Over dinner one night, a friend was telling me about the ten day silent Vipassana retreat she’d just returned from. “Sounds boring,” I said. “And imagine all THIS” I gestured, "not talking for ten days." She offered back, “They say the personality types that are the least likely to meditate are the ones who could benefit the most from it.”
I signed up for it on the spot.
“Besides,” she said, “even if it’s boring, it’s only ten days.”
Fast forward to me, meditating for the first time in my life, on day four of the retreat. Days one through three were exciting, challenging, transformative. Day four however, was when I started to feel antsy. Obviously she doesn’t remember how long ten days is, I thought to myself.
But I stuck with it. I appreciated the calm. The routine. The action I was taking to slow down, cherish every little moment, feel cool with myself for the first time in a long time.
On the tenth day, we could finally speak to the other 40 people taking the course. I talked for eight straight hours.
I realized that I was the storyteller. I was the one who had processed the experience and could explain it in an empathic and communal way. After ten days of solitude, the smiles and laughter around me were deeply meaningful. I made lifelong friends from that retreat.
It reignited my love for writing, and lifted my confidence when it comes to public speaking.
And I haven’t felt bored since.
If that song doesn’t immediately ignite a sense of joy within you what even are you DOING with your life??
HELLO HENNIES. On February 7th, 2018, the most significant day of February 2018 without a doubt, Netflix dropped EIGHT GLORIOUS NEW EPISODES OF THE REBOOT OF “QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY,” abbreviated to “Queer Eye” to be more inclusive and hell yeah, 2018. I found out about it from the genius Netflix marketing campaign known as 5-of-my-friends-texting-me-to-see-if-I-had-seen-the-new-Queer-Eye-reboot-yet. It’s very effective marketing.
The original “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was on Bravo from 2003-2007, adding a little joojsgh to the hapless East Coast straight dudes of Dubya-era America. The 2018 reboot puts the Fab Five in the very conservative bowels of Atlanta, to “Make America Fabulous Again.”
It might not be the show we deserve, but it’s the show we need.
Much as the original five, Carson Kressley, Ted Allen, Jai Rodriguez, Tom Something, and KYAN will always hold a special place in my heart, the reboot casting could not be more on point. It’s five men who represent different and complex walks of gay life, and it’s exciting to see more types of men represented in the media. That sounds sassy, the world probably doesn’t need another man represented in anything for the rest of time, but there is significance to seeing more men who are gay and black, men who are gay and religious, and men who are wearing bandana headbands and army fatigue onesies.
There’s Bobby Berk, home redecorating specialist, here to have the hard conversations with you about where homosexuality fits in with Christianity and clear all the shit out of your house while framing all the pictures of your loved ones you keep meaning to put up. Seriously Bobby, please come to my apartment and do this. Can there be a “Queer Eye for the Kinsey-Scale 2 Gal”?
There’s Tan France, FASHION. His beautiful silver hair is as tall as how low his shirts are unbuttoned, and he will make you want to wear all the prints and speak in a debatedly Liverpudlian accent. He’s Muslim, and does the most amazing Miss India walk you will ever see.
There’s Antoni Porowski, food and wine, center of major internet conspiracies wondering if he can even cook, and subject of a New York Times article from today titled “Antoni Porowski Can Cook.” He’s great at holding avocados, and space for fragile men!
There’s Karamo Brown, CULTURE. Which is DEFINITELY a thing. He was on the Real World, and has the best chiseled facial hair I’ve ever seen. He can have the tough conversations about being a man who’s black and gay, including the crux of the entire series which puts him in a car with a man who’s a southern and white cop.
And last, but certainly not least, there’s JONATHAN VAN NESS, who lives his life in capital letters. When a friend asked me who my favorite one was, I responded, you know, that one with the beard, who’s a bit much, but I’m into it? You might know JVN from his Funny or Die show “Gay of Thrones,” in which he recaps Game of Thrones episodes while doing people’s hair. He’s on hair and grooming, and I love him for his embracing of body hair and also referring to all people and inanimate objects as “she.”
This show… I don’t know how they do it, the combination of pathos and ethos and eros makes for the most goddamn delightful 45 minute experience you can have. It’s five fantastic TV personalities doing emotional labor for men barely hanging on to the confines of masculinity, with deeply effective producing decisions where they can like, box out their feelings, or be firemen dancing for charity. I would realize around minute 30 in every episode that I had a huge, doofy grin on my face. I never knew I could smile so large while sobbing so hard at the same time.
This show makes me want to be a better man.
It’s kind of like what I wished the “Will and Grace” reboot was like, which yes I’ve watched it, and yes I’m embarrassed to admit this in front of my hip Chicago crowd. Like, it feels like we went back in time, and all our old friends are there, but somehow it’s updated for what today’s world is actually like. “Will and Grace” makes me feel like, these actors don’t age. But how are sitcoms still around?
But back to Queer Eye - I only have one qualm with an otherwise flawless franchise. There’s an inherent misogyny to it - it’s only for men. The original series had a short-lived spin-off called “Queer Eye for the Straight Girl,” and I do truly believe the world will truly be a better place the more men just get… better, but it’s interesting to grapple with why this show feels good, why it’s successful. What is it that feels safer to produce and develop shows about men than it is to put that energy towards women in a way that isn’t pandering? BUT, the show takes the angle of making these men better usually for the sake of the women in their lives, which has it passing a sort of reverse Bechdel test if you will - you CAN go into the kitchen and make a meal, you CAN put a little effort into your appearance, you CAN have the hard conversations with the women in your family that will make your life more fulfilling and richer.
This show got me to finish some home improvement projects I’ve been putting off, and care a little more about making sure I don’t know my nails look nice and my outfits are thought out. I pitted an avocado with confidence. I kind of want to buy a Waterpik (though I suspect that one was purely product placement and they didn’t actually give a shit if AJ flossed or not). If you start watching this show, you too might find yourself wanting to care for yourself a little more, and you’ll have five brand new people you’ll have to follow on Instagram because goddamn are these modern day celebrities good at what they do. Eight episodes weren’t nearly enough and I need another season like, stat. Please come to Chicago, Fab Five. We’ll welcome you with open arms and we can drink the alcoholic sangria together you definitely accidentally served to children in that Bobby Camp episode. Then we’ll drive off into the sunset in our black SUV together, to hang out in our Fab Five Loft that we all just now live in together, amongst the exposed bricks and monochromed outfits, cuddled up in front of our one big TV, cheering on the men in our lives. They didn’t think they could like a gay guy so much, and we didn’t think we could like a conservative southern straight guy as much either. And here we all are. America.
I’m so excited. It’s Oscar season. My Facebook feed is now only 95% politics and 5% movies, which is a delineation I am ALMOST comfortable with. Finally, movie-goers like myself are no longer the old school, retro-experience-loving misfits we usually are, but are now joined by the rest of people who… kind of want to see some of the movies so they’ll at least have a pony in the race at their Oscar party. I’m not complaining. COME JOIN US. The water’s fine. And oh so buttery.
And this is ACTUALLY an interesting year. Past years of nominated movies and performances have been met with every sort of reaction from “ehhh” to “oh!” But I gotta say, it’s going to be an exciting race. There’s a lot to root for. It’s an eclectic bunch, spanning lots of genres, storytelling styles, and melanin-levels of the protagonists’ skins.
Nominated for eight awards each, best picture nominees include “Moonlight,” the simmering piece of poetry looking at one African-American man’s life at three different chapters, and “Arrival,” the understated sci fi thriller where Amy Adams tries to teach empathy to aliens.
Closely behind at six nominations are “Lion” (Dev Patel WHO AM I movie), “Hacksaw Ridge” (blow-em-up war movie about a pacifist starring Andrew Garfield and nabbing a surprising Best Director nom for documented anti-Semite Mel Gibson OK HOLLYWOOD) and “Manchester by the Sea” (Please forget about my sexual abuse allegations. Love, Casey Affleck).
With four nominations we have “Fences,” which Denzel Washington I’m PRETTY SURE made specifically so back-in-time theatre major Alisa could die happy, and “Hell or High Water” aka pretty boys shoot things. With three, “Hidden Figures” in which all of my lady crushes are on screen at the same time being badass and doing math. And lastly, let us not forget “La La Land,” up for a whopping FOURTEEN ACADEMY AWARDS. THE SAME AS “TITANIC.” AND NOTHING EVEN CRASHED AND SANK IN THAT ONE. EXCEPT FOR EMMA STONE’S SINGING TALENT I KID I KID.
“La La Land” has been crushing box office numbers and sweeping up awards left and right, yet has taken on HUGE backlash. From the moment those adorable “La La Land” ads featuring a classic looking Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dancing hit the pre-Christmas ad-landscape, it was suddenly en vogue to hate this charming movie. And why is that? This is a movie TAILOR MADE to the things I PERSONALLY like. Musical? CHECK. Comedy? CHECK. With some drama? CHECK. A love story? CHECK. Ryan Gosling? CHECK PLEASE. With references to old Hollywood and a charming portrayal of the things I actually like about LA and spontaneous tap dancing, I was SO EXCITED to see this movie on Christmas Day. Which I did, with the 400 other Jews who decided to go home to their parents’ houses in Arlington Heights. And for some reason, the packed-ness of the theater, and the grumpy intensity to which people HAD TO GET TICKETS TO “LA LA LAND” AND ONLY “LA LA LAND,” and my stepdad openly snoring through three quarters of it, all instantly rubbed me the wrong way. And why is that? Why is this movie’s success a thing that is making me so grumpy??
(Disclaimer here: there are some thematic spoilers in this next section, but I promise you it is only to give you a deeper artistic understanding of the film and also my personal anxieties. Also it’s just “La La Land,” you’ll survive. Also I’m sorry.)
Here’s what I didn’t like about this movie. It’s not really doing anything new. At best, it’s a subpar movie musical. Emma Stone’s singing offended me on a personal level. I found the songs and dances underwhelming. In fact, I actively dreaded those scenes, and come on, those are usually THE BEST SCENES. You don’t watch “West Side Story” for the scenes where they’re NOT singing and dancing. It’s another movie that forgets people of color exist in the world. And oh, just when Emma Stones’s at her lowest point, a deus ex machina SWEEPS IN and MAKES EVERYTHING FINE.
Emma Stone plays an actress. A struggling actress, who goes on endless bad auditions with rude casting directors, and is wondering if she really has it in her and is really good enough. Her lowest point, is when she self-produces a solo show and basically no one comes.
That part hit a little close to home for me.
A lot of times, the things we don’t like in stories are reflecting a part of ourselves that we aren’t necessarily cool with. I’ve never wanted to move to LA, but I’ve always wondered if maybe I should have by now.
Would a big time casting director happened to have been one of the seven people in the audience in my one-woman show, who would have happened to have tracked down my number to invite me to audition for a movie that happens to shoot in France that they were happening to make all around me? And that one job would have solved all of my problems and made me rich and happy for the rest of my life? WOULD THAT HAVE BEEN MY EXPERIENCE IN LA? But like, would it??
This movie does make some arguments for my personal road not taken, and gets at some interesting takes on the classic Hollywood love story ending. I found a lot of its portrayal of being an actress fairly true to my experience, and also I mean, I’ve dated my share of jazz musicians. I totally get it.
It’s just. This movie is SO white. Some of these other movies it’s up against are just so beautiful and innovative and just. well done movies. It’s win seems inevitable.
It’s like watching a race where there’s someone I want to win who doesn’t stand a chance, someone who should win who I’m actively excited for, and someone who will win, which just seems to set us all back to that old time, golden era of America.
Also, go see “20th Century Women.” It’s the writer/director who did “Beginners” and passes the Bechdel test immediately and is all about raising guys to be feminist. I think that movie will make the world a better place. Thank you.
So I know there’s a lot of Big Stuff going on in the world right now, and September 2016 was a hugely significant month, but really all I want to talk about is how RUPAUL WON AN EMMY. RUPAUL “YOU BETTER WORK, COVER GIRL!” RUPAUL FROM “THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE.” RUPAUL WHO MADE A BLAXPLOITATION PORN PARODY IN THE ‘80S CALLED “STARRBOOTY”... STAR SPELLED WITH TWO “R”S!!
RuPaul IS the supermodel of the world.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race,” in addition to be the best show on television, has been airing since 2009 on Logo TV, the first advertiser-supported commercial television channel geared towards the LGBT community which launched in 2005. The month Drag Race premiered was my first winter post-college, and I was living with my parents. They went to bed early, and I stayed up late because OMG CABLE IS AMAZING. I discovered a gay cable channel, showing the first episode of a new show about drag queens, and the rest is history.
For those not in the know, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is one part parody reality show, one part homage reality show, and one part actual reality show. The format is based primarily on skill based shows like “America’s Next Top Model” and “Project Runway,” complete with ridiculous mini-challenges and catty drama and runway critiques. Part of what takes it into the next realm of reality TV entertainment is how RuPaul seamlessly goes from playing a Tim Gunn type out of drag to give critiques as the queens get ready for the runway to a Tyra Banks type in drag, the game show host who takes NO SHIT on the runway. Mix in the skills of makeup, improvisation, costuming, and tucking your penis into your butt, and now, you’re welcome. Now you understand. Why this is the best show on television.
On September 18th, 2016, RuPaul Charles won the Primetime Creative Emmy Award for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program, beating out Ryan Seacrest, Tom Bergeron, Jane Lynch, Steve Harvey, and Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn. I mean, I remember when we were all up in arms that there even WAS a reality TV category included in the Emmys (is this a thing other people were up in arms about, or just me?), but I’m pretty sure this category exists just FOR RuPaul to subvert it.
When I found out the news that RuPaul won an Emmy, I was on a family vacation to Italy with my mom and my brother. I excitedly went on and on about the significance of a marginal, avant garde show infiltrating the mainstream, to which my brother responded: “Who’s RuPaul?”
I know. I get it. To me, RuPaul IS the supermodel of the world - an amazing businessman who created not just a career out of what used to be and in some places still is the underground art of drag, but has also created and built up an entire culture giving other drag queens an opportunity to work. RuPaul has hosted his own talkshows, released ten studio albums, has a podcast with Drag Race cohost Michelle Visage, is now in the third year of running a drag convention called DragCon (it’s coming up in April - I’ve never been; send me a message if you wanna go, it’s in LA, it’s probably expensive, we’d get to meet Katya), and this past April he started hosting a new trivia tv show called Gay for Play. RuPaul, which is his real birth name, is not only crushing the game, he made the game.
The thing that fascinates me about RuPaul is that business mind. How he’s able to not just survive, but flourish and thrive with each passing year. He’s like David Bowie in that way - able to adapt, regenerate, grow, while still keeping one thumb on what the culture is into and wants to see, while the other thumb makes sure that has to do with what he’s selling. RuPaul famously was proud of NOT being recognized by the Emmys year after year - trying to keep the underground underground and the weird weird. And what even are awards? Amy Poehler talks about it as “the pudding” that doesn’t mean anything but that you find yourself wanting, and RuPaul has said “I’d rather have an enema than an Emmy.” But this is certainly a more mainstream recognition of a niche show on a niche channel. And what does that recognition mean?
We have gay stories increasingly more in the limelight - and gay stories of People of Color as well - the people on the American fringe fighting for self-expression. The people who in 1969 were demonstrating and fighting in the Stonewall Riots, and this pain is still felt today in modern homophobia and transphobia. And I recognize that a silly award - the Emmys are probably one of the least significant of the industry awards - doesn’t carry the same weight that legislation does, but it does show that our media is recognizing more stories. Our very media that at once shapes culture and is also shaped by it. A man in a dress is becoming less the butt of the joke, and more the butt we all want to be.
But, this significance runs both ways. On the positive side, it’s beyond moving and amazing that this show is successful and starting discussions and getting awards and making jobs for drag queens and increasing bar sales on Thursday nights for those who go to watch Drag Race IRL, but on the flip side, what does it mean when the marginalized goes mainstream?
There’s a YouTube series called “RuPaul Drives” (I know, does the man ever sleep), where he drives people around and has conversations with them. Say goodbye to the rest of your night because that’s the rabbit hole you’re going down when you get home tonight I know. In conversation with John Waters, the KING of the avant garde low camp disgusting underground, they discussed the following:
RUPAUL: That’s why camp and that’s why the irreverent is so much fun. Because we’ve recognized the pattern and now we’re ready to play outside and around and have a twist on phrases with the patterns.
JOHN WATERS: And I think now, that we’re both lucky. The public gets it a lot more.
RUPAUL: The irreverent behavior bohemian, it sort of became the popular culture.
JOHN WATERS: Well it’s now everyone wants to be an outsider. When we were young, nobody wanted to be, but now, you and I, we should be insiders - that’s more perverted! And in a way we are. So in a way, that’s the ultimate revenge!
And I think that’s it - that’s what’s truly at the heart of RuPaul’s historic Emmy win - it’s what made me cry over my pasta and prosecco in Rome, that RuPaul, and the team he’s wisely surrounded himself with, can do some pretty amazing good from the inside. I can’t wait to see what’s next. Maybe drag kings? Seriously, Ru, where are the drag kings.
Upon winning his Emmy, RuPaul said: “I know I said I’d rather have an enema than an Emmy, but thanks to the Television Academy, I can have both!” In conclusion, RuPaul for president.
Ohh the Oscars. IT’S MY SUPERBOWL. The Oscars were this past weekend, and for those who don’t know what that is - you obviously aren’t the people I have directly sent this post to. Also, it’s an awards ceremony hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to honor achievements in film, first presented in 1929 and fighting harder to maintain relevancy more and more with each passing year.
The rundown of the actual events of the ceremony weren’t all that exciting. In fact, viewership numbers were way down - nobody really had a pony in this race, as it were. There was no “Titanic” to root for, no “Lord of the Rings” to be awed by.
All of the intrigue was brought on by the casting of Chris Rock as host, because in light of the #oscarssowhite controversy in which no actors of color were nominated for awards, NICE MOVE BRINGING IN CHRIS ROCK, PEOPLE WHO PRODUCE THE OSCARS. And boy. Did Chris Rock EVER deliver. He showed complete control and a willingness to talk about anything. Does he flat out call Hollywood racist? YUP. Did he make a cops shooting black people reference? YUH HUH. Did he make a lynching joke? WHY YES. YES HE DID. Watching it the whole time I was like, “He’s going there! Oh man, he’s really going there! Oh shit he’s still going there!” (I always like recapping TV events like this with my mom the next day. Quoth Leslie: “And those people he interviewed in that one segment! I didn’t realize til later that they were ‘straight outta Compton!’”) He wasn’t a flawless host, but he actually brought more relevance than I really could have hoped for.
In other news, Leonardo Dicaprio did finally win his first Oscar at 41, after six nominations - and delivered a speech with such internal satisfaction that I felt like, empathy pains for him, like a partner who’s wife is pregnant or however that works out - I don’t know I’ve been single for a long time. “Spotlight” - a film about the 2001 journalistic breaking of the Catholic priest abuse scandal - was an exciting and unexpected win for Best Picture - favoring solid storytelling and an important message over the other more flashy films. And even though it was SO EXCITING that “Mad Max: Fury Road” was up for so many awards, INCLUDING BEST PICTURE, the big takeaway was every time one of their crew won a technical award, I just wanted to get a better view of what they were wearing. Costume designer Jenny Beavan rocking a leather jacket with the Fury Road logo bedazzled on the back. AT THE OSCARS. and whoever all those sound engineer nerds were wearing more kinds of velvet than I knew existed. Seriously. Squad goals.
This year’s Oscars were a bizarre meeting of the modern culture in the auditorium of the old. An award ceremony telecast in itself is a weird, arcane relic from a bygone television era, but the pure awe of seeing all of those famous movie stars in the same room together, talking and tispsily flirting with each other, still holds it’s same appeal as it did when I was a kid. The Oscars for me hold a nostalgic quality - this is a world where the thing I love more than anything in the world, movies, are the currency - and I can fantasize about being there and giving my speech and being a part of history.
But, when you zoom in on it, in the modern era, it’s all these seemingly disjointed elements coming together: Chris Rock’s classic stand-up setup/punchline structure, video interludes and gigantic renderings of nominees’ faces hovering upstage. The musical performances are staged like any other telecast, but “Earned It” by the Weeknd from “50 Shades of Gray” features overt bondage imagery while “Til it Happens to You” by Lady Gaga from the documentary “The Hunting Ground” features real life survivors of sexual abuse - both fairly daring stagings, but kind of tasteless juxtapositions against each other within the same show the more you think about it. The whole night was made up of weird juxtapositions. Like watching winners having to accepts awards while underscored by --
(INSERT SOUND CUE: RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES HERE)
-- a truly strange choice of music with entirely the wrong sentiment, as they go on to thank their agents, cast, crew, family, teachers, god --
-- and as they try to squeeze in something political before --
(YUP, STILL GOING)
-- and then maybe internally question whether Vagner was the right choice for “wrap it up” music?
(SOUND CUE RAGES ONE LAST TIME)
It’s true. In this Oscars, the actual “wrap it up” music, instead of a subtle orchestral nudge, was Richard Wagner’s 1870 opera excerpt “Ride of the Valkyries,” as featured in the film “Apocalypse Now.” The whole ceremony featured a slew of famous movie music (Leslie LOVED that), but for the “wrap it up” music… that was your choice? I mean, there were a MILLION other songs they could’ve chosen to wrap it up. Like literally, any other movie music. Hell, even “Stuck in the Middle with You” from “Reservoir Dogs” would have been more tasteful. The viewer ended up with this very bizarre experience - artists accepted their award of recognition, knowing they had to hurry, even though this was amidst an already bloated four hour television extravaganza, set to the background of perhaps the most stressful music in the classical canon. Best director for “The Revenant” Alejandro Innaritu just talked straight through the music, and “A Girl in the River: a Price of Forgiveness” director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy got cut off by this music when talking about honor killings.
Which just begs to ask, who is making these decisions? And who is really making these decisions for the industry? Is there even some one, or is it lots of little decisions piled on top of each other, resulting in one big choice? Because when you play “Ride of the Valkyries” under an important emotional moment for an artist, you’re telling the viewer how to feel, regardless of what that artist is trying to express, and someone made that decision. When an industry systematically shuts out stories of people of color or women, the culture makers are making that choice for the culture as to what they think the story should be. Some body has to be making these decisions. But, if we keep working and creating amidst all this noise like we did with this very ceremony - I can’t wait to see what the media landscape is going to look like by the Oscars of February 2017.