The Fake True Story

I was watching the first two episodes of season 11 of American Horror Story the other night because:

a. I needed an escape

b. It takes place in gay NYC in 1981, and 

c. I figured, how much worse could they make the impending doom of that time than it already was?  

Do I really want to know the answer?

Plus, one thing I can always count on this show and Ryan Murphy for is a few cheap thrills.   

And let’s face it, these days nothing is cheap and little, if anything, feels thrilling.

Well hell if I can’t say American Horror Story: NYC and Ryan didn’t deliver every cheap, thrilling, tawdry, salacious and ridiculously familiar tidbit with a twist that I could imagine, and then some.

But the problem is, it also made me think.

LOL What???

In an age of alternative facts is it okay to simply mix real events and fictionalized nonsense to the point where even I, an overly analytical gay guy who lived through those times, can barely tell the difference between fact and fiction? 

Or, say it isn’t so, is that actually the point???

AHS: NYC is the latest in a whole series of sensationalized TV and movie fact-tion that to varying degrees feasts on real people, real events and even numerous real names and images.  

They then swallow them whole and spit them out into a based on a true story but not really dramatization of events and eras that definitely existed but, well, in not exactly the way we’re telling it.

What is real???

Netflix’s recent humorless (note: and in my mind heartless) feature Blonde, an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novelistic approach to the barely fictionalized life of Marilyn Monroe (note: real name used) instantly comes to mind.  As does the retelling of one view of Princess Diana’s life in last year’s Spencer, not to mention the singular tragedy porn take of director Pablo Larrain’s telling of the brief post-assassination period of Jacqueline Kennedy’s life in 2016’s Jackie.

Oh for god’s sake

This approach is not limited to the real lives of women, though those stories often prove irresistible fodder since we in the public have loved to fetishize females as somewhat tragic figures who never seem to get either the credit or the love that they deserve.  

Full confession:  I’m as guilty as any on this score.  Me, a guy from the boroughs, spent my teens, twenties and some years beyond feeling so badly for the very young, very from the boroughs and very inexperienced at love Fanny Brice/ Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl.   

Who… me?

I mean, she marries the handsome, worldly gambler Nick Arnstein because she so purely and desperately loves him and, despite their differences, knows she can make it work as she does everything else on stage.  Until she is forced to finally realize the hard way that mere love is not enough to make a relationship work.

It’s compelling to watch versions of the naïve, odd-looking, inexperienced kid from the cheap seats and the handsome, high-living lothario with a heart of gold who falls in love with her that we’ve all heard and read about, right?  Except, well, it’s all kind of made up.

Does Lea know?

It was only with this new 2022 Broadway iteration of Funny Girl that even I, Mr. Show Biz, found out the real Fanny Brice was married and divorced from her first husband prior to ever meeting Nick-y Arnstein, her second one. Not only that, but she already knew he was an unapologetic racketeer into all kinds of illegal stuff long before she married him and even well after.

But, I mean, how romantic is that story? (Note: I, for one, find it wildly compelling but that is yet another story).  

There has been a tradition of plundering through people’s lives in hopes of making some creative and commercial sense of their existences.  You clean up a little here, romanticize a little there, condense the timelines when convenient and change the names to protect against any one who can sue you.

Except Diana: The Musical… I have no idea what that is

No one really cares that Fanny wasn’t a virgin and that she brazenly married a racketeer if it’ll ruin a better story and make them not appear…sweeter.  Just like audiences don’t really want to know that in Gypsy the real life stage mother from hell, the iconic Rose, also had female lovers, one of whom she shot and killed after she dared to make a pass at her daughter Gypsy.

It’s one thing to tidy up specific people’s lives but it’s quite another to pick and choose from many, many lives you are appropriating, not to mention in what ways you are doing it.  But well, is it?  

The Law and Order franchises have made ripped from the headlines roman a clef a true television art since 1990 and lives on to this day.  (Note: Do not say ONE BAD WORD ABOUT MARISKA!).   And there is hardly a decade of history in the last 250 years that has not been pilfered for reinvented real-life tales, tall or otherwise.

WORK!

This is all a lot to consider (or not) while watching the beginning of AIDS, the murderous virus of homophobia, the leather cruising, the excessive drug use and the pilfering of fact and fiction as the subculture of gaydom before it was mainstreamed and/or talked about as portrayed in AHS: NYC.

It’s 1981 and we’re given a bit from the much criticized movie Cruising (1980) when a closeted gay detective played by Looking’s Russell Stovey examines what remains of the body of a handsome, fictionalized, leather-clad airline pilot murdered by the docks.  

But the detective is living with an angry, middle-aged out gay journalist, played by renowned out gay director-actor Joe Mantello, a composite of many but sort of a roman a clef of a real-life but much younger out gay journalist at the time, Michaelangelo Signorelli,  who became famous for outing famous closeted gays in the late eighties for not doing more to lead the fight against AIDS.

Joe giving us full Ryan Murphy lighting

So far, so good and  a smart mix of fact and fiction – kind of.

But then it gets kind of murky when we’re introduced to several requisite gay killers, one of whom is stalking our sweet, young, looking-for-love but not necessarily for sex, hero Adam, causing his best friend to go missing and Adam to become desperate.

A series of clues lead him to a bathhouse where he stumbles upon a famous photographer of provocatively naked, rough-looking gay males, but someone who also likes to capture images of flowers.  He should really be called Robert Mapplethorpe but isn’t because this isn’t a Fanny Brice-type biopic.

Not now Lea!!

However, it sort of is because the Mapplethorpe type has a rich boyfriend/manager/art patron named Sam, portrayed by Zachary Quinto, as a sleazy, sadist who is a little older and who is clearly based on Mapplethorpe’s real life lover/patron, Sam Wagstaff.  

By all accounts, the real Sam was a kind man who loved Mapplethorpe, bought him a building to finance and create his art, and believed in his work when almost no one else did.   Nevertheless, his AHS version likes drugging young men, locking them in cages against their will and doing god knows what to them before they meet some looming awful demise.  At least by the end of episode two.

There’s also a lot more.  

Ryan? Excess? I don’t believe it

The obviously well-educated ex-military gay psychopath who, with some help, drugs and kidnaps men at gay bars, and then tortures and/or kills them by injecting needles under their fingernails.  He and the crimes in the opening are sort of but not exactly based on New York’s notorious real life Last Call Killer as well as some of the murders portrayed in Cruising.

Not to mention the chanteuse at the gay bathhouse played by Patti Lupone, who so far has no dialogue but sings two songs great.  The problem is one of them is the haunting Oscar-nominated tune I Am Calling You, from the 1987 film, Bagdad Cafe, and she’s singing it in 1981 to a group of gay men, many of whom are likely to be dead by the time the real version of this song was first written and recorded six years later. 

On the other hand, does this matter when you get to see Patti in a Cleopatra/Cher/Victor/Victoria type headpiece, doing an homage to the world’s most well-known, real life gay bathhouse singer, the young Bette Midler of the early 1970s? 

No, it definitely does not

Not to anyone else but me, it seems.  

AHS:NYC and the like may not be historically accurate but they don’t have to be.  They are real enough, real-ish, which is fine as long as they are believable enough to be moneymaking and/or entertaining.

To use the present vernacular, they provide us infinitely more digestible alternative facts than our actual history.

And then some.

The lovely Kellyanne Conway first coined the oxymoron alternative facts in early 2017 on NBC’s Meet the Press in an effort to defend, or at least massage, the Trump administration’s lies about the number of people at his inauguration.

‘member her?

Days before, at his very first appearance as White House press secretary, Sean “Spicey” Spicer bellowed to a group of disbelieving reporters that President Trump had the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – PERIOD…!

That easily provable lie and blatantly improvable alternative fact quickly became an embarrassing international meme and butt of many a Saturday Night Live gag.

Some of Kate’s best work

Numerous comparative aerial photos, as well as final Washington, D.C. Metro figures for that day became irrefutable truths that Trump didn’t have anywhere near the attendance they claimed.  In fact, the first inauguration of Barack Obama more than doubled the real Trump numbers, which Spicer had already exaggerated by about 20-25%.

It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, more of an embarrassing mess that would ultimately be cleaned up in the history books by real facts, not alternative ones.

And look where we are now.

George Michael & Lynn Mabry – “I’m Calling You”

The Season Finale

There are so many takeaways from Thursday’s season one finale of the Jan. 6th Trump Insurrection Hearings TV series.

But before we get into the serious stuff, let’s understand that this 8th episode was, more than anything else, great TV.  

As such it delivered not only plot, drama and prosecutorial bread crumbs, but something for EVERY type of viewer –especially us silly and superficial ones.

Say it with me now!

Yes, yes, yes, as our beloved Stefon might say if he were still here (Note: And where is he????), this episode had EVERYTHING:

1. Two plus hours of an insanely hot Clark Kent lookalike sitting directly behind live witnesses Matt Pottinger and Sarah Matthews.  He nearly broke Thirst Twitter and, quite honestly, made it difficult for the Chair to focus at times.

Look who left Metropolis!

And, for what I’m sure is only a very small handful of readers who care (Note: Ahem), his name is Alex Wollet, he’s 23 and a med student/Ohio University grad studying neuroscience, currently doing a residency at the National Institute of Health. 

That’s right – a soon to be…DOCTOR! 

Though word is that he might NOT be single (and could be the boyfriend of Ms. Matthews) I truly have no idea and would much prefer picturing him merely writing a story about all this for The Daily Planet and everything that might entail.

Please get this renewed for season 2

2. The once in a lifetime chance of hearing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) say the words delicate flower and (former attorney general) Bill Barr in the same sentence. 

Chastising critics who have publicly knocked her and the work of the committee for being biased and one-sided because there were no hand-picked Republicans chosen by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy serving among their ranks, Rep. Cheney icily turned to the camera in her final summation address and rhetorically proclaimed to all of those doubters:

Do you really think Bill Barr is such a delicate flower that he would wilt under (that) cross-examination?

Add a hair flip!!

(Note: It’s worth stating Cheney, one of two Republicans actually appointed to the committee, is about as conservative a member of Congress as you can get, voting with Trump a whopping 94% of the time)

Why can’t you let me enjoy things, Chairy??

3. The juxtaposition of fist pumping, pre-insurrection fueling Missouri Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), with mid-insurrection footage of Road Runner-like Sen. Hawley leaping through the halls of the Capitol building and then bouncing down its stairs, with folders full of god knows what, in a hurried, last ditch attempt to elude that rabid crowd of patriots he had emboldened just several hours prior.

His escapades sparked a series of soundtrack memes, my favorite being the one to the tune of Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire:

Certainly, there were scores of other revelations, eyewitness testimony, clarifications, framings and reiterations of what happened three plus hours from the time Trump encouraged what we now know were his very well-armed mob of supporters – HIS PEOPLE that we now realize, thanks to this committee, he told security NOT to disarm because he knew THEY had no intention of harming HIM. 

These were the same armed people he shouted to at his rally right before the insurrection started to FIGHT LIKE HELL if they wanted to keep their country.

Lay Translation:  Do whatever it takes to stop the certification of the results of this election.

A thrilling first season

But let’s get back to specific Thursday night revelations:

— A recounting of phone conversations between members of Mike Pence’s Secret Service/security detail on the phone with their loved ones saying goodbye in case they didn’t survive the oncoming onslaught of rioters meant to hang the former vice-president right before our eyes.

– A compelling timeline of puppet master Trump first throwing virtual gasoline onto HIS PEOPLE to spark the planned demonstrations/riots/violence and then unapologetically watching and listening to a more than 3-hour romp of desecration and death onto the Capitol building and those unlucky enough to be inside it despite pleas from TRUMP family, staff and staunch political allies for him to call it off.

Serving real Regina George energy

–  Numerous live and taped accounts of the former president seated in the head chair of his small private dining room, ALONE, hamburger(s) in hand, gleefully glued to Fox News like a demented Wimpy.  His response to those who dared to physically or virtually enter his space and ask for some action or protection or plan to protect the elected representatives in Congress from HIS PEOPLE was outright refusal or deflection.  That is unless you count numerous calls BY TRUMP to various senators and congresspersons in an eleventh hour attempt to get them to stall the ceremonial counting of the Electoral College votes that would rightfully declare Joe Biden president and confirm Trump as the official LOSER of the 2020 election.

Sowwy

Certainly, other high and low points exist, depending on your view of high and low, your commitment to not only truth telling but truth HEARING. 

There are also more questions to be asked, especially in light of all the mysterious missing Secret Service text messages from Jan.6th (and even 7th).

One that comes to mind is:  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the now deleted texts between Trump’s Secret Service detail and Pence’s Secret Service detail that day considering Pence’s refusal mid-insurrection to get in the car, driven by HIS Secret Service agents, and leave the Capitol Building area?

A real headscratcher

As the Vice President, who was steadfast to record the final votes on that date no matter what, was said to have stated to one of his assigned protectors as they attempted to whisk him away and out of the vicinity of the Capitol building:

If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off.  I’m not getting in that car.

What exactly DID Pence fear?  Where WAS the Secret Service taking him and for how long?  And at WHOSE DIRECTION would his evacuation be done at???? 

Also, how is it that the Secret Service claims of updating their communication systems conveniently occurred on Jan. 6, which we now know was a long-planned date by team Trump for a mass rally (Note: Riot?) that the then POTUS tweeted days before would be WILD; and close Trump confidante Steve Bannon previewed would be THE DAY ALL HELL WILL BREAK LOOSE to his podcast audience?

Gotta check my notes here

Okay, admittedly that’s more than one question – among so, so many others. 

This is why rather than closing up shop like the limited series they had planned, the committee will actually have a season 2 starting not next year but in September.

Just how many episodes or for how long, depends on, as is the usual case with MUST SEE TV, public response. 

Next season produced by Ryan Murphy (get your wigs out Sarah Paulson!)

Let’s hope we, the public, nee citizens, choose wisely.   And that the programming from Cheney and company avoids that cursed sophomore slump.

Though her closing admonition re team Trump – The damn is beginning to break –does give me hope.

Josh Hawley running to Benny Hill