Sunday, December 20, 2015

11 insanely popular things in entertainment right now that I'm just not loving

I stand corrected on costume parties, drinking white wine at home alone, and "The Boys Are Back in Town," the joys of which I've discovered in the past 12 months after years of indifference. But when it comes to populist entertainment, there's still plenty that I'm not feeling.

Star Wars I watched the original of the series on HBO several years after its 1977 debut, and it bored me. I saw The Return of the Jedi in the cinema in 1983, and while I didn't hate it, I wasn't exactly dying for more. But "The Force" keeps coming back against my will. Aside from the coverage in which I was forced to immerse myself at work last week, I haven't given the series another minute of my time in 32 years. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher look pretty good, though.

Sequels to sequels I enjoyed Rambo, Rocky, Indiana Jones and Star Trek as much as the next kid in the '80s, but somewhere around adulthood, I outgrew "To be continued…and continued…" on the big screen. To date, I haven't seen a single entry in any of the big blockbuster series of this millennium -- Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger GamesTwilight -- and I don't feel like I've missed a thing.

Superhero movies that don't star Michael Keaton ...which is weird because I love a man in tights who can save the day. Maybe it's the sequel thing that turns me off.

Animated movies I was never really into Saturday-morning cartoons, and I just don't "get" The Simpsons. But I do love Disney's classics and the Peanuts gang, and I could spend all day watching marathons of The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Family Guy. Back in the '90s when we got one new Disney animated feature a year and the occasional Toy Story, I had a passing interest in them. But now that they're commonplace enough to be interchangeable, I'll always rather watch something else.

Taylor Swift I object to her phoniness, her string of celebrity boyfriends, her collecting celebrity BFFs, and her fake-shock posing, but mostly I object to her songs. I remember music in 1989, and it was a lot better than Tay-Tay would have us believe.

The Kardashians I may be forced to keep up with them for work, but you'll never get me to watch an episode of any of their shows, including I Am Cait.

The Grammys I've become the middle-aged guy I said I'd never be, the one who stopped listening to most new music years ago.

'80s nostalgia I'd say it's because I'm stuck in the '70s, but I'm totally down with '90s nostalgia. So maybe it's this: I didn't much enjoy living in the '80s in the '80s, so why would I want to keep going back there?

Kanye West I love to see him smile and listen to him ramble, but the minute he starts to rap, I tune out.

"White trash"/"Bogan"/"Fame whore" reality TV Let's face it: Putting aside the talent-based shows and the ones with celebrities (which I generally hate), how many accomplished, sophisticated people are clamoring to be the biggest loser... or get married at first sight? If I want to spend my downtime watching common people in action, I'd spend more time outside

Five billion channels and Netflix and Stan and… I love options, but who has time for all of the choices that TV currently offers? Sometimes I miss the days of three networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- when they could actually put together a once-a-TV-season event like Battle of the Network Stars (a precursor to celebrity reality competitions, by the way). Something's got to give, and it won't be the hours I spend doing things other than watching TV.

And five crazy popular things that I love too

Jennifer Lawrence Whether she's faking it or not, I love her when she falls down, too.

"Hello" by Adele It had me at, well, "Hello."

The new wave of hit shows led by black actors: Empire, black-ish, and How to Get Away with Murder As must-see TV for me now as those gleaming-white classics Sex and the City and Melrose Place were back then.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep Totally deserving of all the Emmy love -- though I wouldn't mind her sharing a little of it with black-ish's painfully underrated Tracee Ellis Ross.

Cate Blanchett in anything But especially in The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Gift, Notes on a Scandal, Blue Jasmine and Carol.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Welcome back, romance: Thoughts on Carol

First, the obvious…at least to anyone who's seen The Social Network, Side Effects, Her, or anything in which Cate Blanchett has ever appeared: She and Rooney Mara are as brilliant as expected in Carol.

The two actresses are deserving of every accolade that's already been bestowed upon them and those that are yet to come. Blanchett is a near-lock for a Best Actress Oscar nomination, and the gold for Best Supporting Actress is as good as Mara's, though she's technically a lead as the movie unfolds predominantly from her character's point of view. (Clearly we're meant to identify mostly with her throughout).

The real standout in Carol, though, is romance. Remember her? In a galaxy long ago and far away, before the age of swiping left/right and rampant NSA, she ruled the hearts of men and women. Romance makes a comeback in Carol, and it's a breathtaking one.

Fairly faithfully based on the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt, Carol is a love story set mostly in 1950s New York. That means it takes place in a time when you generally first laid eyes on a potential love match not via a phone app but from across a crowded room. Connecting meant closing the space between the two of you, both figuratively and literally. Given that Carol and Therese, the romantic heroines of the film, are both women living in a decade that wasn't particularly hospitable to LGBT, that space is just hurdle number one.

One of the most remarkable things about Carol is how it nails the dynamic of May-September romance without ever lapsing into cliche. Yes, Carol, who is fortyish and unhappily married with a young daughter, and Therese, a twentysomething-ish aspiring photographer paying the bills with a gig working behind the counter at a department store, assume familiar roles.

Sure, the early stages have a familiar ring -- the older and wiser one leads the way. But these aren't tired, predictable archetypes. Carol and Therese may not be peers, but they're equals in the romance. When the hunter gets captured by the game, the reverse happens, too. They're both the trophy and the victor, with so much to gain and to lose. That heightens the romantic stakes and thickens what there is of a plot.

But Carol is not about action. It's more of a character study. As the woman who gives the movie its title, Blanchett balances so many traits it's a wonder that she manages to maintain her poise and composure. She's brittle and haughty, yet fragile and insecure, chilly and remote but warm and tender. There are even hints of girlishness. Blanchett puts her sensuality on full display here (the love scene is as graphic as anything you'll find in a heterosexual romantic drama), and it's clear why Therese falls for her.

It's hard not to think of Katharine Hepburn while watching Blanchett in action. Carol is the kind of role Hepburn would have relished in the 1950s if directors had been making lesbian love stories back then. Director Todd Haynes has so painstakingly re-created the '50s that at times one almost forgets it's a period piece and not an actual film from 60 or so years ago.

Mara has the more difficult role because it's less physical and more internal. She spends a lot of the movie reacting and not appearing to react. So much of her character is revealed through loaded silences. Mara gives a rich, detailed performance that merges the uncertainty of youth with the weariness of being an old soul.

If the movie has one flaw, it's that it's less apparent what Carol sees in Therese other than her beauty. One might presume that part of it is despite her general ride-or-die reaction to Carol, Therese still presents a challenge. In one of the most telling moments in the entire film, Carol makes a throwaway comment about how she's always asking Therese what she's thinking. In that one scene (watch it above), she reveals so much about her character and why she's fallen for Therese.

Carol and Therese don't exist in a vacuum, though that likely still would have made for riveting viewing. While it revolves around the two main characters and their romance, the supporting players aren't merely window dressing.

Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson, who play Carol's estranged husband and best friend, respectively, are best known from their TV roles, but both deserve to be more prominent presences in film. Paulson continues to astound with her versatility, and Friday Night Lights Emmy winner Chandler give brutish Harge Aird more layers than the screenplay does. Their characters' interactions with Carol as well as with each other in one tense scene offer hints to a juicy backstory that's probably worthy of a movie of its own.

That said, Carol doesn't really need a sequel or a prequel. It's perfect as is, at 118 minutes. By the time the credits roll, it's done what every great movie is supposed to do. It's left you wanting so much more.

Friday, November 27, 2015

9 great "Hello" songs that have nothing to do with Adele or Lionel Richie

"Hello Goodbye" The Beatles Along with "Something," this was my favorite Fab Four song for many years…and then I discovered "Within Without You."

"Hello It's Me" Todd Rundgren I'm not saying that Adele nicked her opening line from Runt, but he did go there first (in 1972).

"Hello Love" Hank Snow Here's the genius of Snow's 1974 classic, with which the then--one-month-shy-of-60-year-old became the oldest singer to top Billboard's country singles chart: Is he greeting love love, his beloved, or both?

"Hello Stranger" Emmylou Harris Not the often-covered Barbara Lewis classic but rather a Carter Family one. Emmylou's interpretation provided one of many standout moments on Luxury Liner, my favorite country music album of the 1970s not recorded by Freddy Fender.

"Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" Soft Cell That's right. Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret wasn't all about "Tainted Love." In fact, the 1982 album's closing track went all the way to No. 3 in the UK.

"Hello Again" The Cars The kings of streamlined American new wave totally give in to over-the-top '80s production. Not only has it aged a lot better than I thought it would, but I still prefer it to Neil Diamond's Jazz Singer hit with the same title.

"Hello Darkness" Ric Ocasek "Hello" again, from the Cars frontman on This Side of Paradise, his 1986 second solo album.

"Hello Beloved" Angela Winbush and Ronald Isley Quiet-storm '80s R&B at its most sizzling. To quote '70s Dolly Parton, baby, I'm burning.

"Memory Song (Hello Hello)" Robert Plant I've never been sure what it's about, but I have a feeling if I did, I'd probably cry.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

20 things I have to be thankful for in 2015

Years ago, I celebrated Thanksgiving with my boyfriend Tommy and his family in Queens. Before we ate, we went around the table and listed all the things for which we were thankful. I remember struggling to pull together a list in my head as I waited my turn. It was not one of my finest internal moments.

Either my life has improved considerably in the 17 years since then, or gratitude just comes easier to me now. I haven't actually celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States since 2005, but it's so easy for me to think of things to be thankful for.

Here are the first 20 that popped into my head.

1. A job I enjoy doing.

2. A apartment I enjoy coming home to even more.

3. Old episodes of Casey Kasem's American Top 40 being available to download.

4. That I'm old enough to remember the 1970s (my favourite decade) and where I was and what I was doing when Elvis Presley died. It's the first decade I remember, and sometimes I feel like I dreamed all my memories of it. Reliving the '70s through throwback music, TV, movies and newsreels is almost like turning those maybe-dreams back into reality.

5. My health, give or take chronic headaches, occasional allergies, panic disorder and near-comical hypochondria.

6. Being occasionally mistaken for twentysomething by suitors who were born after I graduated from college. Is the next generation blind or what?

7. My friends all over the planet.

8. and, both of which have been playing such vital roles in helping me to travel around the world for years now.

9. Words -- even when they fail me.

10. At least one family member who has always actively shown me he cares, whether or not I make the first move.

11. Body parts that, for the most part, still work.

12. My five relatively intact senses, The optometrist may have diagnosed me as being shortsighted and having an astigmatism yesterday, but I can still see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.

13. My iPad. How did I ever live without it?

14. Art.

15. My youthful idealism and enthusiasm. Somehow I managed to avoid hopping on the jaded train that turns so many people my age into bitter middle-aged queens. I'm still excited to take the road less traveled (or any road, for that matter) and hopeful that it will lead to an amazing place.

16. My age. I don't necessarily want to get older, but I have no desire to be in my twenties and thirties ever again.

17. Facebook. I have my issues with social media and the havoc it's wreaked on our egos and communication skills. Twitter and Instagram are all about self-promotion, but Facebook can be so much more. When I think of all the people it's brought back into my life and the ones it's kept there, I can't imagine a world without it. I don't want to imagine a world without it.

18. EZTV. It's why I get to live abroad and still keep up with all the US primetime-TV shows that I watch religiously: Empire, How to Get Away with Murder, Black-ish, Nashville, Veep, Girls, Devious Maids and Episodes.

19. Hillary Clinton. There, I said it. I've been solidly Team Hillary since 2008, and that's not about to change

20. My life. It's far from perfect, but I can't think of anyone else's I'd rather be living.

Friday, November 13, 2015

8 more things I just don't understand

Donald Trump as a viable U.S. Presidential candidate

Come on, America. Are you for real? The average voter probably doesn't give a damn about those Hillary Clinton emails that are following her candidacy around like a bad penny. Meanwhile, Trump gets to be both a punchline and a viable Republican Presidential candidate (which might actually say more about the Republican Party than it does about Americans).

If a Democrat had Trump's checkered celebrity past (he's a former reality TV star, for God's sake) and his gift for almost always saying the wrong thing, he or (especially) she would be laughed off the flight to Washington D.C. before their candidacy could even get off the ground.

"Do you want coffee?"

Sydney's coffee culture/obsession perplexes me. Must everyone always announce when they're about to get a cup? Does anyone offer to get me water when they're going to the tap?

You'd think that if the folks at my favorite breakfast place know that I want a feta wrap before I even order, they'd have figured out by now that I never want coffee to go with it. If I did, why wouldn't I ask for it? Do Australians not want coffee unless it's offered to them?

Enough with the coffee, everybody.

"I'm sorry if I offended you"

The first rule of apologizing: Be sorry for your misdeed and not just its effect. And definitely don't do it through your publicist…in a carefully worded statement…delivered on 20/20. Damn, Katie Holmes.

After the former The King of Queens star Leah Remini publicly accused the ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise of being a mean girl to her during their Scientology days, Katie's response was swift, concise and dismissive: "I regret having upset Leah in the past and wish her only the best in the future."

If you're going to offer the lamest apology ever - Was that an apology to Leah, to 20/20, or to the world? - you might as well not even give the person a chance to reject it.

"I'm sorry for your loss"

I've never actually heard anyone say this in real life, only on TV and in the movies, and no matter who says it, it always sounds awkward, impersonal and kind of insincere. "I'm sorry" - period - has such a nice ring, yet they seem to be the hardest words. Charley Pride, Chicago and Sir Elton John certainly weren't alone.


Yes, I know, to forgive is divine, but if you haven't forgotten, have you really forgiven? Even if you resume your relationship with the person who has wronged you, doesn't the dirty deed continue to hang over your heads, waiting to be dragged down whenever the person who has wronged you dares to do so again?

"Down to earth"

It's a pretty condescending concept if you think about it. Despite the fact that Taylor Swift only seems to have A-list friends and date A-list guys and she travels in a private airplane, is she down to earth because she likes cool music and, unlike Justin Bieber, she gives the time of day to the people beneath her (the adoring fans)?

And what does it mean when non-celebrities - say, like guys on Grindr - describe themselves as "DTE"? It implies a hyper-awareness of their elevated status, which, if you think about it, isn't so down to earth at all.

And what are they really saying anyway: that they're rich but act poor, that they're rich but happily slum with the poor, that they're rich but fly economy, or that they're simply not assholes? Well, why not just be "nice" instead?

The continuing hullabaloo over "cultural appropriation"

Doesn't everyday life pretty much revolve around so-called cultural appropriation? And what's wrong with that? It's in the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, and the food we eat. It's the reason why when we travel, our food options include more than just the local cuisine.

Mocking other cultures is never acceptable, but borrowing from other cultures only seems to be unacceptable when white people do it. If a white person is wrong for wearing dreadlocks or cornrows, does that make black women wrong for straightening their hair, or wearing blonde wigs?

Speaking of blonde, for a while in the '90s, I went there and it didn't go over well with one family member who accused me of wanting to be white. Huh? I didn't understand what that had to do with anything. I did it because at the time it was trendy, and I liked the way it looked. It infuriated me that she made a simple style choice into a racial thing. Let's stop making everything about race.

Why the ones you don't not want but aren't particularly crazy about keep coming back

Even the ones we once obsessed over only seem to return after we're over them. Don't you get the feeling that the guy Adele is phoning in "Hello" is screening the call? He's so over her, and of course, that's when she chooses to document her return in the biggest song of the year.

At least the success of "Hello" is something I do understand. The song is a masterpiece. We've all been there…on the other side…done that…from the outside.

Monday, November 9, 2015

How to get away with a TV heroine who will break every commandment but one

"How do you sleep at night?" - a sex worker just acquitted of poisoning her lover, due to some questionable courtroom tactics by defense attorney Annalise Keating, to Annalise Keating on How to Get Away with Murder

"Alone, on very comfortable sheets. I like expensive bottles of vodka." - Annalise Keating

As portrayed by Emmy winner Viola Davis on How to Get Away with Murder, Annalise Keating is the new Emily Thorne… only not quite so noble… and with a fiercer wardrobe.

For those who have forgotten about the anti-heroine of the dearly departed Revenge, let me remind you of one of her key characteristic: For all the asses she kicked (and names she took while she was at it), not once did Emily ever actually kill anyone.

She pointed this out to her half-sister Charlotte in one episode when Charlotte pegged Emily as an old hand at murder after she herself had killed someone. And her non-killing ways was a major plot point of the series' denouement: Emily was about to off Victoria Grayson, but her father David showed up and did the dirty deed instead because he didn't want his little girl to be haunted forever by having human blood on her hands.

Unlike Annalise, however, Emily's general motive was a lofty one: She wanted to avenge her father by seeking revenge on the people who had framed him for a crime he didn't commit. Though the body count was high by the end of Revenge, Nolan Ross aside, Emily was ironically the only main character who never killed a single person... or shot someone several times in the abdomen with intent to kill (take a bow from the grave, Daniel Grayson).

As for Annalise's overall goal, she just doesn't like to lose. To the brilliant defense attorney, winning is everything, and to get to that end, she'll frame innocent people, tamper with evidence, lie, cheat and steal. But up to now, she's drawn the line at the one crime for which she defends her clients.

In one interesting storyline twist, the terminal wife of Annalise's ex-extramarital lover Nate asked Annalise to help her kill herself. I spotted the dying wife's ploy a plot twist away. Of course, she wanted Annalise to help her kill herself so that in death she could bring down her husband's former lover.

Maybe Annalise saw it, too, but that's not why she didn't do it. "I'm not the woman you think I am," Annalise said when the dying wife, as Charlotte had with Emily, assumed she was an old pro at killing people.

The greatest irony of How to Get Away with Murder is that as the series progresses, Annalise is close to becoming the only major character who actually hasn't gotten away with murder. (For the record, the woman who asked her how she sleeps at night was also guilty as sin.) Nate's wife eventually got him to do what Annalise wouldn't, making him the latest in the main cast to kill.

Yet, somehow, all of these characters with blood on their hands peg Annalise as the monster. I suppose their hypocrisy allows them to sleep at night. Maybe they don't sleep at night. No one has asked. And if someone did, I doubt they'd have as amazing a comeback as Annalise.

I can't think of a TV character since Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls who's as skilled at comebacks as Annalise. Here are two from the November 5 episode:

"Me not paying attention to you is the best compliment you could ever get. 'Cause that means I don't have to worry about you. Now go back to the office and stop being needy."

"Sharon hates you, Dale. You're a stalker, you're pathetic, and you're fired."

Although Murder can be maddening (for one of several things, the manic non-linear approach feels gratuitous - Revenge also tampered with time but only sparingly), Annalise never is. Her sartorial eloquence, her occasional flashes of vulnerability, and her quick wit are the main reasons why I can't not root for her.

But most of all, I'm solidly #TeamAnnalise because she's a flawed, tortured, complicated, bisexual (yes!) anti-heroine who knows that one should always deliver the punchline right before walking away.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Writer's block, trailblazing, and not keeping up with the Kardashians

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that I've gone a bit AWOL lately. No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, as my work colleagues, who are probably enjoying their Jeremy-free weekend, well know. I've just been hit by the worst writer's block I've had since I started writing for fun and not just for work in the middle of 2008.

At first, I was reluctant to call it writer's block. After all, I've been operating at full writing capacity at work, churning out copy on a daily basis. But that's just it: "Copy" says it all. It's functional, impersonal, and non-personal - all about people and things that have nothing to do with me. It's the more introspective and confessional stuff that's been stumping me.

But why? Did I actually have writer's block, or was I just too worn out after work to string words together in any meaningful way? Or was it simply a lack of inspiration? Were the words always there, just waiting for a trigger, a new tale to tell.

Right now, it hardly matters because for the moment, the writer's block - or whatever - has passed. The floodgates have temporarily opened, and all it took was the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote above. Who said Men's Health isn't good for anything...well, besides those hot Liam Hemsworth photos in the UK December edition?

Getting back to Ralph, his words made me consider  my own life...and life in general. Was he onto the true meaning of life - or rather, the purpose of it?

One of the things I love most about the quote is the distinction between a path and a trail. I'd never thought of it before, but paths are typically shallow, almost lightweight. They're easily blown away. Trails, on the other hand, are deep, closer to permanent. They have a certain indelible gravitas, from the Cherokee Trail of Tears to k.d. lang's "Trail of Broken Hearts."

In my own life, I've certainly ventured where there is no path, particularly during the past decade, minus this last year in Sydney. But am I trailblazing? Do I inspire others to follow me - not in the Instagram/Twitter sense, in a way that actually matters,

One can inspire in a number of ways. Of course, there's the artistic sense and the motivational one, but you can also inspire others to face demons or difficulties by being open about yours. You can inspire people to fight racism, homophobia, sexism and other forms of discrimination through words and deeds. You can inspire someone to want to be a better person, which some call the true meaning of love.

Inspiring doesn't have to be done on a large scale. The best compliments I've received in my life have been the ones from people who tell me that my words have touched them in some way. That makes the labor of love that is writing for minimal financial compensation so worth it and, in many ways, more valuable to me than the writing that pays the bills.

Maybe that's why I've felt so off these past few weeks. Writing for me is like therapy, as much as running is. I took a detour from my trail and got a little bit lost. It's good to be back.


One of the places I wandered into during my detour was Rebel Wilson's head. I can't stop thinking about a comment she made this week during an interview with Australian radio hosts Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O. She said that MTV asked her to present an award at the VMAs this year with Kendall and.Kylie Jenner, but she turned them down because, "Their careers aren't based on talent."

She said a lot of other really uncomplimentary stuff, but you've heard it all before. Hell, you've likely thought it all before. Although Rebel didn't break any ground or blaze any new trails with her comments, I was kind of surprised that she went there.

I have my issues with the Kardashians, and before I took my current job, I never felt the need to keep up with them. To date, I've watched only one episode of their show. That particular one, which I saw on Bali TV three years ago, revolved around Kim vs. Rob, a familial dynamic that overlaps my own brother-sister experience. As semi-compelling as Kim vs. Rob was, I never felt the need to tune in again.

My issues with the Kardashians aren't just about the Kardashians, though. I actually have issues with all reality-TV stars. Their wanton pursuit of fame feeds into the idea that you're worthless if you aren't famous, They're a symbol of our selfie society where your value is determined by Facebook "likes" and  Twitter and Instagram "followers."

But the Kardashians have become such an easy target that we often forget that the youngest ones, Kendall and Kylie, are 20 and 18, respectively. We judge these young girls the way we judge grown ass people. Do you know anyone their age who has grasped the meaning of life, or its purpose?

How many 20 year olds do we know who even have careers? Or discernible talent? What were we all doing at 18 or 20? Not everyone can be a legitimate child performer, or start out as Stevie Wonder...or Lorde.

Furthermore, MTV has actually been celebrating the talent-free for decades now, via the VMAs, via the network's own reality shows, and via music videos (back when MTV played them). Some might even dump Rebel into the talent-free box. Where are her Oscar-caliber performances? At least there's social commentary in Amy Schumer's schtick...and she has an Emmy.

But talent is in the eye of the beholder. And the Kardashians are famous because of talent. It takes a certain level of talent to become famous for doing nothing. No, the Kardashians and the Jenners (including, at this point, Caitlyn) will never give Julianne Moore or Cate Blanchett a run for their credibility, but neither will Rebel.

And let's not kid ourselves: The VMAs aren't about talent anyway. They're about self-congratulation, self-promotion and looking good. So if the Kardashians don't belong there, they don't belong anywhere.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The gay problem: Why did Days of Our Lives kill off Will Horton without a fight?

Death becomes great actors. Kassie DePaiva has been proving that week in, week out for weeks now, ever since the daughter of her Days of Our Lives character Eve Donovan Larson died at the hands of the show's latest serial killer. Now the murderer has struck again. Victim No. 3: the beloved legacy character Will Horton.

Will's death, predictably, has led to impressive grief scenes from pretty much the entire cast, especially Deirdre Hall, Camila Banus and Alison Sweeney, who has returned to the show to offer a grief-stricken coda to her exit storyline last year in which her character Sami Brady, lost her husband EJ DiMera to a day player's bullet. In show time, Will's death was exactly one year after EJ's demise, and Alison's performances since her return have been flawless.

But are wonderful performances and a few weeks of storyline worth the loss of someone with ties to nearly every person on the show, not to mention one of daytime TV's few gay characters? The soap blogosphere has been seething because in killing off Will Horton, they've not only effectively ended daytime's first gay supercouple -- Will and his husband Sonny Kiriakis -- but it feels like they've undone all the LGBTQ progress they made over the past several years, first with Will's coming out story and then with Will and Sonny's wedding, daytime's first gay nuptials.

It would be especially stinging if killing off Will was the result of homophobic viewers and advertisers who didn't want to see such supposed sinfulness on their TV screens (the same ones who don't have a problem with serial killers on TV because they're not as bad as gays). The show recently changed its head-writing team, and during the transition process, WilSon (as Will and Sonny are affectionately called by fans) had already been effectively ruined. Wasn't that enough?

Sonny left town to take a job in Paris after portrayer Freddie Smith left the show. And Will, who had turned into a nasty, scheming bitch boy after cheating on Sonny with Sonny's former flame Paul Narita, pretty much disappeared for weeks. They dragged him back out of the closet (pun intended) only a few days before stuffing him back in there (permanently, in a body bag).

After grieving for a week or so, Sonny will exit again, leaving Paul, mostly MIA for weeks until a few days after Will's death, as the only gay in Salem because, well, gays and Days just don't mix.

OK, maybe that isn't fair. Honestly, I have no idea why the powers that be at Days decided that Will had to die. In real life, everyone has to go sometime, and death, like shit, happens all the time in soaps. I made my peace with that and moved on shortly after the rumors surfaced that Will would soon be a goner.

My problem isn't so much that Will was killed off but how it happened. He was strangled by Ben Weston, a lame character whose previous victims had all been women. One of his intended stranglees, Deirdre Hall's Marlena Evans, happened to be Will's grandmother. She was saved from certain death by Chad DiMera, the guy that most of the town thinks is the serial killer.

The interesting twist is that Marlena, who must be pushing 70 like her portrayer, put up one hell of an impressive fight. That's a lot more than I can say for Will. In a scene last week with Will's mother Sami, Marlena talked about how she was initially in a state of denial after finding out about her grandson's death. The killer had been targeting women only, and Will was young and strong. Surely he'd put up a fight. Right?

Exactly. Only the writers let Will go without much of a fuss from him on his own behalf. He struggled with Ben for a few moments and fell and hit his head. When he came to. Ben was choking the life out of him. The end.

As I watched, I thought about a recent murder/suffocation scene on How to Get Away with Murder where both the victim and the killer were women. The former was tied up at the time, which made the latter's task a cinch. We know why the victim didn't put up much of a catfight. But why didn't the writers let Will at least have that?

Was it because they think all gay men are weaklings? Do they believe that a gay man isn't a real man and can't fight back? Eight and half years ago, shortly after I moved to Buenos Aires, I was attacked by three burglars in my apartment. I fought like hell on the bathroom floor, and for a while, I was winning. I even managed to get what I thought was the intended murder weapon -- a screwdriver! -- away from the robber who was waving it in front of my face.

I'd never been much of a fighter before that fateful Sunday afternoon, but that bathroom scene proved that I was willing to give as good as I got when my life depended on it. I know Will wasn't meant to survive, but couldn't they at least have let his final scenes alive be colored by an emotion other than fear?

It's possible they weren't even considering Will's sexuality when they wrote his wimpy exit. And if that's the case, shame on them. A good writer knows to consider things from all angles. Perception can be everything, regardless of intent. When writing for minority characters -- gay, black, or whatever -- it's important to consider all the possible implications of how their scenes play out.

But without consciousness, there's no awareness. I keep hoping that the writer's will let Will come back as a ghost. He'd taunt Ben, maybe even slap him around a little. Wait, make that punch him around a little. It won't bring Will back for good, but at least in a way he'll finally get to go out fighting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dear white people (and Nancy Lee Grahn): There is no criticizing Viola Davis' beautifully human Emmy speech

What is it with daytime soap actresses I love putting their feet in their Twitters? Several years ago, it was Days of Our Lives' Melissa Reeves defending the right of the powers that be at Chick-fil-A to hate gay people.

Now General Hospital's Nancy Lee Grahn has tried to turn what was a beautiful historic Emmy moment -- How to Get Away with Murder's Viola Davis becoming the first black actress to win Outstanding Lead Actress in Drama Series -- and turn it into something ugly.

I will admit that for one moment, the one where Viola was quoting Harriet Tubman, I was a bit perplexed. Wait, when were beautiful white women reaching out to you from across the great divide? I wondered. But once she attributed the lovely quote to Tubman, I recognized it for the amazing analogy that it was.

I was right with her for the rest of the speech. I'm pretty sure I must have stifled a tear. I was surrounded by colleagues at work. I didn't want them to see how touched I was. I try to be tough like that in public, but had I let the waterworks flow, I'm convinced they all would have understood.

Thank God, I don't work with Nancy Lee Grahn. She probably would have been rolling her eyes while crafting her tweet in her head.

Here's what she ended up writing:

"I wish I loved #ViolaDavis Speech, but I thought she should have let @shondarhimes write it. #Emmys"

Of course, you can't go there and just run away. NLG didn't. She wrote a succession of follow-up tweets criticising Viola for singling out black women and not making her speech about all women. She griped about Viola getting better roles than she does, paid her some backhanded compliments, then delivered the zinging kicker:

"She has never been discriminated against."

Whoa! I thought as I read her series of tweets, wondering how it was possible that she could have survived the half hour-plus it took for her to write them without any oxygen getting to her head.

But after Matt Damon's lesson on discrimination last week -- he had the nerve to tell a black director that it doesn't matter if you have diversity behind the camera as long as there's diversity in front of it -- I'm convinced that when it comes to racism, white Hollywood (including many who consider themselves to be hyper-aware liberals) just doesn't get it.

Unless you know what it's like to be denied opportunity because of the color of your skin, to be denied jobs and housing, to be told you are not as good as everyone else, as beautiful as everyone else, because you happen to be a minority, you simply cannot tell me how racism works.

Yes, there is discrimination against women in Hollywood. But Viola Davis is not contractually obligated to speak for all women. (And didn't Patricia Arquette already cover that -- painfully so -- after winning her Oscar earlier this year?) Nancy Lee Grahn is a fantastic actress -- one with a pair of Daytime Emmy Awards, by the way -- and I certainly think she's talented enough to be a major movie star. Why she isn't is a discussion for another night.

But on the night when Viola Davis becomes the first black woman in history to win an Emmy Award in her field, yes, I think the discussion needs to be about black actresses, not actresses in general. (P.S. Since The Jefferson's Isabel Sanford won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1981, she, Gimme a Break's Nell Carter, and The Cosby Show's Phylicia Rashad have been the only black women to be nominated in that category, the last black nominee being Rashad in 1986.) Despite what NLG sees as her professional deprivation and Viola Davis's privilege, this is an award for which women, most of them white, have been competing for decades, and it took decades for a black woman to finally win it.

What does that say about the Academy? What does it say about Hollywood? What does it say about the United States? For all the discrimination against women in general, the fact remains that white women have it much better than women of color. Yes, they don't receive the same pay as men. Yes, in Hollywood, they struggle to find work after turning 40.

But black women have a tougher time climbing over that brick wall. How often do we see them headlining movies, being cast as the romantic lead, being cast at all in roles that aren't specifically written for a black character? Things have gotten much better on TV in recent years, but Hollywood still has a long way to go when it comes to female minorities.

In the 13 years since Halle Berry became the first black woman to win a leading actress Oscar and Denzel Washington became the second black leading actor to take the prize, two black men (Jamie Foxx and Forest Whitaker) have won, but there have been no follow-up black female winners and only three black female nominees (one of which was Viola).

Viola Davis may be highly employable these days, but she was no overnight success. How dare NLG tell her that she has never been discriminated against? She is a 50-year-old woman who has only just begun to hit her stride in film and TV. As NLG said in one deleted tweet, she herself has been an actress for 40 years, and she's been a gainfully employed one since the 1980s, well before anyone had ever heard of Viola Davis.

Unless she's actually walked in Viola's shoes, how can she say what Viola has experienced? Unless NLG has experienced racial discrimination firsthand, how can she address it with any real expertise? Rather than using a landmark moment to bemoan her own status or perceived lack thereof in the industry, perhaps she should have put her hashtagging effort to better use and congratulated Viola.

A win for black women is a win for all women. Who knows? If NLG had put aside her sour grapes and really listened to what Viola was saying, she might even have learned something.

Later NLG apologized for her comments, but she kept defending herself at the same time, proving she hadn't actually learned anything at all.

Dear white people: Stop wigging out and getting so defensive when black people start talking about racism. If you're not racist, bravo. But it's not just about you. So shut up and listen. You might learn something about us. You might learn something about yourselves, too.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Last lasting impressions: 20 random observations in Japan

1. Cool, sleek architecture that occasionally flirts with being geometrically OTT

2. Doors that slide open when you press a button -- Don't push or pull...just a touch.

3. Taxi doors that open and shut automatically...Be careful not to touch!

4. No garbage bins on the sidewalks...How do they keep Japanese cities so clean and litter free?

5. Semi-communal restaurant dining at long shared counters or tables...I tried it once, but my meals in public are meant to be enjoyed in the privacy of my own table, thank you.

6. A preponderance of pizzerias

7. Smoking in restaurants

8. Cashiers in even the finest dining restaurants

9. A wet washcloth before every meal

10. Weak cocktails. No kick. Stick to beer, wine (plum -- if you can find a restaurant/bar that serves it), and tequila shots that are twice as big as the ones bars charge $10 for in Australia.

11. A Family Mart on practically every block selling some of the yummiest food you'll eat in Japan

12. Weirdest language moment: When I had to communicate with an Ueno massage therapist in Spanish because she (like nearly every local I encountered in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka) didn't speak English, and I don't speak Japanese.

13. Tower Records...I thought they'd gone out of business.

14. Free public WiFi that you need an Internet connection to access...How else are you supposed to get the code that they email to you?

15. Public vending machines selling refreshments in Kyoto

16. Bicycle riders in Kyoto that give me Berlin flashbacks -- Look out!

17. Impeccably dressed and manicured women who all look like they're on the way to the same audition

18. Older men who dye their hair a rather unflattering -- and unnatural -- shade of reddish

19. Quite possibly the smallest four-star hotel rooms in the world

20. Low sinks clearly made for a general population that's under 160 centimetres tall...If you see a black guy walking around Sydney with a stoop, he's probably me.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lovely and amazing: Why I'm loving Kyoto even more than Tokyo

One day after my arrival in Kyoto, I was still trying to figure out why I was increasingly more appreciative of its considerable charms than I was of Tokyo's. Then en route to the Philosopher's Path on foot, it hit me: It's a nature thing.

Tokyo is cooler, hipper and more happening. It's the epitome of urban excitement, possibly even on par with New York City. But having OD'd on cool, hip, and happening in the Big Apple in the '90s and in Buenos Aires and Bangkok this century, I no longer place as high a premium on those qualities. Perhaps that's why I can prefer Melbourne over Sydney or Jerusalem over Tel Aviv or Woolloomooloo and Potts Point in Sydney over Newtown. It's not all about the urban hustle...or being on trend.

Concrete jungles wear me out after a while. I know there's nature in Tokyo, having witnessed it firsthand. But every major city has parks, trees, and more rural outskirts...sometimes a river even runs through it. Nature in Tokyo, though, feels almost incidental to city life. It's there if you look for it, but it's so far removed from the pulse, from the figurative heart of Tokyo.

In Kyoto, nature is built into the city. Whether walking along the Kamo River or strolling down the Philosopher's Path (billed as one of Japan's 100 greatest roads) at the foot of the mountains that frame Kyoto, the urban experience is a natural one, too. 

And that's the thing about Kyoto. I'm getting the urban experience that I live for (I will always be a city boy at heart, a true urbanite), but I'm getting something more, something I haven't really gotten in many of the Asian metropolises that I've visited. I'm also getting natural beauty, much of it breath-taking.

Kyoto is beautiful in a way Tokyo isn't. And at this point in my life, when it comes to location location location, aesthetics will trump vibe every time.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

My year of living un-dangerously...Tokyo, here I come!

Some world traveler I've turned out to be.

It just dawned on me that I've spent nearly a year doing something I haven't done since 1993: I've stayed put. Right before Japan Airlines flight 772 from Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport to Tokyo's Narita Airport departs at 8.15 Thursday morning, I will have spent almost exactly 10 consecutive months in the same country without a single international departure.

That's something I haven't done since 1993 when I flew to Bermuda with a group of my People magazine colleagues on a posh private plane with a full bar (and a bartender who made a killer Bloody Mary!). It was the first time I'd ever traveled outside of the United States, and it launched an adult life spent regularly jetting off into the far-off unknown.

When I returned to New York after several days, I promised myself I'd never again spend an entire calendar year in one country. I vowed to visit at least one new country every year, and it's a promise I've managed to keep. In fact, by the time Japan Airlines flight 771 returns from Tokyo to Sydney on August 30, I will have crossed another city/country off my travel bucket list for the third consecutive calendar year, having already done Tel Aviv, Cape Town and Tanzania.

The last nine years, in particular, have been filled with frequent travel, partly because my travel bug wouldn't have it any other way, and partly because visa requirements limited the amount of time I could stay in any given expat stomping ground without at least one international departure.

With my arrival in Sydney last October 22, I knew everything was about to change. For one, I'd be working a full-time 9-to-5 gig for the first time since 2006. Second, the company that hired me also sponsored me, which meant no more taking flight from my expat stomping ground every 90 days unless I wanted to.

I never expected to last 10 months. There have been four trips to Melbourne, one to Adelaide and one to the Blue Mountains, but I haven't once stepped foot outside of Australia since arriving here from South Africa. I wonder if that has something to do with how underwhelmed I've been with Sydney and, by extension, Australia, despite the fact that I spent years being obsessed with all things Aussie before officially living here.

Maybe it's like moving into your boyfriend's studio apartment and never seeing other people. How could you not get sick of each other when you never get away from each other? How could I fully appreciate Sydney when I'd never given myself the opportunity to miss it?

Everyone tells me to give it time...Sydney is a city that rewards patience. I've tried to be patient, and in some ways, it's paid off. I've settled into my job to the point that I actually enjoy both the gig and my colleagues. And one month ago, I moved into a dream apartment in the building I've wanted to live in since a couple of months after my arrival. Life is good, but Sydney isn't home. Maybe it never will be.

I haven't given up hope, though. I may never find my Sydney "family" or a make a new friend whom I don't work with or go on a fourth date here, but I'm excited to see where my trip to Japan takes me mentally. The best holidays are the ones you don't want to end that also somehow make you appreciate where you live more.

If I've already maxed out my appreciation for Sydney, I'm prepared to live with that. Now that the world traveler is on the verge of making a comeback, I know this arranged marriage can be saved. Just because I don't have to leave every three months doesn't mean I can't. Goodbye, Sydney. Hello, world. Boy have I missed you!

Monday, August 10, 2015

How did I miss the sad news of the passing of country great Lynn Anderson?

Divorce is a terrible thing...and not just because it's claimed the Hollywood unions of Ben Affleck + Jennifer Garner and Gwen Stefani + Gavin Rossdale as well as, if those often-repeated statistics are correct, half of all marriages.

The divorce announcement by Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert and all the follow-up headlines (This just in: Miranda is drinking to get over Blake...which actually succeeded in making her more interesting than I ever found her to be) have overshadowed the most important country-music story of the year.

Lynn Anderson, the '70s country great best known for the crossover hit "(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden" and, by extension, Kon Kan's 1989 reboot "I Beg Your Pardon," died from a heart attack at age 67 on July 30. That was nearly two weeks ago, and I just found out today. I blame Blake and Miranda from keeping me in the dark for so long. Yes, I hate divorce.

Had it not been for the passing of American sports great Frank Gifford at age 84 on Sunday, I might still not know that Anderson is no longer with us. After reading an article this morning on Gifford's death on TMZ, I spotted a link to an Anderson obit in a list of related stories.

Though Lynn Anderson had absolutely nothing to do with Frank Gifford, and I doubt that she was ever interviewed by Gifford's widow Kathie Lee, there is something of a loose link there. Both were giants in their chosen field, only Anderson's peak popularity period was decidedly more compact than Gifford's.

But boy, what a peak. Among '70s female country singers in the early '70s, she was probably fourth behind Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, and Loretta Lynn, and just ahead of  Donna Fargo. In fact, she was the first major female country star to score a crossover smash when "Rose Garden, her 1970 country No. 1, went all the way to No. 3 on Billboard's Hot 100, a height to which neither Wynette nor Lynn would ever ascend. 

By the latter part of the decade when Crystal Gayle, Anne Murray and Barbara Mandrell had emerged as country contenders, Anderson's popularity was waning. Before her death, she was probably mostly regarded as a relic of the '70s or -- worse! -- a one-hit wonder because even most country fans probably couldn't name any of her songs aside from her signature one.

I can't argue with the '70s angle, but her list of hits extends well beyond the one for which she's best known. "Rose Garden" aside, Anderson scored four other No. 1 country hits and 13 other Top 10s between 1967 and 1983. Not so bad for a one-hit wonder, right?

Here are five Lynn Anderson hits other than "Rose Garden" that should be required listening for every country fan who thinks Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert splitting up is more important news than Anderson's passing.

"How Can I Unlove You" (No. 1, 1970)

"Fool Me" (No. 4, 1973)

"He Turns It Into Love Again" (No. 13, 1974)

"You're My Man" (No. 1, 1971)

"Isn't It Always Love" (No. 10, 1979)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Trending on social media: #CecilTheLion! RIP…but what about Sandra Bland and Ralkina Jones?

From The Cowardly Lion to Simba, before and beyond, the "King of Beasts" has roared in our public consciousness for centuries. Powerful, regal, beautiful, the lion might be the most iconic non-human presence in the animal kingdom. I'm surprised the U.S. founding fathers chose the bald eagle instead to signify American national pride and strength.

Had they gone with the lion, Walter Palmer wouldn't stand a chance. He probably still doesn't. The biggest mistake the American dentist ever made was arranging a $50,000 hunt to kill Cecil, a major lion attraction in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. If the outraged public (and possibly the legal system) has its way, his life will never be the same again.

I'm one of the outraged many. With visions of lions in the Serengeti still fairly fresh in my mind from my July of 2014 African safari, I'm especially sickened by Palmer's misdeeds. It's bad enough that we descend upon lions' natural habitat wielding cameras like paparazzi chasing celebrities, but must we hunt them too?

Imagine if Princess Diana's death had been intentional and privately paid for by an egomaniacal bloodthirsty pap. In a sense, that's exactly how Palmer nailed Cecil. Money talks...and kills.

Horrifying as the murder of Cecil might be, the business transaction heightens the shock value for me. I don't know which is worse: that Palmer paid big bucks for the dishonor of killing a lion or that said dishonor can be bought.

But my rage doesn't begin or end with Palmer and the death of Cecil. I'm angry for anything -- anyone -- that dies at the hands of another for no reason. I'm angrier because I noticed more moral outrage on social media yesterday over the senseless death of a lion than I did over the senseless deaths of two black women, in two separate incidents, while in police custody this month.

I'm not saying that the people I follow consider a lion's life more valuable than Sandra Bland's or Ralkina Jones'. But I missed the mass outrage when two black women died for nothing. Have we become so desensitized to police in the U.S. killing black people that we no longer feel the need to comment on it?

Jimmy Kimmel cried last night over Cecil. Where were his tears for Bland and Jones? Where was the celebrity outpouring of hashtagged Twitter grief for them? Where was white America's moral indignation on social media? Why does the death of a lion seem like a much bigger story than the passings of Bland and Jones and all the blacks who've lost their lives to increasingly racist agendas in the U.S.?

Maybe Nicki Minaj had a point about the lack of respect and appreciation afforded to black women, but then, she's still alive. She may have missed out on an MTV VMA nomination for Video of the Year, but thanks to the exchange of a few choice words with Taylor Swift on Twitter, Minaj was hardly a loser. Yes, she's still alive.

She was perhaps the most-talked about black woman on social media this month, and from what I read, #TeamNickiMinaj was the victor in Nicki vs. Taylor, after countless tweeters, including Katy Perry, weighed in. The rapper even managed to swing a public apology from the former most powerful woman in pop, a title that perhaps should now go to queen of the pop jungle Nicki Minaj.

Oh, and she's still alive. So she can spare me the martyr act.

Unlike "Nicki Minaj," the names of Sandra Bland and Ralkina Jones will continue to go unheard and unsung. When they have their posthumous days in court (if they have them), no one will likely be punished. Isn't that what typically happens when black people die in the custody of white police?

Walter Palmer probably won't get off for his high crime against the animal kingdom. He's already been crucified on social media, and I suspect this is just the beginning of the end of his life as he knew it. Stupid man. Doesn't he realize that in the killing game, the more value the public places on the target, the more likely you are to go down for nailing it?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

10 things I learned while doing karaoke with my colleagues at our Christmas in July party

Don't worry: During our Christmas in July, clothing was not optional...thank God!
What I didn't learn: I work with a pretty cool group of people. I already knew that. Friday night just offered confirmation.

Now on with my learning curve...because there was no way I was walking a straight line after 10pm!

1. Waking up in bed alone, fully clothed, and not knowing for sure how you got there beats rising and not shining in the nude next to a not-so-beautiful stranger and not knowing for sure how he got there. Also, on the plus side, I somehow made it into bed without my shoes still on.

2. Nicki Minaj deserves our respect. I knew "Anaconda" was a great song, but I had no idea it could, in the immortal words of Destiny's Child, make me lose my breath. Rapping a few of Nicki's rapid-fire sentences left me gasping for air just as much as my Saturday runs from Kings Cross to the Sydney Harbour Bridge to North Sydney and back to KX via the Opera House waterfront route. OH MY GOD... Naturally, I skipped Saturday's run. I was still trying to catch my breath from Friday night karaoke!
3. I'm not the only one who finds Mick Jagger's chocolate queeniness in "Brown Sugar" kind of shocking. By the time I finished my first karaoke number (The Rolling Stone's "Brown Sugar," as planned for weeks), one of my colleagues looked at me, astonished and revolted. "I had no idea those lyrics were so racist," he said, having just read them in large, bold print on the karaoke screen. When I explained that Mick wrote the song about his black girlfriend at the time, he echoed a comment I made in my recent "Brown Sugar" blog post: "Well, I wonder what she thought about it." Indeed.

4. Rose wine is not your friend. Splitting two bottles with a co-worker is enough to leave you and your boss/Sydney BFF dancing around a pub that doesn't actually have a dance floor. Don't you hate it when people who do that?

5. Friday night might not be the best night for a work party, after all. Now I know why they're usually on Thursday night: Having to work the next day stops you from going full-on and casting all your inhibitions to the wind.

6. Inner Sydney is not nearly as massive as I thought it was. Walking from the Japanese restaurant in the CBD to the karaoke pub in Surry Hills took about a half hour less than I would have expected. Wait. Does that mean those weekly runs that leave me as breathless as "Anaconda" are shorter than they feel?

7. Japanese steak might be smaller than the ones you get in those pub-grub specials, but the one I had for dinner pre-karaoke might be the best red meat I've had in Sydney. I'm going to give credit to the soyed-up teriyaki sauce. My trip to Japan next month can't come fast enough.

8. "Cars" by Gary Numan might be my favorite song of the 1980s. Waiting out the extended instrumental coda is as awkward as Gary said it was in my BFF Lori Majewski's '80s music tome Mad World: An Oral History of the New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s. (Karaoke is, after all, about singing, not posing through a never-ending wordless outro). Still, "Cars" now has a permanent spot on my future must-do-at-karaoke list.

9. The camera never lies, which makes the best Christmas in July party a Christmas in July party where not one single selfie is taken. In fact, I can't recall a single photograph being taken all night. That means I'll have to take my boss' word that I was "amazing" and in "top form." Who wants to see photographic proof? Not me.

10. Drunk texting doesn't always end in embarrassment. Just don't try it at home. It's best when there are friends around to work the edit button.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner: Kim Kardashian with substance (and a face that moves)

There's something about Caitlyn. Ms. Jenner's can't-look-away glamour dramatically caps a compelling story arc. But wouldn't the narrative be so much more powerful if, after the Vanity Fair cover, she'd emerged as a more down-to-earth woman?

Yes, she looks fantastic, but the costume changes, the perfect-angle shots, the reported diva demands, Angelina Jolie's glamour squad -- what does this say about transgenderism? About womanhood? The implication is that both are all about appearances? Isn't that just promoting another stereotype?

It started to dawn on me during the biography portion of Caitlyn's Arthur Ashe Courage Award presentation at the ESPYs. The segment was edited so that we kept catching brief sideways glances of Caitlyn talking about her transformation. I understood the ploy: Keep everyone watching until the full-on money shot. Wasn't that why we were all watching -- to see how great Caitlyn looked...again?

In her introductory comments, Caitlyn emphasized the difficulties of being a woman. But they all revolved around the physical aspect, not the less tangible negatives like the lack of opportunities, the lack of support, the lack of equal pay.

Of course, Caitlyn, like her ex Kris and daughters and stepdaughters, doesn't have to worry about such pesky issues as equal pay. For the foreseeable future, she'll be raking in millions just for getting out of bed. And there'll be a glamour squad on hand making sure she looks perfect for the reality cameras. Did she wake up like this? Never.

In concerns me that in the mainstreaming of transgenderism, it seems to be all about beauty and glamour. Caitlyn and our reaction to her seem to be reinforcing that with every public appearance. Does she -- does anyone -- need to change outfits half a dozen times in one New York City day? Blake Lively pulled that one first, so it's not like Caitlyn was even being original.

Laverne Cox, the Orange Is the New Black actress and the second most-famous transgender woman of the moment, is currently celebrated for being beautiful...and brave, but mostly beautiful. Would we care as much about her if she looked like an average soccer mom?

After Caitlyn's Vanity Fair cover, I had a debate with a Facebook friend who was concerned about the gushing commentary revolving around how "amazing" she looked. Would we have been as accepting of her, he wondered, if she hadn't looked so good?

While I understood where he was coming from, I had to consider Caitlyn's debut medium. We were reacting to a celebrity magazine cover. Traditionally, they're all about shallow aesthetics. What else should we have been reacting to if not how she looks? Isn't that pretty par for course with two-dimensional photographs?

In the weeks since then, though, we've had time to focus on other things. Caitlyn has had time to give us more to focus on. Yet it continues to be mostly about how amazing she looks. This is such a loaded non-development.

All transgender women no more look like Laverne Cox or Janet Mock or Candis Cayne or Caitlyn than all non-trans women look like Kim Kardashian. The big difference is that Kim is pure celebrity. Unlike the others, she isn't regarded as any kind of heroine.

Where is the applause for, say, Chas Bono? He came out as transgender years before Caitlyn made it safer to do so. But where were all the plaudits and glowing testimonials about the bravery of Sonny and Cher's son? If he had come out looking like Josh Duhamel, would things have been different?

I'm not blaming this all on Caitlyn. She wouldn't be the center of attention if we didn't put her there, for whatever reason. So in a sense, we're financing the ego trip.

It's not like I was expecting that much more from her. After all, Bruce was not exactly a promoter of social progress, a tireless crusader. But I was hoping for a pleasant surprise. I wanted Caitlyn to be much more than the second coming of her stepdaughter.

Maybe once the post-initial furor dies down, after mama gets paid, she will grow into the role model she seems to want to be. But as long as her life continues to be a red carpet, complete with glamor squads and perfectly timed public appearances, she'll keep missing the mark in those impossible-to-walk-in heels.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

I can't believe Anne Murray is 70!

I may not be celebrating America's birthday today (check out my previous post to find out why), but I'm in the mood for a birthday celebration, even if it's a belated one. Two weeks ago, on June 20, Anne Murray turned 70, and I'm having trouble wrapping my head around it.

I'm not really sure why. It's not like I have images of ingenue Anne floating around in my head to beg the question: Where did the time go? Unlike her '70s country-pop contemporaries like Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John, Anne was never really the ingenue.

She always seemed a little older, a bit more settled. Perhaps it was her calm musical approach and her utter un-trendiness. She was like the Julie Andrews of pop, with a strikingly similar hairstyle.

If you compare photos of Anne today to photos of Anne circa 1980, when I first fell in love with her, not much has changed. The woman is as ageless as her music. "Time don't run out on me," she once sang. But it always seemed to stand still as far as Anne was concerned, which is probably what makes it so hard to grasp that she's now entered her eighth decade.

In belated celebration, five of my favorite Anne Murray moments:

"Danny's Song" Like "A Love Song," written by Kenny Loggins but totally owned by Anne. They make me wonder what Anne might have done with later Kenny-written classics like "Whenever I Call You Friend," "What a Fool Believes" and "Footloose."

"You Won't See Me" The one John Lennon called his all-time favorite Beatles remake. The fade-in is still all kinds of amazing.

"Daydream Believer" Makes the Monkees original completely irrelevant. Note how Anne manages to sing flawlessly, completely in tune, while walking around and handing out presents in the video below, like it's the most natural thing in the world to do. That's the very definition of effortless.

"Lucky Me" The first 45 I ever bought. When I met Anne in New York City in the '90s, I brought along the old vinyl Capitol Records single for her to sign. She took one look at it and said, "Oh, another one that didn't do too well." When I considered that it hit No. 9 country and No. 42 pop, Anne's personal musical identity and allegiance became as crystal clear as her voice. She was all about Billboard's Hot 100, not Billboard's Hot Country Singles.

"Another Sleepless Night" Totally naughty to my pre-teen ears...She sang "making love"! The slightly risqueness of it all was one of the reasons I loved it. But today, Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money" video makes it sound about as wholesome as "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

10 more things everybody loves that I just don't get

"Everything popular is wrong." - Oscar Wilde…or whoever

I'm now old enough to have outgrown my youthful concurrence with one of the greatest aphorisms Oscar Wilde may or may not have ever uttered. Yet, I must make a concession: In the immortal words of The Cult, I am the king contrary man.

I knew this for sure after I wrote my last blog post, published it, and then realized how many things I left off the list. The Dutch woman on the Serengeti safari I took last year was right: I must be from another planet. She said this after I made yet another pronouncement that sounded like Martian-speak to her ears. (I think it was something about my distaste for chocolate - see below.)

Anyway, here's my second list of things you probably love that I can really live without:

"Billie Jean": The cold, harsh truth: For the biggest album of all time, Michael Jackson's Thriller sounds incredibly dated today. I'd much rather listen to Bad, Dangerous, or the new tracks on HIStory. "Billie Jean" may still get the most posthumous play, but if it were up to me, I'd never ever have to hear it again. As '80s Michael Jackson thrillers go, "Smooth Criminal" is the baddest, most dangerous one of all. Proof:

cats: I'm allergic to them, but sneezing aside, I don't understand why anyone would choose to live with a cat, which is like a lover who keeps turning his back to you in bed. I'd prefer a dog, which is like the ultimate cuddler/spooner.

chocolate: It's tolerable in white. The rest of it is too bitter for a sweets guy like me. I'd rather skip the medium-brown stuff unless there's a fruit filling attached. Even then, dark chocolate still makes me wince.

garlic: I'm allergic to it, which makes everyday life extremely difficult because they seem to sneak it into everything. Including some people's mouthwash! Yuck!

ice cream: I don't dislike it, but I've never really understood its temptation status. I probably haven't had a scoop since I left Buenos Aires in 2011, and I definitely don't miss it.

James Bond: I care about 007 only because he's inspired so many great songs.

Modern Family : Not funny. I'm pretty much guaranteed to hate any laugh-track-free show that tries to sell the sort of ironic hipster humor over which Entertainment Weekly salivates. That's why I never got into 30 Rock, The Office, Community, Parks and Recreation, or, well, being EW's TV editor. Sorry…not sorry.

movie franchises: I pride myself on having never seen a single Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight, or Hunger Games movie. Though I loved superhero comics and the Superman and the Batman TV series as a kid (the former mostly because it was my bonding tool with my big brother Jeff), the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman movies and The Dark Knight aside, I haven't seen any comics-based movies as an adult. I once dumped a guy in part because his obsession with Transformers worried me, so I clearly take my aversion to this stuff very seriously.

Paris: If you want to go to the South of France, I'm in. But beauty aside (all man-made, which makes it even more underwhelming than Rio), the City of Lights might be one of the most boring places on earth. Once I've done the Louvre, Musee Picasso, and the garden at Musee Rodin, I'm over it. Runners-up: Rio, Venice, and Montreal, though it's been a while since I last visited the latter, and it could possibly pull a Berlin-in-2013 and make me love it if I went now.

Stand-up comedy: If I found someone standing on a stage trying to make me laugh either amusing or entertaining, I would have paid more attention during my brushes with several pre-superstardom comics during my time at University of Florida. Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Jeff Foxworthy all performed at UF's Gator Growl, and every year, I struggled to keep my eyes open. Zzzzz.