Life in the Upside Down

So how was your week?

Did you know the fourth (and final?) season of Stranger Things dropped on Netflix?

What about that sequel to Top Gun, the trashy, watchable and massively popular 1986 film starring Tom Cruise that I never quite liked (Note: Oh, who cares, Chair?!) but yet managed to be moved by (Spoiler Alert:  I can’t reveal that moment but it’s as cheap, effective and mind-numbingly obvious as anything to come out of the 80s).

Anyway, do you know that Top Gun: Maverick (2022) is having the biggest opening of any Tom Cruise film EVER this Memorial Day weekend, grossing upwards of $260 million internationally?

Everything old is new again

I bet you didn’t know THAT.

But even if you did, who cares, right?

Because none of it truly matters when you’re livin’ life in the upside down.

If you don’t get that reference, the Upside Down is the crazy underground alien world we were first introduced to in the first season of Stranger Things.

It is an evil, ruthless, violent dystopian place where anything can happen and you will more likely than not, not survive.

Think of it as, well,  an American classroom in the midst of a school shooting.

Too soon? 

I don’t think so.

Might as well just cut off the top of the pole

I can tell you that episode one of ST’s fourth season opens with a short sequence that ends with a series of cuts to the maimed, bloody corpses of a group of pre-teens at the hands of…  Oh, well, why spoil the fun?

Just know that the Duffer Brothers once again have their hands on the deadening pulse of America. 

So much so that several days ago there was a warning card inserted right before the episode began that lets us know this season was shot a year ago, and that we’re saddened by the recent blah, blah, blah, etc. etc., etc….

But talk about prescience.

It’s like Eleven could sense… the most predictable thing

On the other hand, maybe these images, cuts and, well, shots are just the kind of thing we take for granted these days.  And what are writers anyway except a delivery system of artistic truths for the masses to see and contemplate and feed upon?

At least that’s how I talk about us when I’m at my most cynical.

And this would be one of those times.

There is no sense to be made of the shooting deaths of 19 children and two of their teachers at an elementary school in the small town of Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday because one can’t make sense of the insane and nonsensical.  That’s what makes us categorize those events as such.

Senseless

And yet there is no lack of would-be sense makers trying to deny the obvious with lies, tortured statements and contorted half-truth answers to the obvious.

Here is a list of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S, over the last two decades.

The majority of these were done with military style weapons like the AR-15, the gun of choice for that 18 year-old shooter at Uvalde.  The gun the NRA backed Republican Party refuses to ban. (Note: Heck, they don’t even want universal background checks).

And there is a reason for that.  This gun can shoot a bullet a second, eviscerating the flesh, bones and organs of its human targets like no other weapon in our history.

It’s speed and efficiency has made it BY FAR the most popular and PROFITABLE  gun out there.  And that’s quite an accomplishment since at this point there are way more guns than people in the U.S.

You read that right.

Who else is mad as hell?

No wonder the shooter bought two of them in the course of a week, along with more than enough ammunition to kill all those kids two or three times over.  And no background check required,  you can’t even get two handguns until you turned 21 and, anyway, these AR-15’s are much quicker, faster and FAR more fun.  Speaking from the merely logical perspective of an 18-year-old, they are the best and most efficient way to achieve your goals.

And yet we’ve got the Texas governor (Abbott) and senator (Cruz) on TV mansplaining to us all sorts of things.

– It’s single parent families and a lack of religion that has helped create all this.

– It’s mental illness (Note: Duh) in the last 20 years, especially because you used to always be able to buy rifles at age 18.

– It’s a excuse to take away everyone’s guns, a Democratic hoax to take over and politicize every single awful thing in the world to their favor rather than address the issues real Americans care about.

– Only good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns.

Of course, in reality Texas ranks last of all states in the country for money allotted to  mental health services and effectiveness in treating them.  It is also one of easiest states in the country to buy and possess a gun thanks to recent legislation signed by Gov. Abbott that vastly expanded gun rights.

The fact is, you can buy and carry pretty much any type of gun anywhere at any time. 

As for that final statement, more than a dozen police officers, all of them presumably good guys with guns, stood inside that elementary school on the opposite side of a classroom door where a bunch of children 10 and under lay bleeding, screaming, terrified and begging (Note: via recorded 911 calls) to be rescued.

Make it make sense

But the good guys were wrongly ordered to stand down by their supervisor when they should have gone in, or so it’s being said right now.  This was a different story than was announced on Tuesday.

 And it might get even worse by next Tuesday.

But suffice it to say, there is nothing simple about this story that any good guys vs. bad guys scenario might possibly address.

As much as the top elected officials in Texas and in the world of Republican politics want to make this into a simplified tale of life in the wild, wild west.

It is nothing of the sort.

This is life right now.

And as long as we remain the RIGHT side of the aisle up, we will stay forever in the upside down.

Lady Gaga – “Hold My Hand” (from Top Gun: Maverick)

Why Don’t You Just Blog About It?

It was hard to know what to write about this week.  Not because there wasn’t enough but because there was too much in too many areas.

This happens when you have a weekly column or, in this case, create a weekly column for yourself. 

Many people have asked me over the last ten years –

So Chair, why do it?  Why put this pressure on yourself?  And us?

Not a picture of me on Saturday night writing this blog… not at all

My stock answer is to quote Jim Harwood, my late colleague at Daily Variety, when asked what qualified him to review movies:

Because I have an opinion and a place to print it.

Glib as this answer was and still is, it’s only partly true. 

Discourse, disagreement and the inevitable didacticism it evokes, are how we survive. 

It’s how the world survives.  And, in turn, how it thrives.

This helps too

I never much liked the word didactic, probably because I feared it applied too much to me and wasn’t quite sure of it’s true definition.

To be didactic – meaning to be inclined to teach or lecture to others too much, and often in too boring a way, is not something to aspire to. 

Especially in a self-created weekly column.

When it’s an opinion you don’t want to hear or one with which you vehemently disagree, most of our knee jerk reactions are to feel talked down to and/or lectured to.  We want to turn the channel, scroll past or, more often than not, simply tune out and/or walk out of the room.

This energy… always

This isn’t good nor is it healthy for ourselves, our country or the world.

It’s a behavior that was enabled by the Reagan Administration when it did away with the Fairness Doctrine, which in many ways privatized the news business, stripping it of any real legal responsibility to be fair.

When you are not required to present opposing viewpoints in some way, shape or form, especially when speaking and writing about the events of the day, you are NOT being fair.  You are giving opinions that masquerade as news and getting people to believe you without knowing all the facts.

Still, it’s a start.

This is where writing a column, okay A BLOG, comes in.

Oh come now, the Chair ALWAYS has something to say #bloggingrightnow

None of what’s here could readily be classified as news coverage even though it does speak to what’s going on in the world during any given week.

Sometimes the goings on have to do with pop culture.  Other times it’s a treatise on bad drivers (Note: Everyone else) or the blissful simplicity of a plain white shirt.  And more than I realized in the last four years, it’s been a serious condemnation of racism, sexism and homophobia – in other words, a repudiation of Trumpism.

For this writer, and often the readers, it’s a way to externalize the internal emotions, often a mix of passion and anger, which drives one crazy to keep in.  An avenue to put it out into the world where it can be:

1. Identified

2. Seen

3. Discussed

And, most importantly –

4. HEARD

YES, YES, YES #merylwouldagree

To get all of the above is the jackpot and it doesn’t often happen.  The discourse equivalent of a singer who gets a four-chair turn during the blind auditions on NBC’s The Voice.

But you don’t need ALL FOUR coaches to want you on their team in order to win a singing competition.  Just like you don’t need everyone, or even the majority of people, to agree with you in order to ultimately win an argument and begin to change the world. (Note: Or at least make yourself feel better).

You just need ONE coach or ONE person to listen.  Then you continue to
“sing” and convince a few more.  And then more.  Until, well….you get what I mean.

It might not mean you’ll become The Voice but as they say in Oscar season, it’s a honor to be nominated.

Someday Amy…. Someday

Or at least on a list that was considered to be nominated.

I think of a blog, a column, or even the vocalizing of a song or a viewpoint as a way to sing a song that needs to be sung.  If this sounds a little 1960s, well, why not?

That was a turbulent time but an era that provoked more social change than any decade since.

For example, here’s what was churning me up inside this week:

– SEVEN mass shootings in SEVEN days in the U.S.  Yeah, there were TEN people killed in Boulder, CO at the King Soopers Supermarket on Monday, March 22.  This followed the EIGHT people gunned down, including SIX Asian women, at three spas in Atlanta on Tuesday March 16. 

But did you know that between those two days there were TWENTY-THREE more people shot, killed and injured en masse in Stockton, CA, Gresham, OR, Houston, TX, Dallas, TX, and Philadelphia, PA?

So…. continue to stay home?

And that almost all of the major mass shootings in US over the last several decades were done with variations of a single weapon –  the AR-15 rifle? 

– EIGHT white guy legislators, led by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, had a behind closed doors bill signing that SEVERELY curbed the right to vote statewide. Among other things, it is now a CRIME to provide WATER to those standing in line to vote.  The bill also removes the MAJORITY of drop boxes for MAIL-IN BALLOTS, sharply cuts back on the amount of polling places TO vote and DRASTICALLY reduces the number of hours the remaining polling places will be open, particularly in areas with majority Black and Brown voters.

Interesting enough, this PRIVATE bill signing was done under a PAINTING of one of the state’s most notorious SLAVE PLANTATIONS right there in the governor’s office.  And when Georgia State Legislator Park Cannon, a Black female, knocked on the governor’s door to witness said signing she was promptly handcuffed, arrested AND dragged away TO JAIL where she was charged with TWO FELONIES?

This this this this

– Elsewhere, a group of EIGHTEEN Republican members of Congress in HUNTING GEAR patrolled the Texas border armed with RIFLES, presumably for protection against an army of gun-toting drugs lords illegally entering the U.S.  In truth, that border overwhelmingly features unaccompanied CHILDREN floating via INNER TUBE to escape thugs in their native Honduras, Nicaragua or El Salvador trying to either kill them or make them their drug runners. 

– It now costs a whopping $19.95 to stream new-ish Oscar-nominated movies like The Father on platforms such as Amazon and Google because desperate theatre owners like AMC want to make up for all the business lost during the pandemic.  No, this isn’t earth shattering but it pissed me off nevertheless.

UGHHHH

Any one of these could’ve been the subject of a “column” and now, in some small way, all of them are.    What’s eating you and how can you get it out of your head?  Where do you discuss it?  Who disagrees with you and why?  Do they have a point?  What broader questions does this bring to mind and can you at least read about it AND the opposing opinion?

Before you know it, you’re not so alone in your thoughts and you’ve created a column of your own.  Or at the very least, prevented yourself from imploding.

And have the pressure of each week figuring out what else is on your mind.

#DoItForDemocracy.

You’re welcome.

Bo Burnham – “Rant”

Check out the Chair’s newest project, Pod From a Chair , now available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify!

TWO PART EPISODE ON OSCAR NOMINATIONS NOW LIVE!