We’re Secular, Bitch

I watched El Camino, the Netflix film that continues the story of one of the best TV series of all time, Breaking Bad.

It’s a respectable effort to complete the arc of the series from BB’s creator Vince Gilligan even if it doesn’t soar to the same heights.  Still, we get to know what happens to our favorite dim bulb sweetheart of a crystal meth maker, Jesse Pinkman, witness a brief encounter between him and… (Note: Okay, NO SPOILERS HERE!) and realize once again that once you heavily enter into the world of drug dealing and drug taking no good will come of it.

Nothing de-glorified the illicit worlds of drugs and toxic masculinity better than Breaking Bad.  It’s certainly not the only example of that in popular culture but its ability to eschew proselytizing and instead focus on the lives of the people who choose this road made it one of the most respected, watched and memorable TV series of all time.

Quality TV, bitch

Jesse Pinkman grew up in a two parent household with a Christian mom and dad who, by his own admission, did the best they could to raise him with the moral values he needed to sustain himself in the world.  He was fictional yet somehow familiar, like the lovable doofus next door who once showed potential but somehow, and in some way, went on to break bad.

Jesse came of age in the early nineties, right around time our current U.S. attorney general, William Barr, first served in that post (1991-1993).  This was under then Pres. George Bush, Sr. and at the time, as now, it was Mr. Barr’s task to set the standard for the legal, and, in turn, moral tone for the country.  In other words, he is the custodian of what passes as the rule of law.

Preach

A devout Catholic, Mr. Barr’s tone and morality have remained constant and virtually unchanged since the time young Jesse Pinkman was looking for guidance on how to be an adult.

By way of explanation, here are some nuggets from a speech Mr. Barr, our sitting A.G.,  gave this week to an audience of law students at Notre Dame Law School, many of whom never heard it because they were too busy protesting his appearance outside of the auditorium on campus from which he spoke.

…Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian for human conduct…We are told we are living in a post-Christian era, but what has replaced the Judeo-Christian moral system?… Among the militant secularists are many so-called progressives, but where is the progress?…

We see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism…Basically every measure of this social pathology continues to gain ground…Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic.

….New Jersey recently passed a law requiring schools to adopt a LGBT curriculum that many feel is inconsistent with traditional Christian teaching,

….Over 70,000 people die a year from drug overdoses. …But I won’t dwell on the bitter results of the new secular age. 

Jesse is not a fan

Attorney General Barr is on a familiar frontline of American governmental religious fervor and his perception is that there is a decided lack of it that is causing the moral decay or our world.  Or at the very least, it’s lack is the primary reason for our social problems and the key to why so many people, both young and old, disobey the law, misbehave in general and seem so, well…unhappy.

If you lived through the thirties, the fifties, the eighties/nineties or were paying attention in the latter half of this decade, aka yesterday on Fox News or the Christian Broadcasting Network, you’ve heard this before.  If not, you can go through the speeches of Father Coughlin (1930s), Joseph McCarthy (1950s), both Bush POTUSes and Barr himself (1980s/1990s/2000s) and catch up.  Or better yet, view Mr. Barr’s Notre Dame speech here:

… and prepare to lose your lunch

What it boils down to is a society whose problems have mostly to do with straying from a strict RELIGIOUS doctrine. It is a school of thought that conveniently (and very purposefully) ignores the many secular advances in the world like, say, women having equal rights or laws against them being stoned in town square for cheating on their husbands – to – laws preventing members of the LGBTQ community from being fired from their place of employment, barred from their local marriage license offices or, say…being stoned in town square for simply…being.

Most importantly what it seeks to do is blame the Jesse Pinkmans of the world – either fictional or real – on the fact that they were raised in a country or household where government and home teachings of the Bible were not somehow enshrined in their being and viewed as the gold standard of citizenry, if not the requirement and guiding principle of its government and its leaders. (Note:  This would presumably include our current American “leader”).

pretty much sums up my thoughts

In times like these it is important to remember, repeat, and rinse and repeat again, that this line of thought was precisely the opposite type of doctrinaire thinking on which our country was first founded.

One of the essential pillars of American democracy is and always has been the separation of church and state.  Don’t take my word for it.  It’s the very FIRST AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

What this means is feel free to NOT BELIEVE in God and religion or BELIEVE in any God or religion you want.  But bottom line – leave RELIGION and whatever you believe it to be out of our government.

It is also important to note that the very definition of secularism (Note: Barr’s dreaded word) is: the principle of the separation of the state from religious institutions.

You know.. unless you live in this universe  #seeyourselfoutRudy

This in no way means that we can’t consult many sources, include our religion, to define what is right and wrong individually for us.  But as a government, a basic tenant of American law is that we leave our religion at the door.

As Americans we are guided by a set of norms and law that evolve over time, not ones enshrined in early A.D or B.C.  We have our problems, particularly these days, but this freedom to think any way we like, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, is in our DNA.  It has made us the most prosperous nation in modern history and, until recently, the one country the vast majority of immigrants in the world have chosen to migrate to.

Hmmm, perhaps what this attorney general and his cohorts from up above are trying to do by him speechifying about the enshrining of our country with an old/new religion is nothing more than their latest strategy to stem immigration?

Unlikely.

The game Barr and his ilk are playing is far simpler.  In fact, it’s all about the simplicity of thought.  Quiet the masses by evoking a past that never existed and ignore, prosecute, condemn and persecute (legally or by any means necessary) anyone who dare speak against them.  When all that fails, claim the sinners are the ones taking away THEIR freedom of choice, their religion, and stifling their ability to simply be who THEY ARE.

There is an immoral majority in American society right now but it’s not the Jesse Pinkmans of the world.  Rather, it’s the members of our top government elite, such as Barr, who think we’re all too dumb to catch on to their bait and switch game of immoral strategy to retain power and do what they please behind closed doors. (Note: I’m trying NOT to imagine anything I can’t unsee or unthank).

Well, they underestimate all the rest of us sinners at their own peril, don’t they?

Hopefully.

Nick Lutsko – “The Ballad of Jesse Pinkman” 

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Not Joking

I’ve decided to wait a bit to see Joker.

Not that you asked and not that I’m afraid to venture out to a movie theatre showing Joker on its opening weekend.

Oh, yes.  Apparently, there is reason to be afraid.

My students actually brought this to my attention, noting more than several sets of their parents called them this week to warn them of the perils of venturing out.  These were mothers and fathers who were truly afraid their college juniors and seniors could possibly be shot at in a public venue that dared to show a movie that addressed the evolution of a cartoon villain into a gun toting vigilante who wanted revenge.

America, 2019 #sad

But it never even occurred to me to be scared and I have fears about pretty much everything.

Not being a parent and never one to miss the opening weekend of a movie I was desperate to see (Note:  Yes, I did see Judy on opening night.  Please.) I thought of venturing out to Joker.  But it wasn’t the prospect of the ridiculous crowds that go hand in hand with those huge box-office projections that made me stay home.

Reserved seating ensures you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket and I was willing to take my chances in the off chance of a flesh and blood gunman given I survived the eighties.  But, well, the rat f-ck in the parking lot, the talking in the theatre during the film, the inevitable crying kid who shouldn’t be there or texting teens with neon-screened phones who have to be there– I mean, really, I can wait.

I’m fine with this

And anyway, Martin Scorsese says any film that’s part of the Marvel Universe isn’t real cinema so I doubt that he feels any differently about DC/Batman origins.

Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” —  Martin Scorsese to Empire magazine this week.

Scorsese throws it down

If Scorsese is venting about high and low art we moviegoers are really in trouble.

Still, I get it, don’t you?  A steady diet of anything eventually makes it less special and inevitably, less than satisfying.  So how frustrating must it be for someone who is acknowledged as one of the best filmmakers of the century to watch the market for what he produces narrow further and further.

It’s the slow execution of everything he has given his life to.  The existential extinction of a widespread and very particular art form.

On the other hand, (and quite honestly) I can’t say I’m excited to see another Scorsese gangster movie, are you? Really excited?  I mean, are you really, really excited about the release of his latest three and a half hour long epic The Irishman early next month?  As excited as you were to see Goodfellas, Casino or even, say, The Departed?  Be honest.

I feel seen #truth

A superhero movie fan could argue a new gangster film from the director is the cinematic equivalent of a Scorsese theme park ride.   Others might, too.

This in no way lets the glut of Marvel/DC comic book movies off the hook.  Looking at what’s playing at what we used to refer to as real movie theatres at any given moment is a far, far cry from the last true golden age of cinema in the late sixties through the early to mid-seventies.

You know… before this #imissyoucarrie

The entertainment business has always revolved around making money, especially easy money.  So no one can blame movie studios, producers, directors, actors, et al for focusing on the broadest possible market with an emphasis on the key 18-24 year old demographic.

It’s said studios are most interested in a four-quadrant film, meaning the movie that will appeal to the widest swath of the population (Note:  What quadrant are you in?) but this is no longer the case.  It’s not even the case that whom they want to most appeal to are 18-24 year olds.

Most people when they go to a comic book movie #ifeelold

What is true is that superhero films accounted for more than 25% of total movie ticket sales last year, the equivalent of $11.38 billion.

Truth be told, this is a lot it is still far less than what we (okay I) might have imagined.  Until we realize, large as it is, it’s still a misleading statistic.  Those films might account for a quarter plus of releases but how wide of a release do the non-superhero movies get and how long do they really stick around?

In other words, 75% of the movies we have the option of going out to see might not have anything to do with Marvel or DC but if these films only play just one or two weeks in smaller, not easy to get to (or particularly desirable) theatres in not many cities, than what are the chances any of us will get to see them?  If a comic book hero is monopolizing 5 screens at an 8-screen multiplex do you want to brave the crowds on the weekend in order to see the latest indie offering starring Catherine Keener?  You might not even show up for a Jennifer Aniston rom-com or a Spike Lee joint.

Forget about the cost of a helmet or your bulletproof vest.

… and yet this is the film Catherine Keener did in 2018 #sigh

This is especially the case if you can wait a week or two and view them in the comfort of your large screened living room, which, in some cases, will offer images almost as large as the ones you might be treated to at one of the smaller multiplex screens that the non Marvel/DC movie you chose to attend would be relegated to.

It’s not an accident that Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is backed by Netflix, which will make it available online three weeks after it debuts nationwide at what Steven Spielberg refers to as real movie theatres.

in unison: “you talking to me?”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing.

What he actually said is that Netflix films (and those from other streaming services) should not receive equal treatment at the Academy Awards and should be nominated for Emmys.  His belief is once you commit to the TV format you are a television movie and not a film.

But does his point of view extend to movies primarily backed or financed by Netflix and other similar platforms?  Or does Scorsese’s The Irishman get a pass because clearly HE makes cinema?

What IS 2019 cinema, anyway?   What is NOT 2019 cinema?

.. and what the hell is this??? #geminiman

As famed multiple Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once said of those of us in and around the film business, nobody knows anything.

And that, unlike most of what’s offered at your local multiplex, includes everyone.

The Late Ones – “The Joker” (cover of Steve Miller Band)

Revolting

Any era but this one seems to be the mantra of the day and who can blame any of us?   If the world isn’t falling apart, or at least regressing, well, it’s doing a pretty darn good imitation.

This is where nostalgia comes in because, well, when things seem this bad who can blame us for wanting to escape to the gauzy dreams of pre-selected luxurious times gone by?

This is where artists come in and in Hollywood there is no higher art than being a creator in film and/or TV.  Or is that TV and/or film.  It’s so confusing these days as to which medium gets first billing.

Don’t ask this guy what Netflix is… #spoileralert #heiswrong

But let’s table that discussion for now.

Much has been made about Quentin Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon A Time in… Hollywood in recent weeks.  Everyone seemed to love the recreation of the period but many balked at the context.

Are we really supposed to look back nostalgically at the 1969-era machismo of a nearly washed up leading man of TV and spaghetti westerns and his loyal, impossibly handsome stuntman?  Well, when the almost has-been is Leonardo DiCaprio and the sweet natured uber-hunk is a delectably shirtless 55-year-old Brad Pitt…come on, we all know the answer to that.

That’d be a YES MA’AM

And anyway, I dare you or anyone to look away when Brad peels his vintage tee off on that roof.  Because you won’t.  And you can’t.

But why spend all this money revisiting the Manson family murders for the umpteenth time, bathing Margot Robbie in impossibly flattering sunshine and white go-go boots as Sharon Tate?   Is presenting her in this new Tarantino-esque light (Note: No spoilers here) really worth all the trouble?  And who the heck is Quentin to take it upon himself to do that, anyway?

The latter is the real issue for critics of the film and its nostalgia.

Mary McNamara, the LA Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning culture critic, went so far as to call out Once Upon A Time… as nostalgia porn, likening it to the equivalent of a cinematic MAGA hat for its narrow, reductive and mythologized view of a world that didn’t exist.

Girl said whattttt?

That is unless you were a member of the white, male, Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, culturally conforming, non-addicted, mentally well, moneyed elite.

Okay but….what film world really does exist???

Every artistic project is told through the lens of its maker, for better or worse.  The worse is that there are not enough non-white, non-male, non-Christian, non-heterosexual, non-able-bodied, non-culturally conforming, non-money, non-elite making the highest profile content in order to round out the picture.  (Note:  I purposely left out non-addicted and non-mentally well because it’s show biz and, well, who are we kidding?).

I was driving in the car with my husband the other day listening to an old John Mulaney comedy special (Note: Yes, we do that sometimes) where Mulaney did a hilarious bit about all of the illogical characters and plot holes in the classic Back to the Future. 

In it, the comedian muses at how any mainstream studio could green-light a film where a teen travels back in time and almost sleeps with his mother, one where his only real friend is a man in the neighborhood three times his age who he meets with secretly AND is a crazed, criminal loner of a “scientist.”  Not to mention a thousand other twists of logic and convenience that were as likely to happen as not anything ever.

I HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR 3 DECADES!!!!

Now I can’t tell you how long I have been waiting – okay, THIRTY PLUS YEARS – for someone, anyone, to bring up these and many other moments of silly suburban wish-fulfillment contained in the script pages and prized cinematic moments of all three Back to the Future films.  Cause as a gay kid from the boroughs of NYC all they ever offered to me was a twisted Leave it to Beaver on steroids non-reality that I could never relate to or imagine ever truly existed.

Where is/was MY Back to the Future, I used to wonder?  Well, until someone creates a gay, Jewish superhero kid who is befriended by an eccentric Holocaust survivor down the street, I guess that it doesn’t exist.

I would see that movie #doitchairy

Sure, I’m being a bit flip but the truth is that is some small way, I am STILL waiting for it.

Thinking about all this and more led me to recently begin writing a period piece all of my own.  In doing so, I discussed the idea with a female friend and former student/now colleague who suggested I watch a one-season now defunct but very fine Amazon series that took place in a similar era entitled Good Girls Revolt.

Now how is that I, a journalism school grad who majored in magazine writing and came of age (and came out) in the seventies could have missed a show about a group of twenty-something gal magazine researchers who were aspiring to be writers in the 1969/early 1970s era?

feeling that Mad Men-esque energy #whereisjonhamm

If they couldn’t have been me they certainly could have been the older sisters I never had or the more experienced mentors I wish that I had met and related to at the time.  Because god knows I wasn’t getting very many breaks or invitations to hang out after hours from the straight guys in power.

Well, the fact is, gay or not I’m still a guy and the title, I don’t know, it seemed strange – like one of those borderline offensive Girls Gone Wild  vintage videos.  And with so much out there I guess it wasn’t a must see.  I mean, much as I don’t run for the macho stuff do I really go out of my way to look for shows with four female protagonists??

I guess not, since once I started my binge and got into the show I began to vaguely remember having heard more in its initial run about it, the book it was based on and the real female writers who wrote and created both based on fictional and real characters, some of whom even I knew about at the time.

Boo for me for not paying attention..  Like – BOOOOOOO, boo, boo.  What kind of typical faux macho…guy….was/am I?

I am ashamed.. so very ashamed

But more to the point, why was there only ONE season of this very fine and, for me, unusually period accurate depiction of a world that, after watching, I couldn’t imagine millions more wouldn’t be fascinated with?

After all, this was an early streaming series on Amazon, a service that wanted to take chances.  And it was female-centric (a key demographic), got good reviews, great audience reaction and respectable ratings in comparison to other Amazon renewals at the time.  Well, a lot of factors worked against Good Girls

#1 was that its premiere was two weeks before the 2016 presidential election, a time when a significant number of males in the country were rebelling against anything too female-centric, especially if it was on TV and let off even a whiff of women’s lib. (Note: #Hillary4Evah).

Me, thinking about November 2016

More importantly and #2 –

The head of Amazon at the time was Roy Price, a guy who didn’t get the show and at one second-season story pitch asked the show runners to use the actresses’ names when proposing future episodes because he hadn’t taken the time to learn the names of the characters they were playing.

Of course, little did he or any of the rest of us know that in less than a year he would be forced out of his job amid accusations that he harassed, this time sexually, Isa Dick Hackett,  not a character name but another real female show runner of another Amazon show, The Man In The High Castle.  Coincidentally, Ms. Dick Hackett is an out lesbian who also happens to be the daughter of Phillip K. Dick, the novelist who wrote the book on which the High Castle series is based on.   (Note: A play on words based on the surname of both the novelist and the show runner were among Mr. Price’s more noteworthy utterances reported during that time period).

This, in turn, was followed by the many revelations surrounding Harvey Weinstein from his accusers and the emergence of what we now sometimes all too glibly refer to as the #MeToo era.

There’s nothing glib about the story of the cancellation of a promising show like Good Girls Revolt, of course, most especially when it’s considered in light of all the attention a film like Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood is now receiving.

The only IT girl of the moment

Sure, I admittedly very much liked the Tarantino film but after watching the one season of Good Girls and learning of the circumstances of its cancellation, and my own initial indifference/ignorance towards it, it’s easy to see why so many are currently so publically over the whole Tarantino/DiCaprio/Pitt of it all. (Note: And not only women).

The fact is, until many more diverse voices get to create material with actors and directors from their communities who are every bit as bankable as a Tarantino, DiCaprio or Pitt, an inequity of point-of-view that is as world worn as the nostalgia those names so often propagate will dog their every achievement in the zeitgeist.

That’s not so much an objection to their POVS but to the fact that so many of us don’t get to see ourselves and our worlds reflected back at us at a time when being seen and heard is no longer a luxury of entertainment but a necessity for our very survival.

“Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell

Sneer and Loathing

We all have our personal reasons for loathing Donald Trump, those of us who loathe him, that is, of which there are many.

There are so, so many reasons to so, so loathe a man many of us have never met that narrowing it down to a single one is a mind-boggling, mind-numbing task.

And if I didn’t know in my heart of hearts that overwhelming his foes with outrageous, ego-driven, hate-filled actions was his way of neutering them and getting what he wants, I wouldn’t bother writing about him or it.

How many hours do you have?

But that’s not the world we live in.  We live in a world, nee a democracy, where each and every one of us is obliged to speak up and out against a clear and present danger to the freedoms we hold dear and those that threaten to take them away.

This, sadly, brings us back to the overfed, over-oranged and over-indulged temporary occupant of the current White House, as many things do these days.

So let’s play a game.  What is the single reason you choose to loathe him for???

…..Okay, I’ll go first.

It has always been – the racism.

Probably the best place to start

As I’ve said and written many times before, I grew up in the boroughs of New York City in the sixties and seventies and knew more than a few adults who thought like Trump.  They exuded an ugly kind of east coast racism that differed radically from the over-the-top southern lynching and beating form often depicted in the movies or on TV.

Their type promulgated the idea that the Blacks and Puerto Ricans were different, inferior, lazy and not like us.  As a kid I overheard countless times by numerous white adults that they didn’t respect their communities, weren’t educated, couldn’t hold down jobs and, when push came to shove, were generally shiftless and perhaps violent.

where to even begin?

Having attended integrated schools since kindergarten this didn’t compute for me and seemed just plain, well, mean, stupid and misinformed.  It probably helped that my parents didn’t espouse these views but nor were they the kind of people who liked to make waves.  When I’d hear these statements made by a handful of their friends or in the neighborhood they would just shake their heads and say don’t listen or just change the subject.

Their reaction angered me and as a teenager I began to speak up and eventually got into screaming matches with some of their friends, one of whom in particular reminds me of Donald Trump.  This ignoramus claimed to work with the “schvartzas” (a pejorative Yiddish term for Black people) and fancied himself as an authority on the kind of people they were and weren’t.  When I’d bring up examples of famous Black and brown people who didn’t fit his stereotype he’d claim they were exceptions and even went so far as to mention one or two Black people that he liked.

This kind of justification makes me crazy

I can’t tell you how much this reminded me of Trump bringing Kanye and Jim Brown to the White House or the news stories of the last few days where he said to the prime minister of Sweden that he’d be willing to vouch for the black rapper A$AP Rocky, now being detained in that country while assault charges against him are being investigated.

Like they’d be friends.

This, of course, is the same Trump who went on TV in 1989 to campaign for the death penalty for the five teenage boys falsely accused and convicted of raping and beating a woman in Central Park.  The same guy who spent approximately $82,000 for full-page newspaper ads imploring the city to change its laws to kill them.

That stupid effing signature

The same guy who once called Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) a fat little Jew and yet spent the better part of last week lambasting four Democratic Congresswomen of color who criticized him as anti-Semitic, that is, after he initially tweeted they  go back to the countries where they came from.

Never mind that three of the four were born in the United States and the fourth is a naturalized citizen who emigrated here with her parents legally from a war-torn country.

… and said congresswoman has been a citizen longer than the first lady #justthefacts

Filmmaker Ava Duvarney’s searing four part Netflix miniseries, When They See Us brilliantly depicts Trump’s rabid mindset en masse thirty years ago as she unfolds the gut-wrenching story of what can happen to young people and their families when they cross paths with the I know better fast-talking Trump-like racist mindset born and bred through the white privilege of the boroughs I came of age in.

soon to have a lot more emmys than some washed up reality show star

It is a mosaic of injustice for others promulgated by people like our Electoral POTUS, who watched and participated as his very own father presided over his very own real estate empire that for decades redlined most Black and non-white people from his apartments until they were eventually taken to court over it.

It therefore shouldn’t be surprising to any of us how Trump is trying to do the very same thing on a grander scale to the entire country by scapegoating immigrant families, especially young children and babies, and locking them in cages for days and even weeks on end without proper food, water and hygiene.

In turn it might then even be expected that the next up would be duly elected non-white representatives in Congress, or even those on the courts or in public life HE didn’t like.

DO NOT COME FOR CHER

It’s easy enough to brand them all as anti-American, aliens or even murderers, especially when he has at least a handful of public face acquaintances and/or supporters from pretty much every ethnic persuasion at this point.  Yet there are few if any of these people supporting him in Congress, none of them are in his immediate family or small circle of friends and very very, very few are granted membership in any of the Trump-owned country clubs.

I know this double talk, this white speak and this blowhard misogyny of Trump’s cowardly brand of street-fighting because it harkens back to the type of immoral, misinformed racists who inadvertently taught me to fight and argue in the first place back in the day.

Deal with it

What I didn’t know and never expected was that I’d be having this very same argument with so many of them and their spawn five decades later and that they would all have a de facto leader temporarily occupying a Chair in the Oval Office.

So from one Chair about another, here’s how you deal with them and him.

You call them out at every turn and racist trope and challenge them and it over and over again.  Then you bring along other members of your extended families and friends and urge them to do the same.   Then you keep at it, day in and day out, week after week  (Note: Or at least every time you see them) and, eventually, they will be outnumbered, retreat, pipe down and age out.

#over

That’s we how we did it back in the day and they and their hate speech went cowering back under the rocks and into the private residences and chat rooms from which they came.

Sadly, every few decades we need to do it again, and the time for disinfectant is now.

Gil Scott-Heron – “Home is Where The Hatred Is” 

Stranger Things in Stranger Times

…I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday…

–“Me and Bobby McGee,” Music & Lyrics: Kris Kristofferson, Singer: Janis Joplin

Nostalgia is in the air.

You can see it every time another superhero movie has a HUUUUUUUUGE opening. I’ve seen it as a college professor for more than a decade with my film students’ almost universal, fanatical fascination with all things Star Wars. 

I thought growing up meant I’d never again have to feel marginalized for the big yawn I felt whenever a friend tried to tempt me into the Marvel or DC comic world.

Little did I know the pressure would be compounded by a perfectly enjoyable but to my mind not particularly deep 1977 film that would not only refuse to die but haunt pop culture for the rest of my life on planet Earth.

Me, talking about Star Wars #overit

Yes, I’ve always preferred the real world to a fantasy from the past.

Look away or backwards for too long and you might miss the danger right before you in the present.   Or the pleasure.

In that sense, you could color me realistic.

But realism is not so popular right now in particular.

You can see this in our politics.  Like it or not, Trumpism is a banshee scream to right the ship (Note: Literally) and make things the way they used to be in the good old days.

It is nostalgia for a past that is simpler, more prosperous and a lot more black and white.  Though to my mind it’s really white and black.  Meaning White first, and then, well, maybe just a little Black, for what remains.

For what else is one to think when perusing what America realistically was in what we now recall as the good old days.

Nostalgic for nostalgia? Hey, it could happen.

Though in fairness, this phenomenon is not alone limited to the U.S.  A new brand of White Nativism – which sure, some scholars refer to as nostalgia – has spread all throughout Europe and beyond.  So much so that one day, generations from now, the future scholars will surely look back to the first half of the 21st century as a time when the world had to choose between embracing the past or vaulting into the future and chose —

_________________________________.

Well, that remains to be seen.  But I, like you, have some very real thoughts on the matter.

This is why it surprises me at just how big a fan I am of the recently dropped season 3 of the ultimate nostalgia machine, Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Scale of 1 to 10, it’s an 11. #yuckyuck #illseemyselfout

As a Chair whose taste runs afoul of mythic pasts and the heroes who triumph in them, how is it that the greatest relief I’ve found from TrumpWorld in the last year is following the exploits of a group of kids from the type of suburban neighborhood I never lived in during what I consider the absolute worst decade in the history of my life thus far– the eighties???

I’ve been considering this all week and have not yet come to an answer.

There was really nothing much fun about the eighties.  Just look at the fashions and you can see how much we hated ourselves, and each other.

This was heartthrob hair. For real. #ohBilly

It’s one thing to go to a costume party today with giant shoulder pads and too short short-shorts but it’s quite another to be expected to put them on every day after you’ve teased and moussed up your hair into a humidity-defying frenzy.

What sane human being who lived through those times would crave that?  What kind of insane population would ever popularize that?

These are questions much too big to resolve through the enticing world view we’re given in ST’s third and best season.  Though through a strict storytelling lens, it’s pretty clear.  The appeal of the latest ST incarnation is that in its own small way it manages to evoke the best of nostalgia, fantasy AND reality.

Oh god that mall. That 80s mall.

The world of monsters and evil foreign/governmental villains might steer the overarching plot but what we really relate to is the stunningly imperfect humanness of the characters the Duffer Brothers created and the behaviors of each actor playing them.

Every one of its principal characters is on the surface central casting for the non-hero supporting role in any movie or comic book adventure.  Each in their own way is either neurotic, ill-tempered, phony, depressed, bookish, dumbly amusing or just plain unappealingly awkward.  In short, they are a group comprised of the last ones chosen for any sports team combined with the first ones suspended from every sports team.  (Note: And I wonder why I relate?)

And yet, in watching each of them get their moment as they’re thrust center stage and dared to become heroic, we find ourselves somehow rooting for them in what could objectively be considered the most ridiculous of circumstances.

Steve and Dustin’s handshake alone. #thesetwo

To create tons of believable scares when you’re being chased in a _________________ by a giant gooey _________________ is a tough enough hat trick to pull off.  But to do it in a decade that is already an overused sad parody of itself and get us to actually believe any of those people could actually exist is something else entirely.

And yes, there will be no spoilers here. 

oh thank god!

That is, for the handful of readers who have yet to tune in.  For the launch of ST’s season 3 has set a new record for Netflix, attracting 40.7 million household account viewers in its first four days, almost half of which were viewed on TV screens on its launch over the Fourth of July weekend.  The only show on TV that was more watched during that time was when real-life superhero Megan Rapinoe lead the US women’s soccer team to victory in the Women’s World Cup.

QUEEN #thatsall

Though I was not one of those who watched ST in it first four days, I will cop to binging it in two perfect four-hour sittings over two nights a week later on my big red sofa with tortilla chips, guacamole and my dog in my lap.  For me it was not so much nostalgia as it was pure decadent escape from the continuous loop of a news cycle that at times has become simply unbearable.

Which, even more strangely, probably puts me at the center of the very definition of nostalgia – a longing for a past or a place with happy associations.  It might not be exactly my past or my place/town onscreen but, well, facts are facts, even in today’s world.

Gosh, I hope not.  Since my husband just walked in the room and, hearing I was waxing nostalgic about nostalgia, reminded me that a Swiss physician first coined the term back in 1688 as a psychological disorder similar to paranoia, except that the sufferer is manic with longing.

For what exactly, I’m not sure.  Nor, I suspect, are most of the rest of us.

Janis Joplin – “Me & Bobby McGee”

Award Worthy?


I was lucky enough this week to attend the Television Academy Honors, an annual awards ceremony that recognizes the creators of socially relevant programming that creates awareness, enlightens, educates and/or positively motivates audiences.

It is an honor totally separate from the Academy’s annual Emmy Awards and was established as a way to spotlight television shows that go above and beyond to tackle difficult and timely issues in hopes that this will in some way fuel more discussion of the show and/or issue in the social zeitgeist.

It was also meant as a small pat on the back to the people who more often that not struggle against great odds to get these types of programs (e.g. scripted, non-scripted, documentary) on air.

Click here to see a full list of the 2019 winners

But suffice it to say they dealt with race (director Julia Willoughby Nason entering with Trayvon Martin’s mother to accept for Paramount Network’s docuseries, Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story);  childhood cancer (executive producer; writer Heather Wordham accepting for the Netflix comedy, Alexa and Katie, where one of  two teen friends lives with leukemia), transgender rights (creator Steven Canals and trans writer-director Janet Mock awarded for FX’s LGBTQ themed 1980s set drama series, Pose); and rape (co-directors Trish Adlesic and Greta Gandbhir cited for reporting on 13 of a group of hundreds of women awaiting scores of lost or misplaced rape kits in HBO’s I Am Evidence).

Trophies all around!

Now important as these themes are, one could argue the last thing the entertainment industry needs right now is another award, especially since presumably all of these people were paid and had the pleasure of seeing their vision and onscreen credit on TV screens, as well as many other screens, across the world.

On the other hand, why should one thing disqualify the other?

The fact that a person gets attention for or makes a living at something that benefits society is certainly not immoral in itself.    It only becomes that way when their compensation (financial or otherwise) is immorally over-the-top or the makers themselves are nauseatingly immodest, and/or immoral. 

Don’t even get me started on Mark Burnett.

In that way, show business award recipients are not unlike politicians – we may watch and secretly vote for the winner of our choice but on the whole we can also too often smell their elitism and privilege through our TV screens.  To truly trust and admire any of these guys and gals, particularly those of the political kind, is to make a leap of faith that we inevitably know we’ll be sorry for some time in the future.

Or, as the recent history of most sequels, subsequent seasons or elected officials too often demonstrate, the not-so-distant future.

I’m really glad I didn’t invest myself in this one #GameofThrones #toosoon?

Certainly this is beyond cynical (Note: even for a Chair), particularly when we speak about people who create content (Note:  Okay, I loathe that word too) that speaks to timely and serious subject matter.

You can’t lump two women who made a documentary about rape survivors whose evidence was misplaced with, say, the worst symbol of entertainment industry immortality (not to mention rape) and over-privilege – Harvey Weinstein.  Right???  Right??????

In the same way we wouldn’t condemn a white female director as slumming for having the temerity to direct a docuseries about the murder of a black male teenager like Trayvon Martin and its role in the social justice movement, especially since she had the participation of his mother.   Correct???  Correct?????

Hang in there, he’s getting to the point #TrustTheChair

Not to mention only the most insensitive loutish fool among us would gripe that said mother, Sybrina Fulton, only participated in the docuseries as a way to continue to be seen in the public eye so she could run for the job she now seeks – a seat on the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners.   Do you agree????  YOU AGREEEEE, RIGHT?????????

So, if that is the case, then why are so many of us now more than willing to jump to these same type of conclusions about many of those politicians now running for office, particularly those running for the highest political office in the land?

And why do so many more of us think even worse of the millions who just might be thinking of supporting any one of the above?

If we can award a show business content-maker for stepping up center stage and speaking eloquently to the issues, or even a single issue, then why can’t we have the same admiration for any one of the many politicians daring to do the same in our virtual Town Square at a time when, as a country, we are as divided as we’ve ever been?

High Blood Pressure 2020

Let’s leave Trump and his base voters out of this for now because that’s too easy.  Instead, let’s concentrate solely on a select few top frontrunners in the Democratic field.

Why is it that Joe Biden and his supporters are backwards-looking and the former Vice President needs to be spit-roasted and attacked on every point he’s ever made in a half century old career as we poo-poo all the positive points he scores in the 2019 landscape?

How is it that Elizabeth Warren’s supporters are unrealistic and virulent and she’s too librarian-ish and lecture-y and Trump-tainted to win a general election?

What does it say about us that Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay person to EVER have a serious chance of becoming U.S. president, is already being relegated to the category of moderate, safe, old school white male privilege and his supporters as something less than progressive?

When did it become okay to knock a female biracial senator like Kamala Harris for too often playing the race card and at the same time condemn her for being a little too tough on the non-white community as a former prosecutor because she rose through the mainstream political ranks while married to a white Jewish guy?  And how come it’s okay to grab HER mike on a stage and no one else’s?

Mood

I would be more than happy with any one of the above four candidates as the Democratic nominee to be our next POTUS.  And thrilled to have any of them, and many others as a REAL president.

To that end I’ve been vocal about each of them on various social media posts, as well as in person.

Yet I find that the candidate(s) and myself are ALWAYS eventually attacked by someone, and ALWAYS of my own party, for any one of the above reasons.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can take the attacks.  In fact, sometimes I too happily relish them, anxious to fight back and toss back some witty bon mot in the direction of the attacker, preferably right smack in their ____________.

Don’t mind if I do!

But that doesn’t do much except make me feel better and more superior in the moment.  Pleasurable though that may be, it also simultaneously pushes back said candidate of the moment at least a notch or two…or even three ok, eight.

Therefore it seems that if we can all too happily hand out awards for producers, directors, writers and stars who try to speak out and raise our consciousness on social issues in TV, we (including myself) might also try to cut a little slack to those few among us who we might not immediately support but who are at least trying speak to these real points in real life.

Agree or not, but to act as judge, jury and critic months before their full show, series or docudrama has even aired, or immediately condemn those of us who might like and/or try to promote the kind of socially relevant program they offer as knee-jerk ignorant, stupid or, worst of all, too privileged, IS JUST PLAIN ________.

….well, maybe consider …not doing it?

CANT… DO… IT… #trying

We will all likely try to speak out about social injustice in our own ways and through whatever means is available to us in the next year or so.  To listen to and truly consider the issues and the handful of candidates others will choose to make the case seems at the very least the mightiest of really American things to do.

It would also certainly be worthy of an award if we still gave them out for that kind of thing.   Though once upon a time we did and it was simply called… citizenship.

Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye – “Stop, Look, Listen”

We’ve Got Mail

The holiday season has begun because Thanksgiving has happened.  Not only that, Black Friday pulled in a record $6.2 billion in online sales, up 23.6% from last year.

Anyone who went into a brick and mortar store…good for you!

But also know that sales for this year’s Cyber Monday (Note: That’s tomorrow) are projected to be $7.8 billion, an increase of 18% over 2017.  So you’re fighting a losing battle.

Of course none of this much matters in Hollywood when the presents that come in the mail you get most excited about are not the ones you bought online at a special discount but the ones you receive for free.  No, we’re not talking about love, thoughtfulness or anything to do with Gift of the Magi.

This is all about…..THE SCREENERS.

YASSSSSSSSS!!!

Yes, we’re THAT shallow out here.  The shallowest.  But if it bothered you all that much you wouldn’t ask to borrow them, would you??  Nor would so many of those in the entertainment biz who lived outside of Hollywood make sure that their agents, managers, publicists, unions and post offices have an address to forward these precious little gems to in advance of the holidays.

Who you callin’ Shallow? #OscarforBestSong #callingitnow

It’s amazing how a group of people who can mostly afford to go to see every movie on the planet and subscribe to all the streaming services playing a healthy number of all of the film and TV offerings available become absolutely apoplectic (Note:  with joy) when one of those unmarked boxes or padded envelopes show up at the door.

How do I know?  Because My Name is The Chair and I AM ONE OF THEM. I am a SCREENER QUEEN.

LONG MAY SHE REIGN!!

But why not get excited?  They often arrive in pretty packaging with thick stock pictures inside.  They might also have slick promotional posters, retro faux ads you could hang on the wall in a proper frame, and inside informational data you could only get if you actually read a newspaper or magazine article all the way through.  Plus, it’s all contained in a chic canister that evokes the theme of the show or the period it is set in.

This year’s second season of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel arrived in its own cylindrical hatbox wrapped in a pretty pink ribbon the day before Thanksgiving.  Well, the first four episodes, anyway.  My sister and I were KVELLING!  (Note:  Translation – bursting with pride).

Hello, Gorgeous!

It was like the holiday gods granted us the entertainment wish we had no idea we were wishing for.  I mean, what else would a small family of Jews like us do AFTER stuffing their faces with a meal that only someone with Martha Stewart’s well, let’s politely say panache, could pull off without a hitch?  Or WANT to.  Because truly, Mrs. Maisel is THE most Jewish thing (Note: In a good way) I have ever seen on TV or in the movies (Note: Fiddler on the Roof and Funny Girl accepted, of course).  It IS every ethnic person’s answer to Thanksgiving.

Which brings us back twofold to the issue of screeners.  Not only do they give you something to do when you’re all out of ideas or too tired to think of them, they also give you something to do ahead of time that you were looking forward to but had resigned yourself to wait for.  Plus, they allow you to catch up with something you had vowed you would see weeks before but had not been able to rouse yourself out of the house to ever attend.

Oh yeah, I’m hip #sotrendy

I don’t know about you but the United States is so volatile these days I find that I feel much safer at home torturing myself with cable news 24/7 rather than venturing to a darkened theatre for a few hours, thus allowing the apocalypse to sneak in during a moment when I wasn’t worrying and keeping us all safe.

Know that for this SCREENER QUEEN it is not about showing off by being FIRST but using these advance copies of lusciousness to give me so many much needed jolts of distracting excitements away from our impending and inevitable collective demises.

Savoring the moment

Which is a shame because here’s what is inevitably noticeable about the crop of deliverables received thus far.  If movies are any indication we are finally, if ever so slightly, beginning to diversify representation.

Movie stories about people and cultures we’ve never spent too much time thinking about en masse have finally begun to creep through and onto the COMP gravy train.

The last time a studio spent this much money to send out a rom-com about an Asian couple attending a wedding in Singapore was…NEVER.  But of course there has never been a crossover film like Crazy Rich Asians to market directly to Hollywood guild members.  If our world were to survive, it would be so encouraging for that community to finally be perceived as silly, sexy and superficially wealthy as so many of the rest of us.

Plus 2018’s Breakout Star #Awkwafina

The Hate U Give also gives one hope for the bright future we’ll never see.  When Hollywood can actually make an intelligent film about a smart and attractive 16-year-old Black female teenager standing up unapologetically to the white power structure AND be proud enough to send it out for FREE to those same powers-that-be, well…we truly have arrived…somewhere.

I’m not sure where exactly but I do know I found myself thrilled to watch a movie where I could so strongly identify with the feelings of a heroine of a different sex and color who was decades younger than myself.  It was so much more pleasurable than  feeling nothing but anger during any one of thousands of superhero films where the lead bore no relation to any thought or feeling I have ever had, or had even observed in any other living or breathing thing I had ever known.

OK maybe Amandla Stenberg can give Awkwafina a run for her money #breakoutstars

Yes, you too can be Black, Jewish or Asian AND actually feel represented by the first initial early batch of 2018 end-of-the year Hollywood screeners.  That might not seem like much but it’s something to hold on to in a time when we’re all grasping at straws.

No wonder there’s excitement in the air every time the mail arrives these days.

Andy Williams – “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”