Herstory

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Hillary Clinton made history this week when she became the first female nominee from one of the two major parties in the U.S. for president. Then several days later Sen. Elizabeth Warren became the darling of left, center and center-right wing sanity by giving a rousing takedown speech eviscerating Republican nominee Donald Trump as both a loud, nasty, thin-skinned fraud and a small, insecure, thin-skinned, wannabe tyrant.

Normally it’s not recommended to repeat adjectives like thin-skinned twice in alternating phrases but in this case it didn’t matter. Sen. Warren’s acumen at knowing just which buttons to push in The Republican Apprentice scored such public adoration that talk quickly grew that she was the leading contender for Hillary’s Veep spot (Note: One feels compelled to call her Hillary these days since that’s the catch phrase on her posters and how she signs all of her fundraising emails – at least to me).

We're all ears

We’re all ears

I, for one, was immediately thrilled at the possibility of two women on the ticket. I mean, how could they do any worse and what better way to get misogynist Trump’s goat, right? But looking across to my 87-year-old father, who I know has always loved Mrs. Clinton, as he calls her, and for just as long has always loathed that ass h-le Trump, as he refers to him, it occurred to me to ask –

Uh Dad, do you think having two women on the ticket matters to men in their 70s and 80s?

Silence. And then in one word he answered — 

Yes.

When I told him it didn’t matter to me he quickly retorted that I wasn’t in my 70s or 80s. When I mentioned it didn’t matter to him he just shrugged it off. How I interpreted the latter was, at this point in life I don’t really know why some people are so small-minded and I really don’t care. Can’t we just watch the basketball game or at least Turner Classic Movies?

Indeed

Indeed

I mean, how long do we have to endure the women discussion anyway? After watching news analysts of both genders questioning all day whether the nation could accept having a duo of females as our numbers 1 and 2, my mind began to drift to March 24, 2002. Do you know what day that was? I didn’t think you did. It was actually the evening that Halle Berry became the first African-American female to win best actress (Oscar, that is) and Denzel Washington became only the second African-American male in history to win best actor.

Yes, our TWO best American thespians that year were…Black! That hadn’t even happened before and that was 12 years ago. Not to mention we’ve actually had one Black # 1 in the White House for almost eight years since then. So given that more than another decade has gone by isn’t it about time two women were awarded both #1 and #2 in the same year?

The time is now

The time is now

Never mind that this is the logic by which an illogical mind works. It still doesn’t make it any less true. And are we really going to have a serious discussion about this? Can’t we watch Turner Classic Movies? I’d even consider tuning into a basketball g…. Actually, on second thought – No.

Of course, no sooner did Hillary win and Sen. Warren lambaste Mr. Thin of Skin that the barrage of Trump insults started again. (Note: Remember, he’s a self-proclaimed counter puncher who always hits bad hard):

By now anticipating such witty outrage, Sen. Warren’s staff actually bought the domain www.pocahontas.com that immediately redirects you to the Elizabeth Warren for Senate page. Among other things, it lists her personal blog and facts about the senator and where she stands on all of the major issues of the day.

(Note: For those still a bit confused, Pocahontas is the taunt this year’s Republican nominee proverbially hurls at the Senator, who he seems to be convinced is not, as she has claimed, part Native American. Though he never did try to pretend Pres. Obama wasn’t Black, Mr. Trump did first burst onto the contemporary political scene several years ago when he tried to claim our POTUS was not native born in the U.S,. as he and his birth certificate clearly state, and is therefore disqualified from being our #1 despite winning the office by many, many millions of votes. Twice).

A blast from the very recent past

A blast from the very recent past

However one feels about Sen. Warren, Mr. Trump or Pres. Obama isn’t it nice to be reading about the latest insult, punch back, scandal or near indictment that will ultimately never happen against Hillary – even if it’s just for a little bit? You’re welcome. But stay turned. This week the Drumpf-enator promises a national speech that will blow the lid off of how Hillary and Bill Clinton have made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access through the Clinton Foundation and how she, in particular, used the State Department as her own private hedge fund during her tenure as Secretary of State.

This leaves me just about enough time to learn the rules of basketball. Which I’ll begin right after my five month marathon watching Turner Classic Movies in every spare waking moment that I have. What are your plans? And please don’t be insulted that I asked.

 

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The 2nd Annual Rockers!

Screen shot 2013-12-29 at 1.06.20 PMThis is not a BEST OF  list.   It’s about impact, surprise and lingering effect.  As a lifelong culture vulture, creative person and relentless observer of waaay too much, I have the greatest respect for anything out there that stays with me – particularly in a good way.   Mostly because it’s so tough to break through all the noise these days.   Or perhaps it’s just that lately I have the attention span of a gnat.

Of course, starting any project with the goal of making a huge and lasting splash is a sure recipe for disaster.  Much as I hate to admit, this has happened to me several times over the years.  However, when people hunker down and “do their own thing” (as they used to say back in the day) the result can sometimes be, for lack of a better word – sublime.

sub·lime

1. Characterized by nobility; majestic.

2. a. Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth.

b. Not to be excelled; supreme.

3. Inspiring awe; impressive.

Did someone say Supreme?

Did someone say Supreme?

Any one of those could earn you a Rocker and, let’s face it, who among us wouldn’t want to be awarded a photo of a red mid-century style chair.  (Note: Chair – Rocker, get it?).  Though perhaps using the term nobility is a bit much. Definition #3 – impressive, inspiring awe – isn’t that enough?  Yes, I think so.  And these, in no particular order other than the one that we chose, are my OUR awards.

BEST ROCKIN’ INDIE DARLINGS

Short Term 12; Fruitvale Station; The Spectacular Now

Indie, dahling

Indie, dahling

These three movies, all low budget independent films, have more to say in 5 minutes than do most of their budget-bloated major studio brethren manage to serve up in two three hours.  Of course, their combined box-office grosses are not equivalent to the opening weekend of, say – Ironman 3; Thor 2; or even Jack the Giant Slayer.

What this confirms once more is that fine dramatic storytelling is not the goal of the major studios anymore.  Though if it manages to happen on one of their releases amid a large profit and even larger chance to cash in via future ancillary markets and/or rights, they’ll take it.

Do not write in and call me a snob or say that this has been so in the film biz for one or two decades.  I, and even we, know that.  But it’s getting worse.  Can’t we retain even a small sliver?  Well, in their own awe-inspiring, impressive ways all three of the above did that and more.

Short Term 12:  Bravura performances all around in a deceptively multi-layered and tight original screenplay from first time writer-director Destin Cretton – whose next announced project is the film adaptation of the bestselling book The Glass Castle, starring Jennifer Lawrence.  If there is any justice Mr. Cretton will be Oscar and WGA nominated for his story of juvenile outcasts and the young people who try to help them at a “short term” facility – but there likely isn’t.  Still – now he’s got JLaw so it’s a win-win.

The Spectacular Now: A throwback to the small romantic dramas of decades ago where two mismatched, oddball young people fall in love in a most uncomfortable way.  It’s not perfect but it has so much heart that it wins you over.  This is in part due to actors Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller and to an even greater extent as a result of the adaptation of the book by 500 Days of Summer writers Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, and the precise, sensitive work of director James Ponsoldt.  The script lingered for years before Ms. Woodley, a hot commodity after starring as George Clooney’s troubled daughter in The Descendants, became its champion.  Lesson here:  Create great roles for actors.

Fruitvale Station: Finally caught up with it last night at home and am still foaming at the mouth with rage at the murder six years ago of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year old African American male who was finally about to get his life together for the sake of his daughter, his family and himself.  The choice of writer-director and USC film school grad Ryan Coogler to tell this real life story in an unembellished pseudo-documentary style is what’s most impressive here.  The film was developed through Sundance and won best dramatic feature.   Yes, there are those who like to dismiss Sundance these days as pretentious and elitist.  Watch this movie before you go there.   In fact, just don’t go there anymore.

STEFON’S FAREWELL!

Bill Hader left the cast of Saturday Night Live at the end of the season this year and along with that went the departure of Stefon – his beloved club kid correspondent for Weekend Update.  Since goodbyes are often an inevitable and dreaded part of life – especially when it comes to the mercurial television landscape – it was at least nice to see that he was sent off with love and style and his own sort of gay wedding.

What can you say about a segment that featured Furbies, the real DJ Baby Bok Choy and an Anderson Cooper-Seth Meyers fist fight?  Only that it was a perfect homage and finale to one of SNL’s most original and beloved characters.

(Note:  For everything you ever wanted to know about the 38 seasons of SNL check out the funny, brand new and exhaustively researched book, Saturday Night Live FAQ: Everything Left to Know About Television’s Longest-Running ComedyThe author is Stephen Tropiano and he’s the Seth to my inner Stefon)

Note: Hader created Stefon with the very talented comedian-writer John Mulaney.  His standup act is hilarious and he is doing a new TV comedy for Fox next year in which he’ll star as the young, struggling comedian he once was.  Co-starring will be Martin Short.  Must see TV?  We think so.

ROCKIN’ NEWS MOMENT OF THE YEAR 

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US Supreme Court Pro Gay Marriage Ruling.

Starring:  Rob Reiner, David Boies, Ted Olson, Edie Windsor, Kristin Perry & Sandra Stier, Paul Katami & Jeffrey Zarrillo – and President Barack Obama.

There has not been a film or television movie about it – yet.  But this year’s landmark US Supreme Court rulings that officially legalized gay marriage on a federal level is a landmark case that will have positive civil rights repercussions for generations.

Not to be partisan – but I will be – the reasoning behind this decision was foreshadowed in Pres. Obama’s 2013 inauguration speech where he talked about the journey “through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”  Translation:  the struggle for women’s rights, civil rights, and LGBT rights are all one in the same and if the US stands for anything it means we progress towards freedoms for not some but all Americans.    Here is his exact quote:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.

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Arguing the case were lawyers Boies and Olson – adversaries in another famous US Supreme Court case, Bush v. Gore, for the courageous LGBT defendants Windsor, Perry, Stier, Katami and Zarrillo.  Oh, and if you don’t think it takes courage to be the public face in a civil rights case in terms of time, attention and vociferous hate mail – try it some time.  Or better yet, just post a comment to any random website where you disagree with an extreme right wing position – as I did this weekend about A & E’s reversing its decision to reinstate Duck Dynasty’s hate-speaking Phil Robertson – and note the number of truly savage, hate-filled responses you get.  It ain’t pretty.

A meathead no more!

A meathead no more!

Finally, you can dislike whatever Rob Reiner films you choose to but you cannot be disagreeable about his overwhelming commitment of time and energy to both raise money and personally finance the fight for gay marriage through it’s case origins in California right up through to the US Supreme Court.  There are political activists in the industry but few with Mr. Reiner’s reach, fervor or unwavering determination.  And, uh – p.s. – he’s not even g-a-y.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

BREAKING BAD – THE FINALE SEASON

Tear.

Tear.

There are so few moments in pop culture that live up to the hype.  But the phenomenon that was Breaking Bad was one of them.  I was admittedly late to the game in catching up with all seven seasons but given the national cultural hysteria I finally gave in, knowing full well that I would inevitably be disappointed.

Okay, well, so I don’t know everything.

I chronicled my eight days of binge-watching all 52 BB episodes here in time to join the real world in real time for the finale.  It might make my life seem small and insignificant to note that it is one of the few experiences I will never forget – but only if you have never tuned in and checked out the show itself.

Why does it work?   There are so many obvious reasons – great writing, acting, directing and across-the-board terrific technical talents.  But it was also a perfect reflection of our times in telling the story of an extremely smart but downtrodden everyman – nee a financially struggling high school chemistry teacher who is suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer– who will do anything to provide not only for his family but for himself before he dies.  And anything means – A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. If you want to know more than that, borrow some DVDs or hack into someone else’s Netflix account.

Finales are tricky but this one proved every bit as powerful as each and every episode before it.  Sadly, this was not the case with another departing hit show fave of mine – Dexter.  Yes, endings are tough.   But ending well and going out the way you came in (Note:  Yes, that’s an unintentional quote from the 1967 camp classic Valley of the Dolls) – that’s the toughest.

ROCKIN’ THE WOOL OVER THE AUDIENCE’S EYES  — IT’S A TIE!!!

HBO’S Behind the Candelabra  &  NBC’s The Sound of Music – LIVE

Help!

Help!

Popularity doesn’t mean you rock.  It just means you’re popular.  I mean, did Paris Hilton rock?  Does (or did?)  Kim Kardashian?  Or, to put it another way, did Crash deserve to win the best picture Oscar over Brokeback Mountain? (Note: Watch them again and then compare and report back).

What popularity does account for are bodies taking notice of you or your deeds or your product.  That does not mean you’re good or even well done.  It just means you are and that you got A LOT of attention.

Therefore, by any objective standards the Liberace movie called Behind the Candelabra and the NBC live three-hour broadcast of the beloved musical The Sound of Music starring country singer Carrie Underwood were phenomenal hits.  But to my mind, not in a good way.  Carrie Underwood has a pleasant voice but cannot act.  I mean, I could’ve played a better Maria – especially if I got to do some of those lines next to Audra MacDonald.

As for story of closeted gay icon pianist Liberace – it was not the true story – that would have been far more salacious since Liberace’s real life lover Scott Thorson was 16 years old when they first met and couldn’t have been played by Matt Damon.  Had the real story been told – and not just the gay men as spectacle taleit would have had to be shown as the telefilm version of NBC’s To Catch A Predator.

In conclusion, and put it in high school terms – which often works in all things Hollywood – there is no way to argue with popularity.  It either is or it isn’t and you either are or you’re not.  But remember – the Emperor’s New Clothes were once popular, too.   Just sayin’.

ROCKIN’ SENTIMENTAL MOVIE OF THE YEAR

Saving Mr. Banks

Believe the hype.

Believe the hype.

No, I’m not going to defend myself.  I loved it — and not just because I loved Mary Poppins as a kid. The film is being sold as a comedy but it’s really about how writers (or any artists) try to survive the painful moments of childhood by weaving its high and low points into some sort of creative expression that can correct and/or save you or your loved ones from the situation.  As a writer who has done just that – and speaking for anyone else who hopes to do just that – you can keep all of your snide, snickering bah humbug remarks to yourself.

Plus – there’s Emma Thompson.  She’s not only sad, touching and irascibly funny in the movie, she gives the most hilarious press interviews you’ll ever want to see.  Case closed.

ROCKIN’ MALE PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR:

Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis

Me-Ow

Me-Ow

The guy can act AND sing.  No, seriously – he can really, really sing.  You can’t fake that when you’re playing the lead role of a folk singer in 1961 Greenwich Village in a Coen Bros. movie and a good part of the film is you, in five feet of close-up, chirping unadorned for the entire international world to see.

Also when the moments that you are singing onstage are the only ones where the audience can truly sympathize with your character’s plight, it is an enormous acting challenge.  Therefore, it didn’t surprise me or anyone else to hear the filmmakers admit publicly on a panel after an early screening of their film that had Mr. Isaac not walked in and nailed his audition very late in the casting process they were not sure if they would be able to make their movie at all.

The film as a whole is to a taste.  Okay, it’s odd.  But it’s also a rare opportunity to watch someone you’ve probably never seen onscreen before totally morph into an unforgettable character you’re unlikely to see onscreen again at any time soon.  If ever.

ROCKIN’ FEMALE PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR IN TECH ACHIEVEMENT OF THE YEAR:

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

Floating towards.. Oscar?

Floating towards.. Oscar?

Oh, hiss and boo your own selves, as Bette Midler so aptly put it in her 1985 comedy album Mud Will Be Flung, Tonight!  I thought Sandy (yeah, that’s what everyone in the biz calls her) was pretty great in the movie….actually, quite great.

Fine – you try acting to nothing for most of your time on camera.  And when I say nothing I mean – nada.  There’s a green screen behind you.  You’re suspended in the air in a heavy faux astronaut’s uniform.  And you’re shooting on and off for years on end, trying to maintain some continuity of your character’s emotional state while the technical team behind your film tries over and over again to get the special effects just right.

Yeah, yeah, I know Cate Blanchett was terrific in Blue Jasmine.  But why does digging into the emotional life of a Ruth Madoff meets Blanche DuBois character have to trump the acting skill it takes to survive the contemporary vagaries of big major studio, SFX ridden contemporary Hollywood while simultaneously delivering an against-the-odds truly convincing performance that literally carries the film?  It doesn’t.  Sorry.  Sandy wins.

PS – Yes, her body looked good in those shorts.  So what??!!!

PPS – The movie was a huge leap in what we can do in SFX – not that you care!!

ROCKIN’ ACCLAIMED NOVEL I STARTED THREE TIMES BUT CAN’T YET CRACK: 

The Goldfinch By Donna Tart

This is thoroughly unfair but why can’t I read past pg. 20 of 761 pages no matter how many times I read those 20 pages over? I know the book is acclaimed but why, why, why is its prose so dry, dry, dry and leaving me so parched, parched, parched?  Too much TV?

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(Note: Before judging me you should know I read every wet word of both Jonathon Franzen’s The Corrections AND Freedom and always wanted more).

ROCKIN’ UNACCLAIMED MEMOIR I LIKE TO READ ESSAYS FROM:

Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies, By Chris Kluwe

Also.. best hair!

Also.. best hair!

Funny, snide, smart, scrappy, funny, fun, fun.

And it’s not only because he’s hot and spoke up for the gays.  And…personally answered one of my tweets.  On Twitter.  In a direct message.  Okay, maybe that’s part of it.  But it’s not…everything.

ROCKIN(EST) SCARY VERSION OF THE FUTURE THAT MIGHT ALREADY BE THE PRESENT:

Spike Jonze’s Her

Falling in love... no buffering

Falling in love… no buffering

This is a world where a lonely fella can fall in love with his operating system (OS).  Yes, the OS is voiced brilliantly by Scarlett Johansson, who strangely enough gives what, oddly, is her best screen performance.  The sexy rasp and all…

Still, there is something significant happening here that goes well beyond Simone, the interesting but long forgotten 2002 film where a man concocts the ideal virtual female.  What’s going on is also significantly depressing if you think about it for too long or in the wrong way.  What is the right way to consider a world in the not so distant future where many of us are so incapable of relationships that we turn to our computers or mobile devices for our primary emotional attachments?  To admit that it is really happening right now?  Or to dismiss that notion as some sort of superficial movie industry take on New Media for Dummies?  Hmm, maybe neither.

None of this would work at all were it not for Joaquin Phoenix’s extremely committed performance.  But none of it would even be possible at all without the originality Spike Jonze brings to a subject matter so easy to present in a hackneyed way.

Wait – originality?  Yeah, I said it – you didn’t have to.  So, maybe 2013 leaves us with some hope after all?  Well, we can all rock to… this:

OMG Stop!

96_frayed

Did you ever have one of those weeks where every big issue in the news and pop culture is annoying?  No, the answer is not every week – even if that is the case.  If you live your life perpetually annoyed then you are not annoyed at all – what you are is a malcontent curmudgeon.  What I’m talking about is a convergence of issues in one weekly cycle of what’s what that has you weighing the possibilities of turning it all off, packing up a slew of books and going underground to become a survivalist.

Since the latter won’t happen to me in this lifetime in that I need to call in experts to hang a picture properly and recently failed twice at reading Proust (it was me, not him), I have made peace with the fact that I will forever dwell in the weekly cycle.  And perhaps you have also.  But that doesn’t mean we have to live here happily during each seven-day period.  In fact, it might just be that weeks like this – particularly SUCKY periods that are so annoyingly dumb and cloyingly stupid – actually make us appreciate all the other wonderfully happy ones.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself right now.

Again, perhaps you are too.  After all, misery loves company.  And remember, it isn’t real misery if it only happens once every few months.  Think of it more as a healthy cycle of intellectual binge and purge.  Or the alternative to living in the woods for a year with several boxes of classic literature and enough food and water to get by.

I've got a spare bedroom!

I’ve got a spare bedroom!

As much as you might think that’s appealing, how much Proust or even Shakespeare can you read in a row while eating prepared vittles from a package or can?  Not much, that’s how much.  Plus, a world where you literally had no one else to complain to could be even worse than this one.

So let’s review those things that had me in a snit… and made me want to scream OMG STOP IT!

1.   ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE COVERS ARE NOT A NATIONAL ISSUE

The twitpic seen round the world

The twitpic seen round the world

One of the top news stories this week is Rolling Stone’s cover photo of Boston Bomber (do we need to say suspect?) Dzhokhar (Jahar, to friends) Tsarnaev – all tousle-haired, doe-eyed and sporting the come-hither look and dark chin scruff of a teenager stoner.  Mr. Tsarnaev is, indeed, all of those things, and also, as the magazine clearly identifies him in very large black type, THE BOMBER.

I have actually read the 11,000 word article that the cover promises is about how a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.  It’s a very good read, a simultaneously awful and fascinating story – which is what good magazine writing is all about.  Does it answer all of the questions its headline promises?  Well, as much as most magazine or even newspaper pieces fully do.  Which is to say mostly, though not exactly.  And, in the world of journalistic reportage, which is always left open to interpretation, that’s sort of the point.

So what’s the problem???  Well, the Mayor of Boston says using this picture is “insensitive” to the people of Boston and still others claim that the story, placement and accompanying image makes Dzhokhar a sort of — rock star?  Never mind Rolling Stone has used images of Charles Manson and O.J. Simpson as cover draws in the height of their notoriousness.

The entire point of the article is that what makes this kid particularly scary is that he has the non-descript visual image of a sort of iconoclastic cool kid.  Hence, the cover image, which has been used on the cover of the New York Times previously, would seem to be the right one.  Would it be more appropriate if Jahar had a long beard, a turban and was wearing white robes?  Well, it’d obviously make many in the US more comfortable.  Among that group are corporate chain stores like CVS, Rite Aid, K-Mart, Stop ‘n Shop and Walgreen’s – all of whom have not only removed the current issue of Rolling Stone from their shelves but have refused to even sell it in its stores.

Here’s what would make me comfortable.  How about K-Mart refusing to sell guns in its stores?  Yes, I know Jahar and his brother didn’t use K-Mart rifles to set their homemade bombs off at the Boston Marathon the way the teenagers in Columbine did.  But at least it’d be one small actual step to curbing future domestic terrorism.  Refusing to sell a magazine, one that chooses to do a timely story that some people might disagree with, is not.

 Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

–      George  Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

Pump the brakes!

Pump the brakes!

2.    KATEWAIT – WHEN A ROYAL BIRTH IS A ROYAL PAIN

Insert terrible "crowning" pun

Insert terrible “crowning” pun

It’s a Boy!  But admittedly, I will never understand the fascination with royalty.   You’re bowing before a person born into privilege who wears a diamond studded crown or fantasizing about having millions of your own subjects who want to touch your garment because of your innate talent or ability to….do what exactly?

Now before you take away my chair (throne?) or refuse to ever let me use the word queen again, let me explain.  I have the utmost respect for the service that the Royal family of England gives back to their country and to the world.  It’s worth admiring.  But why are thousands of reporters from all over everywhere camped out in front of Wills and Kate’s home/castle/car/palace/estate and speculating about a birth, and then a name, that has a 50-50 chance of being either male or female? (Note:  Okay, I suppose they could choose the name “Pat,” but instead went with George Alexander Louis.  How dull.  I mean, my parents even came up with Faith Bari for my sister!).

Yes, this is what it has come to.

Yes, this is what it has come to.

As Holly, my cohort at notesfromachair, pointed out to me several days ago – NBC’s Today sent Natalie Morales to London several weeks ago for KateWait and she had been reduced to knitting on camera waiting for the baby to arrive.  Not only was this not a good strategy for boosting Today’s lagging ratings, it did little to honor the service of the Royal in question. If you’ve ever known a pregnant woman – and all of you have known at least one – do you think her idea of fun is to have gaggles of photographers and supporters surrounding her as she tries to maneuver her enlarged self out of the house and onto the hospital delivery room table?  That was, and is, a royal pain in its truest form.  And it’s not even unusual or salacious – two of the essential elements for news coverage these days.

To repeat: a boy – George Alexander Louis – 8 lbs., 4 oz.  That’s it.  I’m done.  Any further questions…

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3.    EMMY AWARDS ARE FOR SISSIES*

What do I have to do here to get nominated for a goddamn Emmy?

What do I have to do here to get nominated for a goddamn Emmy?

In the last few years of her life Bette Davis enjoyed posing in full makeup on a couch, next to a pillow that said, Old Age Ain’t No Place for Sissies.  Being a sort of gay icon she can use the latter word, as can I* (no – most of you cannot).  As for the Emmy nominations announced this week, the term should be used to describe some of the TV Academy’s choices this year in several categories.

There are lots of omissions but let’s cut to the chase – no writing nomination for the best-written show on television, Mad Men.  By eliminating the series that has been nominated every other of the six years it has been on the air (including four wins), the blue ribbon panel of choosers or perhaps other writers who nominate are saying what – that this year Mad Men wasn’t even the fifth best written drama series on TV?  Haha – that would be as funny as you telling me that they’re going to actually let Kim Kardashian’s mother host a new television talk show in 2013, or…..oh – never mind.

Kander & Ebb famously wrote the lyric: …Everybody loves a winner… for the song Maybe This Time from Cabaret but that’s actually not quite the case in the entertainment industry.  It’s actually more: Everybody hates a winner who wins too many times the way Mad Men creator Matt Weiner has.

Trading her switch for an Emmy?

Trading her switch for an Emmy?

Which is to say nothing of the fact that the most Emmy nominated series this year, American Horror Story (17 nods and one of my favorite not so guilty pleasures) is going against the very overpraised and retrofitted Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra in the best miniseries and movie category.  AHS is likely to lose, because as we established in our previous #2, this country and the world can’t resist a queen. (and yeah, I can say that, too).

Emmy night is Sunday, Sept. 22.  Look for all of my Steven Soderbergh DVDs (including Magic Mike) flying out the window in the hills of Los Angeles at the very moment this injustice is announced – that is if you’re interested in some free and only slightly damaged swag.

You said it, John.

You said it, John.

4.    PRES OBAMA IS NOT A RACIST FOR SPEAKING OUT ABOUT RACE, YOU MORON

Trayvon_Obama

The country is in uproar because a mostly White female jury in Florida found an adult male carrying a gun, who stopped and eventually shot and killed a Black teenager armed with nothing but a bag of Skittles and some iced tea, a. not guilty and b. back onto the streets with the eventual return of the gun he used in the killing.  We have a Black (well, half-Black – which, fyi, means he’s also equal part White) president and a country with a really checkered history on racial issues.  What’s He supposed to do – say nothing?  What year is this – 1923? ‘33? ‘53?

All our Black (or half White) president did several days ago was try to explain the reason for the outrage about the verdict among the African American community by noting said verdict needs to be seen in historical context when he said: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

Uh, does anyone doubt this is true or truly thinks that this is a controversial statement?   Then why is he getting pillared for it?  And why is Fox News letting people like Sean Hannity tell millions of viewers that Trayvon Martin was stoned on marijuana the night of the shooting and clearly capable of aggression (not munchies, dude – like, fighting) when that whole theory has been clearly debunked.

Why Barack Obama wants to bear his soul on this issue to the inevitable vitriol of a vast right wing machine/conspiracy is beyond me – and probably the reason this hopeful guy should be President.  It’s just that…well…when exactly did it become wrong for the president of the US to open a conversation on sensitive issues?   And not even a Liberal conversation.  There has not been a real liberal in the White House in at least 50 years – which should make one wonder if perhaps we could do even better.

The night before Pres. Obama made his remarks I had dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel where I spotted an overly made up middle aged woman with dyed blonde hair and too much jewelry sashay out of her milky white Bentley (approximate cost: $200,000) as she handed her key to the valet.  Taped to the inside passenger side window of her vehicle was a large printed white sign with black lettering that read: OBAMA SUCKS.   This, alone, tells you what he’s up against.

make-it-stop-o

SMALL ANNOYANCES ADD UP TO ONE BIG ONE

1. The barrage of incessant news from Comicon is working my last nerve.  Isn’t it enough you’ve taken over the movies? Why, oh why, are Superman and Batman going to be in a new tent pole film (sans Christian Bale) directed by Zack Snyder?  And why do you need to rub it in all our faces, over and over and over again.  Wake me when its 1968 again.  Please?

Whisk me away, Jon

Whisk me away, Jon

2. The Way, Way Back is the kind of movie I should love, love, love.  It’s a coming of age piece about a nerdy but too smart for his own good kid being raised by a divorced, single mother.  And it’s got some of my favorite quirky film actors – Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, etc.  So why, why, why was it turned into an actor fest of predictability with characters that felt written and not real?  I don’t know the answer to these questions any more than I know how the television works or why the earth is round and not flat – though all have been explained to me numerous times.

A rerun discovery

A rerun discovery

3. Cold Case is a television series that ran from 2003-2010 that I thought I was too superior to watch until several weeks ago when I was looking for yet another reason to procrastinate on some writing. It was created by Meredith Stiehm (she wrote for Homeland and now does The Bridge) and each week tackles a decades (sometimes many decades) old unsolved murder – alternating seamlessly between period flashbacks of then and now in genuinely compelling fashion.  Well, guess what?  This was a pretty freakin’ great network television series.  If you haven’t seen it, catch up with it in reruns on your DVR because it’s not available on DVD due to its music budget – the largest ever for a TV series.  The producers were smart enough to realize that even with good, taut writing and acting, nothing can bring back memories of the decades past than actual recordings from Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, the Police, Journey, and Cyndi Lauper, just to name a few.  Maybe one day the movies will start to do this again, or better yet, try to discover someone or something exciting, original or even new.  At this point, I’d even settle for a group of the studios to STOP and simply take a long hard look at what they’re doing now – and how it bodes for their – and our – futures.    Like the president…

I can dream, can’t it?

This is the Pitts!

Mommie Dearest.

When Brad Pitt’s mother came out as virulently anti-Obama (that’s Barack HUSSEIN Obama, to use her exact words), anti-choice (“the killing of unborn babies,” as she puts it) and anti-gay marriage, (she cites “Christian conviction concerning homosexuality”) in a letter to Missouri’s Star-Ledger this week, all I could think about was:

  1. What is it like when Brad comes home for the holidays?
  2. What was it like when he came home with Angie for the first time (assuming he has)?
  3. And how can he be so liberal while his mother is so intransigent, nasty and, well, small-town ignorant???

Despite my better instincts, I’m still wondering about the first two. (OH, COME ON, I’M NOT ALONE!).  As for the third, well – I should know better than to categorize people I’ve not met as ignorant and am profusely embarrassed (well, at least slightly) for thinking it, much less writing it publicly.

I mean, for all I know, Jane Pitt has many wonderful qualities (well, at least one we can speak of) and might just be the kindest woman in town if we were to get off the subject of politics.  As for Brad, I know him as well as Jane, so despite the fact that I like a lot of his movies and the things he’s done to build houses in New Orleans as well as his fight for gay marriage ($100,000 to defeat CA’s Prop 8) he could be even more jerky than Mom if we get him on the right subject.

As could all of us.  Which is the point.

How did we get here?

These differences are what the United States is and always has been composed of and, up until recently, was one of the selling points of the country.  That like a big dysfunctional family — mine, yours or the Pitts — you could disagree and still be related.  You could also do or say or be as rude or politically incorrect or culturally diverse or short sighted, or communistic/tree hugging/eco-friendly and radically vegan-istic as you like and, at the end of the day, you had just as much a right to be here and act that way as anyone else.  Perhaps this is even still the case for those of us not overdosing on the red state/blue state thing after two or three decades of growing alienation from each other.

That’s why there are 64 colors in every box.

Was it the rise of the Christian right after the social revolution of the sixties that started it?  Or the wave of the let ‘em eat cake Reagan conservatism followed by a tidal wave of Clintonistic separation of politics and morality?  Or the post 9/11 Bush years of attack, invasion and collapse?   There are theories but we’ll never know for sure.  What we do know is that our chief attraction, and export across the world, depends on this not being quite so.  Because what we’re really best known for is the international production of “a dream.”   An American dream.  But if not fading, it does feel that this particular dream has gone a bit – well, awry.

A dream as American as apple pie.

The entertainment industry particularly depends on this export, this idea of who we are, whether it’s true or not.  Films, television, music, art – America’s chief image is of a country where anything is possible for anyone.  And just when the world begins to think it isn’t, we as a country seem to always do something to save the dream from the jaws of destruction.  Most recently it was electing our first African American president despite the odds against it, especially when you consider the man’s middle name is the same as the Middle East dictator whose country we had just invaded in order to….well, to do something – but that’s not the point.

Anyway, politics aside, if there were ever an American dream scenario played out publicly in the last two decades to counter the cynicism, President Obama’s biography would be it.  Lower middle class, son of divorced parents, raised in Hawaii and Kansas, a community organizer who until recently smoked cigarettes and admits that he even used to smoke marijuana.  Not to mention his like of arugula salads and other designer foods as well his upbringing in…Hawaii?  (yes, it’s a state even though it’s not on the mainland).  I mean, who would’ve thunk it?

Young Obama or Brooklyn Hipster?

As he likes to say — on paper, it doesn’t make sense that he’d become president anywhere else in the world.  And even highly unlikely he’d rise up here.  But there are lots of unlikely things that happen in the USA, and in life, everyday.

This same unlikeliness rings true with some of our biggest celebrities.  Certainly a motherless girl dancer from Michigan with a passable voice and the given name of Madonna was not a shoo-in for a three decade musical megastar who helped reinvent the recording industry with what used to be cutting edge videos and sex books.

Nor was a poor, unabashedly gay kid from the Depression era south with the ordinary name of Thomas Williams likely to be one of the great playwrights of the 20th century, writing under the new, and even more unlikely, first name of Tennessee.  Nor would it seem probable that two very young men who chose to make fun of religion in a short film called “Jesus vs Frosty” would go on to change animation and television AND now the Broadway musical with “South Park” and “The Book for Mormon” but that is exactly what Trey Parker and Matt Stone have done.  Not coincidentally, all three (four?) have done so by challenging, some might say attacking, what we consider to be our “traditional American values.”

True, some might cite these performers and their work as symptoms of our obvious moral decay.  I, however, look at it as necessary generational progress.  In fact, essential.

Not to get all post-Fourth of July, but what seems to allow the idea of the American dream to endure is the fact that we have always permitted ourselves to make fun of our sacred cows, ensuring that no one of us is particularly more precious than another on any given day or decade.  In fact, we’ve even reveled in it.  We can be in bad taste, politically incorrect, intolerably small-minded and even on occasion morally offensive to one group.  If we go too far, society will correct itself and eventually pass a law outlawing our action or create another one loosening up standards to accommodate a group shift in behavior.  There are real human costs for this – loss of lives, loss of livelihood, and worse – loss of ones sense of self and one’s humor in battle and in support of our own particular “cause.”

That seems to be what’s happening now in our current age of polarization. But I can only say “seems” because this is the argument everyone in history falls back on at different points in time when society is so “at odds.”  However, and speaking only for me, there does seem to be something about right now that feels different.  Something is off.  Something that’s not quite…well, for lack of a better word — right.

Sad, but true.

When I read Jane Pitt’s letter I initially dismissed it as a statement of someone who believes very differently than I do.  Someone who is at least a generation older who grew up in a different time and can’t or chooses not to understand societal shifts and changes that have occurred since she was young and was, perhaps, more malleable and open-minded.

After thinking about, though, I feel differently.  There is something ugly in it.  Disagreeing with a president is one thing but purposely using his middle name of “Hussein” to somehow paint him as some kind of “other” is viciously unacceptable.  As is calling people who believe in the right to choose “baby killers.”  As is suggesting that one group’s personal religious views against another particular group should be used to deny rights in a country who several centuries ago freed itself from its oppressor partly so all of its people would have the choice to worship, or NOT to worship, exactly as they all would so choose so long as it didn’t interfere with anyone else.

Fierce.

We live in a celebrity culture where, as Andy Warhol prophesized many decades ago, everyone will be (or at least can be) famous for about 15 minutes.  This means that although you don’t have to be related to one of the select few celebrity elite to be heard, it certainly adds to your marquee value – whether you like it or not.  Surely, Jane Pitt knew this quite well when she wrote her letter.  She and her views now have their 15 minutes of fame.  Or perhaps more.  She’s now in the uber argument.   Inevitably, there will be others, countless others.  But right here and now it is up to her and us what we choose to do with it.  We can ignore it and proceed as we have been.  We can also use it as yet another moment to pull us further apart.  Or we can engage in some way and employ it to draw us closer together and begin to reshape, just a tiny bit, something we used to call the American dream.

History – as well as “Extra,” “Entertainment Tonight,” “TMZ” and “The Huffington Post” – is watching.   For at least 15 minutes or so.

Evolution

Evolution:  Any process of formation or growth; development.

I never cared much about getting married.   And this was long before I realized I was gay.  A time that, I might add, was long after many of my friends and relatives realized that I was not heterosexual.  What can I say?  Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on to things, to evolve.  But when I finally did for the first time, back in 1979, the very last thing I EVER imagined or even considered, or even dreamed I wanted, was the right for same sex couples to get married.

Maybe it’s because my parents were divorced and never seemed particularly happily married.  Who wanted to be like them, and, incidentally, many of their friends?  Or maybe it’s because it seemed so constricting and square and I so desperately wanted to be hip and cool and superior – or at least get out of Queens.  I’m old enough where I can’t quite recall.

Then as the years progressed and I lived through two heartbreaking decades of AIDS related deaths of some of my best friends, colleagues and peers — young gay men just like me but unlike me because they had not lucked out and won the survival lottery — it felt, and actually still sort of feels trivial.  Marriage?  Uh, how about the Reagan government showing some interest in not burying any more of my brothers, friends and loved ones if they can manage the task in between deregulating the economy for the rich and super rich, if that’s not too much trouble?  If I still sound bitter, well, uh, yeah, maybe I am – just a little.  Though I am working on it.

Of course, the eighties are over (aren’t they?) and I’ve been in a relationship/domestic partnership/common law something or other for the last 25 years.  And now that as a society we’ve moved past the deregulating making money for the super rich and it’s part of our history (oh, we haven’t and it isn’t?) –- gay marriage sorta/kinda feels (and I’m just speaking for me) well, besides the point.  Like getting permission from your 90-year-old mother to have a sleepover you’ve been having for the past two and a half decades that she actually knew about in the first place.

I take a lot of crap from my gay and straight friends for this – particularly the many who are in couples and are either married or banging the doors down to do so. I don’t get it.  I mean, I do get it, sort of.  But after all this time, I resent someone telling me that my relationship is now okay and acceptable and, if I try real hard and devote a lot of time and energy could even be legal one day.  Really??  Well, screw you (while I screw who I want) and the pulpit you rose rode in on.  In short, don’t do me any favors.

But — and I’m not saying I’m heading to the altar any time soon (so don’t ask and I won’t tell!!) –-

I’m evolving.

Well, I mean if Homer is available to officiate…

And the man who is responsible is The Evolver in Chief, Pres. Barack Obama.  A man I never met and has never met my partner and is not even the person I voted for in the Democratic primary when he was first running for president.  Well, as Katie Morosky says in “The Way We Were” about her beloved Franklin Roosevelt, the president she also at first didn’t campaign for– “some people work out better than we think.”  (Note: KM is one of my favorite movie characters).

I suspect Pres. Obama will go down in history as the person who mainstreamed the legal evolution of marriage equality and helped make it as much of an non-issue as whether the sequels to “The Hunger Games” and “The Avengers” will make money.  In all three cases it’s not if it will occur but how much and to how many.

As for gay marriage – he certainly mainstreamed/evolved it for me.  When I heard Wednesday morning that he was announcing his support I thought it was important for those who wanted it even if it seemed a bit politically facile and didn’t feel much in terms of my own life personally.  But upon actually hearing his words live on tape/digital -– I actually — teared up.

A tissue count normally reserved only for Sophie’s Choice

Know that I HATE admitting that.  Almost as much as I hate admitting I laugh out loud at reruns of “The Nanny,” a show I couldn’t bear when it first aired in the early 1990s, or the fact that I’m the one who never really liked “Pulp Fiction,” “Waiting for Guffman” “Vertigo” “Desperate Housewives” or “The Good Wife.” Plus I refused to see “Jaws”  (because I like body surfing in the ocean) and gave the little seen 1981 movie “Four Friends” a rave review while I was a movie critic at Variety and STILL think it’s a fine, touching movie despite all other reaction to the contrary.  But there, now I’ve said them all.  So hate me if you must.

Oy that hair! those clothes!

Of course, re-watching or re-reviewing any of these I could change my mind but it’s not likely.  Unlike many in the public square, I almost never flip flop.  On anything.  I feel really deeply about what I think and seldom change my mind.  Except – when I’m evolving or absolutely forced to (another line from “The WWW” but who’s counting — 2).

How the hell does Obama do this to people???  That’s what I’d like to know, even more than what gifts I’d be getting if I were to consent to marriage and my partner would actually have me after all my diatribes against it.   Aren’t I too old to register?  Shouldn’t the gift money go to charity at this point?  Since I don’t need any household items would it be too unsavory to ask well-meaning friends to contribute to a fund that would finance a belated honeymoon touring Italy for a month before I’m too old to travel from town to town in awe?  Suddenly, there are questions (too many questions), which makes me sorry that the president even went there with this whole thing.

Table for two, please.

Except – I’m not.   And I think I know why.

In no time in our history have gay people truly had the most powerful person in the world on our side without equivocation.  Never.  Metaphorically, it’s like a young teenager knowing the smartest, most powerful and most popular kid in school has your back.  Yes, I know the goal is to stand up and save yourself and yes I know that no one can prevent bad things from happening to good people all the time.  But — it still feels good to be accepted, and yes, loved, unconditionally.   For all of us in the LGBT community, to have a US president do that while declaring that our love for our mates is no different than anyone else’s and shouldn’t be treated as such – trust me, that is true evolution.

Is the president, or even this declaration, perfect  — no.  But neither are “The Hungers Games” (don’t get me started) or “The Avengers.” Yet they are embraced as a part of contemporary American culture – no matter how much one does or doesn’t feel about them.

To deny that is to deny reality.

Which is really what the fight has always been about anyway.  You don’t have to like or even go see either movie.  But you can’t pretend that they’re not there.

As for evolution, Rachel Maddow put it better than me on the first segment of her Wednesday (May 8) show as she traced the evolution of presidents concerning marriage equality and noted that it was important to understand both the personal and political history of our past presidents of the last 30 years in order to understand our present one.

Yes, Rachel is gay, but her reportage is fact-based and as unbiased as it gets.   Certainly a lot less biased than anything you’d find sitting in your local chair.

Click for full video

The second (and not yet final) example of evolution would be a Washington Post article that ran the other day detailing the prep school escapades (some would call it bullying but that’s not for me to say) of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Governor did issue a statement through his staff that he didn’t recall ANY of said escapades in the article and then went on to admit that though he may have participated in a lot of “pranks and hijinks” in school “if anybody was hurt or offended he was sorry.”  Still, he added he was “not going to be too concerned about the item” and that he grew up in a tolerant environment.  Some might call that last statement the beginning of an evolution while others (not naming any chairs here) might see it as a smug, misstatement of fact.   Read it for yourself and see what you think.

Yet the last word on Evolution needs to come from the classic film “Inherit The Wind,” where two lawyers argue the case for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of literally teaching EVOLUTION (the ape to human kind) in the public schools.  In this particular moment, the conservative lawyer (played by Frederic March) questions why he and more progressive attorney (Spencer Tracy) can no longer agree to disagree and must publicly come to blows in court.

Matthew Harrison Brady (March): Why is it, my old friend, that you’ve moved so far away from me?

Henry Drummond (Tracy): All motion is relative, Matt. Maybe it’s you who’ve moved away by standing still.

Amen, Hallelujah or well-said.  You choose.  All three are equally valid.

Casting Calls: Heroes, Villains and Punch lines

Osama Bin Laden is a great villain.  For one, he’s a Hollywood villain – in the truest sense of the word.  He does/did really awful things like mass murdering 3000 people at a time (and that’s only in the American version), in a creative way (getting others to fly planes into buildings), to fulfill his nefarious agenda (bringing America/the infidels to its knees).  He also looks the part.  He has/had a really, really, really long beard (and it’s graying), dresses in foreign garb (long white robes and a turban) and speaks in a foreign language with a weird accent (well, whatever it is, it’s not English, right?).   Finally, he’s filthy rich – a man of seemingly unlimited means (millions? billions?), who communicates with a terrified public (the world) in unusual ways (taped messages) and does it all despite great and obvious physical limitations (kidney dialysis) that seem to make him even more unstoppable than would seem humanly possible.  Even when he is finally discovered after years of eluding the law, it’s the quintessential film coda.  It turns out he’s hiding in plain sight in the most clever of places (a mansion-like compound, at least by Pakistani standards) right before our/their eyes.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a punch line because, let’s face it, he looks like a punch line.  The bad hair weave (or dead Fox on his head, as Jon Stewart puts it); the heavy, almost working class New York accent despite a lifetime of NY society privilege; and the laughing all the way to the bank persona of a television reality show star.  Though Trump is rich and presumably doesn’t have to, he joyfully presides over a place (his show) where people scream, fight and pull hair (all under his watchful auspices) until he finally gets to repeat ad nausea his infernal catchphrase, (Dyn-O-Mite) “You’re fired!” year in and year out, for the rest of eternity. Add to this the gaudy, Vegas-like, new money tackiness of his hotels, apartment buildings and, well, pretty much anything else he touches, which, despite his punch line status, comforts the rest of us even further because we know that no matter who much real gold, diamonds and gazillions of dollars he spends on something, his punch line life ensures it all looks and feels to as if it could easily be transplanted into a 1960’s Flamingo Hotel by way of a really bad version of the Dubai or even Hanoi Hilton. Of course, punch lines don’t quite feel that way about themselves, and Trump is no exception.  They usually believe they have great taste of which everyone else is envious. Which is, indeed, what makes them punch lines in the first place.  Rich ones, but still, punch lines nonetheless.

And then, finally, there’s the hero. Some would even say – the dreaded hero.  Barrack Obama is central casting for, well, probably the most boring role in this scenario.  Ask a room full of actors and they will tell you – playing the hero is a lot less fun and a lot more difficult than being the villain.   Or even the comic relief (nee punch line).  Writers innately understand this after penning a few screenplays, TV shows (pilots or episodes) or plays.  Because our heroes (traditional ones, at least) must thanklessly carry the burden of the entire story and stay on some sort of moral compass while villains and punch lines and all the rest of the cast are allowed to misbehave outrageously or make us laugh to ridiculous measures.  Obama can’t swear, he can’t misspeak, he can barely even sweat (assuming he, indeed, does) or joke around the way he probably wants to.  This is because our heroes are tasked with trying to save the world over and over and over again (especially when they star in more than one film, ask Bruce Willis), ensuring their even-handed approach to all of this eventually just gets to be – well – a drag, or at least wearing or grating, even to their most devoted fans. Even when they manage to man up and get it right in a new and exciting chapter (like killing the villain Bin Laden), there are a sizeable number of people/viewers who resent him/them for always somehow coming out of a situation smelling like a rose (how believable is that?) while still vanquishing the fortunes of the (infidels) evildoers, keeping other enemies at bay, and still managing to get the girl (his devoted wife) and remain rich, comfortable and happy (yes, there are his daughters, the press and all those book residuals).  Heroes do sometimes fail and get scandalized, but in true Hollywood hero fashion, none of these misfortunes ever seem to really stick (ask Ronald Reagan or his heirs) because the very nature of heroes is that they/he are so damned charming/smart/manipulative, that he/they have the majority, or at least plurality, of the audience forever and perpetually snowed.

Are you still wondering why big, Hollywood movies seem corny or cliché?  Well, the next time you do, look around you and consider – does life really imitate art or, as Carrie Fisher’s alter ego Suzanna Vail so ably pondered in “Postcards from the Edge,” is it that you “want life to BE art.”

For just as it’s written people get the governments they deserve, perhaps right now we are getting the art (TV, plays, movies) we deserve – heroes, villains, punch lines and all.