OK Fine, It’s Me

It was confirmed to me this weekend that I am, indeed, a coastal elite.

How else to account for my amusement and constant head-nodding recognition of me and mine while watching HBO’s sort of movie/Zoom session/play turned into a cable film of the same name?

Guilty as charged

Written by Paul Rudnick, a guy who is funny but yet not someone whose work I’ve ever much liked (In and Out, Adams Family Values, even his gay play/movie Jeffrey didn’t speak to me with much honesty),  no one is more surprised by my reaction to his above mentioned – okay, let’s just call it a Zoom-A-Thon – than liberal me.

Of course, that could be the reason.  Because these days I find that I’m not really liberal at all.  That’s how well I know myself.

Instead, I’ve been categorized as a slightly left of center traditional Democratic voting white guy with privilege who has spent the majority of his charmed life living  in big cities on either coast.  Sure, I sweat about things but mostly I rant, complain and sort of stand up for my principles when and if I’m pushed hard enough – but only if that push is a shove.

At least I still look cute

Granted, I am some of those things on any given day.  I mean, which of us does not embody some stereotype of our particular census group at a specific moment in time.  But I’m also a lot more than that.  Plenty more.  Not to mention I stand up for sh-t far more than my friends and family would like.  And often in public.

This seems to be the issue the majority of critics are having with Coastal Elites. It presents as five separate monologues by the kind of people I know or have met or might cross paths with, via what looks like five separate socially distanced chats, four of them on Zoom.

The Fab Five

The monologues are incredibly well-delivered by the likes of Bette Midler, Dan Levy, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson and Kaitlyn Dever.  In turn, they play a NY Jewish “liberal” retired teacher gone ballistic; a gay unemployed actor melting down in West Hollywood; a philanthropist trust fund kid trying to contain her fury and fears; an online meditation guru unhappily dealing with her conservative family; and a thoroughly overwhelmed Wyoming nurse temporarily working in a New York City hospital.

With that cast playing those characters, all in the midst of this mess of 2020 politics and pandemic, how could you go wrong?

Okay, the truth is most critics, social media commenters and audiences have had it with Zoom.  Isn’t it enough we have to live it?  Must we now have it shoved down our throats in a cable movie?  What could possibly be fun or even meaningful about SEEING that small screen on our clearly larger screen.

Sorry, Marcia. #moreofaJanfan

Right, I get that but mostly, well, I don’t.  I’ve sort of come to appreciate Zoom communication.  For one thing, it sure beats sitting in a meeting live with lots of people you’d prefer not to ever have to deal with again live, or at least pretend to enjoy sitting through or next to at any office meeting.

Zoom or otherwise!

Would that you could turn off your inner camera and actually disappear from a room.  How cool would that be?

For another, Zoom has gotten us all to learn a piece of technology we all would have previously avoided like, well…the plague.

Sorry, too soon?

Well, that seems to be the problem for many of the naysers.  The tone of Coastal Elites is somewhere between comedy and drama.  A mix of theatre tweaked laugh lines honed for TV that move the tone up, down, around and through everything from the Menace that is POTUS, the pandemic that will soon have killed 200,000 Americans (Note: Yay, we’re #1! 😒) and the existential angst that only elites like me and these characters have the time to worry about.

My new inspirational poster

I don’t know, after spending the last six months working and living at home, and being told by medical professionals that in the next 12 months don’t count on the prospects being much better, I’m getting a bit freaked out in the mind here.  What the f-k is wrong with characters that feel the same way?  And since when can’t social commentary be, um, amusing and yet on another level, be about something?

Remember the Tony Award-winning play Six Degrees of Separation?  Sure, it was a lousy movie but the source material was pretty good.  And speaking of lousy movies most of the critics once thought was meaningful, have you seen the Oscar-winning best picture Crash lately?  Or revisited the Oscar-nominated Grand Canyon?

Perhaps those critics should (Note:  But you don’t have to, save yourself) and not get back to me.

Don’t even get me started

Bette Midler delivers one of her best screen performances in years as this New York Jewish lady of a certain age coastal elite.  Someone who couldn’t contain herself any longer and ripped that red MAGA hat right off the head of the smirking, Trump-loving provocateur who dared cross the line with her at her local Manhattan Starbucks.

I knew that woman and love that woman because, well, I AM that woman.  Or my mother and aunt sort of were.

Well, now I’m just being redundant.

In addition, who better but Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy to be an out gay actor fretting about queer representation at his most recent audition.  Try not thinking about your gayness with White, I mean, Mike Pence in and around the White House.

I never would’ve imagined Issa Rae playing a wealthy young woman who went to boarding school with Ivanka Trump but that’s probably because I have a middle-aged, late sixties/early seventies view of who went to boarding school.  If anything, that makes me far, far, FAR from being part of any elite.

She sure is

Sarah Paulson can make us believe pretty much anything but presenting this sort of new age guru who can barely deal with her Trump-loving family in the Midwest on a recent trip was an unlikely yet kind-of-inspired juxtaposition with a twist.

And in the clean up position, Kaitlyn Dever really delivers as a young, out-of-town nurse working in a NYC hospital at the height of COVID in April.  The young star of Netflix’s Unbelievable as well as last year’s best buddy flick, Booksmart, more than anyone else, brought a certain kind of even-handed pathos that was able to wrap up the show and make it, in total, much more of a journey than simply a series of rants and clever monologues.

A star on the rise

But that’s my take.  One from a coastal elite who is clearly the target audience for this type of thing. So sue me if these days we want some meaning but also want to be amused for just a few secs on and off.   That doesn’t minimize the issues if, at the same time, you accept that no one piece of art can possibly generate the depth to deal with it all, or even huge chunks of it, effectively.

You can’t even address it all on social media, try as so many of us might, and think as so many of us do.

Me, on my better days

Take it from the source but to my mind what myself and likely more than a few of those non-elites out there are looking for right now onscreen, in a movie (Note: Remember those?) are at least a few glimpses of  honesty – a sense of some angsty reality mixed in with… maybe a smile or two we may, or likely may not, be getting in real life.

If that doesn’t please the critics, well, tough sh-t as me and mine might say.  It certainly gave me/us some relief and something to think about for 90 minutes.

Bette Midler – “One Fine Day”

Virtually Everything

As I sat working from my bed this week in my sweatpants, because why bother to get dressed or sit at a desk at this point, I vaguely remembered a movie character called the laziest woman in the world.

This woman was sort of blathering, complacent and yet somehow smart and all knowing because she managed to figure out an entire life where she never had to leave her bed.

.. and it’s Swoosie Kurtz!

Pretty sweet deal, I recall thinking, probably because I was young, tired and had too many other options.

Well, be careful of what I wish for.  All of you.

As it turns out this character was actually called The Lazy Woman and she was one of many strange people populating the 1986 movie True Stories, directed by former Talking Heads front man David Byrne.

Of course it was the eighties and of course it was David Byrne.

You know… the guy with the suit #slimming

Where else and by whom else could time be elevated, while laziness and selfish inertia was viewed as among the most coveted of commodities in the world?

Or perhaps Mr. Byrne and the eighties were just playing with us and giving us their own post-modern take on self-indulgence. Propping up an unenviable situation to enviable in order to comment on the ridiculousness of our human situations.

Well, right now it doesn’t matter, does it?

Time is meaningless

This is because in many American cities these days there is real reason to stay inside and not intermingle with the world.  It’s taken almost 40 years but when The Talking Heads first admonished us to Stop Making Sense, well, who knew they were correct and this would be where we’d eventually wind up?

Still, staying inside these days does not necessarily mean we don’t intermingle.  What we’re all discovering, well those of us in the majority of American cities where it’s advised you don’t freely run out into the streets without a mask or perhaps a Haz-Mat suit, is there are quite a lot of ways to interact with each other without actually moving more than a few feet from your literal comfort zone.

Thanks, Silicon Valley.

And congratulations for knowing in advance a way to give us the tools to do what we’d so desperately need while making your selves even filthier rich at the same time.

Ruh Roh!

I do have to hand it to technology, though.  Just when you write it off forever is when you realize its immense advantages in the real world.

This week I attended a virtual college graduation of students I’ve taught over the last few years and rather than it being the intensely — let’s all face it – droningly DULL affair it can so often be (Note: Unless you snag the likes of Michelle and/or Barack Obama as keynote speakers) it was instead fun, familial, touching and, yes, meaningful.

Much better than this would have been

That was because in forcing us to do everything trapped in our homes, where each graduate was seen onscreen for 10 seconds holding up their diplomas or making a virtual toast to the rest of us with their beverage of choice, we actually got to see them INSIDE their homes.

And yes, some of them were even in their beds.

This is not to imply any of this was done in a lurid way.  Instead, it was open season to take the 10 seconds and do EXACTLY what you, the graduate, wanted to and with whom you wanted to when your cue came up.

Pretty much like this for 2 hours

You had no script, nothing was rehearsed and all the heavy lifting was done.  Instead, it was each graduate’s choice to interact with us and each other in that moment.

What wound up happening was each virtual moment was about as more alive and real than any graduation I, or you, have likely ever attended.

I will never forget the young woman holding her pet guinea pig on her shoulder while it lovingly snuggled against her, nor the myriad of pet cats and dogs doing the same.

Woof!

Equally memorable were the parents, many of them my age, enthusiastically jumping up and down and throwing confetti on or near their graduate in sheer and utter joy, usually cracking up their child into laughter (and probably for the first time in years).

There were also the virtual toasts with champagne, beer, wine and assorted other beverages because hey, everyone’s home and, even if they weren’t, what the heck do you think college students REALLY DO to celebrate even the removal of a hangnail?

This is just a gross stereotype, right?

That said, someone even reached for a dope pipe, though he quickly and aptly had his time shortened. (Note: Yeah, some things never change).

There were simple hand salutes, the traditional moving of the tassel from right to left and even one very inventive young man who, outside his picturesque house, nodded thanks to the screen and then proceeded to cinematically walk towards the lake into the distance under the setting sun.

I mean, you couldn’t do anywhere near that well were this live on some academic quad or inside one of those many overly hallowed campus halls.

I DID IT!

Sure, there were some inspiring Zoom speeches from the elders, particularly from a host of WORKING alums from all over the country providing words of encouragement and promises of survival to the class of 2020  (Note: Hey, imagine YOU are the one virtually graduating this year during a global pandemic and all the promise that would hold for your young twenty something self).

Not to mention a short virtual video each graduate would later see from none other than pandemic expert and current pop culture icon himself, Dr. Anthony Fauci, made specifically for the health science graduates of our school.  In it he urged them all to please hang in there because we need your talent, your energy, your resolve and your character to get through this difficult time.

Suddenly they, and by extension us, were personally being invited to join Team Fauci!  It might have been virtual and could seem canned in the writing, but in this particular reality it actually felt more real than the liveliest of live rallies.  Not to mention, A LOT safer.

In fact, as I think about every virtual image I saw on my laptop sitting on my bed that day it occurred to me that laziness is not about where you are at any given time but what you choose to do with whatever time you’re allotted.

Imagine how ingenious we could all get simply staying at home if we put our collective minds to it.  It’d be the exact opposite of lazy.

Talking Heads – “Once in a Lifetime”