Truth to Power

There was a Law and Order episode on this week where a young and ambitious female investment banker accuses her firm’s billionaire client of rape and is eventually offered a $5 million a year job at a competing firm that will require her to keep a low profile. Which ostensibly means dropping her case.

This being the fictionalized world of both Law AND Order, the young woman, who was indeed raped and rightly accusing the slick billionaire of sexual violation, eventually decides NOT to take the money (Note: A guaranteed $20 mill over four years) and instead stands up publicly to him in court. When asked why on the witness stand she proclaims – parroting the words of our beloved Lt. Olivia Benson, nee Mariska Hargitay – it is because “I will not allow him to steal my dignity one more time.”

I light mine every night. #SaintOlivia

The proclamation of dignity vs. submission, and the forfeiting of personal wealth and power for a greater good (i.e. standing up to criminal behavior and thus saving other potential victims) is, to say the least, reassuring. As is, as always, the show’s subsequent final credit, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER DICK WOLF.

But life is not an episode of Law and Order where people are convinced to do the right thing because we all want to live in moral clarity. Where we all have a conscience that moves us to the better choice. Where good wins out in the end over evil. Or at least over selfishness, money and immoral actions.

You can’t appeal to people who are sociopaths. Who don’t live in aspirational morality. In trying to “do the right thing” and “be better.” To make the right choice that will benefit not only us but the most people.

Those who live primarily in selfishness and self-aggrandizement, whatever their reasons, are playing a different game. Putin, Trump, or whoever you like. When power and money and ego are at the center of your world you are working for yourself.

Gag me

You might occasionally note to the outside world that you are NOT working for your own inner world and might even convince yourself of that from time to time. But inside you instinctively know better. You have a knee jerk reaction about what makes YOU feel good. About yourself. About what you exude. About what you can provide for LOYAL FRIENDS and FAMILY MEMBERS around you. Even about what you can provide for “your people.” In your country.

But the definition of “your people” has less to do with who you will lead by their birth into your world and your responsibility to them, and everything to do – once again – with loyalty. But to the state – which in your mind – means to YOU.

This skewed view of the world means that anyone who disagrees with you, and those who most certainly look down on your world view, are not your problem. You will go around them or mow them down. They are not your responsibility. In fact, in many ways, they are your enemy. Because they are getting in the way of the agenda you seek to execute and provide. Essentially for your FOLLOWERS.

A 90s cartoon that is all too real now #help

This is essentially how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon thinks. His uber nationalistic view. His determination to tear down the international liberal world order he sees as poisonous. He doesn’t want his kids to go to school with “Jews” because, as his ex-wife stated, he doesn’t like their “values” and “whining.” Bannon’s background is militaristic, two terms in the Navy, and someone who was educated at Harvard, weaned by Goldman Sachs out of the military and then went to work in Hollywood, selling syndication rights for multi millions of dollars for Seinfeld (Note the irony), which made him personally rich. And then opening his own consulting firms where he made hundreds of millions in international deals worldwide with clients such as a Saudi Prince who was one of the richest individuals in the world.

A striking image

Bannon actually was educated among Jews, made money for and with them and then somewhere along the line (or perhaps he always felt this way) decided they were a turn-off once they provided the experience and means he benefitted from in order to enable him the platform to hang with the big boys and create his own international power platforms. Which he did quite ably. He boosted alt-right racist and sexist ideology at Breitbart News in order to blatantly challenge an accepted morality that the majority of the world operated on. Who knows how he really felt at the time? Was it a means to the end or did he really believe this stuff? Perhaps both. Perhaps either one. What seems clear at the moment is that it almost doesn’t matter. What is clear is that what he sees is the big picture of power. And like Trump and Putin, it is a world where there are pockets of power that he and a handful of others control.

… and all too easy to get drunk on that power

There is not an overall mass morality. The MORALITY is survival and power, POWER and SURVIVAL – of the FITTEST. The idea of what is “right” – whether it’s okay to “rape” a woman, deceive a small group of people who don’t understand, or an entire state or country who won’t ACCEPT, this order, is immaterial. It’s not particularly in the picture. It doesn’t fit into HIS world view. And really, HE doesn’t appear to have much conscience about it. Certainly, HE doesn’t fit into a Law and Order episode “arc” or morality.

Fin, for the win

The sooner we can all accept this, that we’re not playing the usual game, the more effective and psychologically better off we’ll be. You can’t intellectually argue with this kind of ILLOGIC. You can only accept this is THEIR view of the world and work with those who share a more traditional similar morality or right and wrong to save the world. You cannot expect THEM to play under your RULES. You can’t play poker with people who by themselves decide deuces are wild and one-eyed Jacks are higher than an ace without telling you. Or perhaps inform you after the fact and expect you to play under these rules. Which they assumed you should have known. Or always knew and are now lying about.

Some say it’s a matter of perception

What this means is hardball. It means resistance. We can’t act like a hurt school boy or gal who is in a relationship with the absolute wrong person but thinks if they only reason with the person that they love and they know (deep down) LOVES THEM, they can get them to change. This kind of continued, emotional, prolonged attempts at negotiation are the very definition of insanity.

What we need to do is distance ourselves and breakup with a person who doesn’t hold our values. We need to be very, very strong and not be seduced by whatever seductions or appeasements they may offer. We need to be vigilant, as we would with any person, or people, who we are ENABLING to ruin our lives. Contrary to what we think, in LOVE and in political power struggles of self-determination, the CHOICE is always ours. We DO have the POWER.

You got that right, Chairy.  #MaxineWaters #TruthtoPower

Here are two links immensely helpful in shedding light on this psychology. One is by Molly McKew, a woman I caught on cable news who has spent her adult life consulting with leaders opposing Putin.

The other is a detailed history of Bannon’s worldview formation and strategies that recently ran in the Washington Post.

Real information is THE most powerful weapon of the 21st Century. Don’t be clouded by populist rhetoric or shiny new promises. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. So to speak.

Comic Con

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I have a confession to make.  I’ve always hated comic books.  Actually, that’s not true.  What I really never liked were superhero comic books.  I do love a good Peanuts or Archie.  To all the young people I know and have taught:  Please don’t hate me for telling the truth.

This would put me at a horrible disadvantage if the sole way I still supported myself these days was as a screenwriter.  As I tried to explain to a student recently, at one time the majority of projects in the biz that people really wanted to work on ranked this way:

  1. Movie dramas with characters
  2. Subtle and broad movie comedies.
  3. Television
  4. Geek-related ventures on either of the above that involved explosions, computers, cartoon people or anything from Marvel, DC or that ilk.

If you were in the last group you had peers and an audience but not much street cred (Note:  Walt Disney accepted, though somehow it was he rather than any of his employees that got credit for anything Disneyesque.  Plus, he never did superheroes.  He was the superhero).

What do you mean.. was?

What do you mean.. was?

Well, what a difference a handful of decades make.  Comics have taken over the industry – if not the world – and not the kind you see at the Laugh Factory or on a cheap cable special.   Which seems sort of apt since more and more we’re living a comic book existence.  This is apparent every time you turn on your television or surf the web and see the surgically altered faces on almost all of your favorite actors.

Though here in Los Angeles it’s obvious every time you step into a store that isn’t located in a shopping mall in Sunland.

This is not meant to be a putdown of comics or superheroes or even cartoons but merely an observation of where we are.  This week it was announced that the Emmy award-winning Mad Men writing team of Andre and Maria Jacquemetton would next be tackling the DC Comic book series DMZ for the Syfy Channel.

Dynamic Duo (far right)

Dynamic Duo (far right)

It doesn’t get more prestigious for most writers than Mad Men, though it is certainly more financially lucrative to be on any number of television series and movies.  So it certainly says something about us and them that after all of the choices open to this dynamic duo after six years of riding the MM crest that they have decided to devote themselves to a pulp tale centered on a young man in the near future, Matty Roth, who lives in the demilitarized zone of Manhattan after a second American Civil War.  He might not dress like a superhero but certainly, in post apocalyptic red and blue state America, he will at some point have to emerge as one.

If you think I am pushing the metaphor or overreacting in even the slightest we can look at all of this another way.  Here are the top 10 grossing movies worldwide in 2013:

  1. Iron Man: 3
  2. Despicable Me 2
  3. Frozen
  4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  5. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  6. Fast & Furious 6
  7. Monsters University
  8. Gravity
  9. Man of Steel
  10. Thor: The Dark World

If we were to look at this list for the U.S. and Canada only the rankings might shift around one or two places but the films themselves would remain exactly the same.  Oh wait, there would be one change – Oz the Great and Powerful would replace Thor, which would drop down two notches to #12. Do you see where I’m going now?

What are you trying to say Chairy??

What are you trying to say Chairy??

Okay, fine, I’ll be a little bit more blunt.

Anyone arguing that Fast and Furious, Hunger Games and even Gravity aren’t super hero movies in a cartoon world, well…uh….I suggest you watch some footage of Russia’s President Putin at this week’s Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Sochi and tell me whether you believe the flesh and blood star of a current worldwide spectacle isn’t simply our 2014 version of The Terminator.

No, I’m not going to say I told you so.  But like Matty Roth in post apocalyptic Manhattan, we’d all better get on board with this kind of thinking in order to survive the inevitable global warming-over meltdown of everything we’ve ever known.  To this end, I propose some new lenses and labels for how we look at and categorize all current and future newsmakers in the world and the events that surround them.  (Note:  This will also save a lot of creative time if any of the above rights are purchased or even thought of as the subject of a new Hollywood movie).

The Incredible Sinking Man

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In a live, near two-hour television press conference, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) announced that he fired some of his top staff people for causing the largest four-day traffic jam in the history of the world.  This was due to their choice several months ago to close down multiple lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey leading into the George Washington Bridge (Note: the world’s busiest bridge) behind his back.  However, now the governor’s former people are seeking plea deals through high-priced lawyers while he and his present people are countering this disloyalty by calling them idiots and releasing accounts of their misdeeds as 16 year old high school students.  All of this while Gov. Christie, previously the most popularly touted choice among Republicans to run for president in 2016, couldn’t even get Texas Gov. Rick (“oops”) Perry to pose for a photo op with him on a recent trip to the Longhorn state.  How much lower will he go?  If anyone thinks they can predict, well, I have a bridge I can sell you…..

Puff The Magic Drag, Man

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When I was 20 years old I was too afraid of getting less than an A minus in college in any one subject.  So I can’t imagine how I’d be if I had the adulation of half of the young people my age around the world, were loathed by the other half and possessed $130 million to both play with and use to ease the pain.  I do know that I would be thrilled that I could make my living as a singer – a talent that not all the marijuana in the world could convince me to believe I had.  Still, you can’t smoke up foot long doobies on a private plane with your soul-patched father or allow friends to egg the mansion next door to your mansion without getting some sort of….blow back (Note:  See what I did there?).

Dude, Where’s Our Woodstock?

A future action comedy about a group of baby boomers who hold the twenty-something owners of a string of pot dispensaries hostage because they are sick of all the legalized marijuana/nee commercial appropriation of their drug of choice for the masses.  Soundtrack by: Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The New Riders of the Purple Sage and anyone who’s left alive from the original Grateful Dead.

Captain Douchebag

It's all going according to plan....

It’s all going according to plan….

There is no other name for Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly.  Yes, he’s a foot taller than me, has a million times more money and certainly can sue – but I don’t care.  This moment of writing it publicly just made it all worth it.  You can’t have the child of a man who died during 9-11 on your TV show, yell and berate him for his anti-war views and top it all off by saying “your Dad would be ashamed of you if he were alive” and then get off without periodic bitch slapping for the rest of your national (or unnatural?)  lifetime.  At least not by me.  I’m nothing if not Captain IDontForgetAnAHole.

Queen of the Hills

hilary v rand 3

Hillary Clinton’s moniker might have to one day be retitled The Bionic President because we all know that in order to have survived this long she must have some special sort of armor that the rest of us mere humans were born without.   We also know the latter title will probably be the one to last because eventually Mrs. Clinton pretty much gets everything she sets her mind to.  Unless she’s simply content with where she is now – writing the best tweets and texts the world has ever known.  I know the latter would be my choice.  But then again, I’m not that kind of queen.

The Salacious Sex Six

Woody Allen & Mia Farrow & Dylan Farrow & Moses Farrow & Ronan Farrow & Soon-Yi Previn.  It’s horrible.  All of it.  From every side.  Which means that someone will make it into a film at some point.  Or a web series.  Or a comic something or other in the second new millennium.  What is Alan Alda’s line about funny in WA’s Crimes and Misdemeanors  — Comedy is tragedy plus time?  This is why everything in this paragraph will eventually be deemed offensive, inoffensive, moot or in need of a rewrite.  Which one is it now?  That’s not for me, or you, to decide.

The Inhuman Thing

The new name for Oscar if movies keep going down the too narrowing road they are now on.

The Straight Arrow

Will it be a strike?

Will it be a strike?

What everyone fears will be Jimmy Fallon’s upcoming super hero tag once he starts steering the ship of The Tonight Show in the next few weeks.  Though perhaps he will surprise us all and be The Not So Straight Arrow.  No, we don’t mean it THAT way.  Although in a comic book world, unlike television, anything is possible.

The Fifth Ring

Ruh-Roh

Ruh-Roh

This will be Hollywood’s take on the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.  It all started when that snowflake stayed intact and didn’t light up as the fifth ring. Question:  Doesn’t Putin know that there is ALWAYS a gay on the light board???  #Homohubris.

Some of you might not agree with our take on the inevitable comic book/cartoon world of the movies and in life. This is your prerogative.  So for all of you doubters I have just one last thing to say:  The #1 film this weekend – by a lot – with an estimated $69.1 million at the box-office in just three days – is:

THE LEGO MOVIE

Your future has arrived.  And it is our present.  Though not necessarily the one we all asked for.  Or,  is it?

I’m Rubber, You’re Glue

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I was listening to talk radio this week and heard Ann Coulter referring to Pres. Obama as a monkey three times in 3 minutes.  Then I heard Rush Limbaugh calling the Obama policy in Syria Operation Shuck and Jive twice in just one minute.

Normally I don’t pay attention to this kind of stuff or these kinds of people (that’s hate-speakers, not conservatives) because, well, I’ve learned over the years we have a limited time on Earth and really should pick and choose who and what we spend our time on.

But to not pay attention to this sort of thing is also absolving your responsibility as a thinking member of society.   That’s not right and it’s insidious.  And the more you ignore the more it becomes a kind of allowable “norm” people can get away with.

George Carlin famously talked of the seven dirtiest words you can’t say on television, all of which you can now say on cable and some of which you can periodically get away with on the networks. (They are: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits – all of which you can say in a blog!).  Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and a long list of many others also challenged us with language that could be deemed offensive.

Don Rickles, the last of the old school Rat Pack-related comedians from the bygone Vegas era of entertainers, pioneered a variation of this kind of thing in the most mainstream way in the sixties when he evoked racial epithets for pretty much any ethnic group you can think of.   But part of his success was being an equal opportunity offender – no group, including his own, was safe.   Andrew Dice Clay tried another brand of this humor two decades later in the eighties by personifying the most chauvinistic black-leathered jacketed working class asshole from the boroughs or Jersey or anywhere else you can think of.  But he quickly faded away, mostly because he almost solely went after women in a very ugly way and partly because he committed the cardinal sin – he wasn’t nearly as funny as his predecessors (Note: ADC portrays a defanged version of this character in Woody Allen’s latest, Blue Jasmine, a performance that probably works a lot better for those who don’t remember the Diceman’s original act).

What do you do with all this?   Are words, in themselves, offensive?  Why could Richard Pryor (and now Chris Rock) say the “N” word but when I say it, it takes on another meaning.

It’s all about context.  And intention.

I shudder to even post this image.

I shudder to even post this image.

Moreover, why do Windbag Rush and Annie the Terrible purposely use their offensive terminology in order to provoke favor with like-minded thinkers and non-thinkers alike who are salivating for some new form of socially acceptable hate speak?

It’s all about changing the Norms of Context.  And it’s very, very, very intentional.

Also this week, Soviet president Vladimir Putin chastised the US in a NY Times op-ed piece for daring to talk about American “exceptionalism,” concluding with this thought:  We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.  Well, that sounds good but some months ago Putin began strictly enforcing new laws that allow his government to exorbitantly fine and arrest anyone who engages in homosexual activity, or even publicly approves of any sort of pro-gay activities.  Gays can’t marry, adopt or, if they’re vocal about it, teach (Note to Self: Cancel my trip to Russia).  So there goes his written plea for equality for all of God’s creations– right out the Kremlin window and right behind anyone listening to a Bette Midler album.  This also begs the question of what he plans to do with Atheists – who don’t ask the Lord for any sort of blessings because they don’t believe a God created anyone.  One shudders to even consider the punishment for that.

Forget about context and intention.  You now can add truth and hypocrisy to the list.

There are ways to think about our differences and there are ways to exploit them.  More importantly, there are many ways to express them.  Not all, but many people who are in the public eye are smart enough to know exactly what they are saying.  Certainly there is the occasional gaffe and arguably there is nowadays a whole class of speakers who just wander into the spotlight and are uninformed.  But you and I usually know who they are.  And we certainly know that’s not who we’re speaking about here.

Ya'll talkin' bout me?

Ya’ll talkin’ bout me?

When Putin, Coulter, Limbaugh, Carlin, Clay and all the others speak they know EXACTLY what they’re saying and why.  They choose their words for particular reasons because it is their living to do so.  They get (or got) paid handsomely for it.  And as such, they’ve earned an answer when they go over the line.  This is also the case for people in your life, or those within earshot adjacent to your life.  They’re not getting paid but they’re occupying your space and opening their mouths.  At last check, the US (not Russia) was essentially a freedom-of-speech-loving country where you not only get to say anything but get to be answered back within the confines of the law.  Hate speakers don’t get to have a one-sided conversation as they call you out for being too politically correct while they hide behind the mantle of free speech.  The latter cuts both ways.  If they have the right to speak as they do (and they do), we all have the obligation to call them out when we believe their heinous words and thoughts are polluting the environment in which we must live – both literally and figuratively.

That’s why comedian Richard Belzer was totally justified to call Ann Coulter a fascist party doll in 2006 when he threatened to walk off of Real Time with Bill Maher as Maher began to introduce her.  He was reacting to a myriad of Coulter statements that came before this appearance, stuff like My only regret is that Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) didn’t go into the NY Times building or that the 9-11 widows are reveling in their status as celebrities…I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s deaths so much.

Of course, all of those were said several years before we had our first Black president so Ms. Coulter, a best-selling author in the tens of millions, has had to up her game.  How do you answer an educated person who knowingly likens the most famous Black Man in America (nee the WORLD) to a phrase that was commonly used and drawn in the antebellum South to describe the Simian nature of their former slaves???

An American artifact from 1900.

An American artifact from 1900. That would be 113 years ago…

The correct answer is not:  she doesn’t deserve an answer.  The correct answer is to tell the Ann Coulter in your life, or the one you overhear, exactly what you think – in a word, or phrase, or something longer (and perhaps, preferably, with something sharper).

Don’t take this for a second to mean that we’re letting Mr. Limbaugh off scot-free.  If these are truly our public airwaves, what do you now say to someone who uses the term “shuck and jive” to describe a Black president’s policies?  As Mr. Limbaugh understands, that’s a phrase that came into being when black slaves sang and shouted gleefully during corn-shucking season and evolved in common usage as way to indicate Black people who were clowning and lying.

Obama’s a sla-ave, Obama’s a sla-ave, O- ba-ma’s the N word, O-ba-ma’s the N word…,

you can hear Limbaugh taunting.

Well, you can now see why current Senator Al Franken had no other choice than to write:

Rush Limbaugh’s a big fat idiot, Rush Limbaugh’s a big fat idiot!

But that book was almost 10 years ago and Rushbo has gone into entirely new territory here.  What do we, or anyone, say back to him now?

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I’m waiting….

No – the correct answer is not to ignore him.  Not for this.  Not in this case.

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Certainly, we all make our own choices in these situations.  In 1993, the only African American female Senator in the history of the US Congress was Carol Moseley Braun.  (Note: Ms. Moseley Braun served as a senator from Illinois, a seat Barack Obama would 10 years later be elected to).  This week, The Rachel Maddow Show reported on a much repeated story of what happened in the Senate elevator at that time when ultra conservative and virulent racial separatist, North Carolina’s five term (that’s 30 years) senator, Jesse Helms, found himself riding up in the elevator with Sen. Moseley Braun.  This very white senator from the South looked this very Black senator from the North straight in the eye and began singing “Dixie” (Oh, I wish I were in the land of cotton…)” in the elevator, turning to Utah Sen. Orin Hatch and saying “I’m gong to make her cry.  I’m going to keep singing Dixie until I make her cry.”

Yes, this is a true story and it took place in the nineties.  And no, it is not about Mr. Helms being a product of another time and place.   It is about a particular type of viciousness that needs to be addressed in the moment – or after – not by turning your cheek but by turning into the punch and retorting in some way that you see fit.  In the case of CMB, she decided to respond by looking straight back at him, saying: ‘Sen. Helms, your singing would make me cry if you sang ‘Rock of Ages.”

You go, Carol.

You go, Carol.

Incidentally, this encounter was supposedly prompted by Sen. Moseley Braun successfully leading a fight on the Senate floor the previous month to defeat an amendment by Helms that would allow the renewal of the patent on the Confederate flag insignia by a group called the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Get the point, yet?

Have times changed in 2013 when a person thought to be a minority (Pres. Obama) chooses to live or govern in a way that a particularly vocally virulent person in the public eye thought to be in the majority (Mr. Limbaugh? Ms. Coulter?) doesn’t want them to live or govern?  Clearly not.  And what about then Senator Moseley Braun’s response?  I, for one don’t think it went nearly far enough.  But the deafening silence to Coulter and Limbaugh’s remarks seems to indicate we’ve backtracked from there to a strategy of no answer necessary.

It would be nice to think this is because we’ve come far since then and incidents like these are fading into the woodwork.  But I don’t think so.  In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite.

For years I had my own response to people like Sen. Helms, who all through his terms (which only ended in 2001) refused to fund AIDS research and was virulently anti-gay  (e.g. homosexuals are “weak, morally sick wretches”).  As I watched him trying to defund gay artists of any kind from the National Endowment of the Arts (and the entire NEA itself) at a time when I was also watching many gay friends and acquaintances die left and right from AIDS, I signed petitions against him, wrote letters and gave money.

1990_artificial

And — in my bathroom for years hung this famous Robbie Conal poster that read ART OFFICIAL with Helm’s hideous image drawn below it.  It served as a reminder to me and everyone who ever stepped in front of, on, or near my toilet that Sen. Helms was totally full of shit.

Hey, we all do what we can.

Note:  I’ve purposely left out of the conversation Sarah Palin, who has used monkey, shuck and jive and many other terms to describe the first Black president.  This is because Cruella (as Aaron Sorkin so aptly labeled her several years ago) has a dwindling audience and now falls into the don’t waste your limited time on Earth category. Well, unless it allows us to bring back Tina…

Tina-Fey-Sarah-Palin-SNL-2007