Carreón Cinema Club: Olivia Newton-John

Carreón Cinema Club: Olivia Newton-John

For a specific generation, the sight of Sandy’s evolution as the quintessential “good girl” gone “bad” in the camptastic 1970s movie musical Grease, you’d think an opera diva hit a high note.

Olivia Newton-John in “Grease” (1977). Photo: Paramount Pictures

It rocked many of us to the core, seeing Olivia Newton-John wearing those skin-tight pants and the red Candie’s high-heeled mules, that ciggie forever burning her amazing self into our minds. Coupled with an equally sexy John Travolta as Danny Zuko, we all wished we could be one or the other — and in most cases — both.

Yet, when I think of Olivia Newton-John, my mind returns to my family’s legendary drives through the American southwest as we vacationed by car to visit Dad’s family in Mexico City. Dad most trusted co-pilots remained me and the car radio during those long-haul night drives through the lonely desert as the family slept. (I had to stay awake as I didn’t want to miss anything!)

Dad and I didn’t talk much as he didn’t want distractions as he drove fearlessly across some mind-numbing landscapes that I imagined contained all sorts of nefarious creatures. But we forged and shared an appreciation for the sounds of ONJ, an earnest voice keeping us company as AM stations played many of her iconic hits of that time. The warmth in her voice proved as seductive as a siren song as we made our way across the US southwest during those memorable trips. My love of ONJ began and grew with every new pop hit, her starring roles in Grease and, especially, Xanadu.

News of her passing at 73 makes for a bittersweet trip to a time I keep compartmentalized as an adult. I’m suddenly seven years old, 10, 13, and 14 at the same time, all ages marked by her music and movies, moments that resonate just as strongly today. I never was able to see her perform live. Yet, I join her legion of fans that will honestly and hopelessly proclaim their love and devotion for ONJ today and onwards because she will forever be true magic as an artist and human being.

Rest in power, Olivia.

Olivia Newton-John in 2020. Photograph: Brett Goldsmith/The Guardian

Carreón Cinema Club: “Santa Evita” materializes out of thin air

Carreón Cinema Club: “Santa Evita” materializes out of thin air

Did you know Salma Hayek Pinault was executive producing a series based on Tomás Eloy Martinez’s 1995 best-selling novel, “Santa Evita?”

Perhaps.

Did you know the mini-series, directed by the renowned Colombian filmmaker Rodrigo García, is premiering this week on Hulu?

No. Neither did I.

The legacy of famed Argentine first lady and historical iconoclast Eva Perón’ is no less polarizing today than when she lived out her fabled life in the Casa Rosada from 1946 – 1952, succumbing to cancer at the age of 33. Since then, she’s been immortalized in literature, musical theater (“Evita”), and musical film (Madonna in “Evita”). Martinez’s novel, “Santa Evita,” added a new layer of myth by spinning a surreal tale of a political shell game with multiple copies of her embalmed corpse, a bid to avoid her being used as a martyr for the working class. (A fascinating if uneven read.)

Now, on the 70th anniversary of her death, “Santa Evita,” which I have yet to watch, appears out of nowhere to debut on Hulu on July 26. The just-dropped, stylish trailer indicates that it appears to be a pedigreed production. What’s frustrating is its arrival without any fanfare or promotion. What gives? The trailer, in Spanish with English subtitles, confirms that Hayek Pinault opted NOT to produce the series in English, a commendable choice in authenticity. Given that Netflix, Apple TV+, and Prime Video do not shy away from foreign language content, they have also done well in creating awareness before launching “House of Paper,” “Squid Game,” “La Casa de las Flores,” and “Acapulco.” So why was the release of “Santa Evita” dealt with like a surprise drop and not in the cool Beyoncé way?

Perhaps Hulu doesn’t have the marketing apparatus to handle Spanish-language content, but given who is involved with “Santa Evita,” that is an immense shame. Given the economic power of Latinos, the streamer is remiss in not wanting to tap into it. Moreover, it isn’t like Eva Perón doesn’t register in 2022, a fascinating piece of “herstory” full of provocative narrative themes. But, with all the optics within the industry to prove it is “inclusive” and “diverse,” such shabby handling of “Santa Evita” can only infuriate our lack of progress further in mainstream filmed entertainment.

As for the merits of the series, that Rodrigo Garcia is involved is enough for me. García, whose new Apple Original Film “Raymond and Ray,” starring Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke, and produced by Alfonso Cuarón, is set for release later this year. Combining this filmmaker with such rich material can only invite viewing and discussion.

Care to join me in the discussion?

Santa Evita debuts on Hulu on July 26.

And Just Like That… I Am 55

And Just Like That… I Am 55

Today, I am officially 55 years old. That’s (still) the legal speed limit in some areas, but I’ve never been interested in sticking to it in terms of living my life. I had to get THERE, wherever THERE was at that moment. Now is an excellent time to think about HERE or where I am today.

I did attempt to stop and look around from time to time, but that just meant having to allow specific thoughts and realities to make themselves known in my head. Demons remain my chosen go-to passengers on this ride and for as long as I can remember. Food. Spending. Status. Validation. Funny, I rarely viewed love and companionship as priorities at the beginning for being too dangerous. Neither stayed very long on the passenger side when it did happen. The demons made sure of that, like damn sure.

Friendship and family remain my favored angels, and thank heavens for them. Otherwise, I would have intentionally hit the cosmic center divider a long time ago. It always seemed like a surefire way to shut those demons down for good. But they’re resilient little fuckers.

Emma Caulfield as vengeance demon Anya in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Demons sound cute to me in a post-Buffy world, all latex, make-up, and effects. Fear is something, well, scarier. Fear exists as my twin because I LET that happen. I’ve known Fear as long as I’ve known myself. Every fall on the sidewalk, every perceived failure, the bullies I let get in my head and under my skin. These exterior forces which tormented me as a kid were NOTHING compared to what I’ve done to myself over the years as an adult.

But I’m still here and for good reasons.

Not to let the demons share my airtime but to shift focus away from them. Maybe even speed up the breaking up process already. Every minute I refuse to succumb to fear is a significant victory. Choosing not to sleep away the day is a cause for celebration. Cooking a healthy meal on my own and not consuming one designed to keep me sick is a source of jubilation. Trying to find ways to spend ALL of my hard-earned coin to make myself sound or look attractive is a thrill on par with a musical’s overture when the curtain rises.

These are not gifts but the tools to find a sense of balance, contentment, and especially hope. I possess them and more because I’ve learned to understand the importance of such devices. Yet, Fear still distracts me or, more often than not, kills the desire.

Not today.

From Stories of Cinema at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

As I look around and take in the view of 55, I see all that the demons, Fear, and that annoying cousin Depression seek to absorb and destroy. That cannot be without my help, at least. Do you know those first sparks cast to start a campfire? Writing this feels like that, trying not to let moisture or wind snuff out what can lead to something bright and warm. You fan the embers too much; you smother the flame.

From Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse at LACMA

Words, music, films, art, design, and photography are all selfless acts of courage. It still takes courage to be queer, to not be part of the mainstream, to be one’s true self today. To exist as a gay Latino remains an act of defiance, no longer allowing oneself to hide or blend in with the herd of scared masses. We know what Fear can do to an individual in their quest for betterment. We see the power of Fear in a group. Start one lie, and create a mob of terrified people to disavow truth, science, and logic.

Someone sent me a meme with the legend, “I picked a stupid time to be alive.” I laughed at loud. Then again, this is also a time NOT to be stupid. I’m not alone in recognizing how emotional paralysis stems from what we consume in terms of information, social media especially.

It would be easy to live out one’s life like a 21st-century Miss Havisham, hiding amongst souvenirs of a perceived better past. That’s not an option in a world determined to live on the defensive about everything. Why beat yourself up about where you’re supposed to be in this life?

At this moment, I am encouraged by being 55, albeit cautiously. I’m not sure what tomorrow will be like or the day after that. Will I have personal stumbles and moments of shrill assholeness? Probably. Whatever happens next is always up to us. Forward motion isn’t always about avoiding the past. We have to avoid being defined by it. When I find the courage and clarity to stop and admire the view again, I have the hope and excitement that what I see will be different, empowering, and still delightfully the same.

Now, about that one-man show I keep threatening to stage…

xJc

Carreón Cinema Club: “Lightyear”

Carreón Cinema Club: “Lightyear”

How much did I love “Lightyear?” Quite a bit.

In this era of instant, gleeful takedowns, social and mainstream media punishing this “Toy Story” spin-off for not reaching Pixar’s usual box office heights is the more significant disappointment in this narrative. “Lightyear” gifts viewers, especially adults, a chance to breathe and appreciate a thoughtful story. Armed with Chris Evans’s rich vocal performance, “Lightyear” deserves a look for its poignant story, beautiful visuals, and the element of surprise in terms of its characterizations.

Now that the film is being re-launched on Disney+ starting August 3, “Lightyear” may finally break through the pop culture barrier. Criticisms that the film is not linked strongly enough to the “Toy Story” universe are unfounded. The device that “Lightyear” is the film that ignited the toy line character is all you need to know, and it is enough. The rest is a loving tribute to space film odysseys, big and small. (Even James Cameron’s “Aliens” earns some prime real estate!) 

Photo: Pixar/Disney

However, one of the things I appreciated most about “Lightyear” is the humanity of its characters. Buzz’s rigidity, determination to right a terrible wrong, and stalwart loyalty to those around him make for such rich storytelling moments. Evans commands the screen, creating a Buzz that stands on his own. (And yes, he still hits a few notes that recall Tim Allen in the “Toy Story” franchise for purists.)

As for the unnecessary fury over the same-sex kiss involving his best friend and commanding officer Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) and the character’s wife? Relax. It is part of something organic and integral to Buzz’s emotional journey. That people turned this thread into a “pearl-clutching” moment sanctimonious “outrage” is not only offensive but ignorant.

No, the true power of “Lightyear” is its view of a world its creators attempted to realize beyond the toy. That they chose to reflect today’s multi-culturalism, not a homogenized future, gave me a reason to smile. Imagine having films like “Lightyear” when many of us were growing up? Seeing ourselves in the entertainment we favor does speak and inspires volumes to a generation that champions this art form. 

Last thing: If you do not connect with Peter Sohn’s vivid performance as Sox, the robotic cat that functions as Buzz’s Watson to his Sherlock, you’re made of stone. 

Directed by Angus MacLane, and written by MacLane and Jason Headley, “Lightyear” stars Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, Taika Waititi, Bill Hader, Uzo Aduba, Efren Ramirez, and James Brolin.

“Lightyear” is now showing in cinemas, premiering on Disney+ on August 3. 

Carreón Cinema Club: “Father of the Bride” is… a great movie

I wasn’t alone in preparing to hate-watch Father of the Bride when it was announced as being a Latin take on the oft-remade film. Yet, when I realized that sublime Mexican filmmaker Gaz Alazraki would be helming the project, I found myself intrigued.

Now streaming on HBOMax, Father of the Bride (or “El Padre de la Novia”) proved to be what we need to cleanse our mental palates from a vicious news cycle and endless fantasy-driven narratives featuring people in tights.

No need to “be prepared” for the cultural nuances of the film, which are its special spice, enhancing a narrative that is both surprising and poignant beyond the emotional scope of the 1950 and 1991 versions. That the film offers a surprising plot twist that rings true raises its level of profundity from being just another wedding tale. More, the ensemble cast led by Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan is a winning group of veterans and rising talent, including Adria Arjona, Isabela Merced, Diego Boneta, and SNL’s Chloe Fineman (in a scene-stealing role as a too-woke wedding planner). All are given space to shine in their spotlight, allowing for a refreshing and sincere film experience that we’ve been lacking from studio fare of late.

It may appear like it is a rehash con chile of Nora Ephron/Nancy Meyers most vanilla tropes. This Father is more than just his story It’s about the family and the families we create through tradition and life’s needs.

It was a real pleasure to interview director Alazraki earlier this year for the film’s suite of content. It wasn’t our first encounter, meeting for the first time on the set of the groundbreaking Netflix series, Club de Cuervos. That Father of the Bride is his first English-language film bodes well for his evolution as an artist. I’m looking forward to what the man behind the blockbuster hit Nosotros Los Nobles has in store next. In the meantime, check out Father of the Bride on HBOMax.

Carreón Cinema Club: “It Could Be Worse” Edition

Carreón Cinema Club: “It Could Be Worse” Edition

At last, the Carreón Cinema Club returns, and it only took being placed in quarantine before a shoot in CDMX to make it happen. Sitting in my hotel room these last few days, the theme of “It Could Be Worse” began its slow development in my brain.

El Ángel de la Independencia in CDMX as shot by J. Carreon, 2022.

Viewing a large amount of negative content on TikTok and other social media platforms could only add fuel to this fire. The Troll Patrol turned yet another harmless place into a burn book about anything and anyone. Screaming heads dominate social media narratives, another variation of the pundits who ruined mainstream news with their constant diatribes of hate, anger, and “this is why it sucks” vitriol.

If TikTok stood as our only source of information, the unpleasantness and unhappiness of Generation Whine would manifest itself with an algorithm of “content” that wilts one’s ability to believe in hope if you look at it long enough. Couple it with the “woke” and “cancel” threads, and you’re soon freebasing kitten videos to preserve your humanity. Anyone with a phone could use this power for good, not let the alt-right scream at the world with their often libelous and ludicrous dis-content.

Yes, it can be worse unless we stop the flow of misinformation and the endless lunacy of Kamp Karen videos to find reasons to create and not hate. (And, for the record, having a smartphone makes you as much a journalist as a pundit makes you an “expert” on any topic if you’re snarky or loud enough.)

Thus, as I sat in wonderment in my aerie above Paseo de la Reforma in CDMX, I pushed aside thinking over how fucked up we’ve become as a society. Instead, I began to mull over the films that could illustrate just how bad things can get unless we all pull our asses out of our heads long enough to deal with the weapons of mass distraction threatening our ability to evolve positively. Ergo, behold the “It Can Be Worse” edition of the Carreón Cinema Club, starting with the end of the world as depicted by Peter Watkins’s seminal film, The War Game.

THE WAR GAME (1961)

Produced, Written, and Directed by Peter Watkins

Narrated by Michael Aspel and Peter Graham

Paul Freeman as Dr. René Belloq in the 1981 classic adventure “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Once Kate Bush started “trending” thanks to the thieving Cultural Belloqs at Netflix ruining a good thing in the name of marketing, the 1970s and 80s never felt so omnipresent as they do now. Wars, nuclear threats, insane dictators, inflation, the gas crisis, and other nightmares threatened lives on Elm Street, alright. We were ready for the unforgettable fire to descend upon us, a fear ignited and realized with intent by the Mad Max films, “The Day After” and “Threads.”

But then again, it wasn’t the first time art harnessed the abject horror of humanity, letting stupidity get its way with nuclear bombs. In 1964, the BBC engaged award-winning filmmaker Peter Watkins of “Culloden” fame, a documentary covering the 1746 Jacobite uprising, a narrative presented as a parallel to the ongoing Vietnam conflict. Based on its success, the network turned to Watkins anew to craft an episode for its “The Wednesday Play” series. The innovative filmmaker delivered The War Game, a withering pseudo-documentary film chronicling the effects of nuclear war on Great Britain. Watkins, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, presented his work to a gallery of executives reacting with apprehension and panic, which government leaders also felt. The War Game wasn’t just shelved but censored by today’s standards. It did earn a token theatrical release instead of airing on the network. The BBC stated publicly, “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting. It will, however, be shown to invited audiences…”

A scene from Mick Jackson’s seminal 1984 nuclear war drama, “Threads.”

Following its presentation at the National Film Theatre in London and several leading international film festivals, The War Game would earn the 1967 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Curiously, the film remained an elusive relic until 1985, when it was televised by the BBC to a mass audience, honoring the 40th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. This time, it would air before an encore presentation of another iconic and harrowing nuclear drama, Mick Jackson’s equally devastating and award-winning telefilm, “Threads,” first broadcast in 1984.

Viewing The War Game today, you will see what unsettled the BBC executives and politicians at that time. Unrelenting due to its brevity, the hour-long documentary spares no one’s feelings or sensibilities in its raw and accurate depiction of the human and environmental costs of a nuclear exchange. Shot with live news precision by Peter Bartlett and an uncredited Peter Suschitzky, viewing the catastrophic effects of detonating missiles in real-time in such a visceral manner gives you pause. People asphyxiate in the heat, their eyes melting, or their homes lit on fire by the proximity of the blasts. Watkins left much of the horror to the viewer’s imagination, using graphic descriptions in the voiceover versus graphic visual effects.

Shot on location in and around the towns of Kent, Watkins chose an ensemble cast of non-actors, adding a sobering layer of emotional power to the verité style of the film. What will make you want to shout are narration scenes recorded by Peter Graham, coupled with Michael Aspel reading the quotations from source materials from actual and fact-based government and religious sources. At times conflicting and surreal, the visual parallels further illustrate how unprepared Great Britain, politically and socially, will only make you wonder if we’ve progressed at all.

As the war in Ukraine rages on with surprising support for the MAGA-inflamed populace, The War Game takes on stronger resonance today, if that’s even possible. Yes, friends, it can be worse if we allow such hateful rhetoric to excuse away the evils that are not ready to leave us alone.

I purchased a VHS copy of The War Game years ago off Amazon to complete my legendary collection of nuclear war-themed movies. You can now buy the Blu-Ray version (coupled with “Culloden”). Also, check your local library or indie video store for the DVD of The War Game, and search YouTube and Vimeo for the full-length presentation.

THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961)

Directed by Val Guest

Written by Wolf Mankowitz and Val Guest

Cast: Janet Munro, Leo McKern, and Edward Judd

1961 Theatrical Release Poster

Chances are you’ve already experienced the century-mark temperatures baking the nation. Still, think climate change is bullshit? Remember that when cities burn, infrastructures fail, and people die from the heat that’s not showing signs of abating. Yet, the topic of a burning planet is not a new one, either. I distinctly remember watching a telefilm called “Heatwave!” on ABC, chronicling a young couple’s desperate escape to the mountains from the growing heat of a big city. First broadcast in 1974, it was TV’s answer to the disaster movie trend. So, where is this leading? The award-winning 1961 sci-fi classic known as The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

While it’s more a cautionary tale about the perils of nuclear proliferation, it lists why we still argue about what we’ve done to overheat this planet. What happens in Guest’s film is tragic and mindblowing in science and fiction. Yet, hearing people bitching about the heat and the state/energy companies’ inability to keep the power grids from shutting down makes me want to make them force watch what could be worse.

True, the conceit of The Day the Earth Caught Fire is the result of what happens to the planet’s orbit thanks to the US and USSR detonating giant bombs on the same day in both the North and South Poles. But when it starts to get hot, the planet reacts unexpectedly, leaving its citizens scrambling for any relief or survival.

What I love about the film is that it centers around how a group of Fleet Street reporters at the Daily Express break the story in the first place, as well as other believable human drama involving the principals, Edward Judd, Leo McKern, and Janet Munro. More, real news editor Arthur Robin Christiansen is prominently featured in the film, adding a nice layer of honesty to the film. The urgency of visuals illustrating water rationing, the burning of London landmarks, and other tragedies make the film a sobering viewing experience.

Edward Judd in “The Day the Earth Caught Fire.”

Far from being a quaint black and white film of the 1960s, Guest deploys an arsenal of effects and human emotion to give the film its resonance. Even the ending is unexpected by leaving the planet’s fate unresolved. Although, it is humorous that the original US release featured an augmented ending of the sound of ringing bells, indicating that science might have spared humankind from being BBQ’d. By the end, however, you’ll respect the sun’s power.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire is available for rent and purchase on most major streaming platforms.

NUEVO ORDEN (“New Order”/2020)

Directed and Written by Michel Franco

Cast: Diego Boneta, Mónica Del Carmen, Naian Gonzalez Norvind, Fernando Cuautle, Darío Yazbek, Eligio Meléndez

2020 Theatrical Release Poster

Much of the industrialized world faces a widening gap between its socio-economic classes, leading to erratic and alarming shifts in political ideologies with high consequences with each election. Mexico’s economic chasm is no different and gaining further volatility with the rise of American gentrification in its capital city and other parts of the country. The Mexican-French production Nuevo Orden sought to unleash an uncompromising “what if” scenario with wildly uneven but impactful results.

Following its award-winning premiere at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, earning the Grand Jury Prize, the arrival of Nuevo Orden during a pandemic seemed like outrageous misfortune. The appearance of its trailer, featuring images of POC taking over the white elite enclaves, earned a harsh backlash of racial stereotyping in its home country. Despite its acclaim from critics worldwide, citing the film as being powerful and timely, the film continues to earn negative colorism commentary in its post-release life.

Directed and written by Michel Franco, Nuevo Orden chronicles the lives of an upwardly mobile family impacted by the rise of the underprivileged in Mexico City. The effects of class warfare go from the micro to the macro as the invasion of the family’s wedding event is projected upon a canvas of a violent coup. What seemed to be an explosion of one’s group’s frustration with the status quo is painfully revealed to be the machinations of a government seeking to establish a military rule.

Designed to provoke and challenge the safe and paranoid sensibilities of viewers not paying attention to the current news cycle. Franco’s narrative hits individual buttons by focusing on the destruction of the privileged and entitled classes, leading to why hailed as necessary by many of its champions. Unfortunately, Franco loses control of his narrative with the revelation that the military is behind the coup, undermining the more important message of social divides. Unlike Bong Joon-ho’s groundbreaking “Parasite,” Franco cannot sustain the foreboding tension in this clash of economic classes to a gut-punching finish, despite its many bold attempts otherwise. Regardless, as speculative fiction, however, Nuevo Orden does successfully visualize a world of devastating change that could be possible given our current state of affairs in the US and worldwide. Yes, folks, it CAN get worse if we ignore the signs.

Nuevo Orden is now streaming on Kanopy.

Carreón Cinema Club: Actor Fred Ward Exemplified “The Right Stuff”

Carreón Cinema Club: Actor Fred Ward Exemplified “The Right Stuff”

We will miss you, Fred Ward. You marked the lives of several generations of film and television fans, and we’re all the more grateful for your lighting up the screen. Rest in power, sir.

Fred Ward in the 1990 cult classic “Tremors.” Photo: Universal Pictures

Ward, who starred in films including “Henry and June,” “The Right Stuff” and “The Player,” has died. He was 79. 

Film fans of the era were quick to champion Ward in “Tremors,” playing affable smalltown repairman Earl Bassett in a performance that was one for the Blockbuster video store ages. Released in 1990, director Ron Underwood’s clever and earnest take on the American western genre as a monster-based comedy wasn’t exactly a box office hit. Rather, it developed a wider audience as they discovered the film during its home entertainment release, ultimately launching a franchise.

Co-starring Kevin Bacon and Finn Carter, “Tremors” fans also could not get enough of the vivid turns from iconic TV dad Michael Gross (“Family Ties”) and country music legend Reba McEntire as a survivalist couple, chewing up the screen as much as the carnivorous worm-like creatures dispatched by Ward, Bacon, and the townsfolk. Still, at its center stood Ward and Bacon, essaying one of the first post-modern “bro-mances” on screen in that era, a friendship that felt genuine and sincere despite the monster movie chaos fueling the narrative.

“Ward has played many heroes, each with a subtlety that removed them from the cardboard cutout figures that they could have been,” the Chicago Tribune’s Julia Cameron write of the actor in 1985. “In many ways, his work…can be viewed as a meditation on America’s notions of masculinity.”

Ward was married to Marie-France Ward, with whom he had a son, Django. TMZ reports via Ward’s rep that his cause of death is currently unknown. Ward, whose death was reported on May 8, wanted memorial tributes to be given to the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.


— Read more at variety.com/2022/film/news/fred-ward-dead-dies-tremors-the-right-stuff-1235266338/

Whatever happened to class, respect, civility, or just plain good manners

Whatever happened to class, respect, civility, or just plain good manners

What the hell is happening with Broadway audiences?? Is baiting theater legend Patti LuPone the source for new “Karen videos” aiming at creative dis-content infamy? What about Jesse Williams‘s nude scene in the play “Take Me Out” being shot and posted onto Twitter?! Why are we hellbent on ruining the once simple pleasure of enjoying live theater in such a callous, selfish way?

As our social mores continue their sad, rapid decline, I seriously thought live theater would be the last bastion of good taste and deportment. I guess I should have known the writing was on the wall the last time I attended a play on Broadway (“Burn This” in 2019) which was attended by more people in flip flops and shorts than I’ve ever seen. The recent events involving Ms. LuPone and Mr. Williams just adds more fuel to the pyre.

Live theater became a religion for me in 1983 when I took my first trip to NYC. The original productions of La Cage aux Folles and My One and Only, plus Nine and Doonesbury the Musical were my first Broadway musicals, a transformative experience to say the least. The audiences could not have been more respectful or well-heeled. I even wore a tie to each performance. Yet, reading the latest headlines of hooliganism on the Great White Way makes me ponder when it all went south.

Theater legend Patti LuPone (Photo: Twitter)

We’ve seen how the toxicity of hooliganism transforms sporting events into something both demeaning and dangerous. Yet, since talk shows such as “Jerry Springer” and “Ricki Lake” started rewarding bad behavior with a rabid television audience leering for more, are we that surprised as to what passes for “class” today? Screaming at people is an art form thanks to those reality shows involving “real housewives” and other scions of dysfunction. But the toxicity level hit its vertiginous peak with the rise of social media, allowing for the telebasura or TV Trash to be captured, crafted, and posted with incredible ease. Witnessing “Karens in the Wild” best sums up our complete breakdown of manners and civility in any public space, big or small. So much so, the Trumpian Era of politics ushered levels so base and classless behavior it succeeded in re-branding the Ugly American into a superbeing.

America’s “finest”: Lauren Boebert & Marjorie Taylor Greene in action. (Photo: NBC News)

How can any rational discourse, much less good manners, exist in a world where human hyenas fight for camera time on Fox News or the floor of the Capitol Building. More, this lack of boundaries and good taste is giving free license to people to use their mobile phones as weapons of mass distraction. As to their endgame, I can only imagine it is fuel their desperate need for views and followers to validate their self-worth while promoting their ravenous desire for attention and status.

How do we turn the tide? With the NY theater community still reeling from the creative and financial meltdown caused by the COVID pandemic, that several houses and productions are bouncing back is a veritable miracle. The venues are getting stricter by locking down mobile phones, extending the mask mandates, and other health-driven initiatives. But what about the audience itself? At what point do we engage a mandate for people to stop being for damn loathsome in public? This era of constant whining, lack of accountability, and good sense is not how we achieve greatness. With our hard-earned democracy in shambles while the MAGA-fueled right fiddles as Rome burns, maybe complaining about shitty audiences seems like a waste of time.

But take a good look around you and ask yourself, “What ever happened to class?”

We share and resend the motto memes of “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Unless we start making that happen now, I’m honestly hoping for an asteroid to take charge already and slam into this damaged planet.

Cue 1975’s classic showtune from Bob Fosse’s Chicago, written by John Kander and Fred Ebb. It was cut from the 2002 Oscar-winning film version, but thankfully it was shot with Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones and included with the home entertainment special features as a deleted scene.

Rage Against the DeSantis Machine

Rage Against the DeSantis Machine

As if 2022 couldn’t double down on the crazy any further, clips of people enraged over what they perceive as media giant Disney or our under-siege educators “grooming” their precious Becky and/or Ken to become members of the LGBTQ+ community have the nation transfixed. I offer this counterpoint-slash-reality check to ill-informed agitators in front of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and beyond.

I’m a 54-year-old gay male, American-born, and of Mexican descent.  I am the second child born of immigrants in California and the country they chose to make their home, leaving their own families behind.  Coming to America was their choice, and my siblings and I could not have flourished better under their watch and care as their American-born children.

There. I said it. I’m gay. No one made me “this way.” No one groomed me. I led myself to the LGBTQ+ community through an inherent need to feel safe and visible. First, I reconciled my fears as to what society would think, and, especially, my parents. Devoutly Catholic and structured in terms of their principles, their difficulty in accepting my truth remains a painful episode. However, it is a period that mercifully was made easier by the support of my siblings, turning my parents around in terms of what losing would mean to them all.

I remember my first real conversation with my mom one afternoon after I came out. I took her to lunch and a movie. She was a wee bit subdued at first, but slowly, she’d pepper our conversation with direct questions about my sexual identity. I explained that choice had nothing to do with my sexuality.  No one molested me. No one influenced me. It just felt like the most natural thing in the world.

I distinctly remember realizing when I had no attraction to the female gender.  It was in 1976 while watching a first-run episode of “The Bionic Woman.” (It was the multi-part “Kill Oscar” storyline that was a cross-over with “The Six Million Dollar Man.”) I want to think something about the image of Steve Austin fighting off the evil Fembots in hurricane-tossed Hawaii wearing nothing besides his mustache and a pair of swim trunks was what made me take notice.  His hairy chest was swoon-worthy.  Of course, I kept that to myself and spent the next 15 years lying to myself about my sexual identity.

Perhaps that TV memory was or wasn’t the moment.  Perhaps I knew I was gay after listening to my Dad’s original cast albums of My Fair Lady and Camelot, both featuring Julie Andrews.  (He saw BOTH original productions on Broadway, which still elicits feelings of jealousy today.)

Maybe it was when I discovered Linda Ronstadt’s first and glorious recording of American Songbook classics, “What’s New” in 1983. Maybe it was Maria Callas singing opera or the Burt Bacharach/Hal Davis catalog, genres my father also introduced to me.  Or maybe it was my first time watching Rosalind Russell rip through “Rose’s Turn” in the filmed version of Gypsy? All of this happened during my formative years as a kid.

The first film I remember seeing in a movie theater was Disney’s The Aristocats in 1970. Did a subliminal message exist within the song “Ev’ry Body Wants to Be a Cat?” Was it hiding code to turn me gay? Please, I wanted to be a cool cat. However, it did inspire me to have a career in the filmed arts, which began in earnest at the age of 19 and continues to engage and inspire me today.

Oh, and how I can forget the first song I learned by heart as a child! Yes, that honor goes to Petula Clark’s 1964 monster hit, “Downtown.”

Better yet, my identity as a child of Mexican nationals provided a broader selection of art and artists to further inspire and give my life an incredible context. Hearing my mom’s favorite music of her youth meant Lola Beltran, Jorge Negrete, and Pedro Infante would also teach me about the language and spirit of a people that experienced the power of oppression and conquest, too. Assimilation may have won the first battle for my soul, a time when I referred to myself as “George.” Life experiences, maturity, and pride brought me back to Jorge, also the name of my father.

The iconic duo of Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete (Foto: Twitter / @limberopulos_)

I gravitated to these artists because they inspired me to want to know more about a world that extended beyond my Chicano suburban existence in Pico Rivera, CA.  I felt connected to the art and artists that remain my greatest mentors and heroes.  Not just because the gay community favors them; instead, they endure because they were pioneers to appreciate.  That I’ve met many aficionados who happen to be gay men is the icing on the reality cake, validating that Los Gays possess incredible cultural taste.

The point is that we are ALL influenced by a broad variety of external social, political, and cultural forces in a lifetime. I firmly believe our sexual and gender identities, however, are truly biological, not bids to merely find ourselves “more interesting.” Exceptions exist, sure. But to generalize and marginalize an entire community to fit an agenda? No. When politicians dare to prey on the fears of the weak and uneducated, the results can be irrevocable. The devastating truth about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill and other such discriminatory legislation is this idea of forcing conformity on young people.  Such blind homogenization is both dangerous and damaging in that it stigmatizes what is entirely natural and pure.

Again, during my elementary school life, I knew I was different, but I lacked the awareness and words to understand why.  The awareness would arrive much later and it ultimately made perfect sense once I stepped away from the fear. A voracious reader as a kid, my teachers could not keep up with my pace of finishing all the material on their curriculum.  These outstanding and dedicated educators resorted to giving me things NOT on the curriculum that would nurture and encourage my ability to process and understand different narratives.  It affected how I related to the other kids, most of whom had no idea what I was talking about most days.  Hell, my vocabulary alone was enhanced by my reading my parents’ issues of Newsweek, the LA Times, and the LA Herald-Examiner.  I had to know what they knew, too, about the world.

As a result, my cultural references were not things that mattered in my classroom or playground.  It felt worrisome to me, so I suppressed certain parts of my personality to “fit in” or conform with the larger group.  It remains my biggest regret to this day, this desire of being ignored or left behind.  Censoring myself to stop the bullying and social isolation meant killing the part of me that brought me such joy and pride.  I saw the bigger picture, and I knew it would lead me away from the suburbs to find the place that would understand and encourage me to be the best version of myself, not just my sexual identity.

Donald Sutherland in the 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (Photo: United Artists)

Our young people desperately need advocates and champions, not a group of red hat-wearing pod people from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” telling them they’re invisible.  We need a greater understanding of sexual and gender identity, not criminalizing what remains a real struggle for so many innocent people. Choosing not to care or recognize the importance of gender and sexual identity is reckless and can be dangerous, even deadly, for those who have no emotional support. We have to find a middle ground, not promote a mantra of “grooming,” which is frustrating and sickening.

I can’t understand how people like DeSantis think forcing people to subscribe to ONE point of view cannot be considered an act of “grooming.”  How is indoctrinating generations to espouse every “ism” found in the fear-mongering GOP playbook a civil and just act?  This demented cry of “Beware Woke Culture” features once-benign terms appropriated and weaponized, again, by the right to conjure up yet another Boogeyman of panic, this time in the shape of Disney.

Fighting Disney is nothing more than a malignant weapon of mass distraction launched by a party that only deals in regression, not progress.  It wasn’t so long ago that people chastised Disney for being extraordinarily slow in creating works that genuinely reflected the diverse faces and cultures of the world.  Today, kids – and adults — can see and hear themselves in many of their favorite films and TV series, something denied to countless generations.

How dare Gov. Ron DeSantis and his rabid-mouthed ilk think they can legally force so many of our youth BACK into a closet with acts of stigmatization and fear.  How does that serve the greater good of our evolving society?  What scares his acolytes more about the presence of people who do not conform to sexual or gender norms?  They label us all pedophiles and purveyors of dangerous liberalism when leaders like DeSantis wrap themselves in a divisibility cloak of evangelicalism, shielding their abject ignorance and cruelty.

The New Faces of Fascism 2022 — Front: Reps. Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Back: Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar (R-AZ). Not pictured and not missed, Texas Governor Greg Abbott.  

DeSantis knows what scares people who do not care or want to possess a broader worldview.  His brand of anger is nothing new, but he’s learned to refine such a message thanks to the internet and a media complex incapable of stopping coverage of the clown cars driven by people like Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), and Matt Gaetz (R-FL).  Oh, let us not forget the Grifter Dynasty of Donald Trump, a debacle that led to an insurrection and the proliferation of several “Big Lies” extending beyond the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Full disclosure, I am proud of my time as an employee at Disneyland, learning much about people and storytelling thanks to the countless amount of guests that felt comfortable sharing a little piece of their lives with me as they waited in line to board a ride.  That comfort level drives my career as a producer/interviewer of studio-produced content today.

I worked for Disneyland while attending California State University at Long Beach from 1989 to 1991.  I spent those two years working primarily in Adventureland and Frontierland as a Jungle Cruise skipper, Tiki Room host, and on the Big Thunder Mountain and Mark Twain crews.  Perhaps I took a photo of your parents as kids enjoying the day.  Maybe they took a picture with me, smiled and laughed at my jokes, or even teased me for working at the park.  Either way, not one guest knew much about me or any cast members on site that day.  Fate brought us together to exist in the same space.  All we had in common was being at a place designed to make good memories.

I still see the looks of relief and comfort when I would speak to a guest in Spanish, establishing a connection to the park in a way they could understand and interact with on a personal level.  I will never forget creating the wheelchair section for the disabled guests, many of whom had never been to the park before, like many children and adults visiting that day.  During the Main Street Electrical Parade, that combination of light, music, and their favorite characters elicited so many good and positive emotions two times nightly.  Again, my crewmates and I did all we could to ensure our guests had a good time and did not feel judged for their disabilities.  We would often receive a handshake, a “Thank You,” or a squeeze on the shoulder for jobs well done.

That is the power of the Disney experience.  You don’t have to share in it, but don’t ruin it for people, either.  The key design feature of the Disney universe is to be a home for everyone, regardless of their views or backgrounds.  Is it perfect?  Nothing in the world can make that claim.  But it matters to millions of people around the world, nonetheless.  We must look like savages to them, which saddens and angers me.  The message of being the “Happiest Place on Earth” is taken seriously by its many employees, past and present.  Because that’s what matters first – the ability to make sure you are happy and safe in that space for however long you visit.

Projecting all this perverse hate and bile onto that sentiment to serve someone else’s ego is a slap to the many of us who gladly made sure YOU were a satisfied guest.  Why should any of you care what we do in private?  I can guarantee you that is the last thing on our mind when facing a guest.  Nor is anyone looking for converts, a grotesque and ridiculous notion.  It is the same in any business; you focus on the company and clients to make sure they return.

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) Photo: Brittanica.com

I want to think education can help stem the tide, but not in this climate of turning back the civil rights clock and the banning/burning of books that could illuminate the path to tolerance and respect.  No, the river of America churns and roils with anger, fear, and desperation thanks to people who feel it’s their duty and God-given right to stop a world they feel no longer belongs to their kind. Revolutions start with exhausted masses no longer willing to be force-fed a steady diet of lies, contradictions, and hatred for those who want to make the world a better place.  If they only knew people like DeSantis don’t care how they get their votes to win.  They only care about keeping their positions in power to fulfill their agenda of authoritarianism.

I can only offer this poem from Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a respected Protestant clergy who dared to speak publicly against Adolf Hitler in public. His dissension led to his spending seven years in concentration camps.  This poem, written in 1946, continues to reverberate with even greater power today.

FIRST THEY CAME

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

What makes any of us think Generation Blame, Whine, and Hate will not turn against the rest of society, refusing to conform or subscribe to their violently ignorant agenda?  You’re deluding yourself if you think keeping them in power will improve your life.  On the contrary, as history has proven, it is just the beginning of something so much worse.

As Pastor Niemöller concludes in his poem:

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Visitors stand in front of the quotation from Martin Niemöller that is on display in the Permanent Exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
PHOTO: US Holocaust Memorial Museum