We’re all uncomfortable

If you refuse to watch art from people you in some way disapprove of, only Tom Hanks and Julie Andrews are left.   

-– The Chair

Make me watch Forrest Gump or The Ladykillers again and I’d probably punch you in the face.

Not to mention, Hawaii and the 1980 remake of Little Miss Marker would be a very tough slog.  (Note: Sorry, Jules).

And truly, if you’re going to watch some classic films why not simply go to the acknowledged mainstream top of the list choices.  Perhaps Chinatown or even… ROSEMARY’S BABY?????????

What’d’ya say Mrs. Mulwray?

Uh, oh.  Both films were directed by Roman Polanski and Mr. Polanski is best known these days by a new generation of filmgoers as the man who had sex with an underage girl and fled the U.S. before he could be properly punished for it.

Rightly or wrongly – and it’s not either one – this issue came up recently in a writing class when we were analyzing story elements of a classic sequence in Rosemary’s Baby where the lead character is raped by….

Well, who did it is not important for the subject of this discussion.  The pertinent part was the past deeds of this director and how much his personal actions influence what a viewer now sees or can’t see in the piece of art being offered to us.

This film still kind of says it all #ugh #uncomfortable

My knee jerk reaction is that we must separate the art from the artist and realize that times change, truth reveals itself in increments and people who live in glass houses, which means ALL of us, shouldn’t throw stones.

On the other hand, to NOT acknowledge that the personal is not only political but pertinent and influential, is to ignore the extreme cultural moments we are living through these days. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody but I’m not so sure I want to support ANYTHING director Bryan Singer does/did again.

As a gay guy, I’ve heard about his penchant for younger men for years and the fabled parties where they gathered with him (Note: Or were gathered up for him).  On the other hand, I was never there and certainly never saw him doing anything inappropriate with a 15 or 17 year old boy elsewhere so who was I to judge?  What is my responsibility?  And does it mean he shouldn’t direct Millennium Films’ upcoming big budget remake of Red Sonja?

I’m with Randy #10yearoldmemes #stillapplies

The Sundance Film Festival this week previewed the upcoming 4-hour HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland, which chronicles in painstaking detail Michael Jackson’s sexual relationships with pre and early adolescent young boys when he was in his thirties.

British filmmaker Dan Reed is a respected documentarian and by all accounts the personal testimony of Jackson’s victims, their families, and the similarity and specificity of details make it as devastating to watch as the current Lifetime series Surviving R. Kelly, which centers on that singer/songwriter/producer’s longtime sexual abuse of numerous underage women.

I have not felt comfortable with Mr. Jackson’s music for DECADES given that we were close in age as I watched him parade to endless premieres and show biz photo ops in the eighties and nineties in the company of  9, 11, 13 and 15 year olds boys, sometimes two or three at a time and occasionally strangely holding hands with the odd one as he spoke of playful sleepovers at his dreamy playground of a ranch.

This picture REALLY makes me uncomfortable

I remember thinking to myself, what would someone my age conceivably EVER be doing with those boys overnight and, if it wasn’t overtly sexual, could it EVER conceivably be appropriate, even with their parents’ approval?  What I concluded then and now was that it could not and, hence, I never was able to listen to or watch Mr. Jackson in the same way ever again.

I have no proof and I’m not faulting anyone who jams out to Billie Jean or who will forever see him as the King of Pop.  But there was and is something so questionable in my mind about Mr. Jackson’s personal life that sucks the goodness and fun and joy out of anything I could possibly see or hear him do.  Even the famed Motown anniversary moonwalk – the younger, gentler version of what he left behind – leaves me at best sad for all concerned when viewed in the context of the entirety of his life.

This brings me no joy #notaseasyas123

One teaching colleague of mine recently shared the difficulty of talking to college students about Miramax/Harvey Weinstein when recounting the history of the Hollywood independent film movement.  It’s not that you don’t do it, but how do get them to appreciate what that studio accomplished without the stench?   And how do you write a book about the history of television in the last century and not give The Cosby Show its due?  That’s a topic someone else very close to me (Note: VERY) is dealing with at the moment.

Can we just talk about Denise Huxtable and noone else?

To say nothing of Louis CK  and his recent jokes about the students of Parkland or Woody Allen movies in general.   How do I look at Annie Hall these days?

As a baby boomer I can only speak to Annie Hall, one of my favorite films of all time, and confess that it will forever make me laugh because I am able to block out all reality and focus in on the joy it brought me throughout my life.  Yes, I am that strong or that weak where these feelings overwhelm everything else past and present and take me back to a time when it at least FELT like we were all a lot more innocent and unsullied by the realities of a hopelessly stained contemporary world.

Of course, that is/was a fantasy in itself but at the very least it got me through my twenties and thirties.  Though when you shove Manhattan in my face now  and I’m forced to watch Woody with Mariel Hemingway’s 17 year-old character, (Note: As happened several months ago on cable TV) it’s cringe worthy.  Meaning denial only works in certain cases and, in this case,  I suddenly froze up and couldn’t help but turn away.

Can I hold on to this?

So yeah, in this light I totally get some of my students’ aversion to Rosemary’s Baby and Mr. Polanski.   How many of us Jews interested in movies have ever had a tough time with academic articles fetishizing the filmmaking talent of Adolph Hitler’s favorite director, Leni Riefenstahl?  (Note: Whose Triumph of the Will is coincidentally used as a bittersweet punch line in said Annie Hall)

Perhaps the answer is a film festival featuring Triumph of the Will, Rosemary’s Baby Annie Hall and maybe…oh…Cosby in Uptown Saturday Night?   We can also add in Kevin Spacey ‘s Oscar winning performance in American Beauty and two of Singer’s X-Men movies for good measure.

The audience at this film festival

But how many of us would go?   Not as many as would watch any one of the six in the privacy of our own homes and keep it a secret.

Michael Jackson – “Bad” 

Sheets of Privilege

I’ve watched Tina Fey downing a sheet cake while she excoriated Trump and the white supremacists at Charlottesville EIGHT times so far – and counting. It’s the only thing that’s made me laugh in quite a while.

You’ve probably seen her now viral appearance on Thursday night’s summer edition of Saturday Night Live Weekend Update – the one where she called the neo-Nazi man boys “chinless turds,” referred to Ann Coulter as “yard sale Barbie,” and countered Trump and his supporters with “who do you think drove that car into the crowd – Hillary’s emails???”– as whipped cream and all kinds of other carbs came pouring inside and outside of her mouth.

If you haven’t – here. And you’re welcome.

Sheetcaking, as she called it, is one answer to the post-racial right wing racism (and all kinds of other isms) that is now sweeping our country thanks to the campaign, election and reign of our first bull-in-the-china shop Electoral College POTUS – Donald J. Trump – or Donny John – as Ms. Fey more aptly derides him and his cheaply made real estate.

Still, however appealing it feels to gorge oneself on sweets and carbs in response to the upside down view of the world that Donny John and his white supremacist followers espouse – it is by no means the ONLY response.   It is the comedic response of 2017 so far and, as in any great satire, should not be taken as an absolute. It is wish fulfillment and is borne out of anger, frustration and a penchant for mouthy snideness that many of us “ethnic types” prefer.

It is the contemporary version of the fictional Isaac Davis’ cocktail party retort in 1979’s Manhattan after he incredulously mentions that he’s heard Nazis may actually be marching in New Jersey.

We should go down there and get some guys together, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.

Even when one guy counters that there is a devastating satirical op-ed piece in the (NY) Times on the subject, Isaac counters:

Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.

Let’s be honest. There is no ONE way to battle the lunacy that is now overtaking our nation. On Saturday morning, I woke up to find that two dozen Nazi white guys marched in downtown Boston but 40,000 people showed up in solidarity to counter the hate-filled rants of a crowd that had mostly dispersed by the time they had arrived.

#BostonStrong

That doesn’t account for the tens and thousands more who were home sheetcaking, talking to their neighbors, exchanging kind words with people of other religions, skin colors or sexual persuasions, or perhaps frequenting ethnic businesses and organizations that didn’t share the world view of the Charlottesville chinless turds.

The Electoral College POTUS response to Boston was classic. The first tweet:

A follow-up one several hours later, presumably after a talking to and some human contact:

Still, it begs the question of which protestors he was applauding – the two dozen or the 40,000. Certainly, it couldn’t be ALL of them.

I couldn’t pretend to know what is in Electoral College POTUS’ heart, mostly because I am sure he doesn’t even have o….well, skip it. Let’s not get sidetracked here.

Just have a good scream…. OK I’m good now #dailyrituals

The point is, you can’t believe anything he says in any given moment. Because at any given moment later – meaning five or ten seconds, minutes or hours – he might say exactly the opposite. Sometimes it’s even in the same run-on sentence.

This requires all of us to be especially aware, thoughtful and conscious about our actions as we navigate what the solutions are to our many problems. As a college professor I’ve learned over the years to avoid the word problem and refer to them as challenges. Yet in these tough times and in this particular instance I’d say problems is the more apt term.

21st century compassion

That being said, let’s not pretend that with all of our PROBLEMS we, who were fortunate enough to be born into this country, are not a heck of a lot better off than those born into third-world poverty elsewhere in the world. Even luckier are those of us born here into a higher economic class, or loving families, or, or, or, or…..

You see where I’m going with this.

There is so much chatter right now about PRIVILEGE – who is and who isn’t and how none of us are going to take it anymore. About safe spaces. About real American values and the lack thereof and who has them and who definitely doesn’t.

Yet it always seemed that the one thing we could agree on is that Nazis were bad.

Pretty much sums it up

And yet – Charlottesville showed not even all of us could agree on that. I hear reports from people I know that outside of the coastal cities and big urban areas that people are hoisting Confederate flags, brandishing their weapons to anyone ethnic — or Jewish or gay like me –- just in case they’re thinking that we’re friends or share any kind of values at all. Of course, that could just be what they normally do on a Saturday.   How would I even really know???

Well, certainly choosing to pretend this isn’t happening is not the solution to all this. Nor is Tina urging us to stay home and away from the white supremacist rallies and choose sheetcaking instead. But neither is Isaac Davis’ idea that we all get together to attend the Nazi rallies armed with bricks and baseball bats.   Two of these are extreme answers to extreme behavior that none of us truly knows the solution to. The other one is just plain dumb. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

Take your time Elmo

As a teacher whose role it often is to reach compromise I would propose that we need to incorporate not only the extremes but EVERYTHING in between. Unlike the multiple choice SAT there is no one correct answer here – except to rule out the dumb choice immediately.

Therefore, if you want to protest at a right wing, Nazi rally – do it. Yes, this is how they thrive and recruit people – by showing all the people like me and you who are against THEM – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be continually confronted for their hate (and vigorously).

But if as Tina suggests, you want to stay home and instead frequent an ethnic business – e.g. a bakery – then that is also valuable. So is donating money, being kind to a right-leaning friend or neighbor, manning a phone bank for a cause or holding your nose and trying to talk about all of this with a relative who you’ve always loathed – or a colleague who seems to have values opposite of yours.   We have to do them all and we need to do it quickly. And don’t think the thought of this thrills me either. Though I vow to do it if you will.

We can figure out better strategies

This week I heard a former Neo-Nazi named Arno Michaelis, who runs something called the Forgiveness Project and wrote a book about his days of white supremacy in his teens and twenties, say that one of the few things that managed to change him was the kindness he was shown by a lesbian supervisor at work and a black co-worker.

Now I’m not saying kindness and money is THE WAY to fight Nazis. But please can we refrain from the now empty post liberal phrase this is privilege speaking when one dares to suggest anything else except the method you’re arguing for? We need it ALL – especially the comedy of Tina Fey.

The only act of privilege is sitting it out entirely.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Peace, Love and Understanding