Cable News Cardio

You know how you slow down when you see an accident on a highway even though you don’t want to?  Well, that’s how it feels watching The Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump.

Still, I have to specifically hand it to my cable network of choice, MSNBC.  They’ve brought it.  The last thing I wanted to do this week was to hear the guy’s name, see the stuff that passes on his head for hair or hear about anything he’s ever done/does in the past, present or foreseeable future.

We bow down to the national treasure that is Rachel Maddow

Still, I couldn’t turn away.  Not for barely a second.  I even found the ONLY treadmill at the gym with on Friday afternoon that had a small screen turned to guess what…MSNBC!…. during THE key climactic moments late Friday afternoon.

It was meant to be.

Or so I reasoned to myself when I got off the machine I was on and hiked three rows down to see more of what I’d been watching since 8am that morning and every morning for the last seemingly 52 days.  Only this time there were merely images with subtitles.   NO. SOUND.

WHYYYYYY

Oh yeah.  I couldn’t figure out how to plug my headphones into the thing.  But even that was okay.  The subtitles were being done on the fly and I got most of the abbreviations.  In fact, it became fun to figure out which commentators were which WITHOUT THEIR words ALWAYS being identified.

Suddenly, I was running at record speeds, in elevations that I hadn’t been in months, trying to play a NEW guessing game.

Oh, yes, that sounds EXACTLY like what Nicolle Wallace would say because she knows the inner workings of the White House!

Sure, that’s former Senator Claire McCaskill’s incisive commentary.  It’s not only smart but a bit snide.

Claire’s for real, guys.

 And wait, she’s actually…texting with members of the Senate in real time??? I was right, I gleefully proclaimed to myself as I bobbled my water bottle and it sprayed all over my gray Lululemon workout shirt from six years ago that somehow is still holding up.

OMG, it’s like having a spy behind enemy lines, ready to dish to your side in a down and dirty way.  Yay Claire!!! 

Then, trying to figure out who’s talking to whom on the crowded Senate floor from far away, I suddenly hear Claire excitedly saying: That’s Lamar’s (Sen. Alexander (R-TN) bald spot

 …as we were waiting to determine whether he was going to cast the third possibly dissenting Republican YAY vote to finally HEAR a few witnesses (or even one) on the issue of impeachment in the Senate trial (Note: He didn’t).

Twitter gets it

Forget that the NY Times had just reported former Trump advisor John Bolton’s upcoming March book has him proclaiming in print that Trump did indeed hold up gazillions of dollars in foreign aid to Ukraine unless the country investigated Hunter Biden and his dad Joe Biden, Trump’s chief rival for the presidency at the time.

I was almost equally as riled up that Claire seemed to be on the verge of some sort of hirsute-ish scoop!

Of course, once reality began to kick in I sort of began to crash.

But some moments later, just when the hope for any live witnesses at this quickly becoming kangaroo court was lost, the powers that be at my channel cut to Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer live as he gave a short statement proclaiming that the Senate voting not allow new witnesses or documents at this trial was a…PERFITY???????????????? 

HUH WHAT?

What the f-k does that mean????  Suddenly, I felt so let down by my friends on the panel who only moments before were seemingly my only friends in the world because they were the only ones still with me through all this who never seemed to mind me ranting and raving (Note: Forget they couldn’t hear me) cause they were, too.

Oh, and dumb.   Thoroughly let down and now DUMB.  So, so DUMB.

Then, Brian Williams, like the God he is, jumped in and quipped re: Schumer’s perfidy:

Hey, I bet he wishes he could take that word back!

After which Claire and Nicolle laughed.  And laughed.  AND LAUGHED!!!

Thank God.

Sweet relief

I felt even better when, I think, Chris Matthews noted that it was Harry Truman who always recommended you don’t use 10-dollar words but nickel words if you want to really get people to listen to you.

Sure, I’m mangling the quote a little but that was the gist of it since I couldn’t find the actual one.  Though I did find out the definition of perfidy.

per·fi·dy

noun: perfidy; plural noun: perfidies

deceitfulness; untrustworthiness.”it was an example of his perfidy”

Since this whole week was all about perfidies I now very much admired Schumer for bringing it up in the first place.

Every time he uses a fancy word, the glasses get lower

Until Nicolle (or was it Brian or Chris? – I’m not sure who it was at this point) announced another revelation from the Bolton book just unearthed by the NY Times. 

Apparently Trump’s White House lawyer Pat Cipollone, the guy we’d been watching co-lead his no-witnesses defense all week by proclaiming Trump NEVER demanded we withhold money from Ukraine to benefit his re-election campaign, WAS ACTUALLY IN THE OVAL OFFICE MEETING WHEN TRUMP DEMANDED we withhold money from Ukraine to benefit his re-election campaign.

Well, I thought Nicole was going to lose it along with me.

I think we were all Wile E Coyote in that moment #help

Luckily, I was off the treadmill by then and watching this via a flat screen TV I found in the weight room that happened to also be tuned to her.

Lest you think I go to one of those blue state, elite snowflake gyms, know that’s not quite true.  It’s a 24-Hour Fitness and it costs me $120 per year.

And occasionally some screens are tuned to Fox.  Until I complained about it and never saw that channel on in MY GYM again.

At least not on my watch.

Lizzo – “Good As Hell”

2019, Take a Seat

I’m thinking of 2019 as the year of the bad breakup.  It was miserable, endless and painful and yet it had a few high points where you got some revenge and even won several arguments.

No, that’s not a particularly healthy way to think.  But it is satisfying and harmless if you only indulge at the end of the year.  Like a pizza dinner with fries on the side and a chocolate anything for dessert.  Or sex with the wrong person.

Yeah, I said it.

No one really wants to look back on a year such as this one but as 2019 comes to a close a handful of moments might be worth remembering.  That is aside from teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg taking every one of us over forty out to the virtual woodshed for destroying the planet over the last 30 years.

Some moments are in a class by themselves and have far more meaning than the off year in which they occurred.

And with that:

THE CHAIR’S BEST OF LIST:

The Finger Point Seen Round the World

On point

Say what you will about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi but her total domination of the Electoral College POTUS who thinks He’s King in 2019 was one dependable, if sporadic, joy to behold.  This was typified by that October still photo Trump tweeted of her dressing down the sort of prez over his Syrian policy with her words AND her finger with the attempted shaming caption, Nervous Nancy’s Unhinged Meltdown!

Only he could never imagine she would embrace an image where she was confronting a table full of clueless straight white men who could barely look her in the face, make it her Twitter cover photo and in turn have it embraced as THE symbol of female empowerment and popular resistance to the patriarchy heard round the world.

AND you thought she couldn’t top last year’s meme of her leaving the White House in that red coat and oversized sunglasses…

The Strangest and Best TV Special that Shouldn’t Exist but Does

How did this get made?

Netflix’s John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch is exhibit A in defense of Netflix because it’s hard to imagine it would get green lit by or as widely seen on any other platform in the world.

But how to describe it?

Well, see, there’s this smart comic named John Mulaney (Note: Co-creator of SNL’s Stefon) who had an Emmy winning Netflix special last year and thought for his fellow-up he’d mix it up with a group of musical theatre pre-teens he gets to sing, dance and emote with in a post-modern remix version of the eighties kids shows Electric Company and Zoom!

This, of course, sells everything about the program way, way, waaaaay short.

Intrigued, confused, weirded out? All of the above.

Suffice it to say any show that features The Talking Heads’ David Byrne, Broadway’s Andrew De Shields and moviedom’s star Jake Gyllenhaal singing along to Mulaney-penned or approved original material with youngsters who have much better voices than they do is worth seeing.

If that doesn’t grab you how about a young guy warbling Sascha’s Dad Does Drag, another singing, Grandma’s Got A Boyfriend or a young woman getting to wear David Byrne’s iconic big suit while dueting Pay Attention with him?

No?

What about Jake in a colorful xylophone jacket having a sweaty nervous breakdown as he desperately and unsuccessfully tries to convince us of the places where he is sure music sprang from.

Are you sure I’m not on drugs?

Be honest.  You like to watch….don’t you?

The Unforgettable Performance

Clang, clang, clang goes the Oscar?

Judy Garland is likely the most imitated performer in the history of show business.  Or at least in every gay bar across the world, which is, let’s face it, where all of show business sprang from.

That is why Renee Zellweger’s incredible performance in title role of Judy, a film that chronicles Garland’s final musical comeback towards the end of her life, is such an achievement (see my post about that here).

It’s not so much that she delivers a carbon copy imitation.  It’s more that she manages to evoke the very tremulous essence of the vulnerable performer and turn her into a recognizable brew of strengths and weaknesses that each of us can relate to.

… and she did indeed #tehehe

On paper this might have seemed like a disaster, especially since there is nowhere to hide when half the film is shot in close-ups and two-shots of you either alone or pulling focus from others by just being you (nee Her).  That Zellweger manages to pull this off (and then some) in a film that will likely win her the competitive best actress Oscar that eluded the real Judy is sweet.  Even sweeter for her is the fact that it has vaulted her right back on top of contemporary Hollywood after the tongue waggers-that-be delighted some years ago in categorizing her as already past her prime before she even turned 50.

Tee-hee.  Hee.

Best Shirtless Brad Pitt Moment

You’re Welcome

He’s 56 years old and it was in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.  Without CGI.  That is all.

Priceless Mean Girls Moment

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French president Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson huddled together at this year’s NATO summit dishing Electoral POTUS Donald Trump and it made us ALL feel better about being human.

Oh, OF COURSE NO ONE IS CONDONING GOSSIP OR BITCHY BEHAVIOR!!

Still, Mean Girls was a best-selling book, a hit movie, and a Broadway musical that ran for almost two years and will likely be playing at a city near you in 2020 so there must be something to it.

We all know Regina George would make Electoral POTUS cry.

Sure, the best strategy with a know-nothing bully is not stooping to their level.  But we all need to blow off steam, and preferably where they are in close enough proximity to know that you HATE them!!!!

Not to mention, the message must have gotten through.  Trump promptly left the summit early just a day later in a huff, knowing he was not wanted.

Wait….you feel bad?  Really???????

Because his latest revenge against Trudeau, hot off the presses:  Trump and his son, Donald Trump, Jr., tweeting that it was the Canadian Prime Minister who was responsible for Sr’s cameo in Home Alone: 2 (1992) getting cut from Canadian television over this year’s Christmas holidays.

As if!!!

Best Joyous Hate Watching

Will you ever forget…the very first moment in 2019….that you saw…….the trailer to……the movie version of………CATS????

The fake fur, the pointy ears, the strange facial expressions and inhuman semi-sexual gyrations.  It delivered everything and more…or less.  Universal recently took the historic step of actually announcing that after a week in release it was redoing some of the special effects and issuing new versions of the print to the thousands of theatres it was playing.

Our response to that is:  PLEASE DON’T.

Nailed it!

Don’t change a frame for those of us who are waiting to stream it…along with a side of magic mushr—well, something.

And this just in from the gift that keeps on giving:  Dame Judy Dench was only just a handful of days ago quoted as saying her cat, Old Deuteronomy, is…transgender!

Please don’t make it stop.  Now OR forever.

And finally – THE Prophetic Musical Moment

Taylor Swift was much more than a regrettable 2019 supporting turn in Cats.  Sure, her You Need To Calm Down record and video is a song about LGBTQ equality and acceptance.  On the surface.  But in a sense, isn’t it also the overriding message to all of us when we reflect on the entire year and strategize for what’s inevitably to come in 2020??

Taylor Swift – “You Need to Calm Down”

Want more Chair 2019 takes? Dip into our archive and find gems like: The Chair Sees Hadestown with Hillary Clinton (plus Woke-lahoma review), Farewell Dear Rhoda, Paul Rudd Refuses to Age, Prince George Can Dance If He Wants To!, and lots of love for When They See Us, Fosse/Verdon, USand more.

The Purity Test

Nothing’s clean Howard.  But we do our best, right? 

 – Ava Gardner to Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004)

This is all I could think of during and after the latest Democratic presidential debate this week.

That in speaking this one truth, the fictionalized Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale) managed to coax a fictionalized and very seriously obsessive-compulsive Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) out of  the prison of his own room and his own twisted thoughts and virtually back to real life in the superb Hughes/Hollywood biopic The Aviator.

Side note: Has Kate Beckinsale ever looked so glamorous??

Would that we had our own Ava Gardner-like figure – living or dead – to shock us all, the American electorate, back into the filth and messiness of our present reality in time to face the upcoming 2020 election cycle.

Someone who could remind us that because this world is so dirty to some degree we, every last one of us, also are unclean.

But someone who might simultaneously assure us that true cleanliness, i.e. purity, is merely an intellectual construct, one especially ill-advised when our very world is about to be engulfed and devoured by a snarling, larger than life orange Cookie Monster of our own creation.

We may need to seek alternative measures #CAROLANN

Yes, I’m talking about Trump and which mud-stained gladiator on that stage will lead us through the mess of human blood and excrement he’s gonna spew everywhere as we try and pry his cold, wet hands off  the levels of OUR power.

And sure, this is all a tad too purple prose metaphorical.

Yet what are we to make of all that supposedly serious talk on that debate stage.  All that posturing about wine caves, no big money donors, grit to stay the course, I’m safe because you know me, I’m a revolutionary because I’ve always been (Note: Just what year WAS that revolution, other than 1776?) and I’m a billionaire/millionaire who’s an innovator simply because I got rich?

Or the I’m gay, female, a person of color or am/have actively always supported the struggles of ALL of the former (and any of those not mentioned), many of whom are also my friends?

Remember my BEST FRIEND?

Not much when I drive around town and see Orangetheory Fitness Centers spreading like wildfire in my neighborhood, and not merely in a non-metaphorical way. If this doesn’t stop we might all soon be turning orange, and not in a good or fit way.

Again, too many metaphors, I know.  But desperate times call for…well, you know… anything that could possibly convince you.

It is worth noting that all the above bold-faced phrases on that debate stage were uttered by our much-ballyhooed gladiators the day after our Orange One was finally impeached by OUR U.S. House of Representatives.

He is known to be pro-coal

As the always fictional Elliot Ness was advised in the 1987 film, The Untouchables:

You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

Yeah, another movie reference can’t hurt.  Unless it’s one where I get to confess I’m so exhausted from listening to our gladiators get so stuck in the fly paper of fine print that I may have to hate watch Cats (2019) simply as a palette cleanser.

The reviews are in!

On second thought no, not even on a screener – which, by the way, has not yet come in the mail.

All of this is to proclaim that even though yes, we need to fix health care, end global warming, get out of endless wars, address racism and the lack of opportunities for minority and poor populations, get money out of politics and………. nothing is more urgent than getting a quite literally unhinged, corrupt, crazy person out of OUR White House.

*except Mike Pence

His mental state is not metaphorical but pretty much accepted fact, even among many of his congressional supporters privately.  What is metaphorical but no less true is that the 2019 color of that House he lives in is no longer White but….well, take a guess.  (Hint:  The first letter rhymes with NO).

Talk about unclean, filthy and unsafe.

So here’s the deal.  You and I have each have our favorites, my fellow gladiator followers.  But let’s try to get beyond the Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, Yang, Klobuchar, Yang, Booker, Castro, et. al of it all.

I’ll always love you Kamala

The future of the country and democracy is at stake and we don’t live in a perfect one, and certainly not a perfect world.  So rally behind those you feel the most passionate about but do not, repeat, DO NOT spend 2020 in your own personal dreamland when YOUR House is being engulfed by non-metaphorical orange flames.

Evergreen meme

If Biden is not your first choice but he gets the nom, find a way to get REALLY PASSIONATE about him.  Like you did about the guy or gal you dated when the dysfunctional choice you really wanted didn’t show up or merely screwed you over.

Ditto Bernie

Ditto Elizabeth Warren

Ditto Mayor Pete

And in the so far less-likely second tier:

Ditto Amy Klobuchar

Ditto Andrew Yang

Ditto the billionaires Bloomberg and Steyer

Ditto Julian Castro

Ditto Corey Booker

Except Tulsi. Move to Canada for Tulsi. #present

This also goes for all of the above or unmentioned  as possible vice-presidential candidates.

You and I and anyone else we can find on our dirtiest or, well, very less than unclean street corners, need to do this because if we don’t we will be losing A LOT more than the election.

Which is a lot LESS than has been lost already.

Elvis Presley – “Clean Up Your Own Backyard”

New to the Neighborhood

This past week the democratically led House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald J. Trump right out of the Oval Office.

There were seemingly endless hours and days of sober, nasty, angry and all around contentious testimonies, cross-examinations and speechifying none of us could get away from.

Even if you didn’t tune in, read about it or experience it via a random social media post/tweet, it was in the air.  Try going into any public place and someone, somewhere said somethingOr you I thought they did.

Of course, this is merely act one.

For those dreaming of a white christmas

In the next month we have a trial in the Senate that looks to be eerily similar except for the outcome.  Since that body has a Republican majority it’s likely that all of those legal and ceremonial bickerings will end with Trump exonerated/still in office and both sides of supporters feeling similarly aggrieved.

It’s about the only thing we all agree on as a group.

This weekend I watched the new movie about famed children’s TV star Mister Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.  I watched it on a screener at home because I was so similarly aggrieved that I was too lazy to go out to the movies and too wrung out to actually spend time looking at anything that I even vaguely cared about.

Yeah, I never got the TV show Mister Rogers Neighborhood OR the man himself.  In fact, full confession, as a kid he REALLY gave me the creeps.

I’m not kidding.

Enjoy your nightmares

The sweater, the monotone, the dumb songs and the STARE into the camera made my skin crawl.  It seemed like any minute his red wooly arms would reach through the camera, grab me and then touch me in a place he didn’t belong.

Intimacy issues?  Trauma?  Challenge with trust?   Perhaps so or maybe it is all of the above?  But, I mean, who didn’t in those days?  Not to mention, which of us doesn’t have at least one of those in these days?

That’s why I can only point to current events as the reason why I bought A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a film about a journalist interviewing Mister Rogers in the late nineties, hook line and sinker.

Wait… what?!

Sure, you could argue that the fact the film centered on a jaded, too-smart-for-the room journalist with childhood daddy abandonment issues was what made this cynical, smart-mouthed writer and child of divorce with childhood daddy abandonment issues like it.  And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

But neither would you be even close to being entirely right.

There is nothing less than this writer wants to see than Tom Hanks starring as yet another onscreen heroic character (Note: Particularly in a sweater).  In fact, for the first 20 minutes of the film I literally found myself so majorly annoyed and offended I began shouting fuck you out loud to Mister Rogers, the WGA, the screenwriters and anyone else who would listen (Note:  My poor dog) for subjecting me to this mess.

seemed like a good time to dust off my favorite gif

But then at some point something hit me.  It was a line from the beginning of the film and I had to pause, then eject and then replay the DVD from the beginning to get the exact quote.

Yes, I shudder to repeat this out of context but it’s something…Mister Rogers says to one of his…..ugh……..puppets in the first five minutes.  And that is:

Do you know that means, to forgive?  It’s a decision we make to release a person from the feelings of anger we have at them.

Yeah, I know.

.. and then the Chair’s heart grew three times

A purple prose bromide that is just another part of the never-ending Toolkit of New Age Logic.

Not to mention, it’s not even original to me.  I was a faithful Oprah watcher and to this day I still get O Magazine.  Plus, I’ve literally had decades of therapy where this very issue – and very line – has been covered ad infinitum.

But usually it is in reference to me and my personal issues, not those of national neuroticism and consciousness.

OK.. and well this too

As a left leaning Democrat who used to feel like he was a liberal  (Note: Until the last year where I’ve been yelled at for being what is now considered a MODERATE) well, let’s start with I’m angry with everyone and anyone categorizing me as that.

But then there’s also:

1- A president who hate tweets a 16-year-old climate activist because he was jealous she got the cover of Time Magazine as Person of the Year instead of him. (Note: And his wife, the faux anti-bullying activist, among other fauxs).

What it’s actually like to BE BEST

2- His various enablers, from Congress on down, who don’t mind him consistently meeting with powerful Russians, including Putin, on the phone and this week in the White House, and laughing about it even as he’s being prosecuted for actions relating to it.

3- Staunch conservative Republicans who turn a blind eye to his attacks on people who have spent their lives trying to defend the freedoms they claim to hold dear (Note:  This week it was calling the FBI scum, and last month it was referring to the press as traitors and very bad people)

4- His loyal base of EVERY voter (Note: Whoever they are) who are okay with base insults against every non-white, non-straight or ethnically specific group under the sun from the Oval Office, as long as said base get to watch those who oppose their politics squirm while he throws then a bone on some issue near and dear to their hearts.

I didn’t say it — he did!

There are also:

5- The Democrats, liberals, et al, on social media who loathe Trump but rant and rave about how NO ONE but THEIR candidate (Note: Often Bernie Sanders, sorry) will do.  This is usually accompanied by endless posts and stories about some failing among the many, many, many others in the Trump-opposing field.

6- The women who are threatening to sit it out if the Dem nominee isn’t female, the gays who claim they won’t vote until the nominee is queer, the people of color who will willingly stay home unless…..well, you get the picture.

Posted without comment

7 – The woke culture that has gotten my students to the point where they are often afraid to write, or even say, anything controversial in class for fear that they might micro-agress/offend.

8- The vitriol, threats and sheer meanness from the top on down, that has turned young people mostly off to politics and given them little faith that they or anyone else can make a difference until this generation of boomers die out and they are able to take control.

Okay, boomer, indeed.

All of this and more has brought me to the point where, in the search for a solution, I actually find myself, all these decades later, turning to….Mister Rogers for comfort????

I draw the line at the puppets though #STILLCREEPY

Well, if that’s what it takes, fine, I do forgive them.  Trump and his followers, every last one of them.  Seriously, I do.  I only wish they could forgive whatever they think me and my ilk did to them (Note:  This includes all those who now claim the mantle of 2019 liberal).

Mister Rogers, and now I, might be a little naive but at the moment this seems the only solution for any of us in this country to have even a fighting chance.

Mister Rogers – “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (Opening Theme)

Super Harriet

Harriet Tubman’s face was scheduled to be on the $20 bill next year but the Trump administration put an end to that.  In May it was announced the redesign would be delayed until 2026 due to counterfeiting and… (ahem)…security features.

This means the soonest an image of a Black female can grace our currency for the first time will be when Trump is out of office, that is if he were to win a second term and survive his pending impeachment.

AHHHHH! #methinkingabout2020

It also means the soonest any of us will be able to proudly pull a wad of Tubmans from our wallets instead of our current stack of twenties bearing the likeness of Andrew Jackson, a slave owning, Southern cotton plantation master who forcibly removed two major native American tribes from their homelands in the early 1800s, will also have to wait.   (Note: FYI, Andrew Jackson is Trump’s favorite American president, so much so that a portrait of the former POTUS now hangs in his Oval Office).

Typical

Still, what didn’t wait and what even Trump couldn’t stop was this weekend’s release of Focus Features’ Harriet, a long overdue major studio biopic about one of the most legendary and unexplored historical figures in American history.

One can easily picture Trump reveling in the flat image of Jackson on his wall as he figures out more ways to pit various regions of the country against each other in a new 21st century Civil War.

Can we hire Daniel Day Lewis to recreate this?

But after watching the superbly made screen version of Harriet Tubman emerge as a sort of mainstream cinematic superhero for everything that is just and right about the world, past and present, it’s clear Trump and his favorite predecessor better take cover. A cultural shift of the tides is beginning and it’s being led once again by a petite, very dark-skinned young woman who has no difficulty in speaking truth to White Power, past or present.

It is no accident that the image of Harriet Tubman one walks away from after Harriet is one of our nation’s first female superheroes, a woman who has been historically documented to have helped many hundreds of slaves escape the South, often by using her own amazingly unerring and mystical sense of direction and focus.

Also, good hats!

Tubman herself claimed that God spoke to her and helped guide her and the many people she saved to freedom.  This is literally represented in the film through images of both past trauma and future dangers right around the bend each time certain death rears its ugly head.  These are also shown in other moments in the film as nothing more than possible delusions from minor brain damage she received after a slave master broke her skull when she was 13 years old and she lied comatose for several months.

At a recent screening at the Writer’s Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills, Harriet’s director and co-writer Kasi Lemmons addressed a question about Tubman’s real-life and cinematic feats by noting that at the very least she had prefect instincts.  But her co-writer Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the Titans), who wrote the first draft of the script 25 years ago, decided early on to approach Tubman’s story not so much literally but as an action film…with a superhero.

There is literally a comic book called “Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer” #really #saysitall

Since Howard’s first draft screenplay, a plethora of historical records, including photographs and diaries, have been unearthed and several Tubman biographies have been written.  These all verify Harriet’s seemingly superhuman abilities as an expert guide leading scores of slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad as well as what she claimed to be a very specific and deep personal communication with God himself.

Of course, like any great leaders in a particular field of endeavor, especially in the past, it is difficult to know exactly how they do it and why they are able to be so exceptionally successful when the odds, and reality, were and are so severely stacked against them.

Some of us even look at Trump and wonder that very same thing, even as his Wizard of Oz-ish curtain is currently being pulled back for all of us Dorothys to see in real time, if we choose to.

There’s no place like the polls #votehimout #2020comefaster

But at the end of the day what’s important are results, be it a Trump, a Harriet Tubman or any particular major studio film beckoning for box-office receipts or at least a blaze of glory as its launched into the zeitgeist.

We know what Tubman achieved and what Trump did.  Right now, and after just a few days, Harriet has so far managed to land the number two spot at the box-office nationally this weekend — no small achievement for a historical biopic.   Yes, that’s no small feat but one suspects, like it’s namesake, its more impressive achievement will be a slow burn into the cultural conversation of who we are and where we are as a nation.

You know it

This might start with Cynthia Erivo’s riveting film debut and sure bet lead actress Oscar nomination for her lead performance, move towards the clear parallel of Civil War era 1% attitude to those carrying the torch for Trumpism today and then wander off into why the heck it took a century and a half of cinema for Hollywood to finally tell the real life Hollywood story of Harriet Tubman.

Yeah, for real

Of course, we all know why it took so long for Harriet to reach the big screen.  As cowriter Howard so aptly put it, you needed Black Panther to blow the doors wide open.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t take as long for the superpowers exhibited by Ms. Tubman in Harriet to blow the doors of the Oval Office open and escort the likes of POTUS’ Trump and Jackson out for good.

Cynthia Erivo – “Stand Up” (From Harriet)

The Trump and Judy Show

Let’s talk about legends and the people who inhabit them.  The common dictionary definition:

Legend:  An extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field.

Of course, that’s only part of the story.

Renee Zellweger gives an astonishing performance as the legendary Judy Garland in the self-titled new film, Judy.  It’s not so much that Ms. Zellweger exactly recreates her singing voice or her entire autobiography during the last few years of her life.  It’s that somehow, and in so many ways, she captures the essence of Judy’s legend.

Make room on your shelf, Renee!

Or at least what we believe was, or could have been, her essence.

It’s there in her tremulous voice, her humor, her raw vulnerability, her fight, the nuances of her mannerisms and her underfed yet somehow still powerful physicality.

Not only is a tour de force of determination in her every and many close-up(s), it’s a channeling of duality.  She shows us the core of what we publicly saw of Judy in her many stage, screen and TV appearances AND she gives us a peak into the charming and yet not always admirable part of her humanity that we never knew and might not have ever imagined.

None of us are ever one thing all the time.  We are a mix of light and dark, good and bad, strong and vulnerable and, trite as it may sound, love and hate.

This is amplified ten times over with those we’ve crowned as our legends.

No doubt Donald J. Trump will go down as an extremely different type of legend in our history, but a legend nevertheless.  Most American presidents in history occupy legendary status during their era and for many the legend manages to sustain through generations and even centuries. (Note: See above definition).

Sigh… I really need to stop looking at pictures like this #coolobama #sighagain

The breadth of career, the various distinctive looks, the marriages, the overly insistent publicity, the rise and fall and rise again – these are among the many things Trump and Judy share.  It may be a sobering thought but it doesn’t make it any less true.

What is also true is that ultimately those are artificial markers we, as society, have constructed for ourselves in order to understand how one human rises into the public consciousness and manages to stay there for years, decades and very often even beyond that.

Roughly as long as the shelf life of a Twinkie #thatsalongtime

Trump and Judy might both be modern day legends but in so many other, more important ways, they couldn’t be more different.

Trump from the beginning used his role as a renowned entertainer to divide people.  The phrase that cemented his stardom in the mass media zeitgeist was, YOU’RE FIRED!  He ran for the presidency on a platform of Make America Great Again but never before in American history has the country been this divided.  While Trump certainly did unite a significant subset of the country he polarized us a whole and continues to do so as he and his presidency amble towards impeachment.

Haven’t we been crawling there all along? #itstime

A deeper dive into specifics allows us to see this is not where it ends.  Trump’s talent is self-promotion, grievance and sheer rage/anger.  It can be amusing in cynical, seemingly too politically correct times but it doesn’t cause true pleasure like the lilt of a spectacular musical note.  Nor does it allow us to relax and let down our guard when we watch a scene in a film or on TV where a performer is bold enough to expose publicly the kind of vulnerabilities we keep secret for fear of risking our own personal shame.

With Trump weakness is BAD, not a given.  It is an aspect of our ourselves so impossible to admit that it must be put through his own personal, branded wood chipper and spew out as aggressive disdain and a call for destruction of whomever we deem as the other.

What my brain will do to 2016 – 2020

Rather than cleanse ourselves through a good cry or the spontaneous live energy of a song delivered by a legendary vocalist, we cloak ourselves in an adrenalin rush of negative performance art that blocks out everything else.  We are assured that no matter what our problems are it’s the outside world that is responsible for them.

The system that’s failed the collective us has made us believe that what we deem as our many rights have only been made wrong by weak leaders in today’s age.

The Trump worldview harkens back to his late eighties mantra that it’s you against the world and that greed and gold and gilt for you and your family are what’s good.

Gee thanks, Gordy #UGH

If you don’t have those it’s the fault of the Mexicans, the drug lords, the non-white invaders, the too privileged leaders who are a disgrace for selling out the real Americans, those people whose bodies they used and willingly stepped on and over to get them where they are today.

What made Trump legendary from the beginning was his lack of shame and ability to vomit out his authentic self no matter what the elite thought of his antics.  He was a crude, trash-talking, show-off with seemingly endless cash, with an amusing glint in his eye and an ability to crack an off-color double entendre or blatantly dirty jokes in public the way we and our families all did in private behind closed doors.

Trying to think about Trump as a legend #imtrying

Whatever we say about Trump he evokes for many what publicly passes as an authentic self.  Many would argue Judy did the same, from her Wizard of Oz days on through the territory covered in this latest film of her life.

Certainly, the public persona of any legend is not truly authentic.  No persona, light or dark, good or bad, can ever be all things any human being is in any given moment or in total.

Except Julie Andrews… she is EVERYTHING

What is most important when we speak of our legends is considering not who they are or were but what they truly do for us and why.  In whose company do we want to live in through our eternities?  Which of these legends, despite their humanness, gave us something positive to consider, and which others of them brought us down as a collective whole?

Renee Zellweger – “Over the Rainbow” (From Judy Soundtrack)

The Elephant on Broadway

Try as we might, we can’t get away from the elephant in our country.

You know what I mean.  Or whom.

Not only is it Trump this or Trump that, it’s how will we fight Trump, what will happen if we don’t defeat Trump or, my favorite at the moment – um please, we have a rule tonight, there is no talking about Trump.

On that latter point in my house:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Of course, the latter is misguided for so many reasons.   But mostly because even when you don’t talk about IT, it’s there, lurking beneath the surface, ready to rear it’s ugly head just when you thought you’d put it to bed.

Not unlike the trauma you buried from your childhood or the pretending you do every time you toss off that rehearsed carefree smile at your ex.

Or the murderous rage you suppress whenever the driver in the car in front of you is going 3 mph because they’re texting.

Or the searing pit of bile bubbling up in your stomach when that person in the market, elevator or treadmill next to you speaks as loudly on their phone as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio did on the stage at the first Democratic debate this past week.

Point being that totally ignoring a problem only makes IT bigger and you smaller.

Last week I snuck off to NYC for a few days to ostensibly forget the Trump of it all.  I did this by paying what would amount to the price of a small used car for orchestra tickets to three of the hottest shows on Broadway.

Think of this as the gay male equivalent of binge eating with a chaser of middle-aged entitlement because I deserved to see the original casts of this year’s big Tony Award winners since the world is shitty, I’m getting older and who knows how many years I or any of the rest of us have left.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject: HAPPY GAY PRIDE 50, everyone!!!!!!!

Cheers Queers!

In any event, and to be more specific, another way to put this is that I sat front and center for: 

Hadestown, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Oklahoma!

Yes, they were all truly brilliant, a word I hate to use but find that when it applies there is no other.

Yet what I found even more surprising is that while these three shows couldn’t be more different – certainly they were all written decades, even centuries apart – they all, in their very artistically eclectic ways, very much addressed exactly the same subject:

Trump/IT and Trump America.

Hadestown is about making a pact with the Devil for your soul in order to get what you want.  But in this case the Devil is a con man AND a BUILDER who seduces you into believing he will take care of you and, once he owns you, does anything but.

His suits fit a little better

Since it’s based on a Greek myth they call him Hades but when you watch it, well,  you will likely feel the urge to substitute….oh, some contemporary name of your choice.

Especially when during the first act curtain song entitled “Why We Build A Wall” at the Friday night performance you attend you realize Hillary Clinton is sitting directly in front of you three rows to your left. (Note: #Swear2God/Hillary).

Let’s just say I experienced a range of emotions

Then there’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a story about a 1930s southern white small town lawyer who deeply believes in justice and yet just as deeply sympathizes with the enraged, poor, white working class neighbors all around him who feel like they never get justice and have been left behind by the system for far too long.

A very different Atticus

So much so that he agrees to defend a young man of color for a crime he clearly didn’t commit knowing FULL WELL that said system and his neighbors could NEVER convict him, and certainly wouldn’t KILL (nee lynch) him, when all rational EVIDENCE points to the contrary.

This brings us to Oklahoma!, a show we mostly know as the vintage Technicolor movie musical of the same name about the infinite joys of the American heartland.  (Note:  Oh, come on – Surrey With The Fringe On Top??  Oh What A Beautiful Morning????).

Who knew all this time that what this story was really telling us was how quickly the people inhabiting our heartland would turn their backs, and very American guns, on the most unfortunate among them and literally erase them with their own bullets when they are unable to make lemonade out of the very real sour lemons life has handed them – AND jump for all the joy in America while doing it.

More like WOKE-lahoma!

If it seems all three of these are of a theme simply because my taste verges on the, well… angry, timely and political – not really. (Note:  Though, admittedly, yes they do).

I had to be dragged to Oklahoma!, a show I never liked or related to in the least, kicking and screaming.  Nor was I at all interested even a little in Greek mythology or up to revisiting the racism of the Depression era south by way of The West Wing.

At least initially.

Proving once again that every seemingly distant, dystopic time period produces valuable work that in some way (okay many ways) directly reflects what’s going in the streets and hearts of those inhabiting it… and well beyond.  Because if done particularly right a handful of these works will live on and the truth of their stories will get reimagined and reinterpreted in countless forms as both an artistic expression and, perish the thought, teaching tool and salve for future generations.

And they will seem as timely as hell while doing it even when, in the case of Oklahoma!, not one single word has been changed.

ummm.. what?

How can this be????

Because especially great art comes out of experience, passion, pain and point of view.  And paying attention.  Often it’s born from the ashes of despair or a twisted take about that which deep down sticks in our craws, inflames us and/or seeks to destroy us.

A very wise mentor once told me early on that there are only a handful of stories out there – it’s all in the way you tell them and just how much truth you are telling.

Amen!

As artists, and for that matter, citizens, we reconfigure our handful of stories with dark and light magic that not only reflects the contemporary world around us but is also informed by it.

To watch these events then play out on a stage after they’ve played out in life, or even in the political arena, at a time when all we want to do is to turn away, is one way to know that —

1. We are not alone

and

2.  The recipe for catharsis is never to live in a pretend world.

Rather it is to face our demons (aka reality) en masse through another set of eyes able to express it differently.  It’s through that very kind of  group camaraderie that we can  go from desperately hopeless to happily hopeful in the space of just a few hours.

2019 Mashup from Oklahoma