Sunday, February 27, 2011

I Wish The "Real World" Would Just Stop Hassling Me

I hate Reality TV. Actually, to say that I hate Reality TV is a gross understatement. If it was possible to weaponize my distaste for Reality TV, it would be possible to annihilate a small galactic planet (Jupiter for example).

I grew up in theater and film, creating characters from the written word of writers that took their craft as serious as I do. From the first time that I stepped foot on stage and got a response from the audience, I knew that was where my home was. There is a high that I can get from being a performer in front of a live audience, which is completely controlled by my every motion, pause in speech, twist of phrase, or reaction, that is more fulfilling to me than any alcohol or drug induced high that I have received.

I know that it is common for a lot of little kids growing up to say that they want to be an actor/actress when they get older, I actually meant it. I was fortunate enough to have support and encouragement from family that shuttled me around to auditions, rehearsals, and performances in my pre-license years, and were there to help when I needed to run lines with someone.

I used to get myself involved with anything that came along, and it was not uncommon for me to be involved in five to seven shows a year (that may not sound like much to some of you, but trust me on this: it's a lot). It didn't matter to me if the show actually had a place for me in it. If there was no role that was right for me, I'd get involved backstage doing props, costumes, stage managing (if you think I wear a lot of black now, you haven't seen anything), house managing, anything to keep me in the theater where I could learn from what was going on.

I would sit and watch rehearsals and performances of shows that I was not directly involved in (and some that I was) soaking up and absorbing everything. I had some veterans take me under their wing and teach me big and small picture things ranging from stage positioning to line delivery and character interpretation. Some of my mentors went out of their way to pass along the knowledge that they had by staying late/coming in early, even by sometimes giving me a lift to the theater and home again (something I am sure was appreciated by the adults in my house).

Just about every performer that I have met over the years has had the same dream: they have all wanted to be able to make a living performing. Very few of them actually wanted to have the mansion in Beverly Hills or the penthouse overlooking Central Park; In fact, many of us would be content with sharing a dilapidated loft in Compton, or a one room apartment in the Village.

[Enter what many see as my senseless rage against Reality TV.]

Folks, Reality TV costs performers (and many writers) jobs. We have trained ourselves over the years to be professional entertainers. Every time someone turns on their idiot box to watch some wretched program like Real Housewives of Some Neighborhood You Don't Live In, or the headache-inducing bane of my existence American Idol, they are destroying the hopes and dreams of people that I have worked with, dreamed with, and been inspired by...and people think I'm senselessly cruel.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Yes, I'm Going There Too.

So far I have railed against politics and religion. They are two of my favorite topics. I think it is necessary to shine the light in to the dark corner that nobody wants to talk about because dark corners are ignored too often, but contain things just as real as anything in the sunlight. The old adage that one should never discuss politics or religion in polite company is lost on me (in case you haven't noticed), as is the notion that people should not discuss what is quite possibly the most sacred “taboo” topic: sex.

I don't know if you have noticed this or not, but people in this country have a serious problem with sex. If someone brings the topic up, there is a palpable change in the atmosphere of the conversation. People begin to fidget and blush as they attempt to redirect the conversation back to some other topic...any other topic.

When the topic of sex is thrust (no pun intended) upon the nation, the reaction is very odd. Case in point: the notorious Janet Jackson “nipplegate”/“wardrobe malfunction” during the SuperBowl XXXVIII halftime show. For those of you who may not know what I am talking about, or have forgotten what the uproar was about (or just want to see it again), here is what happened Press this to see the end of civilization.

The reaction to this brief millisecond occurrence was so visceral that one may have thought that the people in this country were told that their government had been lying to them and not acting in their best interests for years. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (two of my most admired people on Earth) famously condemned the incident, CBS, Justin Timberlake, and Janet Jackson (as well as a host of others). Falwell was particularly bent out of shape because he claimed that he was watching the game with his grandson and was horrified that his grandson was exposed to such a sight. 

This may surprise you, but I agree with Falwell. That his grandson had to be exposed to the spectacle of some very large, testosterone-overloaded, brutes FIGHT OVER A BALL, may not be the thing you want to expose a young and impressionable youth to. As for the other thing, as an Irishman I know is fond of saying, "are you fookin searious?" Falwell's argument hinges on some staggeringly bizarre logic. Even though his intentions may have been "good," his argument breaks down to: violence = good, sex = bad. So in Falwell's ideal world we would have a society that would beat the hell out of one another over trivial matters, but not engage in what some see as love (and this guy lead the Moral Majority).

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that more parents would rather their children grow up to one day have sex, than to one day grow up to be in a fight. I don't have any statistical backing for this assumption, but over the years I have met more people that have told me that they want grandchildren than have told me they want their child to go and die in a war (maybe it's just the group I tend to hang out with). 

Personally, I have been in my fair share of physical fights over the years. I see violence as a last resort, not a first response (a policy that I would like to see the United States adopt). Some of them I walked away from, other's I wasn't so fortunate with. Regardless of the cause or outcome, one thing is a constant after any fight: you tend to hurt a lot. I'm against increasing my already high pain levels. I've also had sex. Guess which activity I've enjoyed more. 

Maybe I'm just not meant to understand why it is that in our society it is far more acceptable for someone to talk about how they cracked someone's ribs, knocked a tooth out, or broke a nose, than it is for them to talk about something that is, in every definition of the word, more pleasurable. Our priorities seem to be a bit fucked up. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Walk Like An Egyptian

Despite the best efforts of the media to keep everyone in this country quarreling amongst ourselves, there is still one thing that a large number of people in this country agree on: We're fucked. Here at home and throughout the world, America has lost ground, and it is not getting any better. It is tempting to blame the woes of the nation on our elected officials; However, that is a cop-out, and hides a far more unpleasant truth: It is not really the fault of our elected officials, the blame belongs to the people.

We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect view of the television have sold our soul to non-involvement. Sure, you can walk into any bar, barbershop, or coffeehouse, and find someone in there that will tell you “what the problem is,” but aside from these boisterous individuals, when was the last time anyone ever saw someone in this country actually do anything?

During the 1960's, masses of people in this country did sit-ins, marches, and protests for civil rights, because they were against Vietnam, and sometimes just because it was Tuesday. Citizens would pack the streets, college campuses, and business establishments, to make their voice heard on a cause that they believed in.

Occasionally we still see a march or a rally for a cause, but they are ceremonial for the most part, and are too few and far between to carry the impact that is needed to really facilitate any kind of change. People attend these demonstrations as a status promoter, and leave the message at the rally when they go home to be picked up by the sanitation department that is also cleaning up the half-empty (full if you prefer) bottles of imported flavored water from the South Pacific that was filtered through a lava rock dipped in lemon juice.

Detractors will say “that was a different time.” I couldn't agree more, and that is part of my point. It has been forty years since we stopped doing something about anything that we didn't like, and started allowing ourselves to be distracted and placated by Atari, jelly bracelets, and trying to figure out who shot J.R. There are those who say “the country just doesn't operate that way anymore” (and I'm the pessimist?). Again, I agree. It doesn't operate that way anymore, and it probably should start.

We now live in a time where mass communication is at nearly everyone's fingertips. With a text, a Facebook update, or a blog, people in this country can reach out to anyone and organize a movement from the comfort of their double stuffed, heated (with the optional massage feature) Barcalounger. We can, but we don't. We have allowed ourselves to become passive to something we know is wrong for the sake of comfort and the misguided thought that nothing we can do will matter. We are wrong.

We do not actually need to look back forty years to see what the power of the people can do, we just need to pick up a newspaper or turn on a reliable news station today and read or watch what is happening in Egypt. The citizenry in that country became so fed up with their corrupt non-representational government taking away larger amounts of their already miniscule rights during a time of economic concern that they took to the streets, overcame the inconveniences of leaving their homes, and actually affected change...and I thought we were supposed to be the beacon to the world for how things should be done.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Correction

In the Birthday Wishes post from a couple of days back, I said that hostages were being held in Iran during the Iran-Contra Affair. This is incorrect. They were being held in Lebanon. My brain and fingers were not working in sync with each other apparently.
This is why I should never be taken as a news source.

A 'Host' of Problems

I lost tolerance for religion a long time ago. If your religion works for you and is that one thing that gets you out of bed in the morning, I'm fairly okay with that – for you.

My disdain for the Church did not happen over night. Believe it or not, I used to actually attend on a regular basis. To borrow a line from one of the greatest social commentators of the last 50 years “Catholic, which I was until I reached the age of reason...” The man: George Carlin, the point: nail on the head. I first started doubting religion when I was about six years old. I learned around that time that there were many more denominations than just the narrow one that I had been exposed to (note: not exposed to in what has become the common form of exposed to with the Catholic Church these days). I remember being in the dining room on the first floor of one of the houses that I grew up in listening to Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson, when the thought occurred to me: “If there are so many religions in the world, each of them claiming to be the 'right' one and the only way to salvation, then there are going to be a whole lot of disappointed people when this dance is over.” The thought has stayed with me to this day.

I began asking priests, monsignors, nuns, and other cloistered individuals about this idea. I am not certain whether they were trying to dumb down their answer for the precocious six-year-old or not, but I do know that their answers didn't match up (a sure sign of lying).

Years went by, and I still attended. I didn't have much of a choice really. When the adults in the house are going, you sort of have to go, so I went. I listened to sermon after sermon, Sunday after Sunday. I watched the ceremony of countless masses, and knew that it was well choreographed theater (I had already been doing theater for a few years at this point).

I noticed glaring hypocrisy in the message.

“Everyone can enter the Kingdom of Heaven and deserves God's love” (EXCEPT homosexuals, non-believers, followers of another faith, people who have been divorced, anyone that dares to eat meat on Friday, and so on).

When I moved South, the family and I bounced around from church to church for a while before abandoning the Catholics and joining up with the freewheeling dealing, beatnik hippie, pot smoking alcoholics of the Episcopal Church. They were a far less rigid group of people to say the least.

They actually seemed to look out for one another fairly well, and the rules were far more relaxed (granted, saying something is more relaxed than the Catholic Church is like saying someone is smarter than Sarah Palin). So I hung out with the Whiskeypalians for a few years. I made some friends that I still stay in contact with on occasion, and genuinely enjoyed the company of. The problem was the questions in my head persisted, and my ability to use logic sharpened, which is usually the kiss of death with believers.

Even the open-minded Episcopals eventually had problems with me asking about conflicting Biblical stories, the gap between what should be done versus what is done, and the somewhat notorious question of “what is the difference between religion and mythology?” did not go over well either, but paled to the observation I made about communion being ritualistic cannibalism.

The answer to a lot of my issues increasingly became “you just have to have 'faith'.”


Faith is blind trust in the imperceptible that everything will work out for the best.

I don't know if you have noticed this yet or not, but I have a lot of seriously MAJOR trust issues (it doesn't make it right, it just makes it the way it is). Another complication is I tend to be ever so slightly cynical. So positing that I should accept, without cause, that someone or something has my back and the world will be a better place, is the wrong line to use on me.

I split from the Episcopals after a few years, abandoning organized religion all together. I continued to study it here and there though. I have made a point of learning about Islam, Judaism, Jain, Shinto, Buddhism, Voodoo, Wicca, and so on. The more one looks at these varying theologies/philosophies, the more one can notice the common thread that exists in almost every religion. At their core essence is a single message. The Christians know it as “The Golden Rule.” It basically says “hey, be nice to each other.” I can endorse that idea. The window dressing that comes after it I have a serious problem with.

Because I tend to dissect people's beliefs, I am often considered to be an atheist. I am not. Truth be told, I have just as much a problem with some of the basic principles of atheism as I do with theism (although I do admit to siding with the atheists on a lot of issues); However, atheist arguments tend to use science as a justification for their position. Here is my problem with that: it is not the province of science to examine philosophy. I will stipulate that historical evidence regarding the beginning of the planet is easily measurable; however, it is not possible to prove that something does not exist. You can only prove that it has not been found yet. For that reason, I consider myself to be agnostic. While I seriously doubt the existence of any supernatural being, there is absolutely no way to be certain that one does, or does not, exist.

I think everyone needs to have that one thing that motivates them to get out of bed in the morning. For some people their one thing is religion; for me, it's the thought of knowing that coffee is going to be in my near future.  

Monday, February 7, 2011

Setec Astronomy

People who know me, know that I don't talk much. I follow Polonius' advice in Hamlet to a great extent and give many people my ear, but few my voice. It has made me a confidant to a lot of people over the years because they know that I don't say a word.

It's difficult sometimes to be the protector of someone's secrets. Thankfully I have yet to be in the position of being confided in where keeping something to myself would cause any kind of moral dilemma for me (and yes, I do actually have some morals). The few times that it has even come close to being a moral issue, I have sought advice from people that I trust (there's one or two). While doing this I become like a mafia under-boss that knows he is being recorded (I know a guy that knows a guy that thinks maybe..), or a lawyer that is bound by the canons to not reveal certain information, but can circumvent it with a simple word: hypothetically (Let's say, hypothetically, that I know someone that...). Like I said, seeking advice doesn't happen often though.

Another thing that I don't do often is offer unsolicited advice unless I think it is absolutely necessary. There are far too many people in this world that want to tell people how to live whether or not someone wants their advice, and I don't want to be one of them. However, if you ask me for my advice or thoughts on a topic, I will usually give them to you. I don't expect anything I say to be seen as gospel, I am probably going to ask you a couple of probing questions (because you probably know the answer), and I should also let you know now that I have a tendency to be brutally honest. The only thing that really pisses me off is when someone asks me what I think, gets a response from me, and then berates me for what I think and why I think it. If you don't like what I think, don't follow what I think. I didn't attack you for having a problem, don't attack me for offering a solution.

As I alluded to, there are very few people that I trust, and even with them I only go so far. I have been burned over the years a few times by thinking someone that I confided in would hold to the same standard I do (when time passes and you hear a very specific phrase used in a very specific way, you know that the pat on the back just marked the spot for the knife). So even with the one's I still trust, they don't get the full story, anymore. One day my confidants will get together and figure it all out.

To be fair with some of this, I don't have a lot of personal secrets. I am fairly open. I have little choice. We all know a lot of what I have done (even though a couple of those stories have been slightly exaggerated). I am no saint, and I will not be winning any humanitarian awards. I do though actually have a few things that I do not let out; However, there is one secret that I have that I will let you in on since you have read all of this: Not many people know this, but my intentions are usually for the best, I just fail miserably at it on occasion.  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Birthday Wishes

I enjoy politics. I have studied U.S. Government, and understand how it operates better than most, I think. That does not mean that I endorse how politics in the United States operates.

They say if you want to cook a lobster, you should start off by putting it in a pot of lukewarm water, and then slowly increase the heat. The lobster does not notice the increase in temperature, falls asleep, and doesn't wake up again. Serve with butter. The people of the United States have been cooked. Rights, ideals, and freedoms have been boiling in the pot for quite some time now.

Who was the culinary master that put the pot on the stove. Some will claim George W. Bush and the death of Habeas Corpus (among other atrocities of that Administration). I, believe it or not, disagree. Bush was the waiter that served what was prepared. The true criminal would have had his centennial birthday today: Ronald Reagan.

Reagan actively sought the support of the then named (immoral) Moral Majority, now the Religious Right. He climbed into bed with figures such as Jerry Falwell to help secure his election (twice), putting a major crack in the wall between the now fabled Separation Between Church and State. Since this point in time, religion has become a more dominant force in American culture and politics, taking it from something that was largely a private, personal exercise to a public measuring stick of one's morality. (For anyone that wants to argue the Kennedy angle on this: it was a blip on the screen).

Aside from the shady ethical positioning with the Church, our birthday boy also was also at the helm steering the ship when his appointed adviser told him “Hey, there is this rather outlandish dictator in Iraq that is having a problem with Iran and would like to buy some weapons from us.” The adviser Donald Rumsfeld, the dictator was Saddam Hussein. I am going to trust in your memory of recent events to remember how that dance worked out.

Then came the whole Iran-Contra affair. The United States sold arms to Iran (you remember Iran, right? They were the country that was fighting with Iraq, the other country we just armed.). The intention was to sell the arms to Iran, to secure the release of hostages held by Iran, and then use the money to support the Contras in Nicaragua. Here is the problem with this: aside from arming two powerhouses in the region that were at war with each other, the U.S. broke several of it's own policies in doing this. “We do not negotiate with terrorists” (unless there is a buck to be made). Congress had also prohibited the funding of the Contras, in part because the Contras were known to be trafficking cocaine into the United States as a means to raise money, something that was a hot button issue because of the “War on Drugs” at the time (I wonder how that war worked out for us). Reagan claimed ignorance of the affair insisting that the buck stopped way before him.

The Gipper may have been able to present a good speech. He may have overcome his own personal dislike of the Soviet Union in an attempt to forge a new relationship with Russia. He may have died a horrible death at the hands of a disease that most fear. However, this does not make him a saint. He blurred the line of the Establishment Clause. He hand delivered barrels of gasoline and crates of matches to the Middle East. He thumbed his nose at Congress when he was told “no” (and don't get me started on the Air Traffic Controller travesty). During Reagan's eight years in office (twelve, if you count the first Bush), the groundwork was laid in a very meticulous fashion to support the rise of W. and all that he was able to destroy so easily.

Happy Birthday Ronnie. Your gift: a crippled nation.