OMG Stop!

96_frayed

Did you ever have one of those weeks where every big issue in the news and pop culture is annoying?  No, the answer is not every week – even if that is the case.  If you live your life perpetually annoyed then you are not annoyed at all – what you are is a malcontent curmudgeon.  What I’m talking about is a convergence of issues in one weekly cycle of what’s what that has you weighing the possibilities of turning it all off, packing up a slew of books and going underground to become a survivalist.

Since the latter won’t happen to me in this lifetime in that I need to call in experts to hang a picture properly and recently failed twice at reading Proust (it was me, not him), I have made peace with the fact that I will forever dwell in the weekly cycle.  And perhaps you have also.  But that doesn’t mean we have to live here happily during each seven-day period.  In fact, it might just be that weeks like this – particularly SUCKY periods that are so annoyingly dumb and cloyingly stupid – actually make us appreciate all the other wonderfully happy ones.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself right now.

Again, perhaps you are too.  After all, misery loves company.  And remember, it isn’t real misery if it only happens once every few months.  Think of it more as a healthy cycle of intellectual binge and purge.  Or the alternative to living in the woods for a year with several boxes of classic literature and enough food and water to get by.

I've got a spare bedroom!

I’ve got a spare bedroom!

As much as you might think that’s appealing, how much Proust or even Shakespeare can you read in a row while eating prepared vittles from a package or can?  Not much, that’s how much.  Plus, a world where you literally had no one else to complain to could be even worse than this one.

So let’s review those things that had me in a snit… and made me want to scream OMG STOP IT!

1.   ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE COVERS ARE NOT A NATIONAL ISSUE

The twitpic seen round the world

The twitpic seen round the world

One of the top news stories this week is Rolling Stone’s cover photo of Boston Bomber (do we need to say suspect?) Dzhokhar (Jahar, to friends) Tsarnaev – all tousle-haired, doe-eyed and sporting the come-hither look and dark chin scruff of a teenager stoner.  Mr. Tsarnaev is, indeed, all of those things, and also, as the magazine clearly identifies him in very large black type, THE BOMBER.

I have actually read the 11,000 word article that the cover promises is about how a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.  It’s a very good read, a simultaneously awful and fascinating story – which is what good magazine writing is all about.  Does it answer all of the questions its headline promises?  Well, as much as most magazine or even newspaper pieces fully do.  Which is to say mostly, though not exactly.  And, in the world of journalistic reportage, which is always left open to interpretation, that’s sort of the point.

So what’s the problem???  Well, the Mayor of Boston says using this picture is “insensitive” to the people of Boston and still others claim that the story, placement and accompanying image makes Dzhokhar a sort of — rock star?  Never mind Rolling Stone has used images of Charles Manson and O.J. Simpson as cover draws in the height of their notoriousness.

The entire point of the article is that what makes this kid particularly scary is that he has the non-descript visual image of a sort of iconoclastic cool kid.  Hence, the cover image, which has been used on the cover of the New York Times previously, would seem to be the right one.  Would it be more appropriate if Jahar had a long beard, a turban and was wearing white robes?  Well, it’d obviously make many in the US more comfortable.  Among that group are corporate chain stores like CVS, Rite Aid, K-Mart, Stop ‘n Shop and Walgreen’s – all of whom have not only removed the current issue of Rolling Stone from their shelves but have refused to even sell it in its stores.

Here’s what would make me comfortable.  How about K-Mart refusing to sell guns in its stores?  Yes, I know Jahar and his brother didn’t use K-Mart rifles to set their homemade bombs off at the Boston Marathon the way the teenagers in Columbine did.  But at least it’d be one small actual step to curbing future domestic terrorism.  Refusing to sell a magazine, one that chooses to do a timely story that some people might disagree with, is not.

 Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

–      George  Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

Pump the brakes!

Pump the brakes!

2.    KATEWAIT – WHEN A ROYAL BIRTH IS A ROYAL PAIN

Insert terrible "crowning" pun

Insert terrible “crowning” pun

It’s a Boy!  But admittedly, I will never understand the fascination with royalty.   You’re bowing before a person born into privilege who wears a diamond studded crown or fantasizing about having millions of your own subjects who want to touch your garment because of your innate talent or ability to….do what exactly?

Now before you take away my chair (throne?) or refuse to ever let me use the word queen again, let me explain.  I have the utmost respect for the service that the Royal family of England gives back to their country and to the world.  It’s worth admiring.  But why are thousands of reporters from all over everywhere camped out in front of Wills and Kate’s home/castle/car/palace/estate and speculating about a birth, and then a name, that has a 50-50 chance of being either male or female? (Note:  Okay, I suppose they could choose the name “Pat,” but instead went with George Alexander Louis.  How dull.  I mean, my parents even came up with Faith Bari for my sister!).

Yes, this is what it has come to.

Yes, this is what it has come to.

As Holly, my cohort at notesfromachair, pointed out to me several days ago – NBC’s Today sent Natalie Morales to London several weeks ago for KateWait and she had been reduced to knitting on camera waiting for the baby to arrive.  Not only was this not a good strategy for boosting Today’s lagging ratings, it did little to honor the service of the Royal in question. If you’ve ever known a pregnant woman – and all of you have known at least one – do you think her idea of fun is to have gaggles of photographers and supporters surrounding her as she tries to maneuver her enlarged self out of the house and onto the hospital delivery room table?  That was, and is, a royal pain in its truest form.  And it’s not even unusual or salacious – two of the essential elements for news coverage these days.

To repeat: a boy – George Alexander Louis – 8 lbs., 4 oz.  That’s it.  I’m done.  Any further questions…

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3.    EMMY AWARDS ARE FOR SISSIES*

What do I have to do here to get nominated for a goddamn Emmy?

What do I have to do here to get nominated for a goddamn Emmy?

In the last few years of her life Bette Davis enjoyed posing in full makeup on a couch, next to a pillow that said, Old Age Ain’t No Place for Sissies.  Being a sort of gay icon she can use the latter word, as can I* (no – most of you cannot).  As for the Emmy nominations announced this week, the term should be used to describe some of the TV Academy’s choices this year in several categories.

There are lots of omissions but let’s cut to the chase – no writing nomination for the best-written show on television, Mad Men.  By eliminating the series that has been nominated every other of the six years it has been on the air (including four wins), the blue ribbon panel of choosers or perhaps other writers who nominate are saying what – that this year Mad Men wasn’t even the fifth best written drama series on TV?  Haha – that would be as funny as you telling me that they’re going to actually let Kim Kardashian’s mother host a new television talk show in 2013, or…..oh – never mind.

Kander & Ebb famously wrote the lyric: …Everybody loves a winner… for the song Maybe This Time from Cabaret but that’s actually not quite the case in the entertainment industry.  It’s actually more: Everybody hates a winner who wins too many times the way Mad Men creator Matt Weiner has.

Trading her switch for an Emmy?

Trading her switch for an Emmy?

Which is to say nothing of the fact that the most Emmy nominated series this year, American Horror Story (17 nods and one of my favorite not so guilty pleasures) is going against the very overpraised and retrofitted Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra in the best miniseries and movie category.  AHS is likely to lose, because as we established in our previous #2, this country and the world can’t resist a queen. (and yeah, I can say that, too).

Emmy night is Sunday, Sept. 22.  Look for all of my Steven Soderbergh DVDs (including Magic Mike) flying out the window in the hills of Los Angeles at the very moment this injustice is announced – that is if you’re interested in some free and only slightly damaged swag.

You said it, John.

You said it, John.

4.    PRES OBAMA IS NOT A RACIST FOR SPEAKING OUT ABOUT RACE, YOU MORON

Trayvon_Obama

The country is in uproar because a mostly White female jury in Florida found an adult male carrying a gun, who stopped and eventually shot and killed a Black teenager armed with nothing but a bag of Skittles and some iced tea, a. not guilty and b. back onto the streets with the eventual return of the gun he used in the killing.  We have a Black (well, half-Black – which, fyi, means he’s also equal part White) president and a country with a really checkered history on racial issues.  What’s He supposed to do – say nothing?  What year is this – 1923? ‘33? ‘53?

All our Black (or half White) president did several days ago was try to explain the reason for the outrage about the verdict among the African American community by noting said verdict needs to be seen in historical context when he said: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

Uh, does anyone doubt this is true or truly thinks that this is a controversial statement?   Then why is he getting pillared for it?  And why is Fox News letting people like Sean Hannity tell millions of viewers that Trayvon Martin was stoned on marijuana the night of the shooting and clearly capable of aggression (not munchies, dude – like, fighting) when that whole theory has been clearly debunked.

Why Barack Obama wants to bear his soul on this issue to the inevitable vitriol of a vast right wing machine/conspiracy is beyond me – and probably the reason this hopeful guy should be President.  It’s just that…well…when exactly did it become wrong for the president of the US to open a conversation on sensitive issues?   And not even a Liberal conversation.  There has not been a real liberal in the White House in at least 50 years – which should make one wonder if perhaps we could do even better.

The night before Pres. Obama made his remarks I had dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel where I spotted an overly made up middle aged woman with dyed blonde hair and too much jewelry sashay out of her milky white Bentley (approximate cost: $200,000) as she handed her key to the valet.  Taped to the inside passenger side window of her vehicle was a large printed white sign with black lettering that read: OBAMA SUCKS.   This, alone, tells you what he’s up against.

make-it-stop-o

SMALL ANNOYANCES ADD UP TO ONE BIG ONE

1. The barrage of incessant news from Comicon is working my last nerve.  Isn’t it enough you’ve taken over the movies? Why, oh why, are Superman and Batman going to be in a new tent pole film (sans Christian Bale) directed by Zack Snyder?  And why do you need to rub it in all our faces, over and over and over again.  Wake me when its 1968 again.  Please?

Whisk me away, Jon

Whisk me away, Jon

2. The Way, Way Back is the kind of movie I should love, love, love.  It’s a coming of age piece about a nerdy but too smart for his own good kid being raised by a divorced, single mother.  And it’s got some of my favorite quirky film actors – Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, etc.  So why, why, why was it turned into an actor fest of predictability with characters that felt written and not real?  I don’t know the answer to these questions any more than I know how the television works or why the earth is round and not flat – though all have been explained to me numerous times.

A rerun discovery

A rerun discovery

3. Cold Case is a television series that ran from 2003-2010 that I thought I was too superior to watch until several weeks ago when I was looking for yet another reason to procrastinate on some writing. It was created by Meredith Stiehm (she wrote for Homeland and now does The Bridge) and each week tackles a decades (sometimes many decades) old unsolved murder – alternating seamlessly between period flashbacks of then and now in genuinely compelling fashion.  Well, guess what?  This was a pretty freakin’ great network television series.  If you haven’t seen it, catch up with it in reruns on your DVR because it’s not available on DVD due to its music budget – the largest ever for a TV series.  The producers were smart enough to realize that even with good, taut writing and acting, nothing can bring back memories of the decades past than actual recordings from Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, the Police, Journey, and Cyndi Lauper, just to name a few.  Maybe one day the movies will start to do this again, or better yet, try to discover someone or something exciting, original or even new.  At this point, I’d even settle for a group of the studios to STOP and simply take a long hard look at what they’re doing now – and how it bodes for their – and our – futures.    Like the president…

I can dream, can’t it?

Breaking News

Hashtag News

Hashtag News

The 24/7 news cycle ramped up through social media is one of the BEST things to happen to society in recent decades. Don’t believe that?  Then you’re not paying attention.

Twitter, Facebook or  (fill in platform of choice) enables information to be dispensed to massive numbers of people in mere moments.  Television stations like MSNBC (my addiction), CNN (no one’s real addiction) and Fox News (unfortunately, too many people’s addiction) are forced to cover and convey information on stories way beyond the mere half hour networks used to devote to their nightly news broadcasts.  People in general are engaged and MORE informed (no, the more is not a typo) on world issues than they ever have been at any time in history, partly because they can’t help but not be.

PLUS – two terrorists were brought down within days after blowing up hundreds of people at the annual Boston Marathon (3 dead, scores of others with severed limbs) in part due to the massive dissemination of information through these means.

Busted through broadband

Busted through broadband

That would be information on a story you wanted to know about but, after a bit, also wanted to turn away from.   Except nowadays you don’t have a choice.  You can’t. Every time you turn around someone is telling you something you don’t necessarily want to know.  But probably should.

We can never be sure how much television news and social media contributed to that key person in Watertown, MA being so acutely aware so continuously of this massive manhunt that they couldn’t help but notice that there was blood on the tarp of the boat behind their house – a boat where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19 year old bombing suspect was hiding after managing to escape from the police showdown where his 26 year old accused fellow terrorist brother Tamerlan was killed (some say by the car Dzhokhar was speeding away with).

But what we do know is this:

In the world of police work and reportage one clue leads to another, information begets information, and it is the piecing together of all the facts by dogged reporters and investigators that in turn leads to the solution of a case and the satisfactory completion of a story. 

There is no telling what the alternative ending would be if you removed any of the steps along the way that led the person to go behind the house, and check out the boat, and notice the blood, and look further in to see the guy moving in the boat, and walk back out without going further to call the police at the number that was posted everywhere you looked, to tell them about the things that they saw before the guy had enough time to regroup and flee.  If there were a way to predict such things, Back to The Future, a film that cautions against playing with the sequence of events that have already occurred, would not still be a perennial piece of movie wonderment that held any meaning at all among my young twenty something students (and, I can assure you, it still is).

Twitter as the new flux capacitor

Twitter as the new flux capacitor

Why is it then that much of what I heard in my informal survey during the last week were endless complaints of the sensationalizing of a situation on TV that couldn’t get any more sensational, of the news gone amuck, and of a society that was being encouraged to fixate on this latest unfortunate event of world terrorism the United States was currently enduring instead of fixating on…. well, what I’m not sure.

Of course, I have NO IDEA why people incessantly posted on sites that the 24/7 news cycle is trying and taxing and sensationalistic.  This IS life.  This IS what the world is about now.  This IS the connection technology has wrought – for both good and bad.

Perhaps I’m wondering aloud now but here’s a question to ask ourselves — what should television instead be showing? More episodes of Ready for Love  (cancelled after just two) or The Bachelor (which, like Celine’s heart, will go on and on and on) — is that what we’re missing?  What SHOULD be broadcast instead of 24/7 news?  How many more game shows? Soap operas?  Local news about the weather or perhaps chance of bad weather?  Or maybe a 24/7 obsessional show about bad weather (Intervention: Doppler Edition?).  Maybe more reruns of I Love Lucy or Cheers or The Cosby Show?  Or Friends?  Maybe more Dr. Phil?  How about an extra episode of Smash? (Yes, it’s still on).  I mean, I do love Mad Men, but the current number of episodes on the air (all 10,000 of them, including reruns) is just right, thank you very much.

Though I would be in full support of all day re-airings of episodes of Baggage. (petition to bring back the show on next week's post)

Though I would be in full support of all day re-airings of episodes of Baggage. (petition to bring back the show on next week’s post)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not even close to saying that the cable news stations or their network counterparts are getting it right all of the time or are necessarily in it to make the world a better place.  You couldn’t possibly think that when you see something like this on CNN right after the terrorist face off:

The only thing Zooey likes about this... is being mistaken for 19

The only thing Zooey likes about this: being mistaken for 19

No, our New Girl had nothing to do with this.  The best anyone can figure is that the computer auto correct of Dzhokhar is Zooey.  Also, Zooey has forgiven them.  And if you want to know how I know it’s because Joel McHale from Community and The Soup tweeted it to Ms. D via Twitter and she tweeted back and those tweets were both run on a website I frequent and all of it was then reposted on Facebook by my most intimate of Facebook friends, who never lies to me about such stuff.  So there!!

But if the Zooey mishap and too many human interest stories related to major crime scenes that seem neither particularly human or even very interesting is the price to pay for being that much more aware of the world around us, I say we should keep ponying up.  See – the networks have realized even before us that breaking news is not only much cheaper to produce than fictionalized drama but that it is inherently more….dramatic.  Even better, technology has enabled them to present it in a way that is not dissimilar to a fast-moving hour procedural drama, albeit over an eight-hour period of time.

Yeah, I'm looking at your Caruso.

Yeah, I’m looking at you, Caruso.

Here’s what I got watching television all day Friday:

A major American city on lockdown.  A fugitive at large who might have a bomb (or two or three) in one of the most densely populated areas in the US.  Not enough clues to figure out what happened and a metropolitan dragnet and cast of characters better than any of the ones in any of the 23,432 Batman movies.  Jigsaw puzzle pieces of info on the shooters, the victims and the families of each and endless speculation of too many talking heads about all of it (really a show all on its own).

Then suddenly at the all is lost point at the end of act two, (screenwriters will best understand this), right on cue we get new gunshots fired in Watertown, MA. They think they have the shooter surrounded. Wait!  Weren’t we just told live by the police chief that it was more than possible the suspect had fled the area and that you couldn’t keep the entire city locked indoors any longer?  Well, maybe that was a ruse to smoke the guy out?  Or perhaps it wasn’t and time was just running out?  Oh, who cares.  This is real life. Not TV drama. (Or is it?)  Wait, now there’s spontaneous cheering from a crowd on the streets.   Then a firefight around a boat behind a house.  Followed by a lot of silence.  Followed by reports of a suspect bleeding.  Or not.  Then reports of a fire, which could be from the shots.  Then background on a woman who reported blood on the boat in the back of her driveway which, thanks to Google maps, we can see a visual of as we get reports that the bleeding suspect has been apprehended and now is in police custody.  To which we then hear thunderous rounds of applause from hundreds and then thousands of people gathering around on the streets of Boston to thank law enforcement.  A spontaneous show of affection that many on the air are saying is a first.  Or at least the first in a while.  Cue end of scene and end of story.  At least for now.

Freddie said it best: Is this real life or is this fantasy?

Freddie said it best: Is this real life or is this fantasy?

Since this took place over the approximately 8 hours I was watching television, I suppose I could be making this seem more exciting than it was in real 24/7 news time.  But if you want to live in the real world and see how real life happens this is it.  The reporting of stories is not what it is in the movies or on series television.  Neither is police work.  It happens in actual time and it doesn’t have three or five or seven act structure that will induce you to stay tuned in through the commercials or network IDs.

My time in journalism school and my early years as a reporter taught me that working on a story can be almost as slow and tedious as the “hurry up and wait” feeling you get being on a movie set that I experienced as a screenwriter – only 12 times as frustrating.  This is because eventually the scene you are waiting for on a movie set will be filmed.  Yet there is no guarantee or even likelihood a story will ever get written or aired if it doesn’t pan out.  And most times they don’t.  Except when they’re newsworthy.  That means that eventually….some do.  One way or the other.  And living in 2013 we are all lucky enough to be there watching it live.  If we so choose.

There are lousy journalists and great journalists.  That’s what we’re getting.  And we’re really, really fortunate to get it.  If we don’t like what we’re getting – we can TURN. IT. OFF.  But we have to stop complaining.  That includes you and me too – because given another particular issue – I’m no better than anyone else.

As a public, we’re already amped up.  The news doesn’t make it worse.  Information is power.  The lack of it is when we get in trouble and the bad guys win.  Or worse – take over when our backs are turned and we’re not paying attention.

Spinning

It's all about how you see it.

It’s all about how you see it.

There is an old adage that the more specific you get, the more universal your message will be.  That’s why when Pres. Obama pointed out the 102 year old African American woman in the audience at his State of the Union speech who had to wait six hours in line to vote in Florida in the presidential election in November, his shout out was not corny but resonant to so many people. We’d heard stories like this for more than a century of minorities, especially women, discouraged or deterred from voting, but what made this one especially affecting was that several new details had been added.  It was not just an older Black woman but it was a 102 year old woman.  It was not a story of civil rights-like voter suppression from 50, 100 or even 150 yeas ago.  It happened within the LAST year.  

That’s also why the gun violence/“they deserve a vote” section of the speech also worked.  We’ve all seem victims of gun violence from both sides – the shooter and the shooted and the respective families of each.  But there was yet another new twist on it this time.  Due to the proliferation of assault weapons used in so many of these mass shootings, firearms which blast up to 30 bullets in five seconds, many more people die in record time.  But because any one of these individual blood fests – Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech – can cover a greater number of people and acreage, more than one or two humans these days also manage to escape or survive and then, live to testify.  Whether it was the young man in the Colorado movie theatre who has become an anti-gun activist despite the bullet fragments still lodged in his body or the fighting spirit of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her ability to resume life after a near fatal brain injury, it’s really just simple math: the greater the area and number of victims you’re dealing with the more likely the percentages that something will go wrong and someone will live to speak out against you.   Once again – old story, but with a new slant.  Of course, there was the classroom of 20 dead children and 5 adults at the Sandy Hook elementary school where everyone did die, proving there are exceptions to every rule.  But let’s face it, the lack of survivors and extremely young median age of everyone in that 2012 mass shooting only made that tragedy even more unique and caused it to stand out given the norm of the  “aughts” decade of where we now all reside.

Putting your own “contemporary” spin on an old story is something we all do either on the page or in real life, whether we know it or not.  Actually, it’s impossible not to do it if the yarn takes place in or is being told through the lens of someone who lives today.  But often times we feel quite insecure about it – as if we’re unoriginal or ripping off some other tale of woe or happiness that we particularly liked either consciously or subconsciously.  And if me writing about the notion that no story is new except for the personal spin you put on it sounds as if you’ve heard it before – well, you probably have.  But perhaps not put exactly this way.  See, addressing an issue in an opinion piece is no different than creating a story from ground zero to tell your friends, or writing it down in short story, play, screenplay or book form for your readers.  Or verbally addressing a crowd, or talking to Matt, Diane, Oprah, Katie, Jay, Dave, Jerry Springer or the nation or the world in an interview.  A version of every story in the world has been offered in some form ad nausea.  You might swear it’s new because you’ve never heard it, or the people who were around the last time it was told are long gone, but pretty much someone or something has done it prior.  And perhaps better (though certainly different) than the version you’re hearing or seeing now.  And if you need any proof of that just look at the various movie versions of Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally and 500 Days of Summer after watching Two for the Road and Scenes from A Marriage and see if you don’t see what I mean.

It's even hard for your face to be original!

Uh… Who’s that girl?

Perhaps this seems corny or obvious even though I don’t mean it to be.  Yet that’s a normal reaction in any discussion of archetypal stories, archetypal behavior or archetypes in general, since the very essence of the word is defined as:

“A symbol, term, statement or pattern of behavior – a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.”

In other words, any discussion of cliché become cliché because a. it is literally about cliché and b. because it has been done and talked about so much before.

The most famous of these thoughts were advanced from Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” which rethought some of the work of the famed psychiatric mind of Carl Jung, both of whose works were re-adapted by Christopher Vogler for, of all things, screenwriters in the movie business two decades ago in what is now considered a bit of a movie industry how-to masterwork entitled The Hero’s Journey.

And here for your viewing pleasure...

And here for your viewing pleasure… click for closer view

THJ was quite popular among studio executives and adult storytellers of all ages in Hollywood as it helped crystallize a “formula” for storytelling (and who in the entertainment biz doesn’t want that all knowing formula) that had been written about for decades and probably centuries but in different language.  Simply put, it states that if you’re trying to weave a compelling tale you FOREMOST must have in your tale certain kinds of characters that will compel fellow humans to listen, buy movie tickets or read about.  These include: a hero, a villain, a mentor, a love interest, a best friend, a jokester and so on and so on…. i.e., recognizable types human beings have been known to respond to en mass  (Note: it was no coincidence Vogler first conceived his “adaptation” of these theories in a seven page film studio memo while an employee working at — Disney)

We can bellyache all we want about this – “oh please, it’s the same old thing over and over; that book was from the nineties, this isn’t new; I’m tired, I need a drink, and why am I reading about something that was popular 20 years ago when we know they didn’t have the web back then and, let’s face it, computers have changed everything”  – but the dirty little truth is that when utilized judiciously (and sometimes blatantly) it always works.   Even a discussion of it often evokes enough controversy to warrant validation because the fact is I didn’t twist anyone’s arm to read this but for better or worse, most of you are still reading (I think).  And – if you are still reading – it means you’re curious to know more about old stories, archetypes, THJ and why they work (or at least, what I am going to say about it) – which in itself lifts it very essence above cliché and thus reinforces the following point:

When you or anyone else puts your own individual SPIN on the familiar it immediately CEASES TO BE SUCH.  And will in that moment can be seen in some NEW WAY.

One foot in front of the other..

One foot in front of the other..

This might be an obvious intellectual insight but it is shocking to me in how many moments of real life so many of us (myself included) don’t truly believe it.

This became apparent to me earlier this week when I decided that a new piece of writing I’ve made a bunch of notes on for myself wasn’t really worth doing because I felt like I didn’t have anything new to add to the subject despite pages of observations to the contrary.   But lucky for me, after teaching several days ago to a group of many young yet like-minded writers, I’m not sure I still feel this way.

Standing, sitting and sometimes pacing before 40 different students in four different classes I had to listen to any number of story outlines, ideas, detailed treatments and verbal pitches for 40 separate original story ideas for either film or television and noticed something sort of funny.  What was universally the biggest fear of each creator of these many wonderful, uh, narratives, were self-doubting thoughts like – “I know this has been done before,” “right now this is incredibly cheesy,” “I know/don’t want this to sound(s) like —- (fill in film) or an episode of — (fill in TV show from the past) or, my favorite, “This is a bad rip-off of —- but I can’t think of anything else, and maybe, really, I shouldn’t do this at all and just think of something else.  If I even can.”

Truly, anything old can be new again.

Truly, anything old can be new again.

After all these years I couldn’t believe how another old adage is true – you reflect what you give off.  Meaning the question in my own mind became – was my own self-defeatist attitude so unoriginal that I was literally seeing it among a group of people in their early twenties who had not been writing even half as long as I have? And then I wondered – “jees, is this kind of thing contagious and am I infecting them with this type of thought unwittingly?  Or is this something they came to on their own.  Something that, dare I say it, is archetypal?”

Well, here’s the good news:  I don’t think I’m the Typhoid Mary of writing teachers.   But like Jung and many of his ilk who studied along with him realized – there are certain archetypes, specific kinds of behavior that are endemic to all humans.    And since most writers and would-be writers are human (notice I said most – there are a few exceptions who shall go nameless – Okay, Shakespeare, Proust), it is not unusual they would share these exact feelings of self-doubt, albeit exhibit them all in their own individually unique forms of expression.  Put another way:  When you put your own individual spin on a behavioral cliché, it ALSO ceases to be a cliché.

Accepting all this as a given, it feels not out of line to occasionally ask oneself this cliché question – How do I become the hero of my own story?  I think the answer is to go by the above advice and let whatever we dare to hang out – knowing there are no guarantees but knowing there are also no rewards if we don’t try to spin out something.

Find yourself

Find yourself

Brenda Euland, writer extraordinaire said in her wise and seminal book If You Want to Write, that no one will tell a story exactly the way that YOU tell it.  She hung out with Louise Bryant and John Reed and a bunch of other New York Bohemians almost a century ago but spent most of her later life back in her native Minnesota where she was known mostly famously as a prescient writing teacher who periodically gets rediscovered over the decades, usually after the latest “how to” fad passes.   Lest you think her personal story of a bohemian who hangs out with famous people in N.Y. doesn’t get famous herself, goes home with her tail between her legs, and spends the rest of her days handing out advice as a teacher to help people do the very thing she didn’t manage, sounds familiar (nee archetypal) – it really isn’t.  Ms. Euland was, indeed, a talented writer.  But fame and recognition is a funny thing.   Despite all evidences to the contrary, some people become known for, or grow into, that which they had never planned at the outset, fame or not.

Other times, they seemed destined for greatness, or at least worldwide recognition at the outset and nothing and no one can stop them.  Watch Beyonce’s HBO Special, Beyonce: Life is But a Dream, and determine for yourself whether you think this is fair or even true.  Then consider the work of filmmaker Michael Bay and do the same.  Then perhaps the oeuvre of our greatest living playwright of the last century, Edward Albee, now represented on Broadway in a yet another great revival of his classic play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and note it was not this play but several of those that most of us don’t know because they were not well-received that are his own personal favorites.  Of all the artists I know of, Albee manages to be the least cliché, the least archetypal, in work or in his life.  Yet even he admits to feeling about his plays, especially those that have trouble on the outside, like a parent who wants to protect the most vulnerable of their children from the vagaries of a cold, cruel world.  Talk about cliché.  Talk about archetype.  Yet re Albee – never was.  Never will Be.

The SugarMan himself

The SugarMan himself

Then finally – watch a documentary called Searching For Sugar Man – a real life story no one could have written for fear of being not cliché but ridiculous.  It tells the tale of a singer named Rodriguez, a brilliant 1970s songwriter-balladeer who seemed destined for stardom a la Bob Dylan, according to industry experts, at even one listen, but whose two outstanding albums sold quite poorly in reality.  Meaning they did zilch.  Consequently, Rodriguez then disappeared from public sight in the US, yet someone got hold of his album in South Africa and from the mid-seventies on he became a star on the magnitude of Elvis, especially since it was believed that one night on stage he grew so despondent at the acoustics and audience response to his music that he blew his brains out in front of a live crowd.

There was one problem with this folktale, which endured for a decade and a half – unchallenged – it wasn’t true.  Until someone got the idea to research the details of what happened to him and the real Rodriguez was found outside of Detroit – having spent life as a poor day laborer with no knowledge of his stardom overseas, but still in possession of the ability to sing, write and perform in almost the same manner he had decades ago.  Plus – and this is the best part – he was also found to be content with the financially difficult life he had and the children he had raised despite the stardom and financial bonanzas that eluded him.  Though he enjoys making music still, he doesn’t do it all the time, gives away money from his occasional South African tours to his family and friends, and just continues on.  His story is a true original.  A real life non-cliche because it twists the story trope of the talented artist who is never accepted and lives penniless for the rest of his days in bitterness or drug/alcohol abuse into a real life happy ending that seems unbelievable but can’t be because it’s true.   One wonders – how many others like that are there out there and who is going to tell them?

The Full Ginsburg

The Full Ginsburg?  I’d never heard of it.  And you’d think having a name as, well, distinctive as Ginsberg (mine’s with an “e” and not a “u” but still…) that it might have crossed my culture vulture desk.  Imagine my surprise then when last week I happen upon a Facebook posting from moveon.org – an organization of which I was an early member – commie, liberal that I am – and the following joke video appeared chastising the new law in (Kentucky?  Alabama?  Tennessee?  Oklahoma?  Does it matter?) that makes it illegal to discuss or even mention the word gay in classrooms where students are not over the age of 14.

Well, at least they got the cause right.

I promptly googled “The Full Ginsberg” (which I will now and forever refer to as TFG because I can’t keep misspelling my own damn name) and this is what the ever reliable Wikipedia came up with:

The Full Ginsburg is a buzzword that refers to an appearance by one person on all five American major Sunday-morning interview shows on the same day: This Week on ABC, Fox News Sunday, Face the Nation on CBS, Meet the Press on NBC, and Late Edition on CNN. State of the Union replaced Late Edition on CNN in January 2009.

The term is named for William H. Ginsburg, the lawyer for Monica Lewinsky during the sexual conduct scandal involving President Bill Clinton. Ginsburg was the first person to accomplish this feat, on February 1, 1998.

….

How could I have missed that?  Or at least been included in the discussion.  As NY Congressman Anthony Weiner is now fully realizing, sometimes these ideas just take hold and no matter how much you try to protest – when it’s “out there” on the internet, it is (or in his case, you are) out there forever.  Though in his case it might not be him.  Which would, indeed, be too bad for him.  No, I am not inserting (bad use of verbs) the photo.

Not wanting to be out there all alone with my new found moniker, I’ve decided to include a few others.  No, I have not borrowed this sketch from “Real Time With Bill Maher.”  Yet after reading it over it does sound oddly familiar to what his writers do.  Though nowhere near as cutting edge.

The Full Bradley Cooper:  Seducing a known or unknown actress every 7-10 days while still managing to star in the #1 movie of the week, withstand bad reviews, make films with both Robert DeNiro AND Martin Scorsese and speak impressively fluent French on television.

Hate him?  Or love him?

The Full Palin: Employing a secret geographically unspecific sing-song twang to magnetize tens of millions of dollars in your direction, hypnotize many more millions of minions into your followers while rendering the rest of the population powerless to stop you.

The Full Tarantino: Using your considerable talents to achieve meteoric creative success while proving time and time again that not everyone should act.

The Full Glee:  The art of taking an unlimited amount of good will for granted and not funneling it back with enough power, verve or concentration into your cast or the world at large.

 (Fox would not release a clip to us)

The Full U.S. Economy:  Yo-yo binging and purging at its most extreme.

The Full Trump:   Taking a term from the card game bridge and broadening the brand to encompass over the top real estate, over the top television, over the top hair weaves and over-the top lame-brained conspiracy theories.

The Full Zooey Deschanel:  Using doe eyes and vintage dresses to score cool supporting and starring movie roles only to launch a career in half hour three-camera tv comedy.

The Full Suze Orman:  Combining no-nonsense Chicago common sense, SERIOUSLY no-nonsense lesbian power and fully loaded common sense money managing into an empire worthy of a lifetime’s supply of colorful jackets and ‘I’m in on the joke’  “Saturday Night Live” spoofs.

The Full Mitt:  Running for the WHITE house on a haircut, a family photo, some pearly whites and alot of prayers.

I could go on and on since clearly this entire line of reasoning shows I am certainly the most full of it.   So rather than overstay my welcome – why not make it a group effort.

The Full Chelsea Handler?

The Full Kirk Cameron?

The Full L. Ron Hubbard?

Enquiring minds want to know!