Same Old Song?

Turner Classic Movies had Judy Garland Day last week and, being a gay man of a certain age, I couldn’t resist tuning in at one point to this 24-hour Judy film fest.

Don’t judge me.

But of all of the choices available who knew that it would be a 1961 dour melodrama about four German judges being tried before a postwar military tribunal for their collaboration with Hitler and the Third Reich, Judgment at Nuremberg, that would hit me like a ton of bricks.

I can think of at least five other Judy films that would have been more enjoyable. (Note: Okay — A Star Is Born, The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St. Louis, Easter Parade and I Could Go On Singing). Though none that could be more timely.

Realistically, this is how I wish I felt about today’s political climate.

In hindsight I should have predicted it. Like the currently much lauded, breakthrough post apocalyptic Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale (which is about to once again become a multi Emmy winner for its superb second season), you can’t go wrong in 2018 watching a story about a country of people who enable a rabid white nationalist political regime to persecute, maim and/or kill anyone they deem to be a subversive OTHER.

Unless all you want to do is escape and put your _____ in the sand.   In which case, you are not only wrong but veering towards the same sheep-like behavior portrayed by some of your fellow countrymen in that movie, that series and no doubt countless other ____________s about to come out on other platforms that will be, at least thematically, very much like them.

Whether we call it the Nazis, the power brokers of Gilead or simply Trumpism – it’s all the same thing. A regime that wants to demonize anyone outside of a select group of people they don’t judge ‘ideal’ – whether they be Jews, the non-religious or Mexican/Middle Eastern immigrants – in order to rouse a base of loyal voters whose lives they promise to improve and whose country they vow to protect and/or rebuild.

I’m gonna go ahead and add “Crippling Insecurity” to the YES column #tinyhands

This strategy is always advanced with promises to put the people of said country FIRST, declarations that said country is GREAT and proclamations that the rest of the world is NO BETTER morally than they are and usually quite INFERIOR.

Yeah, I don’t like comparing any regime, especially America’s current regime, to the Nazis. But the argument being advanced is not how successful the regime is at achieving their goals or to what ends they will get to go in order to achieve them. Instead, it’s the philosophy and the strategy.

The degree to how far they get to go – well, this is up to their subjects… er….citizenry. In other words – THIS IS UP TO US.

BRB

Again, the comparison seemed a bit reach-y. Until too many lines from Judy’s Nazi film, for which she was nominated as Oscar’s best supporting actress that year along with several other cast members in their own categories, began to ring a bell.

— It started when Marlene Dietrich’s upper crust German woman says of Hitler:

He was in awe of nobility but he hated it.

— Then it continued when Montgomery Clift’s ordinary German man recalled the times he was MOCKED by LEADERS of the power class for speaking in a way that seemed slow even when he demonstrated the ability to understand logic.

I’m with Meryl — this still makes my blood boil

— It continued when Judy’s youngish German woman recalled how her best friend, a 65 year old Jewish man, was laughed at and held up to mockery by the PUBLIC at his trial simply because he was A JEW. The charges were violating the new law outlawing A JEW having sex with A GERMAN ARYAN (Judy), a charge he was found guilty of and put to death for even though, as it turned out, it never happened.

–Then there was Marlene’s defense of herself and the German people over Americans condemning her after the war:

Listen to me, there are things that happenedon BOTH SIDES.

ummmm… WHAT?

— Which all finally led to one of the four judges on trial, eloquently played by Burt Lancaster, exposing the lies he and his fellow Germans told themselves about Hitler and the Third Reich:

We say – what difference does it make – our country is at stake – Hitler (He) will be gone after a while. Things denied to US as a democracy are open to us now…. And then one day we looked around and saw what was going to be a passing phase had become a way of life.

Yes, all of these lines were indeed written – by the great screenwriter Abby Mann – but they were based on actual transcripts and stories he culled from the real Nuremberg trials right after the end of WWII.

.. and with a cast like this to make it come to life.

They were not his thoughts he put into his characters’ mouths so much as a distillation of real sentences and opinions and ideas of the time.

Though perhaps knowing there would be a portion of their audience that still might think they were being too polemic or had gone a bit too far, the filmmakers’ “movie trial” included 5-10 minutes of REAL NEWSREEL FOOTAGE of thousands of actual naked Jewish corpses – as well as others barely alive and starving – to back up their words.

This along with clips and still photos of the real crematoriums, featuring close ups of the popular German oven manufacturer that built them. In addition to historical maps indicating the dozens of specific towns with concentration camps hidden among a significant percentage of German citizenry who either supported Hitler because he was doing some good things or because it was easier to turn a blind eye to the whole ugly mess just because.

It’s difficult to face the truths, or potential truths, of any world, especially our own, but in the end it’s far uglier not to.

or you know, truth becomes relative. #stillcantbelievethishappened

As Spencer Tracy’s presiding American judge lets us know at the end of Judgment at Nuremberg in a way only a presiding American judge played by Spencer Tracy could truly make work:

A country is what it stands for – when it’s the most difficult. We stand for justice, truth and the value of a single human being.

Or to put it in 2018 parlance: There’s a reason why Sen. John McCain, who died on Saturday, chose Barack Obama and George W. Bush, a former Democratic president and a former Republican president, to deliver the eulogies at his Capitol Hill memorial service this week rather than the current sitting President of Trumpism.

 

Off the Grid

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 11.30.39 PM

Certainly going to an academic conference in Atlanta and spending a lot of time with some dear friends you haven’t spent a lot of time with in years while you’re there is not going off the grid. Especially if your guilty pleasure is HGTV Land – a place where you see others buying Tiny Houses (Note: That’s 150 sq. feet) in the middle of nowhere or a family of six voluntarily uprooting their lives to live in a South American jungle in what looks like a ramshackle hut with no indoor plumbing.

I mean, where’s the cable? Not to mention, how about reception? Because I need to call…oh wait I cancelled that. Still, I was supposed to finish…Right, I was told that can wait another few weeks or more. In fact, that’s why I’m here.

Here is not necessarily Atlanta – a city I had never been to before this past week and rather enjoyed. Here is also not hanging out for several days at a Hilton with a room full of academics who were far more hyper analytical about films and television than me (Note: Yes, it’s possible and more about that in a moment). Here is actually just being there, or more directly – anywhere but where you and I, let’s call it WE, usually are.

that's trippy, mannnn

that’s trippy, mannnn

Full confession – I don’t much like travelling or even roughing it. I enjoy my pad, my things, my friends, and my routine. This doesn’t mean I don’t crave going out and seeing places or spending time in a new city with people I don’t know. It is simply to say – even before you had to take your shoes off in an airport and wait on 60-90 minute lines carrying all kinds of stuff you probably don’t need/want people to see that will nevertheless be scanned (along with yourself) by state of the art technology – the idea of interrupting my flow of work for a journey felt….frivolous, difficult and even a bit scary. Especially if it meant hassling with planes, trains and automobiles as well as all of the other people who love them and use them.

Liz Lemon for President

Liz Lemon for President

This, sadly, sounds very American and slightly privileged and, frankly, I’m not particularly proud of it. On the other hand, neither am I ashamed of it. Because I suspect more than a few others feel the same way. I’m not talking about the dream vacation somewhere exotic. Certainly any of us would crave this if we could afford it. Rather this is all about short trips – making an effort to break up the day, the week or the month with an adventure. Stepping out of your comfort zone to do something, anything you might not ordinarily do.   Even if it’s just for part of a day. Or perhaps even…a group of days?

It’s a mind clearer. An eye opener. It likely won’t be a revelation – I mean, the very nature of revelations is that they’re rare. But it could very likely lead you on the road to one.

An adventure needn’t be exotic. Despite my normal state of malaise, every week or so even I manage to walk our pooch down a new street in a different direction and discover something I hadn’t seen before. Would I do this without the pooch? Certainly, not! But dog walking for a dog owner, like academic conferences for a college professor, are necessities of life. So once they get you out of the house, it’s a bit easier to break up the routine and encounter something new.

Me, every night

Me, every night

I can’t tell you exactly what a unique discovery will do for you but through experience I’ve found that at the very least it gets you out of yourself. (Note: And for some of us, that can only be a good thing). It also gives you bizarre snippets of knowledge.

For instance, did you know that groups of straight men are really into group-watching Frozen? An academic I know presented a whole paper on it where he shared this video you might or might not have seen. (Note: Thanks Sean!)

And, being in Atlanta, of course there was a panel on Gone with the Wind. Were you aware that if you check out the archive at the University of Texas at Austin you will find three types of letters written to its producer David O. Selznick during the three-year period between when the film was first announced and produced? The first set of letters suggested possible movie stars who would be good in the lead role; the second were suggestions from white people of African Americans they knew that would be good for playing the roles of the…gulp…slaves (Note: Often these were the real-life domestics of the white people themselves and even included a request from Eleanor Roosevelt, who got her own childhood maid an audition for Mammy which said maid nervously flubbed). The third group: well, this was from another large gaggle of white people who themselves wanted to play the roles of the…SLAVES.…in the film…because, well….they specialized performing in…BLACKFACE. Really.   Yes.

Yikes

Yikes

To realize the latter stack of those letters were written during the lifetimes of millions of senior citizens still on earth is to prove just how much, or perhaps how little, the world has changed, depending on your perspective since then. Consider that the next time you speak to or even see someone over 85. Or try to describe or even write someone in that age group. Makes you consider what the world would make of what’s going on in Election Year 2016 a mere 85 years from now, doesn’t it? Well, whatever it is, can’t all be good.

Am I exaggerating to state that you don’t know what slight change of perspective or even creative urge a small amount of knowledge will spark? I don’t think so.   And even if it’s nil it could at the very least come in handy the next time you are forced to make some idle chatter when you’re at a place you did not choose to be. Who among us doesn’t crave some additional thoughts for that?

Though this is a viable second option

Though this is a viable second option

And wait, here’s another one – do you know most people in Atlanta don’t speak in southern accents? Okay, how provincial does one have to be to even think that, he said embarrassingly. Fine, then here’s one other final thought – did you know there is also a new major urban renewal project in the city, that came into being from a student’s graduate thesis, which has created many miles of revitalized winding swaths of road with people, condos, stores, bike paths and actual human interaction in a previously slightly undesirable area of city located on the former Beeline train tracks of Krog Street – that is somewhat similar to the High Line revitalization in New York City – that…. Uh, well…you can see it for yourself.

Groovy

Groovy

Heck, the entire Atlanta trip was worth it if only because it allowed me to realize that the future will not include society letting the rest of our major cities crumble. Living in nightmarishly traffic-ridden, infrastructure crumbling Los Angeles, it’s easy to think that. But if that isn’t happenin’ in Atlanta or New York, it for sure ain’t happenin’ here. For one thing, we Angelenos are much too vain…

As is anyone who writes a blog or refuses to deviate from their own little routines. Which, admittedly, most of us are. But if you’re gonna be self-involved it helps to occasionally involve yourself with something and someone else. Not only does it break up the monotony of and preoccupation with you, it has a side benefit for the rest of the world – you (meaning we) — just might learn something.   And pass it on.