Monthly Archives: February 2012

Invisible Men and Women…

Bim Adewunmi at The Guardian comments on Octavia Spencer’s Oscar win and asks why there is a relatively small range of roles for black actresses.

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel became the first black woman to be nominated for, and win, an Oscar. She got her best supporting actress award by playing Mammy, the jolly house slave in Gone With the Wind. At the ceremony, she was not seated with the rest of the cast; instead she and her guest sat at a segregated table.

The award was bittersweet for black audiences. The role required her to be spoken down to by a much younger southern woman (Vivien Leigh) and didn’t touch on her life beyond her white owner’s house. Since then, only five black women have gone on to win acting Oscars. That became six after Octavia Spencer won on Sunday. Her role? A maid in the 1960s.

It’s important not to confuse criticism of The Help with a belief that black actors shouldn’t play maids. It’s just a question of why only maids… or inner city child abusers (Precious) or entertainers (Dreamgirls). Excluding Whoopi Goldberg’s role in Ghost, those are the only roles for which black actresses have won Oscars.

White actresses who have won the same award have played a wide range of professions and backgrounds — queens (Shakespeare in Love), neurotic New Yorkers (Hannah and Her Sisters), quirky dog walkers (The Accidental Tourist), 1920s vaudevillians (Chicago), and non-abusive mothers (The Fighter). They represent the world — not just a servile and pathetic portion of it.

Thirty-five years after Diane Keaton won Best Actress for Annie Hall, there still aren’t similar roles for black women. Not a criminal. Not a maid. Just a middle-class woman living her life. Waiting to Exhale was a brief glimpse into this world but the Academy ignored it (rightly or wrongly — I’m not making an aesthetic judgment… though I’m not sure how it could have been worse than Bad Southern Accent Theatre).

Billy Crystal’s “joke” about The Help during the Oscars does a good job of perhaps unwittingly demonstrating the divide in Hollywood:

When Octavia Spencer won a best supporting actress Oscar for playing a maid in “The Help,” Mr. Crystal joked that after he saw the movie, he was so moved he wanted to hug the first black woman he saw, adding, “which in Beverly Hills is about a 45-minute drive.” It was a line that could have been used back when Hattie McDaniel, the first black actress to be honored with an Academy Award, won for playing a maid in “Gone With the Wind.”

Of course, a random black female lawyer would love being embraced by a strange white person who just wandered out of a movie about black maids. “Oh, what you people went through! I mean, it’s not anything I did personally or anyone I know… but other more cartoonly villainous people.” “Lady, get off me. I went to Georgetown.” Yeah, that’s not condescending at all. I know I’m compelled to french kiss the first Jewish person I run into after seeing a World War II film.

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Pop Life, Social Commentary


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Ann Romney’s House of Cadillacs…

Critics quickly pounced on Mitt Romney for comments made at his economic speech at Ford Field.

“I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles. I drive a Mustang and a Chevy pick-up truck. Ann drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually. And I used to have a Dodge truck, so I used to have all three covered.”

The remark, in an unscripted moment, will add to the image of Romney as so wealthy he can talk casually about his wife having not one but two Cadillacs. Although two cars are not unusual in American homes, two luxury Cadillacs, which range in price from $35,000 upwards, are not.

I’m not sure why this statement is news. Romney has a lot of cars. Did the media not read the stories it’s published regarding his immense wealth?

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who before turning to politics helped found a private equity firm in Boston, estimated his wealth to be as much as $250 million on financial disclosure statements. He earned $21.6 million in 2010, mostly from investments, according to tax returns he released in late January after losing the South Carolina primary to former U.S. Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Shortly before the release, he had said he earned speaking fees, “but not very much.” His disclosure statements showed the fees totaled almost $375,000 between Feb. 26, 2010 and Feb. 20, 2011.

What do people expect Romney does with all this money? Store it in a money bin and swim around in it? That’s not good for the economy. It could also qualify him for an appearance on A&E’s Hoarders.

Romney earned roughly $57,000 a day in 2010. I wouldn’t be surprised if he owned one of those needlessly complicated breakfast machines that were popular in the mid-1980s.

Perhaps we should be concerned that he has a human chessboard at one of his country homes, but that’s what makes him a job creator.

The Romney campaign — always anxious to make its candidate’s verbal fumbles worse — pointed out that Mrs. Romney has two Cadillacs because she spends time in two different states — California and Massachusetts.

Many middle-class families have two cars. Some even have two homes. A man worth millions can afford to buy his wife a couple Cadillacs — though I don’t know how he got stuck with the pick-up truck. Why does he even need one? Does he do a lot of heavy lifting?

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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Political Theatre


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No Apologies…

Newt Gingrich’s umbrage over Barack Obama’s apology for the burning of Qurans on a military base is not that surprising. I could point out that respect for a religious text is decidedly not the actions of a president who is hostile to religion, as Gingrich and his competitors for the GOP presidential nomination have accused Obama of being. However, that’s only a minor point. The larger one is that U.S. politicians have an issue with apologizing at all, for anything.

Mitt Romney likes to state (mostly falsely) that Obama spends all his time apologizing for his country — something Romney would never do. His proof of this is the title of his book, No Apology. Remorse is so… European, I guess.

It occurs to me that the vision the GOP candidates have for America is basically a nation that suffers from narcissistic personality disorder. The signs have always been there, quite frankly, including during George W. Bush’s presidency. He made it clear that our allies were either “for us or against us.” Practically borderline.

No kidding — here’s the list of symptoms from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Believing that you’re better than others
  • Fantasizing about power, success and attractiveness
  • Exaggerating your achievements or talents
  • Expecting constant praise and admiration
  • Believing that you’re special and acting accordingly
  • Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings
  • Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans
  • Taking advantage of others
  • Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior
  • Being jealous of others
  • Believing that others are jealous of you
  • Trouble keeping healthy relationships
  • Setting unrealistic goals
  • Being easily hurt and rejected
  • Having a fragile self-esteem
  • Appearing as tough-minded or unemotional

Yep, that’s us (or rather the U.S.) all over. And the discourse during the primaries does not instill me with confidence regarding the country’s ability to change. What is advised if you’re involved with a narcissistic person or nation?

If you are currently emotionally involved with someone you think may suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, do not walk. Run! Get out. Get away. Emancipate yourself any way you can, and do not look back.

I leave you with the wise words of Belize from Angels in America.


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Oklahoma is Pro-Life…

The Oklahoma Senate passed “personhood” legislation today that “gives individual rights to an embryo from the moment of conception.”

The measure now goes to the state House where pro-life Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than a 2-1 margin…

The bill is as carefully thought out as the plot to an M. Night Shyamalan film. It has no exception for rape. It would outlaw some forms of contraception. It could also result in the deaths of women during difficult pregnancies. But these are subtleties, padre: What’s important is that Oklahoma is proudly pro-life.

Sure, Oklahoma has the death penalty. In fact, it leads the nation in per capita executions for 2010. But these were criminals — more or less. What matters is how Oklahoma treats innocent living people.

OK, gay marriage is not legal in Oklahoma. Presumably, the cries of the unborn overpower the vocal pleas for dignity from living homosexuals.

That doesn’t seem encouraging. Maybe some meaningless dogma would lift my spirits:

“Oklahoma is a conservative pro-life state-we are proud to stand up for what we know is right,” Senate Pro Tempore President Brian Bingman, a Republican, said.

That’s the stuff.


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Living in a Pop Culture World…

Living in a Pop Culture World…

If Madonna had launched her career 30 years later, well, she’d be Lady Gaga. However, she’d probably name her big hit “Material Girl” “Pop Culture Girl,” as it’s more appropriate. The 1980s were the decade of acquisition and the 21st Century is so far all about escapism, which is achieved mostly through reality TV. Odd, that.

If our memories can stretch back far enough to contemplate the weeks after September 11, 2001, you’ll recall how we wondered if the grim reality facing us would allow for escapist entertainment. Also, odd, that. Of course, it would. In fact, it would demand it. The Great Depression gave us Universal horror movies, the Marx Brothers, and Fred and Ginger. The Great Recession gave us The Bachelor and The Bachelorette (working title — Not-The-Bride of The Bachelor). Maybe if we’d just fessed up and called it The Great Depression, the artistic product would have been better.

As Madonna might have sung, “We are living in a Pop Culture World.” It’s even become the dominant language. Try communicating with the average person without knowing the words “Snooki,” “Kardashian,” and “Fey.” No one discusses politics — either because it’s considered rude or uninteresting (“We won’t change our minds on this issue, so let’s just enjoy our lunch and discuss whether Brad and Angelina will ever get married.”). No one even explores the deeper meaning of our escapist entertainment. Generally, because it has none but also because deeper meanings inevitably return you to politics, philosophy, confrontation, and discomfort. We content ourselves with the personal lives of celebrities — as if they truly mattered to us. We even treat commercials, designed solely to sell us things, as “artistic expression.” We repeat one-liners from heartless sitcoms that are merely “clever” pop-culture references that reveal no true emotion — they conceal rather than reveal.

My intent is not to lament the situation, which is inexorable, but to ask that we acknowledge it. The reaction to Whitney Houston’s death has generated the same commentary we saw when Amy Winehouse or Michael Jackson died. People are shocked by the outpouring of emotion. They wonder why the world stops when a pop culture figure dies. What about the nameless soldiers? That’s a good question. Here’s another: On February 26, will you watch the Academy Awards or spend the three hours reading Love My Rifle More Than You by Iraq War veteran Kayla Williams? Already read that one? How about One Bullet Away by Nathan Flick? The list goes on. More Americans have read the memoir of a TV writer than have read any first-person account of the Iraq War. I don’t judge. I just illustrate the reality of the world. On a daily basis, we reinforce what we considerable valuable.

Voltaire said that the living deserve our respect, the dead deserve only the truth. The truth is that our society lives and breathes pop culture. The emotion expressed on Facebook and Twitter when these figures pass on is genuine. Yet, suddenly, we feel shame for what our culture has become. I could cynically say it’s probably because no one enjoys being outside a party — even a funeral — looking in. If the pop culture figure is not important to us, we suddenly see the triviality of it all. If the pop culture figure is important to the individual, we suddenly comprehend the importance of naming a street in the figure’s honor or putting the figure on a stamp.

So, when the flags fly at half-mast for Betty White, I don’t want to hear a peep out of anyone.

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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in Pop Life, Social Commentary


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Criminal Minds: Portlandia…

I like to keep my Valentine’s Day celebrations simple and classic — beaten with clubs and stones, then beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate.

I wonder if Nikolas Harbar would give me a good deal on his Subaru provided he thoroughly disinfected it first.

Portland, Oregon couple Stephanie Pelzner and Nikolas Harbar are less traditional. They were arrested yesterday after giving police the mistaken impression that Pelzner was about to become the cold open victim in an episode of Criminal Minds. Not sure how they got that idea: Oh, right, a witness spotted Harbar, 31, putting a nude Pelzner, 26, into the back of his blue Subaru Legacy. According to the Daily Mail (where I get all my Portland news), Pelzner was “tied up and her mouth was covered with duct tape.”

My question is this: I’m considering purchasing a Subaru. Now, do I have to ask the previous owner if at any point some woman’s naked ass was in direct contact with where I intend to put my groceries? Or is that a given and I should just go with a Ford hybrid?

The media, both foreign and domestic, seem intent on referring to either the couple as “kinky” or their actions as “kinky.” The latter, more conservative choice probably stems from the journalistic tenant that one kinky act does not officially categorize someone as “kinky.” You need a bit more proof — evidence of strange oils in the home, subscription to Cinemax beyond the freebie month they occasionally give you, porn brazenly downloaded in plain sight on the computer and not hidden away in a folder lamely titled “So Not Porn.”

The story has prompted dozens of comments on the Portland Police Bureau’s Facebook page, many of them critical of the decision by officers to arrest the couple.

What was the police supposed to do? They’ve probably seen Criminal Minds. No one wants to be the local Barney Fife deputy who lets the sadistic serial killer go. You got Shemar Moore and the stringy-haired genius looking at you like you’re stupid: “So, when you stopped the car, you heard, ‘Help me, somebody please help me’ coming from the trunk but you didn’t detain the unsub?” “Well, he told me it was just his iPod playing ‘DMSR’ by Prince. Good song, you know.”

Was it worth arresting the couple when it was clear the only crime that had been committed was against common decency? The police say yes:

‘The concern is their actions created a pretty substantial public alarm, to the point where you have a 911 caller saying she’s concerned about this person tied up naked in the back of a car,’ Lt Robert King, a police spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times.

Seems sensible. Maybe they could give out “kinky” licenses, so everyone knows they’re on the up and up. It could be a shield in the image of David Wu, Oregon’s former tiger-suit wearing Congressional representative. When you describe what you’ve seen to 911, they’ll ask, “Did you notice a Wu stamp on the suspect’s person or vehicle?” “Yes, yes I did, now that you mention it.” “OK, then it was just a standard Tiger Suit 420. Nothing to worry about. Carry on.”

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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Social Commentary


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The Exile of Chris Brown…

CNN raises the question as to whether singer Chris Brown‘s “exile” should be over.

The controversy is that the Grammys allowed “Brown back onstage three years after he was essentially blacklisted over charges that he beat up then-girlfriend and fellow entertainer Rihanna. In June of 2009, Brown pleaded guilty to to one count of assault with the intent of doing great bodily injury.”

Brown’s “exile” was hardly Phantom Zone-esque: According to the CNN article, he was sentenced to five years’ probation, counseling and community service. Michael Vick was punished more severely for mistreating dogs.

The issue isn’t whether the Grammys should ban for life a performer who brutally beat up a woman. The issue is that the Grammys correctly surmised there was an audience for him. The Grammys doesn’t have to bother with banning Wang Chung from its broadcast.

There are still artists who are nervous about the impact coming out as gay will have on their careers, but domestic violence has not derailed Brown’s.

That is what’s unfortunate — more so than some dumb tweets by young girls.

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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Pop Life, Social Commentary


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“But I need your love to keep away the cold”….

I had occasion the other day to think about the classic number “Steam Heat” from The Pajama Game. Choreographed by Bob Fosse, it epitomizes his style — the hat roll-ups, the smooth bow-legged movement. It’s also compelling evidence for the theory a coworker shared with me years ago that women in musical theatre “get all the good stuff.”

In the show, Gladys performs the routine with “the boys from the cutting room floor” at a union meeting. Carol Haney originated the role of Gladys on stage and also played her in the 1957 film version. Haney later moved on to choreography. She died at 39, shortly after completing work on Funny Girl.

Haney’s understudy was Shirley MacLaine, who played Gladys for months when Haney was injured. This would prove to be her big break.

“Steam Heat” was part of the 1999 musical revue Fosse, Ann Reinking’s tribute to the late choreographer. This is a clip of Meg Gillentine performing the number for Dance in America: From Broadway: “Fosse” on PBS, which is available on DVD,

And here’s the number in Hungarian, which I think is fitting after having spent time in Budapest’s thermal baths.

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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Pop Life


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Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman”…

“I’m Every Woman” is my favorite Whitney Houston song, recorded when she was at the peak of her professional and personal success. As expected when such heights are reached, things were to slowly but swiftly decline afterward. It’s similar to how Mike Campbell answered the question in Sun Also Rises of how he went bankrupt: “Gradually and then suddenly.” Such is the price of fame.

The song’s infectious joy is also evident in its video, which features a visibly pregnant Houston (somewhat appropriate for a song celebrating all aspects of womanhood). She shares the stage with the past, present, and future of soul music: Cissy Houston (her mother), Chaka Khan, who first recorded the song in 1978, Valerie Simpson, who co-wrote it with her husband Nickolas Ashford, and then up-and-coming group TLC (Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes died in a car accident in 2002).

Houston’s decision to cover “I’m Every Woman” was bold. Growing up in an R&B household, I knew that you just didn’t try to touch Chaka. However, Houston makes the song her own — her performance is youthful (she was not yet 30) but mature and confident.

Watching this video, it’s impossible to pity Whitney Houston — no matter how “gradually and then suddenly” things ended. Few people experience the happiness she feels in this video, and I don’t think she was just acting. I’ve seen The Bodyguard.

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Posted by on February 12, 2012 in Pop Life


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The Many Loves of Rick Santorum…

I’ve stated before that Rick Santorum is the political version of Nick at Nite: His views all come from the 1960s. In an especially dated episode, Santorum says that insurance shouldn’t cover birth control at all.

“This has nothing to do with access,” he said. “This is having someone pay for it, pay for something that shouldn’t be in an insurance plan anyway because it is not, really an insurable item. This is something that is affordable, available. You don’t need insurance for these types of relatively small expenditures. This is simply someone trying to impose their values on somebody else, with the arm of the government doing so. That should offend everybody, people of faith and no faith that the government could get on a roll that is that aggressive.”

Yes, this is the same guy who has won 4 out of 8 GOP presidential contests so far.

Let’s examine what he says here: He makes the case that insurance is essentially requiring someone else to pay for something they find morally objectionable. He tortures logic like it’s a Gitmo inmate and claims that providing a “choice” is “imposing” values on others. I wonder if I can get a refund for all the money I spent on insurance premiums during my vegetarian years that went to treat ailments resulting from eating meat.

I thought freedom of choice meant that we respect the rights of people to choose to do things that don’t personally affect us. Guess not. No, it just means that we are free to do whatever is agreeable to other people.

Santorum ignores the fact that birth control such as the pill can have uses beyond turning women into Catherine Tramell from Basic Instinct. He also argues, based on his extensive experience as a woman, that birth control isn’t really an “insurable” item because it is “affordable, available.” The availability argument is interesting. I see car lots all over town. Guess I shouldn’t bother insuring mine. Is he correct about the affordability?

I popped over to Planned Parenthood’s Web site, where I received an e-abortion, to get a rough estimate on birth control pills. Looks like they range from $15 to $50 a month. Santorum probably also thinks comic books still cost a dime.

Let’s see: That’s $150 to $600 a year; $5400 to $18,000 over 30 years. Maybe I shouldn’t insure my car.


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