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Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pause for Laughs

So Robin Williams euphemismed himself. (Beat.)

He offed himself. (Pause for laughs. Hold jovial expression.)

Hey, there are worse ways to go. Think about Catherine the Great, and the poor guy who was employed as her equestrian trainer. "I'm sorry, Paul I. All she said was she wanted to go out for a ride. If I'd only known..." (Hold the expression. Give them time. Pause for laughs.)

There are better ways to go, too. Aeschylus died when a bird mistook his bald pate for a rock and dropped a turtle on his head in an attempt to break open the turtle's shell. The turtle didn't break, but Aeschylus' head sure did. Lesson learned: toupees are protective wear. (Cough. Sweat. Funny gesture to indicate a turtle landing on head. Pause for laughs.)

You know, dying from laughter is an actual thing. It even has its own entry on Wikipedia. What a way to go, amiright? Much better than going from shitting too much, which also happens. I expect death by shitting happens far more than death by laughter. Hell, according to Wikipedia, most deaths by laughter involve pants-shitting. (Squat on stage. Mime laughter. Mime shitting. Fall over and mime death. Pause for laughs.) Not even pants-shitting--toga-shitting. Now they call it 'CBS Monday night'. Back in the day, it was just known as the 'haha/caca'. (Open arms wide. Hold expectant expression. Pause for laughs. Spin bowtie if required. Do NOT deploy the dickey yet.)

So, as I was saying, Robin Williams killed himself. Offed. Removed himself. There's nothing funny about that, folks. We're just lucky Bicentennial Man is not being mentioned much in his obits. (No pause here--keep talking as the audience lightly chuckles.) Cadillac Man? I didn't see that mentioned anywhere. Which is a shame, because I remember my father taking me to see it, and I remember laughing so hard I thought a turtle had landed on my head. (Pause. No laughter.)

True story: Bergman famously did a film about the three smiles of a summer night. It was turned into a musical by Sondheim, then a terrible movie featuring the three sizes of Elizabeth Taylor. In my youth, I had three smiles of Robin Williams. (Wait for uncomfortable shifting from audience.)

The first smile of Robin Williams: The World According to Garp.  I was eleven when I saw the film on HBO, and became obsessed. Read the book it was based on, became a huge fan of John Irving.

The second smile of Robin Williams: Dead Poets' Society. I saw it first while on a trip with an aunt and uncle. The film made me cry, and also taught me I held the key. Literally. We spent hours after the movie searching for the key to our hotel room, only to discover it had been in my shoe the entire time.  (Pause for laughs.) The key had turned green by the time we found it. A few more hours and it would've dissolved.

The third smile of Robin Williams: Aladdin. Hey, we've all been there--go on a ski trip with a straight guy you're in love with, make a constant ass of yourself trying to impress him, spend 10 hours in the only movie theatre in a ski-resort town watching one movie over and over. 'Never had a friend like me' could never be so poignant. (Waggle eyebrows. Pause for laughs.)

Oh. Then there's this:


(Wait for applause.)

(Pretend there's applause. Set mic aside to indicate 'real talk' moment.)

Here's the thing about the tweet sent out by the Academy people: It's offensive. But it isn't. It is, but it isn't.

Truly, there were several people upset by the implication, which, for those just joining us, is that suicide is a form of freedom. "Suicide is a permanent solution to short-term problems," it has been said. There's something to be said for permanence! It's what Americans love most! It is what most amazes me as an American: we strive for both permanence and progress. We are all for freedom, but only if it doesn't disrupt our lives. (#Ferguson here.)

"Genie, you're free" is a.... thing. The truth is Robin Williams never got freedom. We would like to think so--we want to feel he progressed to the afterlife, or something. That his suicide released his soul, as if choking the vessel to death released the tortured, contained spirit within, and that spirit is now free to romp and roam about the galaxy, a prankster for eternity, occasionally doing a maudlin surprise attack.

"Genie, you're free" says more about us than about Robin Williams. We thought of him as the genie, which makes this Academy tweet offensive. He was our dancing monkey, our court jester, expected to be funny at all times, in all appearances.

Which, honestly, is what makes this Academy tweet so very heartbreaking. This tweet is an apology from all of Williams' fans to Williams: We didn't know. We're sorry we couldn't help. We're sorry we just waited for you to be funny, and didn't let you go into obscurity for a while to seek real help.

We'll never know why Robin Williams euphemismed himself. There are several people I know who suffer from depression, and it's a tough disease to master. The American view of progress comes off as an insult, the perception of freedom even more a tomb. In America, we pretend to search for freedom and progress, but all we want is routine--we want our comedians funny, our baristas obedient, our roads clear, and our Robin Williamses not trying to slash their wrists before wrapping belts around their necks and strangling themselves. We want our oceans clean and our cars running. We want our beer cold, our TV loud, and our homosexuals flaming.

(Pause for laughs.) 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Surprise Parties

Gracie Allen runs for president: Down with common sense.
Gracie Allen, well-known better half (literally) of the married comedy team of Burns and Allen, ran for president of the US once. She was (probably) the first woman to run for such a higher office, but I had a public education so may be mistaken.

Gracie Allen ran on the Surprise Party ticket. She called her party the Surprise Party because her mother was a Democrat, her father was a Republican, and she was a surprise. Her party's mascot was a kangaroo named Laura because the year she ran for president was a leap year, and because her campaign slogan was "It's in the bag."

Here's the thing about Gracie Allen: She was an incredibly smart woman who made a great deal of money playing dumb. Imagine if she had won? During interminably long State of the Union speeches, one Congressperson or another--or even a brave member of the Supreme Court--could've called out, "Say Goodnight, Gracie!" and she would've cut off mid-sentence, bade goodnight, and ended her speech. If any one of her press conferences got boring, an enterprising journalist (Helen Thomas, say) could shout out a question about Gracie's family.

Many comedians mined their family over the years, but President Gracie Allen would've easily segued from cattle futures to an uncle who once told the future of his cattle for three cents a prediction.

Gracie's Surprise Party held a convention in Omaha. She was also invited to speak at the Women's National Press Club by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She appeared on numerous radio programs speaking her "dotty" mind, and of course this was all a Colbert truthiness stunt but it was also a real attempt to draw attention to women's very viable political future.

Gracie was a showperson, but she was also quite brilliant. Hell, twenty years before she "ran" for president, women weren't even allowed a vote in the US.

Currently--and this is nearly a century after women getting the vote--the rights of women are under attack again. Same-sex marriage has made some strides, and transsexual rights is gearing up in a way that makes me proud, and women's rights... is suffering 1970s-level hits. Phyllis Schlafly is back, Ann Coulter is echoing her, and most of FOX News is providing back-up. And you have this Men's Rights movement full of straight white-male privilege demanding to know why no one is thinking of how badly the victimized poor white males are being treated.

Specious fact: nearly 30 US states have laws mandating that men who rape women, and beget a child upon that raped woman, have visitation rights should that raped woman choose to give birth. Of course since most states have very byzantine laws about abortion, that raped woman is forced to give birth, and then forced--out of human decency towards her child--to have a civil relationship with the man who forced himself upon her.

"In the bag," indeed.

And just this week, a young man from privilege went on a random surprise-party shoot-out targeting women who rejected him for sex. He was 22. At 22, I'd had limited sexual contact with both men and women, and it never occurred to me to go on a shooting spree. [Insert obvious joke here: I often, at 22, went on a shooting spree, but the only casualties were my supply of lotion.]

I read Elliot Rodger's manifesto, and I watched his videos. His vlogs. And it's true: the man suffered from a very toxic and very damning trait in US culture: straight white male privilege. Yup, I realize he was biracial, and I realize his father was a second-unit director, and not a primary director, of a blockbuster. I realize his BMer was hardly a pussy-wagon in Santa Barbara. I realize he was nerdy in a place that keeps nerds in back rooms.

Here George Burns shows his love for Gracie Allen
But the man--and he was a man--was culturally a white male, and he was by self-definition straight, and he was a complete creep. Yet he has his defenders.

And he has his enablers, who gave him tacit permission to act as he did.

So, to the point: This guy would not've voted for Gracie Allen. And I do not trust anyone who would've given the Surprise Party a pass, and instead staged their own convention.  Down with common sense, because we don't need to be so common.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Time you enjoy wasting was not wasted

I don't remember meeting Amanda, really. She was just sort of suddenly around, or on the other end of the phone (this was in high school in the early 1990s, when conversations were tethered to a cord coming out of a wall), or in a desk adjacent to mine in class. For a time we were inseparable, united in our vague lust for Ryan the Writer and our complete lack of interest in modern music.

It's possible we met at the birthday party of a mutual friend, but that cannot be our first meeting as I recall we were already familiar with one another, familiar enough to break away from the party to stroll around the grounds.

The party, incidentally, was held at an old folks home because the subject of the birthday party lived there--her parents owned and ran the place, and lived in a concise, simple apartment just off the lobby. Interesting place to throw someone a sweet sixteen. The residents either didn't mind or were too terrified of teenagers to emerge from their private rooms.

As Amanda and I circled the exterior of the home, we were aware of groups of giggling girls dashing from window to window, spying on us. We noted the attention, and enjoyed it a bit.

It was cold, and it was night, and I let her wear my jacket. And there was a light snow falling, which shivered through the orange glow of the security lights, lingering a bit in the illumination as if each flake, too, enjoyed a bit of attention on its way back into the darkness. Flakes of snow stuck in Amanda's blond hair (she had a name for the color of her hair but I can't remember it now; she had a name for everything, even things that didn't exist).

The reason I assume we'd met before this night is because it was very rare for me to go to parties. Rare as in never. And rarer still for me to break away from a group with a girl at my side, talking together as if no one else existed except us. Giggling spies aside, for that evening it was just Amanda and me.

Eventually we sat down on a set of steps. We shared a kiss in the light snow, my first real kiss, our hands resting in our laps and our bodies leaning into one another. A year later, when she was the first person (aside from the guy, Bo, I'd been snogging for a month) I told about my then-bisexuality, she laughed gently and said, "I knew you were the first time we kissed." Never asked her to explain what she meant--was I too soft, or too eager? Did I seem too hesitant? I'll never know what she meant, of course. It will remain one of the many mysteries of our complicated relationship I'll just have to wonder about until I die, and there's nothing else left to wonder.

After that first kiss, we returned to the party. We beat the giggling spies back to the family apartment, in fact, and for a moment we--I am sure--thought of it as our apartment.

***

Memory isn't a reliable thing. Most memories, to me anyway, exist in flashes rather than coherent narratives. There's the time I leaned forward from the back seat of my parents' Astrovan to kiss Amanda's hand resting on the seatback in front of me. We were on our way back from Huntsville, AL, to see a terrible production of Starlight Express, and my parents were in the front seat not really paying attention to us. A stolen bit of illicit teen sexiness seemed called for.

I remember sitting with her in Wilson Park--"Gay Park" it was called then, as it was before the internet and therefore the best place in town for guys to cruise for guys. It was again night, and we were watching the fountain at the park's center spewing water twelve feet high. A cop car pulled up and trained a spotlight on us, which caused Amanda to flush a bit, then grab my hand and break into a run. "We're not Bonnie and Clyde," I said to her. "Why are we running?"

"Cops with spotlights are looking for something, and I want to not be that something," she replied.

Fair enough.

Incidentally, the guy I ended up dating after Amanda lived in a house with a basement, and Amanda and I spent many hours in that basement with an assortment of people. The basement was standard-issue, with shag carpet (green, maybe; I don't remember) and wood paneling and an unused stone fireplace. And taxidermied animals. Dead stuffed things. When I confessed to Amanda, who was not formally my girlfriend because it had never really occurred to us, despite hours of being together and making out ("You know, Marc, you can put your hand under my shirt sometimes"), to declare anything to one another other than mutual love, I confessed it in that basement. She asked a few questions, shrugged, and then we returned to the room where Bo was sitting at a computer. She gave Bo a knowing look, and we resumed whatever it was we had been doing before the confession.

Amanda disappeared from my life, then reappeared, then disappeared again. The last time I saw her was on a trip home in 2010, and we met at Wilson/Gay Park. Fell into easy conversation, strolled around downtown Florence visiting old places. She was light and funny, a bit tired. We fell into old habits, making up back stories for each person we passed on the street, each contributing to the story until Florence seemed much more interesting than it ever was.

And then we hugged, and went our separate ways--on a streetcorner, just like the final scene of Annie Hall, which we were very conscious of and so both lingered for a bit, daring the other to be the first to walk away in order to allow the other to stand still and watch (in the film, if you haven't seen it, Diane Keaton strolls off into the distance while Woody Allen stands for a moment, watching her leave his life; Amanda and I had a joking fight over which of us would be which character).

So then she disappeared from my life again, and I assumed she'd be back at some time in the near future.

***

Amanda loved John Lennon. So it occurred to me I should end this post with a quote by John Lennon. But I'm generally a selfish person, and she knew this about me. She knew my love was Paul Simon, and she probably knew, if she ever thought about it, that when I came to write about her I would go with Paul Simon. She probably knew, if she considered it, that I would use a John Lennon reference as the title of the piece, but would ultimately cap off the piece with Simon. And if she thought about it, and if she knew that, then she was right.

It's a song about Carrie Fisher, actually. But the lyrics, like all great lyrics, mean something differently to each individual.

She can't sleep now
The moon is red
She fights a fever
She burns in bed
She needs to talk so
We take a walk
Down in the maroon light

She says "Maybe these emotions are
As near to love as love will ever be"
So I agree

Then the moon breaks
She takes the corner that's all she takes
She moves on

Monday, February 10, 2014

Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out

Disclosure: I am a fan of Woody Allen's life's work, which is not to imply I am a fan of Woody Allen's life. Most artists lead miserable lives. Not all, but most of the creators of art and literature and film and theatre and music, male or female, were and are dreadful human beings leading appallingly dreadful existences.

Nothing new to say: perform a talentectomy on any given artist, and you're left with an ambulatory asshole, a monstrous creation wandering without direction.

With talent, for instance, Oscar Wilde would be a welcome addition to any party; without talent, you're left with your peculiar uncle given to non sequitur observations after consuming too much wine, tolerated only by your shared eye-rolls with other dinner guests.

With talent, Pollock would make a great living as home decorator for the more adventurous among us willing to hire him; divested of his talent, Pollock would be the guy you hire to piss off the people you just sold your house to because they demanded you repaint the bedroom before they'd sign the papers.

"Talent," Woody Allen argues in Manhattan, "is luck." Except most talented people are notoriously unlucky--there are many examples to the contrary, but the list of artists meeting bad ends, talented as those artists were, is long. Suicide, murdered, murderers, persecuted, committed, cirrhosis, overdoses, venereal diseased, Nazi-sympathizers, bigots, and molesters of women, children, men. Talent may require luck, but being talented does not promise luck, or goodness.

Being an admirer of the talented, too, fails to lend one a luck guarantee, or a share in talent.

Fans of Lewis Carroll's work--and there are many, even if they haven't read his books--may find themselves in an unfortunate position when confronted with allegations of the writer's pedophilia, realized or fantasized. There's no evidence Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an Anglican reverend and author of Alice in Wonderland, sexually assaulted Alice Liddell, but both Dodgson/Carroll's legacy and fans of his work have been left with a decidedly untalented question-mark on the subject. Pieces of Dodgson's personal journal are missing--destroyed--and it is said that the author exchanged bits of his opus with 10 year old Liddell for the chance to take nude pictures of the girl.

Quid pro quo, Alice.

Speaking of Alice, Walt Disney, the man who brought her story to a wider audience, was a misogynist anti-Semite. As the company he founded has in years since attempted to make amends for its founder's rather unsavory views of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it may seem incongruous to point this out except the company recently released a revisionist history of their founder, Saving Mr. Banks, which pushes a lot of bullshit at a lot of unlucky audiences about a very lucky, very talented man.

Someone else who disliked women and liked Nazis was Henry Ford. Ford won the highest honor afforded to persons not of German origin, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. It is said he refused the honor, but Ford cars sold during Ford's lucky, talented life came equipped with a free copy of The International Jew, a collection of articles penned by Ford for the Dearborn Independent detailing for unlucky fans of Ford the many ways Jews were ruining the world.

Shout out here to Elsa Iwanowa. She brought a suit against Ford Motor Company some years back because, she claimed, she was forced as a child during WWII to work in a Ford factory. Forced labor. Enjoy your Ford Toughness, Ford fans.

Thomas Jefferson. Richard Wagner. Norman Mailer. Leni Riefenstahl. J.D. Salinger. Dostoevsky. Mishima. Vonnegut. Maria von Trapp. Messy lives. Talented, lucky. Talented, unlucky. To respect them is to lose a piece of one's soul, is to compromise one's own personal worldview shaped, in part, by their art.

(For noise, there's a documentary about Memphis on the television. Talk about messy talented lives both lucky and not: Elvis and Martin Luther King are mentioned.)

So.

Woody Allen. What to do about Woody Allen.

(On cue, the Memphis doc has now given way to a speech on international affairs from Carnegie Council. Ethics Matter, the Council says without a hint of irony.)

For me, Woody Allen's films saved me. Possibly not the best thing to say right now, but it is true. His sense of humor made me feel less alone when I was a kid, and I cannot tell you what a revelation his Love and Death was to me when I saw it as a 12 year old.

So I won't tell you. Just assume I got lucky when I came across an airing of it one night. Also assume I'm not implying I'm talented. Talent is luck, I was lucky to witness someone's talent, and now I'm in the unlucky fan group to reconcile his talent with his life. I named my dog after the dog in Manhattan, for chrissakes.

Also please don't read much into my statement about being saved as a 12 year old by Woody Allen.

Here's a fun fact: many of my influences are unsavory people. Great artists, but terrible people. A lot of my influences--artists and not--rattle around like ambulatory assholes in my head, and it's up to me to separate the good from the bad. And it's up to me to be ethical. And it's up to me to be responsible.

Talent is luck. Except it isn't luck. Talent is something far more complicated than any aphorism one can pithily spout over aperitifs or in a blog post. Child molestation, however.

Spousal abuse, however.

Slavery, however.

Murder, however.

Talent is not luck. Being moral is, probably, a talent.

Being influenced by talented, amoral artists is unlucky. All you can do is hope you get lucky enough to influence others to be better than your influences.




Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Let's break this down

'Duck Dynasty' is a show I've only seen once, under duress. It is a reality show that isn't reality, and is barely a show. Until last week, I had no idea I gave a shit about it.

This week, however, I care a great damn deal about it.

Such is the power of FOX News.

FOX News: We Retort. You deride.

Let's start with this. Here's a picture of Wisconsin during the height of the Teabagger madness (the Teabaggers, you recall, were hatched by CNBC's Rick Santelli, whom no one recalls, not even for the holidays):

Now. See that? Of course you do, unless you have a crappy browser. See how many people there are protesting what Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, a Santelli creation, made law? Certainly you see it. You probably saw it in 2011, when it actually happened.

There are probably more people protesting than actually voted for or against Scott Walker. I mean, who votes for a guy named Scott? No offense to Scotts, but even the Supreme Court was rather hazy on Scott votes. In the US, Scott is a nice name, but a bad omen once you go national.

See also: Scott, Ridley. He started off okay, but just say no to Blade Runner 2.

Also, Prometheus sucked.

Anyway. Enough about Scotts. Let us move on to Robertses and Palinses.

Here's this video.


Now. Let's break this down.

No. Let's don't. Sarah Palin is a fucking disgrace. For a woman who enjoys the freedom of speech to call our president a terrorist, and who demands the head of David Letterman, she is very quick to defend the right of free speech when it involves a fellow reality show idiot. If Phil Robertson had said "Sarah Palin likes it in the anus," I am sure she would be on FOX News demanding Robertson's immediate termination. Extermination.

But Palin says this (Be amazed, by the way, that I'm able to do a transcript--I'm actually so pissed I'm going through the video and typing what is said):

Palin: Good evening Greta. How are you? [Greta is good friends with the Palins, and also a Scientologist, which means Greta is very well.] 

Greta: I'm very well. This is sort of an interesting debate that has seized the country. I mean, even Harvy blah blah Harv is gay blah defends Phil Robertson blah. [Greta, darling, the six foot bunny does not represent all gays. Just because you know a gay does not mean you know all of us. Please stop making this about free speech. It's about fee speech--Robertson gets paid to say this.]

Greta: It set the country on fire. [Are you trying to say it looks like Palin's livingroom is on fire? Because you're right.]

Palin: Well yeah. And this is becoming a discussion now I think outside of the legal realm, letting attorneys decide whether it's a "free speech" in a, duh, uh, *sputter* ["free speech" apparently confuses Palin when others use it]...and the rurl [sic] of law or not and now it's becoming more of a discussion within the exchange of ideas in the public square, and in pop culture [shout out to Douglas Coupland!] whether we're allowed to express our personal opinions without uhm mvvv [sic] without threats of intimidation and mockery and criticism and loss of jobs and revenue [this is all one sentence, by the way, and she still has a job, and makes shit-tons of money] it's becoming a-a-a greater bigger issue [yes, this woman was not only governor but a vice presidential nominee, and is on television while you sit at home in your underwear wondering why 'greater' was needed as a qualifier of 'bigger'] than what it started out to be just a few days ago.

Again. All one sentence. Palin is the Joyce of politics.

Greta: Let me give you an out by explaining that free speech doesn't really work as you say it works.

Palin: Well, that's right, and [Palin has never met a period, and neither has her daughters, and yes I went there] that's why I say attorneys can discuss and argue whether it's a legal free speech issue or not [it isn't--A&E is not cutting out anyone's tongue] but Iheeeeeem hearing a lot of people [in my small town] start discussing now whether in our especially pop culture venues whether we're going to be allowed without threats of uh um a a a lot of intimidation and loss of opportunities to express our opinions [on, she does not finish, commercial airwaves, or in the commercial marketplace].

You know what. Fuck this. The Tea Party, of which Sarah Palin is the shining star, had their chance. They pretended to be about free speech and small government, and the voice of the people, but time and again they prove otherwise. The reason I began this post with a picture of the Wisconsin protests of 2011 is because that is the true voice of the people, silenced.

Even more, you have the men and women of Utah rushing--rushing!--to get married because they have no clue if same-sex marriage will be legal tomorrow. And I'm not even gonna go into immigration or black Santas or voter disenfranchisement or laws preventing women from doing as they see fit to do with their own bodies. Not gonna go into all of that.

What I will go into is something that pisses me off about FOX, and about Palin, and about the Tea Party in general: the gall.

These people do not believe in a First Amendment. They didn't get much beyond freshman comp, and only know about First Person. If it does not begin with 'I', they don't get it. Sadly, they also misunderstand the Second Amendment, and think it means the Second Person should be shot.

Once you get to Third, their mind is blown.

Anyway, to quote Sarah Palin: *wink*

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