Monday, November 25, 2013

"Fire with Fire"

(The New Female Power, and how it will change the 21st Century)
-by Naomi Wolf
1993
One of the most essential books on feminism - ever. Breathing the rarefied air of THE SECOND SEX, THE MISMEASURE OF WOMAN, and THE WAR AGAINST WOMEN, Wolf's second book has been dismissed and overlooked, especially in comparison with her classic THE BEAUTY MYTH. Which is a crying shame, as she deftly avoids the overearnest flaws of her debut bestseller.
Like a roller coaster, FIRE WITH FIRE starts out slow and steady. One even begins to worry that the ride might be gradually burying itself in the dirt. But like THE WIZARD OF OZ bursting into color, about a third of the way through Wolf tosses aside the academic/polemic veil, and the book begins to vibrate with self-revelation and clear thinking. The very best books engage us in such a way as to feel like a conversation with the author, a trick Wolf pulls off with unerring grace. She heralds the arrival of global female power during the "genderquake" of 1992 (which had the Thomas/Hill hearings as its epicenter). Tellingly, i used to forget that Thomas' career actually survived those hearings - but my mental lapse mirrored the larger historical shift, as women were ever after empowered with the knowledge that their truth-telling could remove misbehaving males from their power base. That the pendulum was swinging in a new direction cannot be denied. That it swung too far is also hard to deny (i myself got caught in that once, when i got fired for telling a co-worker i liked her smile). In addition, '92 brought elections in which women's voices (now a majority of the electorate) shifted national politics like never before, as Clinton's female-rich administration came to power. It was also presumably the last time that female U.S. senators would more than double their ranks within one year.
Yet just as these changes were taking place, feminism itself had become an unpopular word among both men and women. Going beyond the male power structure's backlash, Wolf explains how this change was due also to dissensions among women. Feminism had come to be perceived as man-hating, dykey, or middle-class and white. In addition, a new distinction was being born - "victim feminism" as compared to "power feminism". Victim feminism points toward inherent gender differences, and how women need to be "rescued". Power feminism places women's salvation in their own hands. Victim feminism places the most victimized woman as the highest moral authority. Power feminism asks us to judge the message, not the messenger. Wolf argues that victim feminism is anti-humanist. Her most clarifying example is the 1992 Berkeley incident wherein female students forced the administration to clothe a male student who went naked on campus, as a pro-freedom, pro-nature statement.
There have been one or two instances when my own writing has been accused of victim feministry, and i almost took it to heart. But like the big sister i never had, Wolf points out that ALL feminism is sourced from the awareness that women have been history's victims, and shedding light on that is vital.
Yet another light went off as i realized that on more than one occasion, i've been chastised for claiming to be more feminist than most women, and admonished that such an observation is insulting. I generally bit my tongue, but Wolf has empowered me to nevermore back down when someone suggests i don't have the right to compare my feminist credentials to anyone's, and chide those who fall short, regardless of gender.
She illuminates the psychological aspect of women that resists power, which is "male" (and therefore carries all the moral baseness inherent thereto). Add to that a resistance to giving up the "moral lightness of being infantilized, the simplicity of having limited choices, the sense of specialness that comes from being treated as a frail exotic". She deconstructs the ways "man as enemy" is self-defeating. She reclaims heterosexual healing, and argues that the roles of pursuer or pursued, possessor or possessed, can be healthy expressions of sexuality - for anyone. She challenges the assumption that men are visual/promiscuous while women are emotional/monogamous, by talking about her college days. She and her female peers made a sport of sex. They greedily related tales of performance and physical endowment, and were often less than faithful. Like men, they had to learn to see the person beneath the sex object. In Hollywood, it's now common for famous actresses to take up with younger (and unfailingly non-ugly) men. Her comments shade toward monogamy being desirable, which runs counter to what science now knows, but that's this book's only real flaw, and you have to have hawk eyes to even notice it.
Wolf talks about her struggles and discomfort with money and fame, and how this touches upon female power illiteracy. I realized how much my own relationship with money parallels the traditional female attitude - just this month, i made a flyer advertising my services that contained the words "pay what you can afford". While my relationship with capitalism has a larger humanist context, the example reminds me of the first time someone told me i had a lot of feminine energy - it's clear she wasn't just blowing smoke up my ass to get me in bed (although some college women do that, apparently). Wolf correctly contends that women need to become comfortable with power if they're to make the complete leap forward which is within our grasp. She argues that powerlust is not alien to women, by examining the behavior of females under the age of five. She calls the "sisterhood" model of feminism insufficient, as women are too diverse and numerous to be united under the umbrella of intimate connection. She outlines ways for women to achieve, hold, and expand their influence in a world of money, votes, and public perception. And the main thrust of this amazing book is that the power is already in women's hands - the only thing that can hold back the dream of equality at this point, is women themselves.
How deeply did this book move me? I'll now forever dream of feeding Naomi.
To understand that one, you'll have to read the book.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

tyr, teal'c, and worf 2

(Tyr, teal'c, worf, and ronon at a bar. Tyr and worf are passed out.)
TEAL'C:  Your hair is most intriguing, Ronon Dex.
RONON:  Back atcha, baldy.
TEAL'C:  You are not black, Ronon Dex.
RONON:  Screw that, it's a gig...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

tyr, teal'c, and worf

(tyr, worf, and teal'c sit at a bar)
TYR:  Yes.
WORF:  Yes.
TEAL'C:  Indeed...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"Boston Legal"

2004*-2008
I'd avoided this one as i understandably avoid most cop, doctor, and lawyer shows. Moreover, i'd seen some of producer david kelley's work (L.A. LAW, ALLY MCBEAL), and hadn't been particularly moved.
Surprise, surprise.
This spinoff of THE PRACTICE, from which james spader, william shatner, rhona mitra, and lake bell land in the Boston firm of Crane, Poole, and Schmidt, finds kelley tweaking the format, injecting loosey goosey silliness while keeping the serious side, and upping the ante by putting issues of profoundest social import on trial. Progressive values come shining through, mostly through the mouthpiece of spader's alan shore. The show crackles with sharp writing and quirky performances. It's also unique in this reviewer's experience, in that a four-star rating system is insufficient. The installation of a fifth star located between "good" and
"great" is essential for this show, which was only unqualifiedly great once, but hit the ground running and never looked back. Not once in five seasons did it descend to bad or even okay (a distinction i'm hard-pressed to make for any other show), and hardly EVER was it only merely "good". The core cast of spader, shatner, and candice bergen (but mostly spader and shatner) carry the doings delightfully. The theme song is perky and poppy, with a surprise jolt of funk. The producers seemed a bit blase with the revolving dressing room doors that gave us the rest of the cast...perhaps a gamble that worked, but one can't help wonder how a little more devotion might have played out, both in giving them more to do and retaining their services (they had nineteen cast regulars come and go-go-go, which has to be some sort of instability record). They also tinkered with having the actors break the fourth wall occasionally, which never quite popped. But i quibble. The show is a delight, from start to finish and everything in between.
*I ought mention that it should be considered as running six seasons, not five, as the final season of THE PRACTICE is season 1 of BOSTON LEGAL, in all but name. Although the writing isn't quite as sharp, that final season is an indispensable, delightful appetizer, giving depth and resonance to shore's relationships with tara, sally, and denny. It's all good, but absolutely indispensable are "Concealing Evidence" (which gives both the A and B plots to a courtroom-hopping shore at his shady best), and "The Firm" (a veritable lost treasure of the Sierra Madre for shore/crane lovers).
FIVE-STAR EPISODES [season]
-Head Cases [1]
A pilot episode that bursts with brilliance, as one of the name partners shows up at work without pants, and an old friend hires the legendary denny crane to find out who is sleeping with his wife...only to discover it's the legend himself.
PERFORMERS (# of episodes)
JAMES SPADER - alan shore (101)
Spader (SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE, STARGATE) walks the line between idealist and hedonistic nihilist beautifully. There could have, should have been more of a resolve to his emotional intimacy issues.
SUMPTUOUS SHORE SUMMATIONS [season]
-Angel of Death [3]
Alan defends a doctor who mercy-killed terminal patients stranded after Hurricane Katrina.
-The Chicken and the Leg [4]
Alan sues an abstinence-only school district on behalf of a teen who had unprotected sex and contracted HIV.
-The Court Supreme [4]
Alan takes a capital punishment case before the Supreme Court, and gives them a verbal spanking for their constitutional and moral failings during the bush years. Ah, if only. The writing is a shade less than tight, but shore is at his iconoclastic best.
WILLIAM SHATNER - denny crane (101)
Crane is a conservative, gun-totin', lecherous, senile blowhard. Shatner (STAR TREK, INVASION IOWA!) is shatner...and that's a beautiful thing.
CANDICE BERGEN - shirley schmidt (91)
Candice (CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, MURPHY BROWN) is a steadying presence...who never gets the storylines she deserves.
RENE AUBERJONOIS - paul lewiston (71)
The brilliant rene (M*A*S*H, STAR TREK: DS9) almost never gets the chance to shine.
MARK VALLEY - brad chase (70)
Mark (HUMAN TARGET) is a perfect ken-doll foil for alan. His late-season absence was felt.
JULIE BOWEN - denise bauer (52)
Julie (HAPPY GILMORE, MODERN FAMILY) went from being a post-potter disappointment to someone you hoped they'd give more. Her character arc never quite recovered from the abandoned romance with justin mentell, though.
CHRISTIAN CLEMENSON - jerry espenson (50)
Christian (BAD INFLUENCE, THE FISHER KING) plays jerry's asberger quirks beautifully, no mean feat. They should have gone deeper into his character's obstacles, to make his failings more human and his happy ending with katy more earned.
JOHN LARROQUETTE - carl sack (33)
It's easy to imagine that john (STRIPES, STAR TREK III) had a "non-steamrolled by shatnerspader" clause in his signing contract. And they actually honored that clause a bit...
TARA SUMMERS - katy lloyd (33)
Tara (FACTORY GIRL, HITCHCOCK) is thoroughly charming...all's the more shame they didn't go more than puddle deep with her character.
HENRY GIBSON - Judge brown (24)
Henry (THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, LAUGH-IN) is part 1 of the three-headed judge that comprised the third-most effective character of the show.
MONICA POTTER - lori colson (21)
Why??? Why did she leave??? Monica (PATCH ADAMS, PARENTHOOD) created a character every bit as resonant as the Big Two, centered and capable of grounding the wackiness around her. Then, after one season...gone.
RHONA MITRA - tara wilson (20)
Sigh. The disappearance of rhona (HOLLOW MAN, THE NUMBER 23) after season 1 left another hole they never quite filled. As smart as she was sexy.
SAFFRON BURROWS - lorraine weller (20)
Just when we were becoming fascinated by the possibilities saffron (DEEP BLUE SEA, FRIDA) tapped into with alan...poof. Gone.
MEREDITH EATON - bethany horowitz (18)
Shatner and a dwarf? Yes, please.
BETTY WHITE - catherine piper (16)
What crime did she commit now? Fool-proof casting. She debuted (and shone) in THE PRACTICE.
LAKE BELL - sally heep (14)
After a scintillating debut in THE PRACTICE, did she receive love from the producers during her one aborted season? She...did not. Shame.
CRAIG BIERKO - jeffrey coho (14)
A wonderful performance of an ill-conceived character, a brad/alan hybrid.
MARISA COUGHLAN - melissa hughes (12)
Another character bursting with potential who disappears...into witness protection, perhaps? Is there anyone who thinks a deeper relationship with alan couldn't have been fascinating, enriching, and surprising? Kerry washington, jeri ryan, and nia long also fell into this crack.
SHELLEY BERMAN - Judge sanders (11)
Wait...shelley berman? Not THAT shelley berman, of course. Well, actually...yes. That very one. I don't know how many episodes it took for me to realize that this hysterically addled judge (#2 of 3) is the very same standup icon from the 60s. Or was it the 50s? Amazing. Wonderful.
GAIL O'GRADY - Judge weldon (7)
Tantalizing. Gail (NYPD BLUE, DEUCE BIGALOW) epitomizes the line this show walked, in trying to have depth while not straying too far from comedy. Her relationship with alan sizzled with possibilities for emotional growth and self-realization. As often happened, the producers leave you wishing they'd plumbed deeper, but...tantalizing.
LARRY MILLER - edwin poole (4)
The scrumptiously skewed miller (BEST IN SHOW), and pantless named partner poole, could have been so much more. A size regular? Sure.
HOWARD HESSEMAN - Judge thompson (3)
Offbeat judge #3 of 3, WKRP's booger-spouter is bravura.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Antagony

THEATER 74
-summer 2005
My first year in New York, i spent more time writing than acting, which was kind of cool. But my old buddy Chris Capp came calling, wanting to stage an original play he’d written. It was fascinating, a semi-autobiographical one-man show about a homeless heroin junkie who speaks directly to the audience. The junkie, Mac, relates tales of his life, from Vietnam to Wall Street to the street. He talks of his wife and kids, whom he hasn’t seen in years. He talks of his dead dog Blackie, his only friend. Extremely edgy, it begins and ends with a shooting; heroin at the start, and shot dead by an audience member at the end. He yells and cries at them, berating and abusing. It was indistinct in terms of dramatic structure, but that appealed to me. Very much like Chris himself, you either loved it or hated it. He had been such a supporter of my work at the Orpheus and Red Curtain, the only community member who had ever spontaneously slid money into my hand. I had rented an apartment in the house he shared with his mother Irene, and the low rate they charged allowed me to more easily continue creating. Chris had been the publisher of Fort Myers Beach’s only independent newspaper. He lived a life calculated to shock and provoke, but beneath the contentiousness was deep caring. His mother was just as wonderful in a more reserved and classy way, and the year i spent with them was beautiful. I had reservations about the piece, though. It would be tough, in terms of vocal control. And as a play, i wasn’t sure whether it were more striking than brilliant. And with Mac being 55, i wasn’t convinced i was old enough. I’d always felt that Chris himself was the perfect choice, but he maintained that he was no actor. I knew it would absorb a big chunk of my life, time that might be spent pursuing more personal projects. But i knew it would also be very rewarding, and in world where mediocrity is often venerated, it was a piece that needed doing. So i said yes. It ran about an hour, with two short intermissions. Chris handled the producing – it was nice to just act and direct. He did a lovely job, as we prepared for an open-ended run at the LBI Beach Haven fire hall. I arrived a few days before we opened. Chris ran lights and sound, and we called on our old Red Curtain buddy Paul to help too. It was a sweet reunion. For the audience plant who speaks a few lines as i badger and insult him, then shoots me, i enlisted my brother John, whom i was living with in Jersey City. It would be the first time we’d shared a stage since M.P.C.Y.C.’s JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR a decade or so before. We used a starter pistol for the shooting, and Johnny was all too happy to murder me. He took great delight in developing a Jersey goombah character, too. The script was tough to memorize, because it was non-sequential (indeed, during the second performance i was ALL over the place…a tight-rope act that few actors ever experience). I used my writing skills to hone the piece, even adding a few ideas and lines. Opening night was…well, amazing. We had a wonderful house of 100 or so. Despite technical glitches, the energy was crackling and the audience was with me from start to finish. Many of my family were there (the LBI location was nice, as that was where John’s grandmother lived). Chris had asked about him giving a pre-show speech. I thought not, especially not some B.S. about my dedication as an artist. I felt that drawing attention to the fact that i was an ACTOR would only make my job (making the audience feel off-balance) harder. He agreed, then went ahead and did it anyway. I couldn’t be too mad, as his gratitude was so sincere. At the end, the plan had been for me to not move from my death position, leaving the audience unsure as they leave the building. But Chris was so happy that he jumped up and asked me to take a bow. After a few moments, i complied. After months of preparation, the come-down was so peaceful and beautiful. The next day, my throat was raw, so when Chris came to me with reservations about a lack of reservations, i was content to postpone that night’s show. We were both wiped out. That day we relaxed on the beach, which i hadn’t had time for in the days leading up to the show. Several reviews came out, one of which was very, very gratifying. We had one more performance a few weeks later. Chris found a louder gun which i thought was maybe too much, but he and Johnny really wanted it. With only twenty-five audience members, the energy got sucked into some hole from which i couldn’t pull it out. It was perhaps the most “high school”-ish feeling acting i’d done since, well, maybe ever. On the plus side, the earlier technical glitches went BEAUTIFULLY (in the opening night "penis rap", the accompanying music was so soft that i’d lost the beat…but that and the synching of the heroin injection music was just perfect the second night). And the show did end with a bang, as the extra-loud shot tore through the hall. This time, i stayed down. It felt nice lying there. Despite the off night, i wasn’t too unhappy. A bad night in the theater still feels better than most other good nights. And sometimes there’s a certain beauty in a crappy show, if your humor is perverse enough. Mine is. The fire hall was next to a police station, and all along John had been worried about the shots attracting the wrong attention from the boys in blue, as he shoots me, then runs out and around the building. Sure enough, as he tore around the building that night, an officer came investigating. John had the gun re-holstered, and kept his hands well visible. We talked of doing the show again, perhaps on a college tour or in Florida. While not giving a definite no, i told Chris that i hadn’t been able to gain total control vocally, so it might be time for someone else to take over. An amazing piece.