MOONLIGHT, the Oscars, and the Same Old Conversation

That ending, though. What a rollercoaster.

Before I comment on┬áthe most memorable of all memorable fuck-ups, I need to contextualize a few things, and clarify my standing on the “Moonlight vs La La Land” spectrum.

I thought La La Land was a very enjoyable, very well-done film. It’s a certain kind of film that speaks to a certain kind of audience, namely, conventional romantics who love to bask in the afterglow of big, bold, and brassy production values, and love a good paean to the wonders of showbiz, movie musicals, and beautiful people. A less delicate but still accurate assessment: it’s a white movie full of mostly white people dealing with mostly white problems (the absolute lack of conflict for most of the film’s running time is both baffling and strangely appropriate, somehow).

By contrast, Moonlight is a beautifully raw, vulnerable, and achingly compassionate film about the marginalized, their place within the world, and how they interact with and are shaped by it. Whatever your personal take on the film is (I myself slightly preferred Manchester by the Sea and Hell or High Water from the nominees pool), Moonlight is an important, powerful, and unique piece of cinema that stands out amongst its peers in a way that is truly deserving of special recognition, especially in these times when bigotry seems (emphasis on “seems”) more pronounced, visible, and mainstream than ever.

So, that’s where I fall on those two films. In the run-up to awards season, the narrative coalescing from certain critical corners was that La La Land was the milquetoast, lily-white, tone-deaf, and banal safe choice, and thus the favorite, and Moonlight was the polar opposite. While I do think the accolades heaped upon La La Land are mostly overblown, much of the criticism also seems eye-roll-worthy. One could argue that Hollywood and the Academy deserve scrutiny for constantly elevating glossy, saccharine white-people fare at the expense of more challenging and artful work, but that fury seemed to boil over into some fairly ridiculous assertions about many films this awards season (“Ryan Gosling saves jazz” and “Manchester by the Sea is about white supremacy” to name two). Disregarding the problematic nature of monochromatic Hollywood for a moment, I don’t think there’s any reason to claim that a perfectly fine solid “B” is worth downgrading to an “F” just because a bunch of boring showbiz geriatrics were (supposedly) ignoring the “A” black/queer film.

So we all know what happened with the envelope mix-up (for the most part). When Faye Dunaway blurted out “La La Land,” I wasn’t too surprised, even though director Chazelle had previously walked away with the customary “Best Director” consolation prize. I booed the screen half-heartedly, mildly annoyed. Then the truth started to dribble out, with producer Jordan Horowitz telling the audience that there had been a mix-up, and that Moonlight was the actual winner. For a few minutes, I was dumbfounded, convinced that this had all been some woefully ill-advised stunt: a pre-planned bit to show off just how woke and sensitive white Hollywood is, delivered in the same well-intentioned but ultimately tone-deaf spirit as those videos of cops pulling over black motorists to give them ice cream cones.

That turned out to not be the case, which led to a lot of sympathy for the previously vilified La La Land entourage, as they had to hand over the statuettes, envelopes, and stage to the Moonlight team. Much has been made of how well Horowitz handled what must have been a crushing situation, but the aftermath of the fiasco wound up being nearly identical to the “let’s show how sensitive we are” stunt I had imagined.

In the wake of “Envelopegate”, the post-show coverage and social media chatter essentially ignores Barry Jenkin’s brave and bold achievement altogether, along with the awards it took home, in favor of focusing on how badly the Academy screwed up and the grace of Horowitz. A Washington Post article trumpets that he’s “the truth-teller we need right now,” bending over backwards to pat the producer on the back for…what, exactly? It was a nice and even-handed gesture, for sure, but (and this is not a knock against Horowitz in the slightest) do we need to ooh and aah quite so much over somebody doing what should be minimally expected of them, especially in lieu of focusing on the movie that actually won, to say nothing of the invisible people it made visible? It’s pretty lamentable that the story being told is not that Moonlight upset the best picture race, but that La Land lost so graciously.

So my suggestion is: go and see Moonlight, get to know Barry Jenkins, focus on what he earned and achieved, and think about what this film and its acknowledgment might mean for the marginalized people of our present and our future. And maybe ask why this isn’t the conversation most of us are having.


The New Right’s “Gated Community” Vision of America

It seems old hat to moan about how ridiculous the right has become, and yet, here we are.

Each day under the Trump administration is a series of nested petty outrages: absolutely bonkers nonsense rhetoric and action that dribbles into the zeitgeist before being weaponized by dipshits of all stripes.

The latest hysterical but also terrifying (there has to be a German adjective for this) development was the President of the United States’ unhinged ramblings about Sweden, and the violence-torn hellscape he imagines it to be (courtesy of that country’s leading role in accepting refugees and immigrants).

Proving once again (like I said, old hat) that all the rules have gone out the window, it’s not only easy to find people who back up and defend his categorical lie (Sweden is one of the least violent places in the world). The entire thing was predicated on a dubious report from Fox News, which featured the baseless allegation that the Swedish government was covering up violent crime in an effort to hide what the hordes of bloodthirsty brown people have wrought.

Prominent wing-nut whackjob and all-around laughable shitstain @PrisonPlanet–the same guy who still clings to the PizzaGate conspiracy theory, never leaves his apartment, and self-identifies as an Alpha Male hardass even though he’s a sickly dork–boldly issued a “gotcha” to everybody chuckling at the latest foibles of the Mad Diaper King by “challenging” reporters to accept a paid-trip to a Swedish suburb that is supposedly overrun with jihadists. When the entire Internet eagerly accepted the offer, he angrily told them they were being stupid for wanting to go there, and proved his point by posting pictures of police cars parked near buildings, and sullen hot topic teens standing around on a sidewalk. When this prompted yet another round of laughter, he angrily tweeted his coup de grace: a video of some fireworks going off in the street, as evidence that Sweden was indeed a multiculturalist hellhole.

I made the worst/best decision of the weekend by choosing to comment on this gut-busting stupidity and I’m still getting twitter notifications bout it 24 hours later. What I’ve learned is this: the reason boorish toads like Trump are actually able to drum up popular support is that they engage with the world in exactly the same way as lots of America’s shittiest people, and contrary to popular liberal belief, that’s not necessarily somebody who is rent apart by bigotry, but somebody whose greatest aspiration is a kind of dark, white trash-elitism that Donald Trump perfectly embodies.

A popular deflated “gotcha” attempt amongst progressive critics of Trump is to point out how stupid MAGA-dopes are for idolizing Trump and treating him as though he is their buddy and pal when it’s clear to anybody with half a brain that he wouldn’t piss on them if they were on fire. The crux of the argument is wrong-headed even if the conclusion is apt (and even if most liberals don’t want to admit that the same is true of Clinton or Obama or indeed any politician or rich-dope-turned-politician). Trump IS just like them, with the sole exception of being in a much higher tax bracket. He’s a whiny, privileged oaf who has never worked for anything in his life, has had everything handed to him, and yet still feels eternally beleaguered at even the most insignificant obstacles or hardships. Being President Trump is not all that different from being a Pepe-avatar moron living in mom’s basement in suburban Ohio. If any of the RedHats did ever strike it rich, they would live exactly how Trump does: watching endless amounts of daytime television, eating too much shitty fast food, and flying around on solid gold planes to golf appointments in Florida, aka, the Jamaica for boring tourists who are afraid to look at black people.

The even more hilarious/maddening part is that all of these NIMBY assholes claim to be brave, oh-so-Alpha independent manly men, even though they spiral into a descent of pants-wetting delirium at the suggestion that someone setting off firecrackers on concrete is not, in fact, tantamount to living in war-torn Syria. The same people who shriek that “dur GOVernment” needs to stop fucking up their lives barely stop to take a breath before bellowing “THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW” when forced to confront anything that might flout the bylaws of their McMansion Gated Community. Nothing brought out the frothing venom like being told that I grew up in red-state Texas with a multiple shotgun-owning father who took me on annual trips out to the country to stock up on high-powered explosives that we–wait for it–set off in the alley and street near our house that was within city limits. Hell, as I got older I regularly stocked up myself, spending hundreds of dollars on shit that went boom so that I could exercise my god-given right as an American to get drunk and cause a ruckus on July 4th. None of that for these people. Reading my mentions, they seem to believe, to a one, that it is literally impossible to handle fireworks without self-immolating, and that anybody caught setting one off within 200 yards of another person should be shipped off to a blacksite prison.

That’s the appeal for the self-appointed hardasses of the right’s base: they’re shitty and bland people who desire nothing less than for the whole of America to be transformed into a series of all-white, suburban planned communities with attached multi-function churches/Cheesecake factories. God forbid any of these sobbing infants had to spend a day in my liberal snowflake stronghold, where a clinically insane person yells me at weekly, and I brush it off like I would a morning traffic jam. That’s the MO for Trump and his goons: they’ve blundered into everything they could possibly need, and are being stared down by an existential crisis that they respond to by trying to destroy every alternative path to fulfillment. For people bereft of any creativity or thoughtfulness, realizing that your reality TV aspirations read as trashy and pathetic to anybody with an interesting bone in their body is a frightening proposition.

An OK Day

Is this what it felt like to be an adult in the cold war?

I remember once reading an article about “nuclear dread” or “cold war dread” that discussed how those who grew up in the Atomic Age–basically anybody who went to middle school in the 1950s until roughly the 1980s–had this low-level, simmering anxiety, that nuclear annihilation could come at any moment.

Right now, it feels like somebody turned the dimmer switch on the present down just a tad. There are few conversations happening amongst my friends in New York that don’t–at some point–dip into the latest outrage to roll out of the White House. The repulsiveness of the current political climate has become a meme. To crack a joke about waking up in the morning and checking your newsfeed for developments about the end of the world is about as fresh as making a “What’s the deal with lampshades” Jerry Seinfeld send-up.

I alternate between dread and hope. It’s encouraging to watch people finally get in the faces of politicians, and there’s something weirdly comforting about seeing a country so unanimously repulsed by a group of politicians. Sometimes I feel that if we make it to 2020–or even 2018–without any major catastrophes, that the tide is going to turn in a big bad way.

But then there are little things that make me wonder about the future, and how we’re all going to engage with each other ten, twenty, thirty years from now. We have duly elected officials openly and baldly lying and spitting on the electorate, and nobody really seems to care. Some folks keep cautioning against “normalization”, but at this point it’s hard to imagine ever not dropping my jaw open when I see Sean Spicer spewing stuttered misinformation, or Kellyanne Conway behaving like the ugly power broker at the bitchiest sorority. Reading the news is a constant reminder that the country is being run by the white trash version of The Kardashians, only less successful and with terrible taste.

I digress. What does it mean for the future when politicians feel OK reiterating the absolutely out of touch with reality assertion that most protesters are “paid”? The question will be whether voters react to this as they should (the civics equivalent of storming the castle and beheading the nobles), or if there really are enough out of touch shitheads in the world that believe this crap, who will keep the needle from moving too far in one direction or another.

In the past, it’s been achingly unhip to align passion, politics, and art. I went to a Raymond Pettibon exhibit at the New Museum yesterday (with Dana, James, Emily) and loved it. Achingly personal, unique, political, vulnerable, passionate, and beautiful work. One of my favorite takeaways was that Pettibon entitled one of his shows that came immediately after the outbreak of the Iraq War: “Here’s Your Irony Back.” Maybe we’re finally getting there.