I Am Offended

“The Future” is one of Leonard Cohen’s best songs.  It is spell-binding, powerful, uncompromising.  But even Cohen, apparently, grew frightened of his own lyrics.

Here’s the original second verse:

Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that’s left
And stuff it up the hole in your culture

If you read reddit and browse through the occasional discussion of sexual preference and fetishes it appears that anal sex is not all that uncommon today.  It probably never was.  But a certain constituency out there would find it indelicate.  Thus:

Here we go: Mr. Cohen on the CBC in 1993:

Give me speed and careless sex
Take the only tree…

Let’s note immediately that no one seem all that concerned about taking the “only tree that’s left” or with, later, “the white man dancing”– a strange phrase that suggests there is something not perverse about a black or latino man dancing.

It’s a powerful prophetic song that makes Cohen look like a genius in a certain light.  Not because he is right– he isn’t– and not because he doesn’t offend: he does, wonderfully.  But because he touches about the most sensitive impulses at the arc of our culture: violence and sex and religion– and tells us that they are off the rails.

I need to point out though that no prophecy of future chaos and disorder has ever been wrong.  It is human nature to regard the diversity, conflict, violence, and destruction of every era as inevitable and the worst it has ever been.  But, as thinkers like Hans Rosling have pointed out, you could make a strong argument for the case that humanity has actually never been in better condition than it is now.  [There is an exception: there are strong arguments being made that Global Warming is now beyond the tipping point and real world-wide catastrophe looms.]  There are few wars, less violence, more prosperity than we ever dreamed of 50 or 100 years ago.

Back to my point.  It is more than a little tacky and tawdry and shabby –to use a word favored by Cohen himself– to play the uncompromising prophet and then compromise.  Who asked him to remove “anal sex” and “crack”?  Did he volunteer to do it?  It would not surprise me because Cohen has gone soft in recent years, disappointingly attuned to his own mythology as it plays to his new constituency.   Most of his current fans never listened to the original “Songs of Leonard Cohen” or read any of his books of poetry, or “Beautiful Losers”, the novel, or even “Favorite Game”.

They wouldn’t like the early Cohen, with this, for example:

The 15-year-old girls
I wanted when I was 15
I have them now
It is very pleasant
It is never too late
I advise you all
To become rich and famous….

So when Cohen sings “careless sex” to avoid offending his new fan base, I feel like the man whose incorrigible Uncle has suddenly married and joined a church.  Oh, he used to be so much fun.

How to Ruin a Great Story

Miss Saigon has received criticism for what some have perceived as its racist or sexist overtones, including protests regarding its portrayal of Asians and women in general.[34] Originally, Pryce and Burns, white actors playing Eurasian/Asian characters, wore eye prostheses and bronzing cream to make themselves look more Asian,[35] which outraged some who drew comparisons to a “minstrel show”.[36]

Yes, it’s hard to argue with the idea that using makeup and prostheses to make an actor look more like an Asian character is unnecessary and insulting.  There are Asian actors.  Why not use one?  If you needed in a dog in a scene, would you cast a cat?  A hamster?

Well, only if the hamster badly wanted to star in this show as a dog.  Because the hamster wanted the challenge.  The hamster wants to be famous and adored by the public.

See “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” for a notorious example (Mickey Rooney).  If a black actor were to play Hamlet (as many have), would we want to make him look Danish?  Why not?  how come you don’t see black comedians or politicians in whiteface?  Ever?

In the London production of Miss Saigon, Lea Salonga originally starred as Kim, with Jonathan Pryce as the Engineer. When the production transferred from London to New York City, the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) refused to allow Pryce, a white actor, to recreate the role of the Eurasian pimp in America. As Alan Eisenberg, executive secretary of Actors’ Equity explained, “The casting of a Caucasian actor made up to appear Asian is an affront to the Asian community. The casting choice is especially disturbing when the casting of an Asian actor, in the role, would be an important and significant opportunity to break the usual pattern of casting Asians in minor roles.”[36] This ruling led to criticism from many, including the British Equity, citing violations of the principles of artistic integrity and freedom. Producer Cameron Mackintosh threatened to cancel the show, despite massive advance ticket sales.[37]

Ah– the collision of two liberal principles!  No. 1, respect ethnicity enough to use actors belonging to that ethnicity.  No. 2, respect “artistic integrity and freedom”.

Though there had been a large, well-publicised international search among Asian actresses to play Kim, there had been no equivalent search for Asian actors to play the major Asian male roles—specifically, those of the Engineer (Pryce) and Thuy (Keith Burns). However, others pointed out that since the Engineer’s character was Eurasian (French-Vietnamese), they argued that Pryce was being discriminated against on the basis that he was Caucasian.  [Wow!!] Also, Pryce was considered by many in Britain to have “star status,” a clause that allows a well-known foreign actor to recreate a role on Broadway without an American casting call.[36] After pressure from Mackintosh, the general public, and many of its own members, Actors’ Equity was forced to reverse its decision. Pryce starred alongside Salonga and Willy Falk (as Chris) when the show opened on Broadway.[38][39][40]  From Wikipedia

And here we get the pretzel: Jonathan Pryce is being discriminated against because he is a Caucasian!  Would anyone pose this argument against someone re-making “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and replacing Mickey Rooney with an actual Japanese actor?   But that would be discriminating against annoying, short, white actors!

All this over an actor playing the role of a pimp.

Now, will no one object to a Eurasian actor being cast in the role of a pimp?  What an insult!  We are all outraged!  Everyone?


This is Equality?

In her new movie, 50-year-old Jennifer Lopez plays a stripper.

I knew before I even saw any reviews or previews that Jennifer Lopez is not going to strip in this movie.  Like Natalie Wood and Demi Moore and Jennifer Aniston, who have all played strippers in movies, she will embrace the peculiarly feminine trope of screaming “look at me!  I’m SO naughty!” without actually doing anything all that naughty.   She will somehow convey that she didn’t really want to play the role but just had to.  That somehow, this film about persuading men to give you money to take off your clothes, is really about female empowerment.

She will not do this film unless the director ensures that when she does her pole dance, the audience simply goes wild.  We don’t– it’s a rather pedestrian pole dance, and, fit as she is, Lopez is still 50– but the audience in the film are directed to go while and shower the stage with money.  And we are supposed to believe that this is a kind of gutsy performance, the result of dedication and discipline and months of training.

She will fully expect, and the entertainment press will fully deliver, reviews that rave about her astonishing beauty.  Who would even think she was 50 years old?  And some reviewers will give her extra points for playing a character they think the audience thinks is dark or conflicted or interesting on some level that eludes me.

And a certain type of reviewer will fall in line by proclaiming that the 50-year-old will stun 20-year-olds into awed silence at her overwhelming deliciousness, while simultaneously shutting men up with her liberated, empowering, feistiness and bravado and blah blah blah.

Speaking for the entranced multitudes:

Nowhere is this truer than with the 50-year-old Lopez, who makes a magnificent entrance in “Hustlers” with an athletic, graceful and erotic dance number, and never lets go from there. Once again, she proves what an instinctive, spontaneous actress she is, infusing Ramona with her own Bronx-born street smarts, and carrying herself with the feline regality she’s acquired over a nearly 30-year career as one of the entertainment industry’s most gifted triple threats. In this raunchy, gloriously liberated revenge fantasy, Lopez rules with seductive, triumphant authority. Not only do we climb into her fur, we’ll happily follow her anywhere.   Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post

Have you seen any other Jennifer Lopez films?  She may have “feline regality” but she is far too busy being a star to be convincing in any of her roles.  And what is “feline regality” anyway, if not a code word for celebrity privilege and entitlement?   But we are given a clue about the reviewer’s perspective: she infuses “Ramona with her own Bronx-born street smarts”.  Is that code for the idea that she doesn’t really create a character– she just plays herself?

We understand why Hollywood religiously adheres to the titillation code: Wood, and Moore, and Aniston, and Lopez can play strippers and deceive you into thinking they are almost naked on screen (they never are) so you can enjoy the perversity of watching a naked woman, while reassuring yourself that you are a decent, morally upright human being because they are never actually naked.  You get to live in an envelope of widely accepted hypocrisy.

It is of a piece with Seth Rogan comedies: you get to talk dirty and make stupid jokes about bodily functions and then tack on some kind of sentimental moral lesson so that audiences can feel good about enjoying the smut.

In interviews, Lopez plays it for what it’s worth:

This is the first time you see my character. It’s sexy, it’s dangerous,” Lopez explained of her character’s introduction during the video diary.  From 


I am just stunning!  And empowering!  And stunning!  I display my empowerment by stripping for men (and then robbing them).  And stunning!  The distasteful part of it is that the film will show other characters in the film reacting as if they have waited their entire lives to watch a 50-year-old rich celebrity strip.  This is the arrangement: Lopez will draw a guaranteed constituency to pay to see the film (who revel in her celebrity status) and therefore has to power to essentially give herself a role more suited to a 25-year-old.  As I noted, the celebrity press will play along with this, even suggesting she should get an Oscar.

She continued: “There’s something liberating and empowering about it, but you’re really out there, physically, emotionally and psychologically.”  From Here.

That makes me morally superior to Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby.

In some way or another.



She was Beautiful

The novel follows a pair of siblings — Danny and his older sister, the beautiful, protective Maeve — growing up midcentury outside Philadelphia.  From a Review in the NYTimes

Of course she was beautiful.  Would we care about her if she was not?  Would we care less?

I was reading this review one day and it just suddenly hit me– that casual, insidious, sneaky little insert there: “beautiful”.  Danny’s “beautiful” older sister Maeve.   And if you think I’m after something about sexism, forget it.  It’s the word “beautiful”.  It can apply to anything.

Maeve’s fate in this book, we are told, is unkind.  Because she loves her brother and mothers him and protects him and, it is suggested, sacrifices her own future for him.  So why would we care if she is beautiful?  I mean that seriously.  If the objective is not to engage you in some kind of complicity about desire for Maeve, or Maeve’s desirability– why bother?  We could have a story about a homely girl who realizes she’s never going to be lucky in love and sacrifices something that doesn’t seem all that valuable in the first place: her romantic prospects.

The Tribe

What has happened is this: the christian community in the U.S. is no longer a religious movement.  It is a tribe.

Well, all right– it was always a tribe, but it was never as clear as it is now.

For decades now, the Christian evangelical community in the U.S. has loudly proclaimed itself the bastion of conservative virtue: self-restraint, monogamy, kindness, respect for authority, self-reliance, hard work, “character”, and devotion to the transcendent values embodied by the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It rejected the licentious attitudes of the 1960’s: free love, peace, the environment, women’s rights, drug use, tolerance, and so on, because, unlike the hippies, Christians were virtuous.

Well, the mask is off.

This was all a hoax.   Offered a candidate who embodies the worst excesses of narcissism, materialism, self-centeredness, egotism, and selfishness, a liar and a cheat, a man who tastes are crass and vulgar-  in short, the opposite of Jesus, they ran for him and embraced him with a passion.

It is obvious that the Christian Community did not suddenly become apostate overnight.  It has always truly embraced the values of Donald Trump, but has always pretended to embrace values that it knows more people will respect.  This is a reflection of it’s patriarchal nature: the men rule and lie to the women and children that their rule is honorable and beneficent, and that the weekend in Vegas really was just to go golfing.  The Las Vegas of the 1960’s, in fact, was almost the perfect embodiment of this kind of hypocrisy: Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. singing “My Way” at Caesar’s Palace” as women hurl their panties onto the stage.

The Christian Evangelical community is phony.  They are liars.  They are frauds.  They are one with their leader, a two-bit bankrupt huckster and shyster, who routinely lies and exaggerates and brags, who chases women and assaults them, who pays off prostitutes, and whose knowledge set must be the most ridiculously inadequate of any leader of any developed country in the past 100 years.

The rabid support of Donald Trump– 80 – 85% approval among evangelical Christians– is obviously not due to the fact that he is like Jesus.  It can only be due to the fact that he represents a tribe, at war with other tribes, finally ascendant, no longer humiliated by the sophistication, knowledge, and power of the “cultural elites”.  His values mean nothing.  His character means nothing.  His qualifications mean nothing.  The only thing that matters is that our side wins, and we get  to kick all those condescending liberal educated elites who think they’re so smart in the teeth.

There was a time…

The Divide

Keith Lockhart, Boston Pops conductor: He [Ted Kennedy] loved to sing. After dinner in Hyannisport we would retire to the living room, where he had all these books of Broadway songs. I was there once with a rather conservative Republican senator and his wife. They must have thought, Well, this is what those Massachusetts Democrats do—they sing Lerner and Loewe around the piano.


SNL often opens with a skit parodying the Trump White House, with Alec Baldwin playing Donald Trump and Kate Mckinnon playing Rudolph Guiliani (or, lately, Lindsay Graham).  Various other members of the company play Trump’s family or Putin or members of Trump’s inner circle.  Robert De Niro played Robert Mueller a few times.  Matthew Broderick recently played Mike Pompeo, without distinction.    It all hasn’t been really funny for a long time.

I suspect they are trapped with Alec Baldwin because there are personal relationships involved and it would be quite a snub to suddenly produce a different actor to play Trump even though Baldwin is a vulgar impersonator, all fat lips and sneer, and doesn’t really capture the essential delusion of Donald Trump, in which he sees himself as a bold, decisive, intellectually dominating leader, and the reality: a pompous, clue-less blow-hard.  There would be a lot of comment if they dropped Baldwin.  Baldwin would be embarrassed.  Lorne Michaels would look mean.

Baldwin is all broad strokes and no nuance.  He doesn’t even get the blow-hard part right– he conveys a Trump constantly second-guessing himself, filled with self-doubt and insecurities, and too aware of his failures.  He may well be fundamentally insecure, but that’s not evident in the real Trump, and it’s not funny to see it in the parody.   (If there is a basis for that element in reality, it’s the moment Trump honestly thought he was “screwed”, and told aides so, at the start of the Mueller investigation.)

Trump doesn’t know he’s an idiot.

He’s probably actually closer to the character Stephen Colbert used to play.