George Michael, a queer guide for the straight guys

George MIchael

George Michael at Wembley Stadium, June 11, 1988. (Credit: AP/Gillian Allen)

French marketing guru and cultural theorist extraordinaire, Clotaire Rapaille, explains in his book, “The Culture Code,” that every culture has a coded way of understanding a particular topic. The cultural code for sex in America is “gun.” The theory is not as phallic as it seems, rather it explains that, for most Americans, sexuality is at once the source of excitement and danger. It is a powerful weapon, but a weapon indeed – something to treat with caution and approach with fear. Rapaille’s examination of America’s sexual psychosis explains why mainstream culture consistently oscillates between vulgarity and frigidity. Teenagers typically are thrilled with sex, but slightly afraid of it. In the adolescent American mindset, titillation and annihilation are flipsides of the same peep show token.

The weakness of Rapaille’s analysis is that it applies exclusively to straight culture. Gay men, seemingly far more enlightened on human sexuality than their heterosexual friends, for the most part avoid, at least in their art, the neuroses of loving and hating sex, while believing it is both everything and nothing at the same time.

There were few more sophisticated and talented purveyors of a smart, free, and fun sexual ethic than the recently deceased George Michael. Throughout his music, sex is not dangerous, but an affirmational source of joy, creativity, and intimacy. It is also not a tool for conquest, or opportunity for domination, but an opportunity for mutual pleasure. Love is not a prerequisite for erotic ecstasy, in Michael’s musical architecture. The only regulatory mechanism is the insistence that all participation is voluntary, and all experience is reciprocal. In the 1980s, when heavy metal hair bands objectified women according to cruel routine, Madonna blurred the lines between submission and control, and hip hop began to flirt with misogynistic terminology, George Michael sang anthems of reciprocity — celebratory, dance hall epics of simultaneous orgasm.

“I know we can come together,” Michael sings in his masterful blend of pop, disco, and funk, “I Want Your Sex.” Since the British icon’s death, most critics have avoided discussion of “I Want Your Sex,” preferring to cite “Faith” and “Father Figure” from the same record as proof of his greatness. Perhaps, neglect of one Michael’s best songs is due to the heterosexual imagery in the video. Michael was still in the closet, and while it is now clear that the sex he wanted was not with a woman, he made it appear that way to appease his record label, and the homophobia of MTV viewers. It is also possible that commentators believe that the song, because it is indescribably fun, is not “serious.” Stanley Crouch once wrote that “there is nothing more serious than joy when it is about the right thing.” What is more joyful than sex when it is with the right person and done the right way?

In “I Want Your Sex,” Michael, with the aid of an infectious groove and booming voice, is able to combat against both the Puritans and the predators. “Sex is natural / Sex is fun,” he declares with the promise that he “won’t tease” or “tell lies.” He looks not for authority – “I’m not your father / I’m not your brother.” He seeks only “sex.” The refusal to sing in metaphor signifies the lack of shame he feels in his elevation of sexuality, and in his proposition. He doesn’t “need a Bible,” and he boldly asks, “What’s your definition of dirty baby? / What do you call pornography?”

One could interpret the inquiry as directed not only to the desirable subject of the song, but also the inevitable moralists who would object to the eroticism of Michael’s music. As countless rock and rap songs demonstrate, when a male performer challenges conservative mores surrounding sex, it is typically to announce conquest or issue command. Too many otherwise enjoyable songs of heterosexual seduction suffer under the possibility of exploitation. When a man demands sexual favor from a woman, one cannot help but wonder how the woman is supposed to feel. George Michael’s plea for physical attention and affection differs in that he makes it clear he is interested in bodily union only if his partner is a true partner in every sense of the word – an enthusiastic collaborator who will receive as much he gives.

In literature and music, gay men have demonstrated a stronger sense of sensuality that many straight chroniclers of lusty ambition. Walt Whitman, whose sexuality is still the subject of debate, was either gay or bisexual, but seemed to have perfect comprehension of mutual pleasure when he classified sex as “the merge.” Sex was a democratic act, in Whitman’s experience and imagination. “Who be afraid of the merge?” the poet asked, and while Michael would have answered no one, many would cower in the corner.

Cowards emerged with pride when Gore Vidal wrote America’s first mainstream novel offering a man-on-man love affair as natural and normal, “The City and The Pillar,” in 1948. The story is one of sexual confusion. Its protagonist is attracted to men, but he cannot act on his desires, because of the suffocation of America’s moral regime. When he does find opportunity for sexual thrill — in gay bars or with closeted acquaintances — the sex is without love, but also without neuroses. It is only at the novel’s conclusion, when the protagonist confesses his feelings for his boyhood love, and the man reacts violently, that the main character forces himself on the object of his carnal dream. The rape is a result of homophobia as much as it is due to personal depravity. Both men know that they are gay, but one is too afraid to exercise his ineradicable impulse.

George Michael sings in his anthem, “Freedom,” “All we have to see / Is that I don’t belong to you / And you don’t belong to me.” The beautiful simplicity of those lyrics captures the egalitarian spirit, always at war with oppressors, but also the formula for great sex. While heterosexuality masculinity too often asserts itself as the owner of anything effeminate, gay men, through art, offer instruction in reciprocal ethics; A lesson that begins in the bedroom, but can apply with equal power and pleasure to the boardroom.

Sylvester, one of America’s most underrated musical innovators, sang anthems similar to Michael’s libertine burners. The self-proclaimed “queen of disco,” who sang in a gospel falsetto that would influence none other than Prince, often performed in drag, and proclaimed the joy of feeling “mighty real” in the throes of love and ecstasy. The final record he released before dying of complications from AIDS, “Mutual Attraction,” was one long documentation of the joys of “what makes the world go around,” as the title suggests.

The executives of Sylvester’s record company believed mainstream success was within striking distance, but only if he began to wear men’s business suits, and adopt a publicly straight persona. In an act of heroic courage, Sylvester refused to comply. In fact, when he appeared at a record company gala shortly after rejecting corporate demand, he wore a pink gown.

George Michael displayed the same defiance when, through the mystery and bravery of artistic alchemy, he transformed scandal into success. After Beverly Hills police apprehended Michael in 1998 for soliciting anonymous sex in a public park with a reputation as a late night, gay cruising site, he composed an irresistible dance song, “Outside,” boasting of his predilection for alfresco fornication. Sampling radio reports of his arrest, along with squad car sirens, Michael sings, “Glad to meet you / This is human nature,” in an affected baritone. “Let’s go outside / In the moonlight/…Take me to the places I love best,” he continues over a dance beat; joyfully announcing his own sexuality, while denouncing the public shaming rituals that demand apology and abdication in Hawthorne style.

Two years earlier, Michael had animated his pride at making the ideal partner for “fast love,” with the power of danceable soul, and on “Too Funky,” he promises heaven if he can “get inside you,” but adds the crucial caveat, “If you let me.” Only “Outside,” however, amplified the flick of the middle finger to his sexual antagonists. As the song’s words and music make clear, Michael’s sexuality is always consensual. Reciprocity enhances its satisfaction, as does rebellion.

It is significant that Michael migrated to the black side of town when searching for a musical home. The triumph of his 1987 duet with Aretha Franklin, “I Knew You Were Waiting,” made him one of the first white artists to nearly top the then anachronistically named “black chart.” Reviewing Michael’s significant contribution to music, Michael Eric Dyson recently wrote, “George Michael fashioned a powerful aesthetic from the rhythm and blues base that shaped his music, and his art reveled in the black culture that offered him solace as he struggled to claim his identity as a proud gay man.”

Much of black culture and gay culture share an emphasis on pleasure, the celebration of which originated as a protest against any external effort to execute the humanity of its participants. “Champagne and Reefer,” by Muddy Waters, and Michael’s “Outside” are best understood as protests songs — the creations of artists, but first and foremost human beings, who dance in the frown and grimace of the tyrant; Men who refused to accept restriction on the liberty and mobility of their minds, souls, and bodies. “There’s nothing here but flesh and bone / There’s nothing more…” Michael sings on “Outside.”

Whites and heterosexuals, operating under the assumption of their natural superiority, often betray a belief that if blacks and gays adopt their behavioral norms, they will become happier. The dominant culture demands conformity not always with malice, but with the intention, perhaps even more destructive, of assistance. “We know what’s good for you,” is precisely the condescension that Michael rejected in the bravado of his sexual self-expression.

It is an instructive irony that on the matter of rejecting miserable priggishness, and pursuing the sexual joy of mutual pleasure, gay men might know what is good for straight romance.

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Worst of 2016: Picking the year’s 10 biggest anti-LGBT foes wasn’t easy

Orlando Continues To Mourn The Mass Shooting At Gay Club That Killed 49

(Credit: Getty/Brendan Hoffman/Tom Pennington/Drew Angerer)

2016 was a challenging year for LGBT rights. A year after the Supreme Court legalized equal marriage 5-4 vote, an unprecedented number of bills targeting queer and transgender people were introduced to state legislatures. According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 200 anti-LGBT bills were debated by states across the U.S., including Massachusetts, Illinois, Louisiana, and Montana. Many failed, unable to make it out of committee or vetoed by state governors. Others passed.

The 10 public figures listed below were those most active in creating a climate of bigotry and hate this year, in which a backlash to LGBT equality flourished. If 2017 is just as bad of a year for queer folks as the last one was, you’ll have these people to blame.

1. Pat McCrory, Governor of North Carolina

Pat McCrory, the embattled governor of North Carolina, earned his spot at the top of this list by passing House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom bill” that targets the trans community for discrimination. HB 2 forces transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificate, not their gender identity. The law was protested by over 200 companies, including Apple, Microsoft, and Google, and cost the state an estimated $5 billion each year in lost revenue. Despite the immense damage HB 2 inflicted on the state, McCrory stood by the bill again and again and again. Voters responded to his decision to defend hate by voting him out of office, the only Republican governor to lose his bid for reelection.

This monster McCrory created, though, lives on in his absence. The GOP-controlled legislature failed to strike down HB 2 in late December during a special session of the General Assembly called specifically to repeal it.

2. Mike Pence, Vice President-Elect

Mike Pence’s track record of opposing LGBT rights at every level is nearly unparalleled. While running for Congress in 2000, Pence’s platform was a death sentence for the LGBT community. He advocated diverting the resources from the Ryan White Care Act, which provides life-saving HIV funding, to conversion therapy programs that seek to “change” the orientation of queer youth. During his 12 years in the House of Representatives, Pence voted on multiple occasions in favor of a Constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union exclusively between one man and one woman. He also opposed employment protections that would prevent LGBT workers from being fired.

As the governor of Indiana, Pence went even further. He signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 2015 bill that would allow businesses to deny services to customers based on “sincerely held religious belief.”

His policies are a nightmare for queer people, and as the vice-president elect, Pence will be able to do unprecedented damage to LGBT equality. Emboldened by Donald Trump’s incoming administration, Republicans hope to pass the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a bill that’s nearly identical to the one Pence pushed through last year. Pence, who Trump promised would be the “most powerful vice-president in history,” has already stated his support for FADA.

3. Ted Cruz, Texas Senator and 2016 Presidential Candidate

One of the biggest proponents of anti-trans bathroom legislation in 2016 was Sen. Ted Cruz, the Tea Party favorite who made anti-LGBT hate a cornerstone of his failed presidential campaign. Cruz, who advocated states ignore the Supreme Court ruling, came out in firm support of HB 2, which he claimed was a “reasonable determination” for North Carolina to make. “Men should not be going to the bathroom with little girls,” he added.

Cruz continually beat the drum for HB 2 on the campaign trail as a way to drive a stake into the heart of his opponent, Republican Donald Trump. Trump initially opposed HB 2, stating that the bill was unnecessary. The billionaire told NBC’s “Today” show in April that people should be able to “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate.” (He later flip-flopped on his stance, siding with North Carolina.) Calling Trump’s initial stance “political-correct nonsense,” Cruz would later advocate that trans people use the restroom at home. The White House hopeful talked about bathrooms so much that political observers speculated it hurt his campaign.

The Texas Senator’s newest crusade will be pushing through the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Cruz is hopeful that this effort will be successful, given that Trump and Pence will occupy the Oval Office. “The prospects for protecting religious freedom are brighter now than they have been in a long time,” he told BuzzFeed News.

4. Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas

Everything is bigger in Texas, even the bigots. One of Cruz’s biggest supporters is Lieutenant Dan Patrick, who made headlines following the Pulse nightclub massacre, in which 49 people were gunned down in an Orlando gay bar. Fifty-three more were injured in the June 12 attack, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The morning of the tragedy, Patrick — currently the lieutenant governor of Texas — tweeted a Bible verse from Galatians 6:7: “A man reaps what he sows.”

Patrick, who claimed “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson’s 2013 rant linking homosexuality to beastality was “God… speaking to us,” is a notorious homophobe. Patrick was called out by his far-right views by The New York Times editorial board after he applauded the failure of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, which allowed trans people equal access in public accommodations, including bathrooms. “Sometime in the near future, a transgender teenager in Texas will attempt suicide — and maybe succeed — because vilifying people for their gender identity remains politically acceptable in America,” The Grey Lady wrote.

The lieutenant governor has been equally busy this year. His legislature recently pushed a bathroom bill, Senate Bill 6, that would bring HB 2-style discrimination to Texas. Patrick has claimed that the legislation, which only applies to transgender women, is a “top priority” for 2017. Next year, Texas lawmakers will also consider a bill that could force teachers and school staff to out LGBT students to their parents.

5. Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council

Tony Perkins is a textbook bigot. Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council, a national anti-LGBT organization formally recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Throughout his long career of opposing equality, Perkins has claimed that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles, compared homosexuals to drug addicts and terrorists, and blamed sexual assault in the armed forces on the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” He also opposes the adoption rights of same-sex couples and believes that the “It Gets Better” project, whose goal is to prevent LGBT suicide, is a plot to indoctrinate children.

His extreme policies would appear to make Perkins a fringe figure, but he’s surprisingly influential. At this year’s Republican National Convention, Perkins pushed to include language supporting conversion therapy in the official party platform. He was successful in doing so. The current GOP platform includes a thinly veiled reference to the discredited practice, which is opposed by the American Psychological Association: “We support the right of parents to determine the proper treatment or therapy, for their minor children.”

Perkins, who was particularly active in helping move Donald Trump to the right throughout the election, has further put pressure on the president-elect to use the White House as a platform for hate. In a message posted to the Family Research Council website, he advocated that pro-LGBT officials in the State Department be “ferreted out and . . . replaced by conservatives” opposed to equality.

6. Phil Bryant, Governor of Mississippi

Phil Bryant is Mississippi’s answer to Mike Pence. Bryant passed HB 1523 in April, a so-called “religious liberty” bill that legalized broad-based discrimination in the name of faith. The legislation protected businesses, employers, and individuals from litigation, which would allow, say, a county clerk to refuse to sign the marriage license of a legally wedded gay couple. Zach Ford of ThinkProgress also pointed out that the bill could hypothetically be used in a number of different ways — like to deny trans people healthcare and housing, keep same-sex couples from adopting, or even fire a female worker for wearing pants.

Bryant, when accepting the inaugural “Samuel Adams Religious Freedom Award” from none other than Tony Perkins, claimed he would rather be “crucified” than abandon the legislation. He didn’t have to. U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves struck down the bill in June. Although Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, refused to defend the law in court, Bryant has sought to overturn the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That case is still being debated.

7. Milo Yiannopoulos, Self-styled Alt-Right Spokesperson

Milo Yiannopoulos is a Senior Editor at Breitbart, an alt-right website that serves as a platform for homophobia, transphobia, and white supremacy. His boss, Steve Bannon, once referred to members of the Seven Sisters colleges as a “bunch of dykes.” Yiannopoulos, who is an openly gay man, shared Bannon’s antipathy toward lesbians, as well as seemingly all other women. He has claimed that queer women have are more likely to abuse their romantic partners, that they fake hate crimes, and that there “aren’t really any lesbians,” as Yiannopoulos claimed during a speech at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “You’ll be happier with a boyfriend, darling,” he told a lesbian professor in the audience.

Yiannopoulos, who has both claimed that he wishes he could “cure” his homosexuality and that being gay is a choice, has repeatedly lashed out at a trans student at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Adelaide Kramer, in recent weeks after harassing her during a speech he gave at the college. Not satisfied by attacking Kramer while she was in the audience, he further called out the student at subsequent stops on his university tour. Kramer dropped out of school following the incident.

8. Roy Moore, Former Chief Justice of Alabama

When the chief justice of your state’s Supreme Court compares same-sex marriage to the Holocaust, you more or less know what you’re getting. In a 2015 interview with The Birmingham News, Roy Moore also compared the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling to the Dred Scott case, which ruled that African-Americans weren’t legally people and, thus, couldn’t sue in court.

Moore, who claimed during a 2015 speech that “America is under attack” by LGBT and pro-choice activists, ordered probate judges in January to refuse to issue licenses for same-sex couples after the passage of equal marriage. The Southern Poverty Law Center would file an ethics complaint against Moore, charging that he was “encouraging lawlessness by attempting to assemble state officials and judges to oppose the federal court system.” The state’s Court of the Judiciary would find Moore guilty of the charge, suspending him from his position in September.

The former justice, who is currently running for a seat in the Senate, bristles the suggestion that he’s a homophobe, as he told Bloomberg Politics. Moore has “many homosexual friends.”

9. Trump’s Cabinet Picks

Donald Trump’s clown car of Cabinet picks, who await Congressional approval, is a “who’s-who” of anti-LGBT public figures. Ben Carson, who ran for the presidency before accepting a position as the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, has referred to transgender people as “abnormal” and “the height of absurdity.” The family of billionaire charter school advocate Betsy DeVos, tapped to run the Department of Education, donated $100,000 to Michigan’s successful campaign in 2004 to add a Constitutional amendment limiting marriage to as exclusive to heterosexuals. She has also given money to anti-LGBT groups like Focus on the Family and the Tony Perkins-run Family Research Council.

There’s also Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who has voted against recognizing gender identity and sexual orientation under the state’s hate crime legislation, against the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and in favor of blocking marriage equality in the state with a Constitutional amendment opposing the Supreme Court ruling. He’s also a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, who will respectively serve as the ambassador to the U.N. and director of the CIA, both staunchly oppose marriage equality.

10. Donald Trump, President-Elect

Nearly every person on this list is connected to Donald Trump in some way. Mike Pence was his running mate in 2016, soon to be the second most-powerful person in America. Milo Yiannopoulos is a passionate Trump supporter, frequently referring to the billionaire as “Daddy.” Pat McCrory, out of a job in North Carolina, may find a job in Trump’s administration. Dan Patrick served as the chairman of Trump’s campaign in Texas. Phil Bryant, who advocated that Republicans unite behind the CEO, was reportedly in the running for a Cabinet appointment. Ted Cruz, his fierce opponent during the Republican primaries, even phone-banked for Trump during the general election.

Trump advertised himself as an LGBT ally throughout the 2016 race, saying that he would be a better “friend to the gays” than his Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But even if the president-elect is as gay friendly as he suggests, Trump sure surrounds himself with a ton of bigots. This list speaks volumes about the reality of his presidency, which will be a disaster for the LGBT community.

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Get inspired for New Year’s Eve with these 10 outrageous movie party scenes

The Wolf of Wall Street

Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

2016 is ending, and people are celebrating (or recoiling from) the year that was. While it’s tempting to go out with a big bash, some folks may prefer to stay home and just watch TV. For those staying in, there are many films that have raucous parties that folks can enjoy vicariously. Here are ten outrageous parties for armchair attendees who are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

1. “Animal House”

John Landis’ comedy classic hosts the best frat party of all time. What else are you going to do when you’re on DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION? Hold a “Roman Toga Party” featuring “more than two-dozen reports of individual acts of perversion SO profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here.” Suffice it to say: To-Ga! To-Ga! To-Ga! As Otis Day and the Knights perform “Shout,” you can rock out and roll on the floor in your living room.

2. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) is the hostess serving up sparkling sophistication in Blake Edwards’s effervescent adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella. The famous party scene has a scampering cat (named “cat”), a hat that catches fire from Holly’s long cigarette holder, and more guests that can fit in a New York apartment. The model Mag Wildwood (Dorothy Whitney) shows up, gets drunk, and falls down, as everybody jostles one another about in a series of comic gags that are still amusing 55 years later. Unfortunately, Mr. Yunioshi (Mickey Rooney in a racist, unfunny performance) calls the police, ending the fun. Nevertheless, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is a sure cure for the “mean reds.”

3. “The Party”

Seven years after he made “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” Blake Edwards made “The Party,” a hilarious, slapstick-y comedy. Hrundi V. Bakshi (Peter Sellers) is an inept Indian actor who inadvertently gets invited to the fancy Hollywood shindig given by the producer whose epic film he just ruined. “The Party” features a series of silly gags from Hrundi loosing his shoe in an indoor waterfall to an episode involving an endless roll of toilet paper, and his hitting another guest, Wyoming Bill Kelso (Denny Miller), in the forehead with a dart gun. Eventually, a baby elephant arrives along with a bunch of hippies/flower children, and soapsuds fill the house. Yes, “The Party” is dated, but Sellers’ comic expressions are timeless — and pricelessly funny.

4. “Bright Young Things”

The fast-paced opening sequence of Stephen Fry’s fabulous adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s “Vile Bodies” features a divinely decadent costume party titled “Inferno.” Miles (Michael Sheen) confides to his dancing friend Nina (Emily Mortimer) that the party is “too dull,” to which she responds, “I’ve never been so bored in my life!” It’s “vile,” but a typical, absinthe-fueled party for the Bright Young Things, who host “masked parties, savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Circus parties,” and more in 1930s London. Of course, the war soon breaks out and the party crashes once and for all. All these frivolous high society partygoers are faced with the “nausea, terror and shame” that awaits them. Fry’s film is a sly satire that still resonates today.

5. “Shortbus”

John Cameron Mitchell’s provocative erotic comedy lets its characters’ freak flags fly as they gather at “Shortbus,” an underground New York salon. The party consists of games such as Spin the Bottle, Truth or Dare, and Seven Minutes in Heaven, that allow the characters to explore their (poly)sexual identities (or not in some cases). There are of course, arguments, jealousy, as well as copious sex and drugs and music. A drag queen, Justin Bond (as himself), leads a rousing rendition of “In the End.” It’s an appropriate finale for a film in which the sexually frustrated main characters all seek to achieve orgasm. Life, according to Mitchell and “Shortbus,” should be one big orgy.

6. “It’s My Party”

When Nick (Eric Roberts) is diagnosed with HIV, he decides to end his life before the effects of the disease ravage him. So he invites his family and friends over for a goodbye celebration that is a far more poignant and emotional. And of course, Nick’s ex, Brandon (Gregory Harrison), turns up seeking closure. There is some campy, bitchy humor — “Funny to the end, aren’t I?” Nick asks at one point — but “It’s My Party” is a mostly sobering affair with recriminations and regrets as well as life lessons. The terrific, eclectic cast includes Marlee Matlin, Lee Grant, George Segal, and Bruce Davidson, as well as Olivia Newton-John and Christopher Atkins.

7. “This Is the End”

James Franco throws what may arguably the worst housewarming party ever as the Rapture has just hit Los Angeles. Earthquakes, fires, and beams of blue light kill off citizens and celebrities. The handful of survivors (Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Franco), try to figure out what to do next. They take some drugs, which helps them cope with the end of the world, but they soon come into conflict with each other — especially when Jonah Hill is possessed by a demonic spirit. At least there’s a big party with a surprise musical guest(!) waiting for everyone in Heaven. “This Is the End” may be juvenile, but it is pretty funny stuff.

8. “Spring Breakers”

“Four little girls got lost on their own. Four little girls, they left me alone. Four little girls they came out to play. Now four little girls, here I will stay. It’s here I will stay. Spring Break. Spring Break. Spring Break forever,” says Alien (a corn-rowed James Franco, riffing on the rapper, Riff Raff). The party never ends for teenagers Brit (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), and Cotty (Rachel Korine), who rob a fast food joint and take off with Faith (Selena Gomez) for spring break in Florida. Once in the Sunshine State, they party to excess in scenes full of nubile, naked women drinking, having sex, and doing drugs with reckless abandon in overcrowded hotel rooms. Director Harmony Korine captures the free-sprited nature of his girls gone wild with candor. There is also a beautiful, haunting scene featuring Brit, Candy, and Cotty wearing neon-colored bathing suits and ski masks running off into the night on their way to encounter more trouble. Spring Break forever!

9. “The Wolf of Wall Street”

The excess is over the top and out of control in Martin Scorsese’s comedic true crime saga of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio). The characters “pop Quaaludes like they are M&Ms,” and the office party includes a weekly “act of debauchery” such as Danielle (Natasha Newman Thomas) getting paid $10,000 to have her head shaved so she can get bigger breast implants. Then the Temple University marching band shows up in their underwear, followed by strippers. Confetti flies through the air and there is plenty of bad behavior, culminating in Belfort being arrested for corruption, fraud, and a securities scam.

10. “Toni Erdmann”

It would spoil one of the many surprising moments of this remarkable German comedy to reveal the details of Ines’ (Sandra Hüller) idea for a party with her co-workers, but what can be said is that it is both unconventional and unforgettable. And when Ines’ practical joker of a father, Toni Erdmann (Peter Simonischek), shows up, this outrageous film gets both weirder and more wonderful.

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No immigration for 50 years? White nationalist leader unloads 5 of his most horrifying hopes for America

Jared Taylor

FILE – In a March 22, 2015 file photo, U.S. writer Jared Taylor, author of the book “White Identity” speaks during the International Russian Conservative Forum in St.Petersburg, Russia. Taylor, a Yale University-educated, self-described “race realist, ” runs the New Century Foundation. The federal government has allowed four groups at the forefront of the white nationalist movement, including the New Century Foundation, to register as charities and raise more than $7.8 million in tax-deductible donations over the past decade, according to an Associated Press review. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File) (Credit: AP)

AlterNet

You may remember white nationalist leader Jared Taylor from Hillary Clinton’s infamous campaign ad linking Donald Trump to the fringe movement. You may also remember him from a citation in South Carolina church mass murderer Dylann Roof’s manifesto.

“In his personal bearing and tone, Jared Taylor projects himself as a courtly presenter of ideas that most would describe as crudely white supremacist — a kind of modern-day version of the refined but racist colonialist of old,” the Southern Poverty Law Center explained in their bio of the founder of the New Century Foundation.

Jared Taylor spoke with the Young Turk’s Eric Byler at a recent conference hosted by the National Policy Institute.

Here are 5 of the most disgusting moments:

1. Taylor explained that he wants to put a hold on U.S. immigration for possibly 50 years… sort of… 

“Put a hold on all immigration for the next 5, 10, maybe 50 years,” Taylor proposed. “Let the country reestablish itself as a nation and at the same time, we could give a preference to Europeans.”

2. He then backtracked by revealing he just wants the United States to give preferential treatment to immigrants of European descent.

“There are about 200,000 people who leave the country every year, if those were replaced by 200,000 people, some from South Africa, for example, south African whites, that would help us reach a new equilibrium in terms of what the nation should be about,” he added.

3. He appeared disgusted with equal representation across the board. 

“Diversity is a terrible weakness to the United States,” Taylor told Byler. “Diversity means that we still have race riots. Diversity means that every attempt to distribute resources is a shoving game,” he concluded.

“Have the Hispanics got enough? Have the blacks got enough? Have the Asians got enough? Whether it’s from the Harvard entering class to the nominations for the Oscars,” he said.

4. He claimed that overpopulation is a relatively new discussion in America (it’s not).

“In 1945, the United States had 125 million people. Nobody thought the country was overpopulated. Now we have 325 [million]. Where do we stop?” he asked.

Jared Taylor might want to check out this New York Times Op-Ed written at the start of the Second Industrial Revolution in 1870.

“One would imagine that our country had begun to feel the pressure of overpopulation, so careless have we become regarding the preservation of human life,” reads the first sentence.

5. He revealed when he believes America was “great.”

“Until 1965, the United States had an immigration policy that was clearly designed to keep the country majority white. There was nothing wrong with that,” Taylor told Byler, referencing the Hart–Celler Act.

The white nationalist also believes that if someone had told [the signers] that, in 70 years, white Americans would become the minority, “no one would have voted for that law.”

Watch:

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I’m a server, not your sex toy: Some advice to the next dude who wants to comment on my looks

Bartender

(Credit: nisimo via Shutterstock/Salon)

We’re re-running this story as part of a countdown of the year’s best personal essays. To read all the entries in the series, click here.

Recently, a young man walked into the bar where I was working, sat down, and told me that I was pretty. It just flew out of his mouth by accident; he’d obviously had a few. His vibe wasn’t slimy or aggressive. He just seemed excited to discover that a woman he found attractive would be opening his next beer. Convention suggests that the most normal and appropriate response from me would be a display of gratitude, but I wasn’t thankful. I just felt instantly beleaguered in a very familiar way.

I blankly responded that his thoughts on my appearance were not interesting to me and asked him what he’d like to drink. He stood there, drunk and caught off guard by his own boldness as well as my reaction. He tried to focus, knowing that the next move was his, his face reflecting the hazy fear that any dude who is at least trying to come correct feels when facing one of modern courtship’s classic gambles: I really do not want to be “that guy” versus this might just be crazy enough to work. He chose to hedge both ways and began slowly trying to dig himself out, struggling to enunciate and choose his words carefully but choosing the wrong ones. He bumbled between a handful of partially formed apologies before announcing that he felt awful, because I was clearly annoyed and he “would hate to offend such a pretty girl.”

I was so flattered that I instantly got super wet. Just joking! I was disgusted. It was 1 a.m. and I was tired. I wasn’t feeling combative enough to tell him to get lost immediately, especially knowing that he wouldn’t necessarily see the straight line between his actions and the punishment. But I also wasn’t in the mood to rah-rah a drunken stranger toward a potential enlightenment. Attempting diplomacy, I gave him a beer and put him in time out, instructing him to take 10 minutes to think about why even just his final statement was offensive. He wandered to the end of the bar and sat there in a fog.

After a little time had passed, I noticed his posture straighten and I turned to face him. His expression was solemn as I walked toward him, expecting at the very least an unconvincing performance of contrition. Instead, he stood up, took out his wallet, and tried to give me $10—not for drinks but because “sometimes you just have to pay for things.” Yes, this person had spent his time-out arriving at the conclusion that 10 whole dollars was enough to compensate me for feeling exposed, trapped, degraded and simultaneously invisible and on display at my own dumb job. I felt like a human sigh. “Just leave, please,” I said, and then he left.

As I step back and consider the way this story ended, my own generosity embarrasses me. I’m certainly not always that kind. But maybe I’m framing what I’m about to tell you with that particular anecdote to prove that I’m generally down to let a well-meaning dude off the hook if he acts right. When I was younger, I would sometimes even rescue these kinds of men from their own lingering discomfort by being sweet, because women are trained to reward men for all sorts of things by being sweet. I don’t do that anymore, because I’ve realized that smoothing it over with a stranger who has made me feel degraded usually feels more degrading than the actual offense and placating men in this way is a waste of my time. I should have known better than to even try with this dude, because I have already wasted so much of my time in parallel situations; every woman you know has wasted so much of her time.

I totally understand that it’s difficult to know when it is an appropriate time to give women sexual attention. The modern woman is baffling. We are on Tinder and we ball whoever we want and nobody is really allowed to judge anymore and we are feminists and we are easily angered by perceived degradation and we have a lot of feelings about words like “consent,” which make your dick scared and we also might want you to pull our hair when we fuck. I imagine it feels impossible to know how and when to express your interest without offending women. It is a minefield, the stakes are high and nobody is safe.

Telling a woman that you think she is beautiful can seem very innocuous; sometimes it is. Sometimes, it will make her day. All this depends on context and I cannot explain when it is and is not OK, because that is like trying to explain intuition. Intuition about what will and won’t offend women is really just a set of odds, based on your lizard brain tabulating and comparing the outcomes of many similar previous interactions. But it’s important to recognize that these odds are skewed because women so often swallow their discomfort or indignation in order to keep the peace—especially if they are at work. Obviously all women have different boundaries and I’m not trying to slide into some essentialized decree about what women do and don’t want, but I think that a lot of mutual discomfort could be avoided if dudes would generally try to figure out whether a woman is interested before trying to figure out how to fuck her.

Although these situations are too nuanced and contextual to come down to do’s and don’ts, there are certain things to consider before giving sexual attention to a female bartender or server. Consider the power dynamic: Women will make more money if their patrons like them; often, their managers will scold them if they react negatively to what we have collectively deemed to be acceptable attention. Where does that leave the woman? She is expected to smile and say thank you, even if she feels mildly affronted, even if she finds you disgusting—although you would likely never detect this as she is forced to suspend these opinions at work.

Imagine you have a boss who repulses you, and one day, in front of a group of your peers, he presents you with a gift. It isn’t your birthday, but you have been singled out. “Open it,” he implores, beaming. “It’s just for you. You are going to love it.” You open it slowly, as everyone watches. You know that you are going to hate it, because you hate your boss, and you can feel yourself shrinking as you prepare to degrade yourself by pantomiming gratitude. You remove the final layer of tissue, and underneath it is a porkpie hat. A porkpie hat, made of leather. “Yay,” you say. “I totally love this.” You go home and drink a lot. You know you don’t deserve it, but you kind of hate yourself.

Across professional and personal contexts, women are beginning to articulate why we often feel dehumanized by the kind of sexual attention that might have seemed benign 10 years ago; we’re getting better at creating boundaries that work for us. But as we’ve become increasingly vocal about how things actually make us feel, the whole scene has become rightfully terrifying for the people trying to bag us. Dudes who are trying to respect and maybe fuck us are now in a double bind in which these two agendas seem very difficult but necessary to merge. The inverse of this, as I’ve experienced it, at least, is equally paradoxical: How am I supposed to reconcile wanting men to be attracted to me with not wanting to be objectified?

When I was younger, I couldn’t understand how to make this equation work. In my early 20s, I pretty much wanted all guys who weren’t my relatives or Nazis to want to fuck me, because that was the same as wanting them to like me. Playing into that dynamic generally felt like garbage, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I just knew I couldn’t figure out how to get what I wanted and feel respected.

Consider the way that this whole setup warps young women: Many women learn that they are most useful as bodies and that their bodies are most useful for sex before they even hit puberty. Most women I know learned that their sex parts were different than the rest of their bodies because boys or men put their hands or eyes or words all over those parts of us before fuck meant anything but a bad word.

I’ve always been tough, but it has taken me a long time to realize how much of that toughness grew on me as a coping mechanism; how much of that toughness is damage. Men have fucked with my dignity since I was a child, but the things that have happened to me have happened to all of us. When the bad things that happen are normal, you become tough. It’s devastating how tough I am.

So, as a 30-year-old woman who has been through a range of horribly exploitative sexual and emotional experiences—you know, just like pretty much every woman you know—I really don’t want to know anymore if a stranger finds me attractive. Not right out of the gate. Hell no. There are so many more interesting things about me than my body. Do you even care about them? This is why I cherish my friendships with straight dudes who would never try to fuck me even if we are trashed, and is probably part of why I hang out with a lot of queer people.

This is why I’ve gone home in tears after someone I respect says they think I’m smart and funny and interesting and they’d like to have a drink and rap about the world, and then just tries to fuck me after I patiently dodge their advances all night. Were they not even paying attention? Did they even want to rap about the world with me? I am still, as a grown woman, trying not to mentally respond to that situation by thinking: “Well, that person just wanted to fuck you. Maybe you are not really that smart or interesting.” That precise feeling is one that I don’t really think straight dudes can fully relate to: You are invisible, but they still want to fuck you. They do not see you or hear you. They still might rape you. This is why somebody putting their eyes all over me or immediately telling me they like the way I look is no longer flattering. Because it makes me feel fucking invisible.

I know this is confusing. Assholes have wrecked the whole concept of spitting game, and there is no longer a blueprint for how to hit on women. As far as expressing your interest in a woman while she’s working, I’m not saying it’s impossible to do this respectfully, but consider the stakes before you impose your desire on another human being. Receiving sexual attention from a stranger just affirms that everyone is clocking us every moment and deciding how much we matter based on whether or not they like what they see. If you’re going to holler at somebody while they’re working, try to gauge her interest in your interest before you put it on her. If you’re working really hard to make her see how great you are, she is probably working even harder to escape the conversation without hurting your feelings. If she seems to be down, try building rapport in the same way that you would with anyone you don’t care about seeing naked. Talk about things you like to talk about and ask her what she thinks. Perhaps mention a thing you are doing in the coming days and leave room for her to invite herself. My favorite male bar patron stealth game is someone saying “I’m thinking about leaving soon,” and then trailing off with casual implication.

As a baseline, in any context, treat women like people you are not engaging with primarily because you might get to put your dick inside of them. When you are out in the world–at a bar, at a show, making time with a lady–and you realize you’d like to get down with her, put your game on pause and feel out her vibe. It is very likely that this woman can detect your interest. Try laying back. The process of you getting laid should not feel like you are angling for victory in a war of attrition. You getting laid should not require lengthy negotiations, disingenuous angles, or both of you getting blotto enough to just cave already. If you’re feeling her, look at her like an individual with a mind and a voice, and then, guess what? You might see parts of her you never would have seen otherwise, and she will be happy that you took the time to see her, and then maybe you guys will be so happy to see each other that you fuck each other’s brains out.

Source: New feed

Worst of 2016: 10 movies that failed spectacularly to deliver on their promise

"Me Before You"

“Me Before You” (Credit: Warner Bros)

The worst films of 2016 go beyond just disappointing, but extend to films that truly waste talent and ideas. Not to dance on Garry Marshall’s grave, but having endured his “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve,” one didn’t need to see his holiday film “Mother’s Day” to know it would be as bad. It was clear just from seeing Julia Roberts’ wig.

Likewise, “Nine Lives,” starring Kevin Spacey as a nasty, cat-hating “daredevil billionaire” who transforms into a feline — so he can learn to appreciate his life and family — was relegated to the cinematic litter box. The idea of the film itself was awful, so it really couldn’t be any good, could it?

Even superhero action films like “Batman v. Superman” and “Suicide Squad” got such disrespect from legions of fanboys that there is no point in bashing those films further. Why shoot fish in a barrel?

It’s more appropriate to dismiss films where the outcome falls so short of expectation that the films fail to deliver on their promise of creating an experience. Bad films go beyond just being stupid or boring or unnecessary sequels. Seriously, no one should be disappointed that the execrable waste of talent that was “Now You See Me 2” didn’t deliver the magic of the first one. (And this suggests “Now You See Me” was indeed magical.)

1. “Captain Fantastic”

This Sundance favorite, an argument for homeschooling, is a twee-dious affair with Ben (Viggo Mortensen) living off the grid with his six kids. The film celebrates the family’s idiosyncratic life, showing how the kids are wise beyond their years and father knows best all because they have not been corrupted by modern society with its evil technology and rampant consumerism. So of course when their mother kills herself, these bohemians must re-enter the world they left to pay their last respects. (That irony of that just smarts, doesn’t it!)

This contrived road-trip plot therefore becomes series of step-and-repeat awkward encounters that show how this bohemian family is morally superior to everyone else. Plus there are agonizing scenes of forced whimsy, as when the family celebrates “Noam Chomsky Day,” or when the clan goes to a diner and the kids want hot dogs, burgers, Cokes and milkshakes, and Ben insists there is no real “food” on the menu.

One of the beefs with “Captain Fantastic” is that it promotes an all-or-nothing extremism that rings hollow. (Does anyone really want to spend two hours with — much less live with — a dad who won’t let his kids have any junk food at some point in their lives?!) “Captain Fantastic” is so sanctimonious that one practically expects the daughter reading “Lolita” to rip out the pages and use them as toilet paper while praising the biodegradable value of paper. That doesn’t happen, but when the family does steal food from a store as a way of getting one over on society, it seems to go against the family’s righteousness. Sure, Ben’s young daughter can recite the Bill of Rights to her older, dumber cousin, but the film never quite proves why life completely off the grid is better than, say, a more balanced existence. And when the film gets cloying and manipulative with a last-act accident that threatens the life of one of Ben’s kids, the film becomes really unbearable. Critics and audiences praised Mortensen’s performance and “Captain Fantastic,” but this crap-tastic film is the cinematic equivalent of a bran muffin. It’s supposed to be good for you, but it just makes you shit.

2. “Goat”

As much fun as enduring a fraternity hazing, this “issue” film, based on a true story, has the naïve young Brad (Ben Schentzer) giving a ride to two strangers who rob him and beat him senseless. So he joins his brother Brett’s (Nick Jonas) fraternity to absorb more abuse (both verbal and physical) and perhaps overcome his trauma. The film, which is supposed to expose the rituals of manhood and brotherhood, is a cautionary tale that has as much depth as an after-school special. “Goat” is never particularly insightful regarding the conduct of the men it presents. The fraternity jocks are vicious and amoral; Brad is an innocent teen who must “man up” to join their ranks. But Brad is such an unlikable, unsympathetic character, who makes a series of bad decisions, that watching him struggle and suffer for 96 minutes is itself pure torture. “Goat” adds nothing new to the reputation of frat houses, and having James Franco show up as an alum challenging Brad to punch him in the stomach simply adds insult to injury. How did the once respectable David Gordon Green come to co-write this?

3. “The Nice Guys”

Shane Black’s 1970s-era buddy cop comedy wheezes and groans its way through a lackluster mystery like an aging detective carrying an oxygen tank up a steep hill. The film, set partially in the adult film world (so it can justify its gratuitous female nudity), is without style, substance, or even a truly funny moment. A typically lame pass at wit has Holland March (Ryan Gosling) correcting his young daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) who says, “rimjob” when she means “rimshot.” The slapstick humor involving bodies being discarded inappropriately is as strained as the “chemistry” between Gosling and his uneasy partner Jackson Healy (Russell Crow). The mismatched actors may be going for Three Stooges-type comedy, but Black never finds the right tone, shifting from one-liners about Hitler and unfunny dick jokes to violent set pieces and over-the-top jerry-rigged action scenes. Even the “ironic” title is bad; there is just nothing “nice” about this film.

4. “Miles Ahead”

Don Cheadle overreached when he wrote, produced, directed, starred in and did the music for this “exploration of the life and music of Miles Davis.” The film depicts the rocky period in Davis’ life between albums, which is good — Davis’ life shouldn’t be given the conventional biopic treatment — but the film becomes a goofy buddy action comedy in which Davis and Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), a Rolling Stone journalist, try to track down a missing session tape. There are car chases and gunfire, but little in terms of providing an understanding of Davis’ creative funk, which would be far more interesting and enjoyable. The music is fine when it comes, but this wacky drama likely disappointed Davis’ fans and won’t gain any new ones.

5. “Max Rose”

This film was released in theaters this year, despite having been made way back in 2013. It’s a terrible film whatever year it is. Jerry Lewis, in his first film role in nearly two decades, played the title character, a miserable widower. Max has contempt for everyone — and he should, given the film’s weak script. He is sent to a retirement home, where he and viewers suffer forced, unfunny scenes of Max being urged to knit potholders in the shape of kidneys. All Max wants is to track down his late wife’s lover and confront him. But those scenes, when they finally come, are dramatically inert and unsatisfying to boot. But wait, there’s more. The film also chronicles Max’s touchy relationship with his adult son Chris, (Kevin Pollak), which turns this sour film into shameless Hallmark-y treacle. Lewis has a pained expression throughout “Max Rose,” and anyone who saw this debacle did, too.

6. “The BFG”

Not even my 6-year-old nephew liked Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book. Overlong, underwhelming, and full of special effects over-designed to be “magical,” this family fantasy was a misfire on many levels. As the Big Friendly Giant of the title, a digitized Mark Rylance seems to be doing an ersatz impression of the late Robin Williams that never serves the film well. The comic farting scenes involving Queen Elizabeth (Penelope Wilton) go on so long that the target audience of kids may became restless. The giant imagery is more insipid than inspired, as Spielberg and his screenwriter Melissa Mathison seem intent on recapturing the spirit of their decades-old hit, “E.T.” The story has Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) befriending BFG (Rylance), who aims to protect her from being eaten by some bigger, badder, unfriendly giants. However, the entire film feels sluggish and labored; rarely is it any fun. No wonder it fizzled at the box office, too.

7. “Me Before You”

Thea Sharrock’s screen adaptation of Jojo Moyes’ tearjerking bestseller has a terminal case of the cutes. In fact, the romantic leads’ good looks seem contrived to distract viewers from how grating the characters are. The story is highly irritating: Lou (Emilia Clarke), a young woman so cheerfully upbeat she ought to be strangled, is hired to amuse Will (Sam Claflin), an impossibly handsome and fabulously rich quadriplegic. (The beefy Nathan, played by Stephen Peacocke, is on hand to do all the hard and dirty work that Will requires.) Over their months together, Lou and Will teach each other how to live life to the hilt. Audiences can learn that lesson just by reading this review and avoiding this diabetic coma of sugar-coated romantic claptrap that is “Me Before You.” What’s more, the film is irresponsible in regard to its presentation of disability. Activists described the film as “insulting and condescending,” which may be its biggest crime against humanity.

8. “Rio, I Love You”

Less is not more in this international omnibus of short films set in the titular South American city. Sure, shorts programs are often a mixed bag, but this collection is more bad than good. As a valentine to the city, the films showcase mostly tourist-board Rio locations, never emphasizing what makes the city or its neighborhoods truly special. Moreover, a few of the shorts are set largely indoors, which seems beside the film’s tourist-y point. The love stories feature unpleasant characters — such as the scheming Dorothy (Emily Mortimer) in one segment, or the vain Jai (Ryan Kwanten) in another — making it hard to fall in love with the characters. “Rio, I Love You” wastes talented Brazilian actors, including Oscar nominee Fernanda Montenegro, Wagner Moura (Pablo Escobar on Netflix’s “Narcos”) and “Westworld’s” Rodrigo Santoro, as well an international roster of directors including Jose Padilha, Paolo Sorrentino and Nadine Labaki.

9. “The Hollars”

Dysfunctional family comedies have their place, but this lousy entry is either embarrassingly bad or just plain dumb (or often both). John (John Krasinski) returns home to care for his mother Sally (Margo Martindale) who is about to undergo surgery for a brain tumor. Apparently, her husband, Donald (Richard Jenkins, in a career-worst performance), didn’t think her symptoms were cause for concern. Hilarious, right?! To be fair, Donald may have been preoccupied trying to revive his very failing business and handle his immature, divorced adult son, Ron (Sharlto Copley), who lives at home. Meanwhile, John is battling his own career issues — he really wants to write comic books! — and worried about impending fatherhood; his rich wife Becca (Anna Kendrick) is expecting any day now.

As John tries to deal with his immediate family in crisis, he also jeopardizes his impending family by visiting his ex, Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whose current husband (Charlie Day, in annoying, wisenheimer mode) is John’s mom’s sarcastic (but unfunny) nurse. Packing all these characters and their foibles into less than 90 minutes fails to give them any real definition, and Krasinski directs without creating any dramatic or comic tension. There is the expected scene of Becca’s water breaking, and it happens at a funeral no less. That is one of many cringe-inducing moments in a film that also includes an uninspired Indigo Girls’ sing-a-long in Sally’s hospital room.

10. “Collateral Beauty” 

As staggeringly bad as it is painfully obvious, David Frankel’s film insists, “Life is about people.” His film is about “love,” “time” and “death.” These abstractions become “bereavement hallucinations” for Howard (Will Smith), who is depressed after the death of his 6-year-old daughter. They appear in the guise of actors — Amy (Keira Knightley), Raffi (Jacob Latimore) and Brigitte (Helen Mirren) — who are hired by Howard’s colleagues Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña). The morally reprehensible idea — which is so crazy it just might work! — is to manipulate Howard’s pain and snap him out of his depression. Or prove he’s crazy so Whit, Claire and Simon can take over his business. Of course, Howard’s colleagues are the ones who need to learn the true meaning of life, love, time and death.

Howard, however, is self-destructively biking at night against traffic and learning to appreciate “collateral beauty” from Madeleine (Naomie Harris), who runs a bereavement group. The discussion of what “collateral beauty” is is head-scratching. Moreover, Frankel’s film cudgels viewers by repeating everything nine times when just thrice would be more than enough. He connects every dot, aggressively ignoring nuance. He telegraphs the waves of emotions viewers are supposed to feel with dominoes falling and syrupy music playing. This is instinct-free filmmaking, full of didactic dialogue and not a single earned emotion.

When Howard writes a letter about “dead tissue that won’t decompose,” one might actually think he was talking about a Kleenex he used crying over his dead daughter. Adding to the awfulness are bad performances. Helen Mirren is hard to watch as a needy, hammy actress, and poor Kate Winslet can barely muster the energy while sleepwalking through her role to play a woman actively searching for a sperm donor while also trying to save her job and her friend’s life. The collective talent wasted is more collateral damage than “collateral beauty.” But then again, any film that has the line “When something starts with a 6-year-old dying, nothing is going to feel right” was damned from the beginning.

Source: New feed

I fall for strangers: I thought my fantasies made me writerly and special — it took decades to see how they were ruining my life

Hands

(Credit: dimitris_k via Shutterstock/Salon)

We’re re-running this story as part of a countdown of the year’s best personal essays. To read all the entries in the series, click here.

A long, long time ago, back when I was young, unencumbered, and had the luxury of spending hours upon hours thinking about myself, I attended a family wedding where, at some point between the rehearsal dinner and the ceremony, I fell deeply, unreasonably in love with a person I would never really know. He was seven years older than I was, and his name was—of course I’m not really going to tell you his name, but let’s call him Eli.

Eli was tall, a bit imperious, and foreign. His whole demeanor seemed to me at the time to contain both a quality of mystery and a kind of irresistible magnetism that made it impossible for me to think clearly. Twice that weekend, as we talked and flirted, I felt enraptured almost to the point of vomiting. We did nothing more than kiss, but when he invited me to spend two months with him in Israel the following summer, I didn’t hesitate. I flew across the ocean, and for two months we hiked,  swam, played backgammon, ate falafel, did other things. There was little soul-baring or opening of hearts. But that was okay with me. Genuine emotional intimacy couldn’t compare with the love that grew out of my daydreams. My memories of those months are a softly lit montage of romance and adventure.

After I returned home, I closed my eyes every night and imagined how it would be if we ever were reunited. I imagined our reunion, our lovemaking, our bodies entwined on some exotic, sun-drenched beach. I imagined our week-long hike through a rainforest (rainforest in Israel?), our desert wedding, our beautiful, bilingual children.

This fantasy played in my head on an endless loop, probably two or three times a day for about four years, despite the fact that our actual communication during this time involved the occasional, casual phone call and emails where we’d talk about favorite episodes of Seinfeld. We never talked about anything you’d call substantive. Nothing about our families. Nothing about our friends or our hopes or our lives: all the things I imagined we’d eventually interlace. Despite the overwhelming exteriority of our interactions (save, I guess you’d have to say, for sex), I was convinced that he was truly and profoundly the man of my dreams, that if it weren’t for the infuriating fact that we lived on separate continents, we would surely live happily ever after.

Then, five years after we’d first met, I received an email from him with the news that he was moving to Palo Alto for graduate school. Suddenly we were practically going to be neighbors.

A few weeks later, I drove to his new apartment in a trance of happiness. Finally, finally, we’d be together. I sat down at the café where we’d arranged to meet, was sitting there nervously when he came up behind me and put his hands over my eyes. I smiled. We kissed. He sat down at the table across from me and we began to talk. He was very sweet, very handsome, very nice. Nice, nice guy. Great guy. Just swell. Not a bad word from me you’ll get about him.

Within 15 minutes, it was abundantly, painfully clear that we hadn’t a thing in common. I was trying to be a writer. He was an engineer. I liked to talk about and share every thought that passed through my mind in thorough, at times excruciating, detail; he seemed happy to sit in silence. We made small talk the rest of the evening like two people standing beside each other in an elevator, spent the night together (why not?), but never really spoke again.

As I drove back to San Francisco, it did occur to me that, though I’d dated other men, I’d essentially wasted five years of my life fantasizing about a version of someone who didn’t exist outside my head. But amazingly, I was able to bury this realization beneath my embarrassment and eagerness to get on with the next phase of my life.

Over a decade would pass before it would finally sink in, when recalling this youthful romance, that perhaps it was an example of how my fantasy world, dream life, whatever you want to call it, which, as a writer and a creative person, I’d always thought of as something unique and beautiful, a kind of fingerprint of my soul, could actually be a force of stasis and self-sabotage — a limitation or flaw in my character, rather than a gift.

* * *

The word “fantasy” itself sounds steamy and exciting. When we think of “fantasy,” we think of sex, love, our secret dreams and desires. But fantasies don’t, in fact, have to be erotic. They can arise just as easily from a place of fear or anxiety or boredom as from arousal. Every time I sit in a flight and imagine for a microsecond a scenario by which the plane might explode or break in half or otherwise cease being in the sky, that’s a fantasy. Every time we watch a little story play out inside our head, we’re fantasizing, whether we realize it or not, and it seems to me that, though succumbing to fantasies about other people can be dangerous or self-defeating, the act of fantasizing itself is also an essential part of being human, of being capable of both abstraction and empathy. When I read a story about Syrian refugees and imagine for a moment what it would be like to have to ride across the sea at night in a dingy with my hungry, terrified children, I am fantasizing, and I do think that without the ability to make this imaginative leap, to pretend that we know people more than we do and imagine ourselves in their place, we’d all be worse off.

The problem arises when we allow our idea of a person, what we want or need them to be, to stand in for what they are. In On Balance, the psychoanalyst and literary critic Adam Phillips notes how Anna Freud famously said, “In our dreams we can have our eggs cooked exactly how we want them, but we can’t eat them.” He elaborates: “So satisfying are our fantasies that they can become a refuge, a retreat from reality; if real sexual relations are too difficult — too frustrating, too pleasurable — in our fantasies we can have our relationships cooked exactly as we want them.” This tendency, this reliance on dream-life to make my reality more palatable, has been a part of my makeup for so long that I have no memories of life without it. Eli stands out in my mind because of the duration of the fantasy. But the truth is that, on a smaller scale, this basic story has played out more times than I can count — with the men I dated when I was single, and more recently, with friends, acquaintances, family members, colleagues.

Generally, it goes something like this: I meet a new person, a new friend, another writer, a cool mom. This person enters my life and I say to myself, oh, yes, this is an excellent person, super-smart, super-cool, funny or charming or some amalgamation of the human qualities I most admire. This is my kind of person, I say to myself or to anyone who will listen, usually my husband. I adore this person. I idealize this person, this new friend, new acquaintance, whoever. But then, gradually, something happens. Or often, nothing happens, and that’s the problem. The excitement wanes. The idealization fades. Life strips the relationship of the sheen that made it so initially irresistible, and what I’m left with is an actual person, with actual problems of their own, with constraints on their time and irritating habits, an actual, unedited other person, and of course, myself. What fun is that?

This past winter, I wrote about my odd, intense friendship with a person who, upon meeting, I instantly believed was the coolest, most uninhibited, sophisticated, badass woman I’d ever known. In my mind, she came to represent youth, freedom, literary hipness, the excitement of single life in the city, all the things that I, as a married mother, felt my life was missing. For months, the brightness of the fantasy I created around how exciting and brilliant she was made everything else in my life seem dim by comparison. But as our friendship evolved, I began to see how much of this excitement I’d projected onto her, how much of it arose precisely from the fact that she wasn’t actually in my life the way my other friends and family were.

When I confessed this to her, she didn’t argue. “It’s true,” she said to me one day on the phone. “That’s just your own shit that you’re projecting onto me. My life is really quiet and boring. Last night I stayed up late watching clips of Bernie Sanders and Larry David while I ate pistachios in bed. That’s my exciting, single life.”

In the months that followed, we were able to build upon the ruins of this fantasy something more like an actual friendship, but the experience was disturbing enough that it made me begin to reexamine other adult relationships, to wonder if I’d really evolved much from my youthful fixation with the handsome stranger from abroad.

A few years before I’d met this woman, I’d created another idealized friendship, this one with a fellow instructor at a writing program where I taught. Because our office was virtual, we chatted and emailed throughout the day — about work, yes, but also about movies, music, my children, his labrador retriever. I realized, oddly, that the best part of my work day was often spending half an hour debating with him over the best way to roast a chicken, or scrutinizing line by line the latest episode of The Wire.

I liked him so much, found him so amenable, as the narrators in all those old English novels always used to say, that I began to worry aloud to my therapist that I was developing a crush on him.

“So what,” she said.

“But he’s so great,” I told her. “I feel like we could be best friends.”

“Kim,” she said. “You’re as emotionally guarded as a toll booth. He’s going to pay his quarter, pass through, and move along. And then there will be someone else. All of that is fine. Just don’t create trouble for everyone by holding up the line. Also,” she went on, “it’s not possible to be best friends with someone you’ve never met.” I took her point at the moment, but in retrospect I wonder if there’s something antiquated in this thinking.

At the time I met Eli, I’d only recently opened up my first email account. Sometimes I wonder if part of my enthrallment had come from the novelty of this new mechanism of electronic relationship-building. For so much of my young life, I’d felt lonely, isolated, cut off from like-minded people. I yearned for human connections and relationships with the sort of people I knew only from books and movies, a lifeline into some other, richer world.

Now, such isolation is hard to imagine. In addition to the relationships I have with the people who share my physical space, I, like most of us with a computer, have email relationships and Facebook relationships and texting relationships and Skyping relationships. At least 20 times a day, I move my eyes over black marks on a screen and, like magic, hear someone’s voice in my head, sometimes a voice I know from memory, other times purely invented. I can’t touch these people or walk beside them but, to varying degrees, I care about them. I feel like I know them. I feel like they know me. This is absolutely true, and also, pure fantasy. It is a fiction my mind creates that feels so much like reality that it might as well be reality. 

“Do you think,” I asked another friend, “you can fall in love with someone you don’t actually know?”

He laughed. “Of course,” he said. “I think it’s much, much easier that way.”

* * *

Eventually, I had the chance to meet my new work friend. He was visiting family in the city where I lived at the time and asked if I wanted to have lunch. “Are you kidding?” I said. “Of course!”

I spent two hours deciding what I’d wear, 45 minutes on what shade of lipstick. Then, at the last minute, as I went to step outside, I found that I couldn’t open the front door of my apartment. I reached for the door knob and physically couldn’t open it, became nauseous and dizzy and texted him that I was so sorry, but I was coming down with something.

At the time, I told myself that I was demonstrating caution and self-restraint. But in retrospect, I think it was something much worse. I didn’t go to lunch with him because there was a part of me that didn’t want the fantasy to wear off, that needed to keep that shiny, idealized idea of him in my head to get through the the grunt work and dirty dishes and of every day life. So many of my real relationships had gone the way of my Israeli lover. I valued these real relationships. I didn’t want to lose them. But at the same time, I felt I couldn’t quite get from them what I needed, that I needed these other, romanticized connections to make me feel real and exciting and alive.

My work friend and I continued a virtual low-level flirtation for some time until one or both of us grew bored of the low-levelness of it. I had no interest in endangering my marriage. He had better people to woo. We probably started to annoy each other. It hurt to think of this, what had been so emotionally enlivening, as just another part quick-lived spark of an intimate friendship. But I also knew that I valued that spark, that minor fissile event, far more than I would another occasional-coffee-and-polite-kvetching friendship that seemed to be within the accepted confines of interpersonal activity.

For years, maybe for my whole life, I continued to walk this line — on one side, actual people I cared about or loved, on the other side, a shadow of them I created and projected, a thing I could keep for myself.

The problem, of course, is that sometimes, those on whom we project our fantasies get hurt in the end. For years, I thought about the disappointment I’d experienced when I discovered Eli wasn’t the person I thought he was. But what about poor Eli? Did he ever stand a chance, competing against not just another suitor but an idealized notion of himself, a facsimile I could constantly embellish and adjust to my liking? What about all the friends and relatives who, in the end, couldn’t measure up to the people I thought they were, the people I wanted and needed them to be?

A few years ago, Keith Ridgway argued in The New Yorker that though we may fool ourselves into thinking there is objective, biographical truth in our lives, what we’re actually doing when we live, love and fantasize is write fiction. He writes that, “when you tell yourself the story of your life, the story of your day, you edit and rewrite and weave a narrative out of a collection of random experiences and events. Your conversations are fiction. Your friends and loved ones — they are characters you have created. And your arguments with them are like meetings with an editor — please, they beseech you, you beseech them, rewrite me.”

This observation stays with me as I try to become a better observer of my own mind, a better editor of my way of moving through the world, forming new bonds and maintaining the ones I’ve formed. Unlike my years of being madly in love with Eli, or the Eli of my dreams, now I have relationships with a husband and children I love, other steady figures in my life who aren’t so easy to re-envision to my liking. Because I love them, I try to hold in my head a knowledge of who they really are. Then, even as I’m holding it, they change, and I must learn to hold this changed self anew. Again and again we do this, merging what we think we know of people with what they know of themselves, forming, revising, recreating, erasing, and reinventing each other in our minds, working and struggling to see each other better.

 

 

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