the kindling fell into place in exactly the right (or wrong) way.

It was in thinking about all of the above that it became undeniable that a week had just passed where all three of the new mainstream films and TV series I had just consumed for the first time centered specifically on members of the LGBTQ community.  This would have been unthinkable just two or three decades ago not because my tastes had changed but due to the fact that no one was making this much openly gay content back then for mass consumption.

Not even Charles Nelson Reilly was technically “out”

There was Halston, a feature length documentary on the gay designer of Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat, Liza Minnelli’s sparkly stage outfits and just about some part of every trendy female fashionista’s wardrobe back in the 1970s.

Then scrolling on Netflix was Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story.  This was a hard look at the celebratory life and tragic death of young gay man credited as the greatest makeup artist who ever lived.  A guy who worked with every female supermodel of his era, including Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, and then segued to work with the likes of Cher, Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Gwyneth Paltrow and Andie McDowell.

The master at work

This was all before branching out to create best-selling books and makeup lines and

dedicating his own time and money to mentor other young, forgotten gay kids, many of whom came from the same small homophobic home towns he himself had grown up in.

Watching his adopted father’s account of how the young Kevin had to drop out of high school at the age of 15 after several of the school bullies tried to run him down with their truck was enough to make any viewer question if anything has really changed at all.

Of course, this would be foolish thinking since his very own path to international fame as a proudly out gay man occurred years after the Stonewall Riots and the rise of a very un-publicly gay designer like Halston.

and certainly after Keith Haring’s “Heritage of Pride” Logo from the 80s

It is on the wings of countless real life people that Kevin was able to rise just a little bit more and the memorable gay characters of contemporary fiction emerge.  That is why watching Netflix’s just released 10-part limited streaming series, Tales of the City, based on Armistead Maupin’s best-selling books of 1970s, 80s and beyond San Francisco, seems a perfect cultural bridge to a 2019 public, yet now somehow almost routine, LGBTQ ally like Taylor Swift.I can recall devouring those Tales novels when I first came out because it was the first time I saw the gay and straight worlds melded together into the one more integrated, albeit messier, world that I lived in.

BONUS Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis together again!

Sure, it was a somewhat idealized world but it spoke to my reality closer than anything I had come across up to that point, straight or gay.  Good as the early PBS miniseries (based on the first two books) was back in the early 1990s I can recall how disappointing it felt to have it viewed as both exotic and controversial when it was first broadcast during the AIDS era.   So much so that the PBS network declined to do any more movies/shows based on the next books, which were finally produced by Showtime but gained far less attention.

For those of us still around, and for so many others, it is therefore a partial triumph of both endurance and history that the gay-themed issues tackled in the latest Tales on Netflix are today barely controversial – only merely reflective of where the world is now.  Far more potent is how the middle-aged (Note: ahem) characters of my generation co-exist with the younger out(er) and proud(er) generation after them and how they all grapple with the full history of those left from the still older generation that came before either of them saw the light of day.

Kinda like the feeling I get when I see this guy out on the trail with his husband #PeteforAmerica

It is in this more full depiction of the many inroads and detours taken in the full path to get here that these newest Tales really soars.  This is done through expert performances from the likes of Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney and Ellen Page as trans, straight and gay/bisexual characters, respectively, of different ages whose many stylized stories not only naturally but casually intersect with a core truth of not only how it was but how we would want it to be.  Perhaps, in some ways, how it now is for all of us.  Or, well, more of us.

This new Tales miniseries is memory piece of today that is built on the past but exists clearly in the present as it consistently looks towards the future.  It is not unlike what Taylor Swift does when she comes fully out as a straight LGBTQ ally in 2019 and uses her celebrity and talents to boldly admonish all current and future homophobes in a fun but clearly commercial pop song pointedly entitled You Better Calm Down.

Taylor Swift – “You Need to Calm Down”

Advertisements

CRA-ZEE

I was once interviewed to work on a movie that is very, very famous by a very, very famous producer who was so crazed on cocaine that this person not only screamed at two assistants in the office during our interview but barely sat down behind his/her (I am not revealing gender) desk or in his/her chair during the entire interview.

Right around this time an Oscar nominated writer friend of mine was in a meeting with a top studio executive who, each time he/she tried to punctuate a point, heaved a basketball he/she was playing with behind his/her desk at my writer friend  — who was female, by the way, not that it really matters cause she could probably catch a basketball better than me.  Which she did from said producer.  In fact, I asked her – what did you do when you caught it?  Her Answer:  I threw it back, of course.

I didn’t get the job on said movie (thank goodness, the producer and director were apparently a nightmare) and my friend’s meeting never brought her a deal to write the movie she was pitching.  This is not surprising.  Contrary to popular belief – really CRAZY people seldom provide prospective employment or breaks to those of us seeking them.  And in the rare times they do – you often wish that they hadn’t.

I bring this up right now because every year some of my students find themselves working in offices with especially “crazy” people.  I don’t mean difficult and demanding.  I mean CRA-ZEE.  How do you define cra-zee?  See above two paragraphs.

Click me for NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!

Difficult and demanding are okay.  A little crazy is okay too.  What is not okay is CRA-ZEE.  Ever.

Here’s what CRA-ZEE people, particularly in the entertainment business, like to do.  They like to tell young people that if they can’t deal with the impossibly impossible toxic environments said CRA-ZEE person creates, that they don’t belong in the entertainment business.  They like to tell young people that their dreams are impossible to achieve if they can’t suck it up and take constant or even sporadic abuse or harassment or “just joking that you’re taking the wrong way.”  They like to promise nice and wonderful things in a moment of weakness and then pull the rug out from under a young (or even older) person for a myriad of personal reasons that have nothing to do with the person whose balance they have just messed with.  They might not do this on purpose (or they might, depending on the level of cra-zee).  But that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that they can do this at any given moment at what appears to be the least provocation.

Advising everyone to STAY AWAY from these people at any costs might seem obvious given what we know about contemporary mental health.  Or even ill-advised given what we fear about the current job market and chances for advancement in the business we call show.  But after spending all my life in the biz, this much I can tell you – No good will ever come from associating yourself with the CRA-ZEE.  To you or your psyche.

Now let’s be clear – this is not the same thing as paying your dues with difficult people or doing a series of jobs you might feel unworthy of your vast “talents.”  I bring this up because of a NY Times article this week on a lawsuit filed by two former college interns against Fox Searchlight.  Essentially one of these interns, a student from Wesleyan who interned in the production office on “Black Swan” (wow – I’d like to have done that) was complaining about not getting any dollar salary this time.  Of course, part of the internship agreement is that the “pay” is college credit for your labors (as you would receive if you were in a classroom doing intellectual labor) and all of the experience you can garner by having an inside seat into the production process of a film that, as it turned out, was one of the biggest financial and critical success of the year, if not the decade.

But on closer inspection, I couldn’t help but feel that “pay” was only part of the complaint (that’s the cra-zee part, as opposed to the crazy).  Said student seemed particularly angry that during the internship his duties consisted of “getting coffee, setting coffeemaker, cleaning and preparing the production office” etc. etc. Well, as an advisor to hundreds of students in internships over the years to that I say – did you get to observe other aspects of the production?  Was EVERYTHING done behind closed doors?  Did you have no opportunity to talk to or observe anyone having to do with the film at all?  Did you not get to read and review any documents associated with the production?  Did you never get to speak to ANYONE at all on the film?  And mostly – were you in a position that was difficult and demanding (not so much for what your job was but for what your job wasn’t on the surface) OR were you put into an environment that was CRA-ZEE that was run by CRA-ZEE people who treated you CRA-ZEE-LY?

If it wasn’t any of the above CRA-ZEE and just merely crazy, I say to said Wesleyan student– welcome to the dues paying biz, bud.  It sucks but we’ve all been there and live in the real world.  And consider the fact that – if you don’t cotton to the idea of putting in time learning to do what you want to do without getting paid – then this business might just not be for you.  Because any writer, producer or director will tell you that they create and do lots of work on their own for which they might never get paid for.  It sucks.  It’s not fair – but as Roxie Hart says in Chicago – “That’s showbiz, kids.”

Get to work, interns!

In no way, shape or form take this to mean that I don’t want every one of my students to get paid for the internship work they do.  But I also want world peace, single-payer health care and the head full of hair I had when I was 21.  None likely will happen even though technology has made it possible for me to get that head of hair if I want to look like Nicholas Travolta Elton John Cage, which I don’t.

Bottom line is – we live in a capitalist society in recession and you take the work experience where you can get it.  College is one of the times in life where your number one goal needs to solely be gaining knowledge – not making money. (Hopefully, all of life is about this – and to some extent it should always be number one – but I’m making allowance for those who think differently).

Yes, if you were my student and you were ONLY in a room making coffee and doing the dishes, I’d tell you to leave, because that would qualify as CRA-ZEE.  But don’t mistake the CRA-ZEE for the insanely difficult and demanding.  Because part of what you’re learning by being put in these kinds of situations is how to navigate the shark-infested difficult and demanding waters and not wind up being CRA-ZEE or inflicting the CRA-ZEE on yourself (or others).  That might seem CRA-ZEE, but actually – it’s merely life.  Which is crazy enough on its own.