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POLITICS: Stupid Outrage December 23, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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I don’t normally write about politics, but I think the outrage at the choice of Rick Warren, who has reached out to Muslims and advocated for Christians to move on climate change and poverty, is ridiculous. Warren is enormously popular among Christians; the left should want Christians in their movement.

Stupid Outrage

http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/rock-warren-was-a-good-pick

Aymar Jean Christian

To all outraged “progressives,” gay or otherwise: what would you rather have Obama do?

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I’m not going to defend Rick Warren; well, not too much. I am going to defend Barack Obama, at the risk of looking like a hack to my friends and colleagues.

There are many reasons why the controversy over Obama’s selection of Warren to perform the inaugural invocation is stupid. I plan to list every single one of them.

First, the invocation is ceremonial. It’s publicity, theater, a show; to the cynical, it’s marketing. It isn’t policy. It won’t change anyone’s life. So, as a sometimes-angry gay, I’m going to take a deep breath and calm down. You should too. I know gays are mad at Obama for not being pro-marriage and for saying repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not at the top of his list (with a Depression imminent, should it be? C’mon, gays!) Let’s at least wait until after January before getting all hot and bothered about Obama’s screwing us over. You know, when he’s actually doing something.

Second, as publicity, it’s not half bad. Since 2004 Obama has talked about ending the blue state/red state divide. Are people really surprised by this? The hoopla over Warren shows that message needs to be restated, because the divide persists. People in the media must have no idea how popular Warren is. Even my Obama-loving mother owns his book, The Purpose Driven Life, which is one of the most popular Christian books in America after that other popular Christian book: the Bible. Purpose Driven Life is  Warren’s real claim to fame—not his anti-gay views—and the book is not hateful. It’s Christian self-help. It’s bland, but powerful to whose believe.

Third. Okay, so Rick Warren opposes gay marriage—who cares? Most people do. Rick Warren is pro-life and in many other ways a social conservative. So what? A lot of people are. Yes, the indefensible part is his disapproval of gays as people who are undeserving of God. Yes, it’s bad. But, while this is a minority view, it’s a view held by people who are still Americans, and not Obama voters (how soon we forget that McCain over-performed in the south and Appalachia, with the exception of NC and VA). Obama is reaching out, and good for him. I hate how liberals simply dismiss the religious right as morons; it’s like we want to be irrelevant. Please, please ignore us America! 

Obama is doing his job. He’s saying to the country: I want to be the president of all of you, not just the ones who agree with me. This is the mistake Hillary Clinton—and a lot of Boomers—made when she ran healthcare reform in 1992. It was “us” versus “them.” That’s not a winning formula if you want to pass important legislation by solid margins. It is only a good strategy if, like the Bush administration, you want to barely pass terrible legislation. 

Fourth, any attempt to imply an Obama policy shift from the Warren selection is pure hypocrisy from the left, who argued against Rev. Wright as a relevant campaign topic. I honestly don’t think Obama agrees with Wright on what black politics should look like, and I don’t think he agrees with Warren. But what kind of world do we live in if we can’t accept a prayer from someone different from us? How cynical and angry have we become?

Finally, while Rick Warren’s views are in many ways retrograde, he is not a James Dobson, Jerry Falwell or Paul Weyrich. He’s not a doctrinaire conservative. His work on emphasizing poverty, inequality, and climate change is not insignificant. It shouldn’t be dismissed in a short sentence, as the media has done over the past week. Warren is trying to move the Moral Majority forward on exactly the critical issues Obama will need to act on fast. Our world is dying. Our economy is unfair, unequal and going south. Forgive me if I forget Rick Warren isn’t too fond of gay marriage.

I’m willing to take Obama to task when the time is right. If he never acts on gay non-discrimination, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the Defense of Marriage Act, I will get up in arms like all the rest. But the Warren pick isn’t anything but a gesture, a signal that he’s not Bush. Obama is not going to push his own agenda, Rove-style, while forgetting nearly half the country didn’t vote for him. Isn’t that, at least for now, exactly what we need to hear?

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FILM: SCARY TREND ALERT: Obama Biopics December 9, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Apparently Hollywood wants to make a movie about the 44th president before he even takes office.

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Photo by Matthias Winkelmann.

Spike Lee stopped by my office yesterday for a chat. Okay, he didn’t come to see me. He spoke to an undergraduate class at Penn about his movies, black film and, of course, sports. At some point while discussing how hard it was for black directors to find funding for movies that aren’t Soul Plane or Get Rich or Die Tryin’, he mentioned something very scary:

There are several scripts floating around Hollywood about…Barack Obama.

NOOOOOOOO!!!!

I hope I heard wrong, but I don’t think so. Lee dropped that little bombshell when asked if he would ever direct an Obama flick. He wouldn’t, he said, because it’s already being done. He has other projects in mind, including a planned Joe Louis biopic.

Current events and biopics are great film staples, and audiences are used to seeing presidents on the big screen. Heck, Frost/Nixon is out this week to rave reviews. But the iconic Nixon, a perennial symbol of corruption, is long dead. Sure, there have been many movie Nixons, but it was at least 10 years after his resignation before big movie portrayals started rolling out, and Hollywood released Oliver Stone’s Nixon after the former president’s death.

Plus, the pillaging of current events has reaped mixed results. The paltry $30 million grossed by Stone’s W. proves the senselessness in making movies of sitting presidents. If BoxOfficeMojo is correct, Primary Colors didn’t fare much better. The post-9/11 movies have ranged from spectacular to so-so; I have avoided most of them. United 93 had me crying more than I ever have during a film. While I didn’t see Stone’s World Trade Center (Oliver Stone, what’s going on!) and The Great New Wonderful, the latter received solid reviews but the former’s were mixed. A truly great 9/11 movie will take years; the event is still too fresh.

Obama is far, far too fresh for a film. Please, hasn’t the past year provided enough spectacle and drama! Honestly, any film made about Obama now would fall flat. No actor could match his already boundless persona—t-shirts in Harlem have christened him the figurative son of either King, Kennedy or Lincoln. No director could match the excitement and anxiety of the longest campaign in history. All the events, both petty and weighty, are too ripe. Indeed, I’ve spent hours on YouTube reminiscing over dozens of countdown and reaction clips from election night. They’re riveting, more raw and visceral than any blockbuster could achieve at the moment. How can a film beat The View the day after, when Sherri Shepherd cried over being able to tell her son he had “no limitations”? Or journalist Keli Goff explaining on BET how her grandmother and mother picked cotton and got spit on but now get to see the country elect one of them?

It is now officially cliché to say the story of Obama’s candidacy is so improbable “it would be laughed out of a Hollywood pitch meeting for its sheer degree of incredibility,” as New York Magazine wrote after Obama’s grandmother died a day before the election and after Obama subsequently shed his first public tears (narrative symmetry with Hillary letting it rip before New Hampshire). See all this drama? Best to wait until the end of an Obama movie is not his election but his accomplishments—and failures.

Hollywood: be wise, follow cliché and laugh all Obama film projects out of the room, at least for the next 25 years. That’s how long it will take for the sheer grandiosity of the event to distill. Then you can go crazy, as I’m sure you will.

TV: The Best Gays of Our Lives December 1, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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TV offers perhaps the best chance for gays to make public relations inroads and gain cultural acceptance.

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ABC’s Brothers & Sisters.

(NOTE: Since writing this, Desperate Housewives has finally given Andrew a sex life! With a leading plastic surgeon! And they’re moving in together! And he might be a porn star! I swear. I am taking DH off the hit list.)

Proposition 8 got me thinking about the gays, queers and closeted types I see on television, and the PR campaign gays need to wage. Gays, lesbians and others took to the streets to protest the passage of an anti-gay marriage amendment in California (even as gays got married in Connecticut). But let’s be honest, gays: protesting won’t do shit. This is a crisis of public relations, and yelling and shouting never convinced anybody—that’s right, cable news and talk radio are not convincing!

Indeed, some of the best gay PR is happening on serial TV, and it will be a vital part of the effort to change the minds of the marginal number of Californians who voted for the amendment—and no, not just black people (the amendment would have passed had not one black person voted). Let’s take stock of the best gays and gay relationships on TV, and a couple of the ones that need to go.

Ugly Betty (ABC) – Mark and Cliff. One of the most underrated gay couples on television, Mark and Cliff—whose relationship is in grave danger—is the kind of gay couple we haven’t really seen on TV. Cliff is overweight, not very fashionable, a lover of French movies who loves the skinny, fashion-obsessed, superficial Mark. ABC, don’t let this relationship die!

Brothers & Sisters (ABC) – Kevin and Scotty. Kevin and Scotty married in California long before Prop 8 passed. The best part about this match is Kevin, who is, in my opinion, one of the most fully-rounded gay characters on television: he’s arrogant, controlling, spoiled, selfish, at times insecure and yet loving, generous, reliable. ABC bravely approved a gay character who has a sex life and is political, who is by turns despicable and adorable. Scotty, his partner, is a Southern gentleman who rose from cater-waiter to head chef. Both are believable and complex.

The L Word
(Showtime) – Tasha and Alice. I apologize for such a male-centric list. No wonder Showtime’s L Word, entering its final season in January, is so important. (Thank you Showtime for announcing a spin-off based Leisha Hailey’s Alice, by the way!) Tasha and Alice are a great couple, though perpetually on the rocks. Tasha, a black army veteran ousted for coming out, is calm, rational and introverted, while Alice, a media personality, is vivacious, loud and extroverted. Look out for this show in January.

Greek (ABC Family) – Calvin Owens and whomever. Calvin is a brilliantly conceived character, almost too brilliant. He seems tailor-made to buck stereotypes: a black legacy at the show’s college, he is completely comfortable with his sexuality but did not come out at first so that his fraternity brothers would get to know him before thinking of him as the “gay kid.” Calvin recently broke up with Michael, a doctoral student in French, a more stereotypical gay guy, because they weren’t a match: Calvin was into sports and beer, Michael into film and wine. Calvin seems headed for a new relationship with a fellow frat bro.

The Sarah Silverman Program (Comedy Central) – Brian and Steve. Okay, I actually don’t watch this show. But I know enough about the video game playing, TAB-drinking duo to know that it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, on television or in my life. They have to be the most unattractive couple on television, gay or straight. I love it!

Mad Men (AMC) – Salvatore, Kurt. While there are no gay couples on Mad Men yet—it’s 1963—the show has given audiences a glimpse into life before Stonewall. Salvatore is deep in the closet but painfully crushes on his straight, homophobic coworker. I normally don’t like closeted characters, but Mad Men is a period piece and Salvatore is well drawn. Kurt, a younger, European employee, on the other hand, flatly proclaims in an episode, “I’m homosexual.” His business partner glibly tries to cut through the shock: “It’s all the rage in Europe.”

No list would be complete without an homage to the deceased, the gay characters we no longer have but whom I miss dearly.

The Wire (HBO) – Omar. Omar was the most exciting character on this perennially under-watched series. While he went through a few lovers, most ended up dead, and none he loved more than the first, who died to keep him safe. Omar was a renegade, living outside the system, with no allegiance to any gang or the police. He was dangerous because lived only for himself. In that way he was kind of an American hero, a “maverick” in the old Western sense, updated for the streets of Baltimore. Rent this series on DVD now!

In Treatment
(HBO) – Alex. Watch this show, people! Alex, an Air Force pilot, never came out, but it was pretty clear he had a curiosity about men. He spent most of the series trying to tear down his emotional armor, his need to be perfect, a feat he almost completed. Blair Underwood deserved an Emmy for this role.

Will & Grace
(NBC) – Will and Vince. You thought I forgot! No, a lot of gays have a problem with Will (more have a problem with Jack), but I liked Will. Like Kevin on Brothers and Sisters, who was modeled after Will, Will is pretty complex: he’s witty, fun and caring, but also a bit of curmudgeon and bit too quick to judge others. Vince is a dream man: a hunky police officer who has a fondness for fancy lotions and hair products. Even though I would have preferred Will get Kevin’s sex life, I’m glad he ended up with Vince, buying a townhouse in Harlem and “driving up the price of real estate in affordable areas.”

And, yes, the naughty list.

The Starter Wife
(USA) – Felix and Rodney. There’s still hope for Felix, the black action star on the “down low” and Rodney, a gay interior designer (cliché alert!). But as much as I love Rodney’s cute vests, I hate his stupid relationship. Why is Rodney on the “down low”? Because he’s black? And why has his voice suddenly gone up an octave now that he’s on the verge of coming out?

Desperate Housewives (ABC) – Bob and Lee. I HATE Bob and Lee. The married gays down the street, they have no personality. They are all one-liners and pastel button-downs, boring as hell. They don’t even have the privilege of creepy secret like everyone else on Wisteria Lane. And what happened to the super-interesting Andrew from season one? Why is he boring and corporate now? Can Marc Cherry save Housewives from these embarrassments?