What I Liked This Week: 2/23/13

Hello fellow romantics. First, I apologize for failing to slap you with a post earlier this week. There’s something in the crucible but I wasn’t able to give it the time it deserves to get it up to snuff and yet get my necessary minimum of sleep this week.

Here’s what I liked this week. As is often the case, I didn’t like a lot of it. Exactly.

  • This article from Salon, about how cuts in programs meant to protect our most vulnerable citizens from wage abuses (or the full disbanding of said programs), is leaving more of your fellow American citizens scrambling to get paid for their work. I didn’t like this. This is unconscionable, and it’s a searing reminder of just how wrongheaded and cruel it is to be prioritizing budget cuts and advocating for a smaller government at a time when so many of our citizens are still struggling. Thanks to Jonathan Mills for linking via Twitter.
  • This story, about a Texas city that plans on charging people for the cost of first responders when they get into an auto accident. Because you’re on your fucking own. I don’t like this. It’s almost as bad as making it illegal to feed homeless people. Give us your tired, and your poor, and your hungry, right? Oh, but not that many of your hungry. I loathe this. How do these awful things even become ideas? Well…
  • This article by Paul Buchheit, titled “5 Signs Extreme Wealth Deadens the ‘Empathy’ and ‘Honesty’ Parts of the Brain.” I don’t like this topic (because it’s true, and has deadly consequences) but I like that Mr. Buchheit provides links to scientific studies about it, and then focuses most of his article on evidence and consequences. This is what we are contending with. It accomplished little when you rage against the masters of the machine, fellow furious friends. We have to change the minds of the masters of the machine. Additionally, this MUST be done peaceably. That’s why you won’t see me write a word analyzing the actions of someone like Christopher Dorner.
  • This brilliant video poem, in which a bunch of talented people collaborate as adults to tell (raw) stories about when they were bullied as children, and how it has affected them throughout their lives. That description doesn’t do it justice. I have been bullied and, to be honest, I was a bully a few times during my childhood. This video brought some complicated feelings to the surface when I watched it. Which is fine, because I want to feel empathy and I want honesty. Too often, too many of us miss empathy and honesty, when we shy from our own pain. This is understandable, but we should also understand that pain shied away from doesn’t go away. It curdles and it poisons, over time, if you continue to ignore it. And then, one day, maybe, it takes you over completely. Maybe this is where bullies come from in the first place, huh? If you click on any of these links, click this one.
  • This in-depth Vanity Fair article on the making of Pulp Fiction. Enthralling read that was passed around quite a bit this week already. Definitely worth a read for artists, and/or anyone interested in seeing just how much alchemy has to go right for such a brilliant achievement as this to see the light and day and then flourish.
  • It rained fire on the sun. Remember this video, and think of the sheer awesome power of the universe, and the relative insignificance of man, the next time you’re upset by a person or incident that really, really doesn’t matter. Q: Can you believe so-and-so said this and that? A: Can you believe it rained fire on the sun? Crazy, right?!

Have a good week. Hit me up anytime. Get angry and speak up.

What I Liked This Week: 2/16/13

I didn’t like much this week — until yesterday rolled around.

To tell the truth, I had a sneakily busy week between re-writes, other filmmaking duties, day job, etc. Most of my energy went to all that (and this, which I know you’ve read already).

I burned out a little, to be honest, not only getting it all done but keeping it all together, a task that becomes an increasingly taller order as the beginning of the week bleeds into the middle of the week which invariably (finally), gives way to The End of The Week. But we made it.

I liked quite a bit at The End of The Week. Even if, as is sometimes the case, some of what I liked was more “abstract” than not. Which is fine.

  • I liked the Web 2.0. In the ever-shifting, ever-accelerating language of the internet, this term is probably nearing obsolescence (even if it isn’t). I did a bit of searching and didn’t come up immediately with any evidence that the reference is WRONG, but if it is — don’t care! What I mean to say is that I liked seeing clear evidence of the widening use of and acceptance of networked technologies and networking technologies (social networks, CMSs, crowd-sourcing sites, etc.). This week, in particular, a friend reminded me of Tugg, which recently became a partner of Sundance Institute Artist Services, along with VHX (new to me, very interesting) and Vimeo (long-time fan/user). Also, The Black List‘s new site/service entered into a separate agreement with Sundance, which allows writers uploading their scripts into their new system to opt in if they’d like to be considered for the Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab. All this is likable. Lovable, even. And all this news was pumped into my head through The Twitter. My wife thinks Twitter is giving me the migraines.
  • The trailer for Iron Man 3. I hadn’t watched it yet. I watched it. I liked it. I dig Shane Black’s writing (not alone, I know). I loved Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. I love that Black and Downey Jr. are re-teaming. My heart hopes the film will end up as one of the few memorable second sequels in a long line of less-than-great second sequels. Most second sequels are so bad that I’m avoiding saying “third film” because of the awful stink that often comes to mind when we say that. I liked Back to the Future III.
  • I liked being at a neighborhood cafe last night (working on the new script) and realizing the place was full of smart, interesting, nice people. Not always the case in neighborhood cafes in Brooklyn. This probably happened because it was late on a Friday, and because there weren’t many people hanging out. The only thing more bitter than the house brew in a lot of those places (most of the time) are the entitled/self-obsessed men and women who cram inside to jostle for position in the race to…what? Where you going, people? What are you doing? Chill out and grow up.
  • Magic Mike. Steven Soderbergh’s direction/cinematography is so fantastic, and so fantastically locked-in all the time, that when I watch his films I become alternately invigorated and depressed. This experience was made more interesting while viewing a well-made title about male strippers. The real winner of the night was my wife, who after two hours spent watching the chiseled bodies of Tatum and McConaughey and pals writhe on screen — was then treated to 6 seconds of inspired imitation on my part. Let’s just say you aren’t ready. Also, interesting point of interest for my fellow straight male readers: Magic Mike did not make me gay!

May you have a good week — all the way through.

Why Artists Need to Lead The Charge For Equality and Justice

There’s an ultimate point to most of the posts that I’ve written here so far, apart from what is already outlined on the “What?” and “Why?” pages linked to above. That point? Well…

It should be clear by now to anyone who’s been reading that I am pretty damn fed up with the rampant social injustices that pervade our society here and now. I am even more fed up with the too-major majority of people who refuse to admit just how much is wrong with how we view ourselves, in the face of clear evidence of this injustice (if we do any real viewing at all). And I am completely done remaining silent about all this.

Again, maybe that’s obvious to those of you who have been reading so far. This site offers me, and hopefully you as well, an opportunity to explore some specific examples of what’s wrong with American society, as well as (again, hopefully) some ideas as to what we can do to begin righting what’s wrong. In the same way, though, I’ve also started looking at what I write here as a gauge of where I am at, at any given time in my personal journey to accomplish this as an artist.

Which is all a very long way of saying that I don’t write these missives only as a means of pissing on the fire as the house burns down. Because pissing on a burning house accomplishes nothing. Everything still comes down in the end and if you aren’t careful you might also singe your delicates in the process.

So, why all the hours spent: 1) Identifying the main impediments to social repair and progress (IMHO), 2) Identifying the means and method of delivering what’s needed to initiate such processes, 3) Exploring severe examples of our dysfunction, and, lastly, 4) Advocating a solution.

Well, I’m doing it, as I just said, to check my progress. Also, probably, to keep me sane. Finally, though, I’m injecting myself purposefully into the experiment. I want a record of this to be available, for myself as much as others, in case some part of this works (it will work).

And, when I say “this,” I mean my films, my writing — all of it, from this day forward. I want a trail behind me, as a sort of precaution, for helping me stay honest in a world where honesty is more often avoided and punished than welcomed and appreciated. In a way, ideally (admittedly), I want to keep you honest too.

Sometime soon, I’m going to get around to announcing my next film, which my wife and I are going to drag kicking and screaming into existence, because fuck this.

Two months ago, 20 children were gunned down in an elementary school. Five years before that, the global economy nearly collapsed, due not only to a series of widespread con-jobs perpetrated by immoral power brokers but also the ignorance (however forgivable, in certain respects) on the part of almost everyone, to the delicacy of the increasingly complex (overly complex) connections and compacts that sustain our collective lives. And, since then, and still now, the American cultural dialogue has been overwhelmingly focused on the past and present — even as democracies old and new, worldwide, continue to pass us by in terms of recognizing and advocating equality, securing justice for all citizens, and, quite simply, working to provide a framework for an all-around better life (and a better chance at a good life) for their entire citizenry.

As a person who is still younger than he is old — and a person whose life has already been greatly affected by all of the above — I am not okay with this. Are you?

I’ve struggled to “succeed” over the past ten or so years, partially because it’s what you do when you’re an artist, but partially also because I’ve said no. To the status quo. To doing what you’d otherwise have to do, in terms of compromising the honesty required of any worthwhile artistic career or endeavor, in order to make art and also “make money.” I’ve also said no, more times than I can count, to the voice that lives insides many of our heads that seems to constantly whisper: You can’t do it. Fuck that voice, too, while we’re fucking things.

I’ve also said no, as long as I could (because it’s painful, and I just wasn’t ready) to taking a long hard (full) look at the above sad truths of life in America. Why? Because I am and have been a complicit agent in this mess in many ways. Sometimes this was because it seemed necessary to play by certain rules, so that I could strengthen and prepare myself to the point of being adequate to the task of finally jumping into “the good fight.” Sometimes it was because I was afraid. I’m still afraid.

But it doesn’t matter. I’ve been working hard to hone my skills as a filmmaker and a writer for a long time now. I’ll continue to do that, but now that I’ve also come to terms with what has to be done (what we all have to do), I want to lead by example (with help, of course). In the spirit of sharing everything I’ve shared here so far, I also want to outline why I believe more of our artists (as they often do — and many artists more talented than me are already doing this) need to take the lead in the charge for a better America.

First, I believe artists are (as usual — this is nothing new) uniquely positioned to form creative solutions to the issue of sparking a greater cultural dialogue. Most of us, at least those of us who aren’t born fortunate enough to get started early and easily (and many of this type end up excluded from the discussion, at least initially, simply by virtue of being unable to gain the proper perspective on things like inequality and injustice) — we’re desperate. We’re in the strange position of having a lot to say about what’s wrong but also having, at the same time, too small or insignificant a voice (at least until we put in the time and develop the skills necessary to earn the right to a greater say) to make much of a difference. When the work has been done and the skills are far enough along, then we are (or should be) compelled to seek solutions where there were none before, as much as we are able. Of course, as far as our conscience allows us (and this is sometimes possible), we also have the option of chasing success through proven methods. Far too many of those methods, however, require more of a compromise than we should be ready to make. Again — not all. But too many. This is all changing, in any event, because…

Second, we already are forming creative solutions to the issues of the day — with the assistance and support of some smart and forward-thinking entrepreneurs, particularly in the realm of technology and social networking. I won’t be so bold as to lump myself in with some of the artists who have succeeded in taking more control, for themselves and their careers and their work, by turning to the internet to build and sustain an audience (and to deliver directly to that audience with fewer middle-men edging in on either side of the transaction). But, yes, it’s getting better. I believe that. You’ve always had to be good, and to an extent of course you have to continue “doing the work.” Increasingly, however, if you’re good and do the work on your own, you’re able to remain honest and go after the heart of it at the same time that you’re keeping “their” hands off the heart of it. It’s also worth mentioning that such a trail was blazed by countless relatively nameless experimenters and early-adopters who, yes, did it before that much more famous person who just got more press from his or her success story because he or she is famous — which is fine. Just my way of saying thanks to the unsung heroes of the budding framework for artistic self-actualization that we’re beginning to see hit its crest.

Third, we have perspective. Perspective is expensive. Since things are as bad as they are in America, it becomes necessary for the true artist to repeatedly reject everything (or as much of everything as he or she can handle or is able to handle) that cannot be honestly adhered to as we go about attempting to first wrap our heads around the mess, and then work to change it in a meaningful way. I already talked a little about this, but it bears repeating. You can’t fix what you can’t admit is broken — because you haven’t looked at the pieces to see how they fit back together. Whether the true artistic point of view comes first, or whether it only arrives after it causes you to suffer awhile — that’s a chicken and egg question. Like the chicken and egg question, however, there’s a little-discussed real answer to it: it doesn’t matter. Both need the other, in perpetuity, for the question itself to even have any relevance. And art can only be relevant if its perspective is true. It can only succeed in a widespread way if its filtered perspective is an appropriate tonic to the polluted perspective of the day. Artists, real artists, are uniquely qualified to engage with issues of inequality and injustice because, in repeatedly saying no to all things polluted, they become marginalized. And it’s on the margins of life where we always find the human consequences of our societies’ darkest secrets. If that all sounds romantic, it shouldn’t. Also, a caveat: there are many artists out there much braver than me in terms of exemplifying the necessary perspective. But we all do what we can.

Fourth, we need each other. This last reason may be colored slightly by my “chosen” calling as a filmmaker, but still I think it applies across the board. Especially now, when Americans are so much more isolated than every before — and so mistrusting of each other in the ways that count — it’s worth it to think about the value of cooperation and community. Keeping the example going, however: I just recently completed my third film. It’s my best work to date. Do you know why it’s my best work? Partially, it’s because I took everything I learned over the past five years and put it into the production of a five page script. Partially it’s because I recently began descending into a more honest place as a writer and a person. Mostly, though, it’s because I tamped down my fears and anxieties enough to repeatedly ask for more help, more often. And because I worked hard to collaborate more with talented people. Maybe this example speaks more of my own issues with fear, anxiety, egotism, etc. than anything else. However, if you looked at me for most of my life, in most ways you could call me an average American male. Average height. Average build. Grew up middle class in the suburbs. Did well in school, went to college, got a job (because that’s what people do).

Except much of what I came to believe about myself as an average American male ended up being built upon lies. I will continue to be of average height and average build (hooray?). But the middle class? It’s dying. The suburbs — shining example of American social mobility, land of pretty houses and happy childhoods? Well, a lot of those houses got taken away, or were never “owned” by anyone to begin with. Further, there’s a difference between happiness (which is elusive enough as it is in the most basic of terms) and the illusion of happiness. Real happiness doesn’t cost nearly as much as so many of us pay, in human terms, as we pursue it in increasingly problematic ways, and, in language unfortunately appropriate to the time, in exchange for increasingly meager returns.

Much needs to change. The old ways don’t work anymore. We can’t hide from ourselves any longer. The injustices need to stop. Equality, real equality, in all senses of the word, needs to be our primary goal. But things won’t truly begin to get better until most people take an honest look at the state we’re in and agree that it’s bad.

So. Artists. Let’s get to work.

What I Liked This Week: 2/9/13

Something I did not like this week was the migraine that slowly knocked me on my ass last night. But, like many painful things, that particular annoyance eventually passed. The morning brings new vigor.

Sah what did I like this week?

  • The sight of my 10-inch tall terrier, bounding happily through 6 inches of snow. Not only was this ca-yute — my dog is normally frightened of dirt. And sticks. And microwaves. I call it progress.
  • The Paperboy, the latest flick from Lee Daniels, who also directed Precious. Without going too far into the reasons why The Paperboy didn’t perform as well as Precious, suffice it to say that the film — I liked it. I don’t know how many people are likely to agree with me (I could see how it could be hard to like) but I have a few reasons why the flick works for me. First, it’s audacious. Lee Daniels has some big, big balls. There’s no other way to describe the choice to cash in all the cred he earned with Precious to make a film that he might not have been able to make otherwise. Enormous respect (for his enormous balls). Second, the story manages to exist in at least four genres at once. I don’t think it’s very easy to accomplish this (most wouldn’t try!) while still managing to create an entertaining, eminently watchable (IMO) film. Like Perks (from last week’s WILTW) The Paperboy may admittedly end up more palatable to those of us who admit to being at least a little broken. But again, like Perks, it probably first requires that more of us admit brokenness than are willing to, on a day to day basis, before it can do its true “job.” You can’t fix what you won’t acknowledge isn’t working. I liked The Paperboy.
  • This article about the jump in millennial unemployment. I don’t like this. However, I like that someone is paying attention to this. Little made me angrier during the past presidential campaign than claims on the part of the Romney ticket and the Republican party that the President’s policies were alternately killing jobs or failing to create enough jobs. The reasons this made me angry include:
    1. The fact that the President often succeeded during his first term in doing at least something to create jobs and foster growth — in the face of intense Republican opposition that was clearly prioritizing his ouster and the agenda of special interests, instead of the good of the people (who need good jobs, and the opportunity and ability to learn new skills, and higher wages).
    2. The fact that such ridiculousness was and is distracting us from the fact that the economy still sucks (for most Americans, at least), that the limited job growth we’ve seen is largely coming in the form of part-time work, or low-skilled jobs, and comes with low wages — even as corporations continue to perch themselves atop piles of record profits.
    3. The fact that, as the above article alludes to, we’re killing our future. Sorry, scratch that. Our future is being held hostage by a slim minority of rich old people who, in the face of uncertainty they engineered, greedily and obstinately continue to choose to squeeze blood from the stone instead of…maybe…I don’t know…working to expand the economy such as to provide opportunity for the future? But, no. I’m the crazy one (I’m not the crazy one).
  • This article, about a program that introduces teens to the grisly (deadly) consequences of gun violence, as they appear at a North Philadelphia hospital. I actually hate this. I hate that it makes sense to me. Do you know why it makes sense? Because we’ve become that divorced from reality that ideas like this seem necessary. We’ve become divorced from the reality of what goes on everyday in our society, as well as the reality that the solutions to our problems don’t rest in political squabbling, or new or old policies, or through more debate. Definitely, such solutions don’t rest in more restrictions on our privacy and freedom. They rest where they’ve always rested: in education. In knowledge. In reasoned thought and experimentation. You have to start somewhere, in attempting to “solve” any given social issue. Why not start close to the beginning? This is how ugly and sad it is.
  • This column, analyzing the persistence (and growth) of racial resentment in the United States. I don’t actually like this. It makes me feel ashamed, more on behalf of our country than on a personal level. I’m not ashamed on a personal level because I used to be a little bit racist (and a little bit sexist, and a little bit homophobic), and now I’m not. Because all those things are wrong, and antithetical in the completest terms to ideas of equality and freedom.

And if you can’t agree on that, you’re fooling yourself. Stop it.

Thanks, as always, for reading. Hit me up anytime. Have a good week.

Bad Pride, Good Pride

I want to talk for a few minutes about pride. Because I think it’s hurting us. And, contrarily, I also think we need more of it.

By us, I mean (again) the average American. I think pride, more often that not, (though, as with anything, there are exceptions), gets in the way of the sort of work that needs to be done to improve those things that need improving in our society and in our lives, more than it advances this same work.

I’m going to explain why, but, first, the exception. The good side of pride.

Pride is essential. You can’t argue against the necessity of the sort of pride that comes with self-respect, or that rides on the coattails of love (pride for family and friends) or, most important, the pride that feeds you when you’ve got little else. I can testify personally to these sorts of pride. I wouldn’t be standing on my feet today, at least not in the particular way that I need to, without each of these fundamental types of pride.

But I can also testify to the dark side of pride. The kind that, under the “right” circumstances, can tear down or impede the progress made by all other forms of it. Bad pride.

Bad pride is something you put between yourself and the world. It’s related to fear, in that way, except fearfulness can be forgiven a bit, because it’s often reflexive and instinctual, even when it shouldn’t be.

But make no mistake: bad pride is a decision. Especially when used to mask fear or something like it – it’s a choice.

It’s admittedly tricky, trying to figure out whether you’re a user of bad pride. Again, pride itself is a pervasive concept, especially in America, where exceptionalism is the rule. The delineations that separate some of pride’s primary forms, as I’ve just discussed them, aren’t always so apparent – especially because pride is such a potent, powerful, sometimes overwhelming emotion. Of course it’s powerful. We’ve already established how many vastly different sub-emotions can be stuffed inside the word. Self-respect, love, will power – many of these essential human elements can’t subsist without pride.

But bad pride, to me, exists outside the realm of subsistence, of humanity even. It’s more like a suit of armor that we put on to protect us, when we’re frightened. When we don’t understand something. When we fear judgment. Again, this instinct is fine. It’s human. But, sometimes, (too often), we utilize bad pride to protect us from fears that aren’t nearly as rationale or as likely-to-be-founded as we think.

In the context of this blog, I offer my opinion that bad pride is standing in the way of social progress. I believe, on the part of certain typically older, typically white citizens, that it’s standing in the way of reality. There’s no other way to contextualize the staggering levels of barely-veiled racism, legacy sexism and fear-based selfishness that have burst to the surface of our cultural “dialogue” in recent years, starting with such tragically justified national causes for fear, as exemplified in one way by 9/11 and in another by the dysfunction and injustices revealed by the recession, and reaching a sad crescendo with the election of the country’s first black president, who also happens to disagree with the version of reality currently put forward by some of the rich old white men who own America.

Bad pride has gotten so poisonous, on the part of the more conservative members of our population, that it’s now often weaponized, by those in power way up at the top of our society, such that they can manipulate some of the very victims of their deceit in such a contemptible way as to lead them to help guarantee their own continued imprisonment in an overcranked system that isn’t completely working anymore and which is rigged against many of us. National pride in particular, which was a legitimate badge of honor years ago, on the part of the prideful, has in recent years become that full-blown suit of armor, a protective layer between the reality of the last few lean years and the preceding years of fear-of-attack and pain, and the illusion that everything would be still okay if only our president wasn’t a villainous black man leading a liberal army dead set on trying to take away what makes our country great.

Do you know what happens when something that’s meant to be a symbol (a badge) gets turned into armor (a defensive layer of “impenetrable” material between us and the world)? The first and most obvious thing that happens is that you become actually separated from the world, and all its beauty, along with all the supposed ugliness you’re avoiding. The second thing is that you become slow. Unable to keep up. Because you are weighed down by the burden of your defenses. You better hope you’re satisfied with the way things are, because you’re not getting anywhere new very quickly anytime soon – even if your surroundings later change in ways that aren’t too your liking. The road to a better place starts and ends with our ability to maintain that which preceded us, so that others might follow and help us continue to pave the way forward.

The last things that happens, when bad pride gets bombarded by ideas steeped (no matter how subtly) in hate, is that pride gets turned into something worse than an impediment against progress, as the armor which once was a badge gets melted down in the crucible of anger and repurposed on your behalf by those who stand to benefit directly from the ability of your pride and your hate to keep things the same. In this way, bad pride is made into barbs for perforating both progress and decency.

The strange and difficult thing about all this is that we do need (good) pride if we are ever going to be able to deliver ourselves to a place of justice and freedom.

What do most of us do most days, other than make the (probably automatic) decision to get up, get dressed, and go out into the world, with the goal of trading in our freedom – most basically described as our ability to chose to do “whatever we want” – and do “our job” instead? How many of us can say that it’s as simple as that? Don’t most of us in America, here and now, more often live to work, putting our livelihood ahead of our life, than work to live, putting our life ahead of simple employment – which is supposed to be a means of securing a decent life butis increasingly more like something we just have to do?

What happens to our pride, with our relationship between work and life so unnaturally reversed? What happens when we trade in our right to live – and I’m purposefully borrowing this phrase – for the right to work? Have we forgotten, in all the years of broken promises, of giving a little more, a little more, a little more, of growing increasingly cynical and dejected and beaten each time we give and receive little in return, that we own as much of what we do with our freedom as those who take it in exchange for an increasingly smaller percentage of money?

I would argue that good pride needs to re-enter the equation of our daily lives. I would argue that more citizens are beaten down, or angry or depressed – than are actually, presently, legitimately proud to be a part of the American work force.

For all the mistakes we’ve made as a nation, this was one thing we used to get right. But the reality of the present is staring us in the face, wearing the truly impenetrable armor of fact, of cold, hard statistics. The rich in America are richer than they’ve ever been. They didn’t all get that way only by working. They didn’t all get that way honestly.

So what do we do?

How about we take some responsibility for a situation that, whether we knew it or not while it was developing, we helped create?

How about we talk about these injustices instead of letting the wealthy and their minions continue to push a narrative that says anything else?

How about we figure out how to fight back? The sum of mankind’s knowledge is available for cheap on the internet. Your friends and neighbors are in the same boat as you. Even as so many members of “the elite” continue to sit on their spoils, ordering the politicians who are in their pockets to start lighting meaningless fires to distract us from the fact that entire neighborhoods are sinking into the ground, so many of us continue to idle, sinking under the weight of our bad pride, of so much useless armor.

How about we shed all the fucking armor and start talking to each other about what needs to be fixed? How about we start crawling our way back to a place where we can hold our heads up with fucking pride?

What I Liked This Week: 2/2/13

Hello, folks. WILTW is (obviously, at this point) the only juicy little nugget you’re getting this week — apologies, all my spare time has gone into the new script, more on that later — so let’s just get into it and start fresh on Monday. Argh. Monday’s awful. Monday puts ketchup on spaghetti. I won’t be writing anything on Monday. Monday hates writing. And babies. And puppies wrapped in sunshine.

Anyway. Nearly everything I liked this week was nominally entertainment based.

  • The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Probably the best film I saw this year, if only because it accomplishes something that Django Unchained can’t  accomplish as fully, due to limitations of genre and other reasons I won’t get into now because I don’t feel like opening that can. What does Perks accomplish that many films these days, unfortunately, don’t? A few things. It exists in proximity to life-as-it-is. Even though it’s still “a movie.” How does Perks accomplish this? Through unfiltered, unflinching emotional honesty — regardless of costs of discomfort and sadness and pain (life is sometimes uncomfortable and sad and painful!) What else did I love about the flick? The central, crucial role that love, both communal and personal, played in the redemption of its damaged protagonist. Because a lot of us are damaged. We need love. Perks doesn’t dance around either this truth, or the necessity of facing it if you ever want to “feel better.”
  • This episode of WTF with Marc Maron, in which Marc interview Lucinda Williams. First, I just straight geeked out over this, because these are two of my favorite entertainers, talking to each other for an hour in a garage about life, music, personal demons and redemption. Also, as he is wont to do, Maron dug up some of the specific darkness in Lucinda’s backstory — which we all knew had to be there (such beautifully sad and soulful songs as she writes and performs don’t come out from nowhere), and it was enlightening and sobering to hear about some of her specific struggles. The best parts of Maron’s shows (not a secret) are when he and a guest bond, in “real time” in front of listeners, over the revelation of some painful memory or another. This is how part of how we climb back — by finding a place of empathy through mutual sharing of some of those things (no matter what they are, or how dramatic or “commonplace”) that personally haunt or drive us.
  • Treme. The wife and I are only on Season 2 of Treme at the moment (we don’t have cable), but it’s getting very good, and it’s a shame that so few people seem to be watching it outside of “The Wire Faithful.” David Simon is one of the most brilliant minds America has, and the messages he and his cohorts work hard to deliver through such carefully crafted docu-style narratives as The Wire and Treme are crucial ones that would serve us far better if more people paid attention to them and started talking. I go back and forth between feeling sad that more people (from all walks of life, everywhere in America) aren’t watching these shows and grateful that these sort of examples of “fringe popular culture” are at least out there. The thing is: this should be a more popular show. It shouldn’t be fringe (and I admittedly use the term loosely). Treme is a show that, much like The Wire, forces us to take a reasoned, compassionate look at the systemic injustices of the crumbling American bureaucracies that are failing and/or holding back entire communities of citizens — most often those most in need of more (reasoned and compassionate) help and support from the rest of us — even as those in power continue to view those same systems as ‘adequate’.
  • The feeling I had last night, after working for hours and hours to complete a hard-fought, new and better draft of a script that took me about three months to write (to date). Something about this one has me particularly excited. For better or worse, as I was telling my wonderful (and wonderfully supportive) wife-slash-partner-in-crime last night — this one, more than anything else I’ve written, feels like my best work. Even if nothing much changes, now that it’s “done for now,” the fact stands that I’ve changed as result of having written it.

And that’s why we do it. Have a good week.

What I Liked This Week: 1/26/13

In keeping with where my head seemed to be most days (nothing to do with the fact that Sundance was going on without me sad face), a lot of what I liked this week revolved around films and filmmaking. Other items were/are just fun. Fun is good!

  • This post from Reid Rosefelt, a publicist and Facebook marketing researcher/expert, which is essentially about taking a measured, long-tail view of a film and/or a filmmaking career. I have been following Reid’s advice on Facebook Marketing for Filmmakers since he first started diving into the endeavor, and this post locks in on a lot of his main arguments: that filmmakers should be thinking more broadly about how they and their work are perceived (or would be better perceived, depending on how we conduct ourselves) in the age of information. Reid’s advice often strikes a great middle ground between reasoned and impassioned, and I liked this post in particular because I tend to agree with all of it, having reached many of the same realizations in recent months. Most of Reid’s insights probably cross-over into other art forms and the small business world (if you’re an artist, you’re a small business) as well.
  • This New York Times blog post, about how inequality is holding back America’s economic recovery. I like this because it’s the truth, even if I hate that fact that too few people are talking about it. How about we get on that?
  • This picture of a baby Korean Godfather, sent to me by my Korean friend, who was made an honorary Italian-American by my family years ago, and has never failed to live up to the title. I hope to someday take a similar picture of a child of my own, attacking a bowl of kimchi with a pair of chopsticks.
  • The Way Station bar in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Not only because the bathroom is a TARDIS, not only because I got to watch an episode each of Doctor Who and Torchwood (underrated!) when I went on Sunday, but also because the people there (staff and patrons) were all pretty chill, and nice. Unfortunately a rarity in the NYC bars these days. I will be going back to The Way Station.

Have a good week, readers. I continue to appreciate your attention and your feedback. As always, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter any time.

A Case for Anti-Film

I took a course in college that introduced me to the work of Nicanor Parra, a Chilean poet perhaps most famous for his declamations against poetry. A self-proclaimed “anti-poet,” Parra essentially took issue with the longstanding worldview of poetry as some sort of lofty, mystically powerful medium. He also criticized the attachment of poets to what at the time were the prevailing standards of the form itself. Frustrated by the lack of a utilitarian purpose to most poetry, but cognizant that it remained popular and had a large admiring audience, he sought to write and champion work that existed practically in opposition to itself.

I remember reading Parra and feeling alternately curious and dubious. The contrarian in me liked the idea of art made in opposition to itself; and his points on the lack of a link between prevailing examples of art and a greater utilitarian purpose behind such examples, rang true to me even then. The (undeveloped) artist in me disliked the proposition that, in order to be pure and useful, art should “devalue” itself and the artist by foregoing so much of the creativity that separated it from reality and simply “report observations and feelings” instead.

I was a silly little student.

To me, at the time, anti-poetry seemed like something of a copout. I just didn’t see the point in making a point about how far the messages had strayed from the messengers through a “new” stripped-down version of the message itself. It seemed a little too clever, and maybe it was and still is, to an extent. What I wasn’t seeing or admitting, however, is that it doesn’t matter.

It certainly doesn’t matter to us, here and now. Not when so many contemporary American “artists,” and the money men pulling their strings and slapping paint over their ideas, have dialed up their efforts at “engineering” art to such a spectacular degree that it is now considered an intriguing artistic statement (because it is, unfortunately) to illustrate the pure garishness of the whole situation via such magnificent displays of American cultural decline as are ingeniously mirrored at us by such experiments as Lady Gaga (well played, Gaga).

But I digress. What I mean to say is that I’ve been thinking a lot about Nicanor Parra this week, after so many days wrestling with my ideas and opinions about our relationship with The Screen, because it’s been somewhat difficult for me to reconcile what essentially amounts in those posts to a call for more participatory activism through The Screen (and against The Screen As We Know It), with my journey as a filmmaker.

While I’m definitely settling more comfortably in the role of the indie filmmaker — the definition of which for me starts and ends with total creative independence on the part of the production — I still respect and long for the sort of reach and audience relationship that at current can only be easily got by working with those who have historically controlled what goes on The Screen (and who still mostly do). This is not to say that there aren’t people-of-influence out there who support truth and filmmakers locked into it. I just haven’t met any of them yet — please give me a call of you’re one of those people and if you want me to show you mine.

Getting serious again, a conflict naturally arises for me, based on my combined desire to both reform the prevailing relationship between art and audience and yet remain honest and steadfast as I attempt to do so in an industry that in many ways represents a large part of the problem, when I consider how to move forward. I don’t fault the industry in particular for its failings. Evidence in support of that claim can be found in the aforementioned posts on The Screen.

Working under the assumption that “we get the art we deserve,” however, my view is that, if it’s broke, we can’t start fixing it until we look down at the pieces and start to think about how to put them back to together to form it again (it being us).

So, in thinking about Parra and anti-poetry, especially as I’ve continued working on my latest script (which is pretty much steeped in my own personal journey through this changed worldview), I started thinking about the concept of anti-film.

It didn’t surprise me, when I decided to look to see if anti-film already existed, and was quickly led to Warhol. The ideas that had been knocking around in my head when trying to link my feelings about Parra and anti-poetry to my feelings about The Screen find a obvious natural home in Warhol’s legacy. But he and Parra belonged to different eras (and Parra’s Chile was and is a much different place than contemporary America) and I am neither a poet nor an iconoclast. I’m just a guy trying to point out some bullshit that’s standing in the way of the real shit. But I think maybe most artists working today (and everyone else as well) might benefit from the examples set by these and other artists.

Particular to my life and my experience to this point, and piggy-backing in part on my discussion of The Screen, I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s time for a more robust and thoughtful opposition to the status quo – on the part of both artists and the audience. I think it’s time to admit that we’ve lost our way in terms of truth of expression, and that, further, we won’t be able to find it again until we work our way back to a place where the cultural dialogue of the average American overlaps in a widespread and impactful way with the challenges of our time.

Again, as the fallout from tragedies like Sandy Hook have proven, we seem incapable (as a whole) of facing truth itself. Our forms of expression, these days, have taken to mirroring our “interaction” (or lack thereof) with the markets. Our participation in our cultural dialogue has become far more passive, and/or spasmodically reactive, than either passionate or measured. That which is most popular is that which is hollowed out, spread thin, and shined up to appeal to the broadest possible swath of people who might find such inoffensiveness palatable and non-confrontational. That which can, not coincidentally, be duplicated into sequels, re-purposed into merchandise.

Time and again, our money and time get sucked away, most often in service of the lie that “everything is going to be okay.” Unless you’re one of the few privileged ones who don’t have to work as hard or worry as much as most of the rest of us do, this simply isn’t true. Things are only okay when we make them okay, when we decide to agree that they aren’t okay, and decide to collectively do something about it.

In artistic terms, the problem isn’t that our art is bad. The problem is that our art is bad because it’s dishonest. The world we most commonly see on The Screen is so divorced from reality as most of us know it, and has been for so long, that we’ve actually lost sight of the artifice, to such a chilling extent that we now accept the existence of reality television — in which life itself has been turned not into something to celebrate or question or struggle for, but just another melodramatic narrative that plays out on The Screen. Art, which in the Aristotelian sense once was an imitation of life, has in America become an imitation of an imitation. In this way, regress, the unspoken goal of those battling for continued control of The Screen, has infiltrated our lives.

This has happened because some people pushed it to happen and because many more didn’t know any better and allowed it to happen. Regardless, it has happened and is still happening.

Regress is the enemy of the future, and in order to combat it, we need to backpedal to its source and deal with whatever unfortunate truths we find there. In so many words, we need to steer our lives (and probably, first, our art) away from the prevailing narratives that are failing us.

Like nearly everything else I seem to advocate, this is easier said than done.

As I mentioned frequently in my discussion of The Screen, our narratives infiltrate and grip every aspect of our lives. Further, they’re now with us all the time, unending in their availability (if we’re being generous) or their assault (if we’re being combative). They aren’t going away, and neither will the minds of those that control them be swayed towards greater responsibility if we do not engineer our response to their failure in terms they can understand (hint: there’s only one term, and it’s money).

In the spirit of Parra, we need to peel away the layers that make these narratives seem larger and more legitimate than they are at their core. At the same time (and it’s important to note that it’s difficult for a single piece of artwork or another similarly engineered activist action to do both these things concurrently) we require more of the sort of inflammatory pop art, more commonly associated in the present discussion with someone like Warhol, that manages to be both familiar and challenging at the same time.

Quentin Tarentino understands this. Django Unchained is a brilliant example of one of the things we need most right now: bloodletting. The legacy of slavery and of racism continues to poison our society and render untrue our claim that America is a place of equality and opportunity. The genius of Django is that it delivers a few carefully placed, chilling reminders of some of the most visceral horrors from our past, that continue to haunt us in more devious ways in the present, all wrapped up in the clothing of our dearest American pastime (violence).

Similar praise should be heaped on Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon for the separate contributions each recently made to a needed call for unity, as presented by The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. Each of these directors have succeeded wildly by locking into the popular need for something different and better delivered under the guise of the same. 

Joss Whedon’s work has always ridden on the message that community, for all its difficulties, trumps individualism, and that the defense of community begins with inhabiting its contradiction: that we are all together in feeling so alone. Nolan has historically been more focused on puzzling out the trustworthiness of narratives from the noirish point of view of a damaged, isolated loner. In this way, he makes an equally crucial contribution to the reigning popular culture by pulling us into The Screen, on terms we can relate to, while constantly asking questions about everything we see and, eventually, landing in a similar place as Whedon. In Nolan’s more mathematical point of view: this problem (social dysfunction) plus this targeted solution (social harmony) requires this variable (a united effort to understand and combat the dysfunction) for it to all work out (however much of what we knew and used to hold dear we may lose in the process).

These men are some of the finest filmmakers working today. It boggles my mind that they aren’t more celebrated or more imitated (in terms of strategy and focus) on artistic terms. Studios look for the next Avengers rather than the next Joss Whedon; they ask what else can be done the way Nolan did it, rather than sit and think about why Nolan has succeeded in the particular way that he has. Tarantino is treated as the maverick that he is, but few pause long enough in their tiresome conversations about the violence and the dirt and the language in his films to ask themselves why they’re so upset with him in the first place, and blame those reasons instead.

Independent film is in a similar state of disconnectedness. No matter how many fine films get made each year (some are still being made) only a rare few seem capable of punching through the noise of an increasingly saturated entertainment arena and meeting with widespread success. In a day and age when so many lines still exist, demarcating so many marginalized groups that are outside the “old media” establishment, fine filmmakers emerging from such groups have little choice, shackled as we all are to a need to remain authentic to our own feelings and experiences, to similarly marginalize our own work.

Especially in the age of social networks, good work finds its audience – which isn’t a bad thing and probably also a necessary step in our redemption. Too few pieces of great artistic import, however, are able to cross the same lines that a blockbuster are able to cross and yet deliver unadulterated crucial messaging that does need to be heard. Contrarily, too many independent films that do receive the marketing support necessary to increase the likelihood of this happening, simply offer something too akin to the same watered-down narratives as our failed blockbusters, just wrapped up in extra quirk or built upon a foundation of what essentially amounts to a well-intentioned but ultimately exclusionary artistic absolutism that cuts it off from both the audience at large as well as those who need the most convincing: the old rich white dudes in charge.

Again. The old rich white dudes in charge will only be convinced if we’re convinced, because, in the prevailing terms of our culture, the only way to convince anyone of anything is to show them the money.

The specifics of my argument for anti-film thus arise. Leaving alone those few brilliant niche artists who are able to continue to do their important work, I don’t think the rest of us can or should wait for the industry to come down to get us. I think indies need to rise up from a truthful place (the ground, which rich people usually only see from afar) and force progress on our culture by developing complex narratives with a two-tiered character of atonement (reconciliation from the top down) and forgiveness (progress from the bottom up).

As artists like Tarentino, Whedon and Nolan have shown, this can only be done honestly within the system by giving people what they need and are used to while still performing a measure of alchemy as you assemble the pieces. Audiences have always rewarded change of this sort, and the saving grace of this whole situation is that it seems like a natural corrective process, by which innovation made in the name of emotional truth is rewarded and allowed to hasten true change.

In the indie world, however, where none of us enjoy such influence or such easily-employed freedom (or are yet as brilliant), we need to shake off the idea that anything but a true reflection of what society looks like ‘on the ground,’ in very real terms, is acceptable. We need to cease rewarding cleverness and excusing myopia. We need to stop pursuing only that which appears true only in the sense that it reinforces what we already think to be true (because, as I discussed in my posts on The Screen, a lot of that is simply false). All these habits, in both the creative sense as well as on the level of the audience, reinforce old narratives of the American and/or the individual (often the white male American individual) as something particularly special. They also, in turn, reinforce the depiction of anyone existing outside this ‘norm’ as an ‘other.’

An anti-film, then, must be defined as an activist film that backtracks against the parameters of what is normally understood as a film by historically conservative, historically white audiences, in terms they can relate to, while at the same time challenging certain ideas steeped in those parts of white conservatism that continue to endanger our future and are otherwise maintained in order to preserve the power of the old regime.

Like I said, easier said than done. Certain people will continue to make good, important films that are incapable of accomplishing this at the same time that they’re being honest. Others will continue to give those in control of The Screen more of what they want, which is now so far divergent from what the people that make up the average audience want, that they can’t do anything but fail in the long run.

And they’ll fail because people like me, a formerly conservative white male with everything to gain by playing ball (and a few opportunities to do so), have sniffed out what’s going on, rejected their arguments and their rationalizations, and have called bullshit. They’ll fail because people like me and you (there’s no way you’re still reading if you don’t agree at least a little) are more interested in justice and fairness and truth, than the ease of idle passivity.

Mostly they’ll fail because the winds of change are blowing against them. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working together to create and champion the sort of compassionately reactionary art that’s capable of hastening the change as much as possible. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working tirelessly to create and reward visions of an America (and a globe) that might be all we can aspire to for now, one where the realities of ‘life as most of us know it’ are depicted as they are, rather than what other people want them to look like. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep fighting for equality and justice. It just means we should be fighting smarter.

What I Liked This Week: 1/19/13

I liked a lot of stuff this week. Also, the 5,000 combined words of Regaining Equality By Reaching Out Through The Screen pretzeled my fangers into a gnarled mess (I’m supposed to eat pizza today!) so I’m going to keep this post short.

  • I liked The Sessions, written and directed by Ben Lewin and starring John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. While Hunt was nominated for an Academy Award this year for Best Supporting Actress (deserved) Hawkes gives an equally fine performance and might have been legitimated “snubbed.” In addition, the film itself is better than some of the other Best Picture nominees, in my opinion.
  • This article, How the Creative Response of Artists and Activists Can Transform the World, by Antonio D’Ambrosio. In addition to being smartly and passionately written, many of the ideas expressed by D’Ambrosio align with those I expressed this week. Many of the historical facts he cites similarly come from a truthful rather than a cynical or reactive place. And he’s an Italian-American with a unique perspective on democracy and community based in no small part on the same sort of immigrant experience that once led my family to economic success and to which I owe almost everything. So I like that about him too.
  • Two songs, neither of which are new but this isn’t called What’s New This Week That I Liked SO BACK OFF. I Need A Dolla, by Aloe Blacc. This song reminds me of the artistic tradition. Also: Ida Maria’s Devil, from her most recent album that for some stupid reason I didn’t get around to until years after her first swept my ears off their feet, kicks all sorts of ass. All sorts. Non-discriminatory ass kicking.
  • This article, Ranks of Working Poor Increasing, from the Washington Post. Because…I AM NOT MAKING THIS STUFF UP. Actually filed under: What I Liked This Week That Secretly Makes Me Want To Punch People While Crying.

The Fury appears to have crept into this post.

Anyway, I also got that last link from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a crazy old man who feels like it’s his job to help the American people rather than help keep them in their place. Follow him on Twitter. Support him. Because he supports us. I liked Bernie Sanders this week.

Oh. Something else I liked this was Senator Sanders speaking out against media consolidation, which is the first and biggest way in which those in power attempt to control us through The Screen.

Have a good weekend, readers. Speak out against one little thing today that you were afraid to speak out against yesterday.

Thanks for reading. Tell your friends.

EDIT: I failed to notice that there’s a petition attached to the page with the videos of Senator Sanders speaking out against media consolidation. It’s on the right. I signed it. You should too.

Regaining Equality by Reaching Out Through The Screen (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of 3 of a mega-post. To read Part 2, click here. Part 1, here. Don’t be afraid to hit me up on Twitter to let me know what you think.

American consumers are in an abusive relationship with our economy, more often than not. We hand over our money, accept mostly mediocrity in return, and either complain about it amongst ourselves or sublimate our dissatisfaction and turn it against ourselves and each other, instead of reminding companies (big and small) that it’s their job to serve our needs, not the other way around.

Most Americans these days are consistently making due with less, and getting less for their dollar, while the economy continues to flounder and jobs continue to be scarce and/or inadequate in terms of pay and benefits – even as profits remain high and the rich remain well-paid despite having screwed a whole lot of stuff up.

The prevailing messaging coming through The Screen continues to minimize and deflect us from this reality. For the past several decades, while we were absorbing a predominantly one-way narrative controlled increasingly by special interests, those same interests were squeezing more and more out of us. And now we’re nearly juiced and still they squeeze and still they trust that their narratives will keep us docile and subservient so long as they continue to control the messaging.

Sure, there’s a vocal minority out there who demands more from life than simple consumerism, but we shouldn’t be a minority. To be honest, I’m not even as vocal as I used to be in this fight – not because I’ve given up, but because, as often as I can, I just stop. As much as I can help it, I only open my wallet for, and pay attention to, companies and professionals that earn it.

Okay. Perhaps my wallet is also pretty light on the disposable income, but that’s not the point (though it’s partially the point).

The crucial point, though, is that too many of us seem to have forgotten – though it looks increasingly as if some good people are waking up – that the decisions we collectively make or don’t make every day are our power in this conflict between us (average Americans) and them (the wealthy in control of The Screen).

An advertisement only wins your attention and your dollar if you choose to ignore the fact that your lens is being focused for you – on a one-way narrative designed most often for no other purpose other than to part you with your money. Spend what you want on what you want, of course, but I think we owe it to ourselves to respond to most advertising messaging with more in the way of initial distrust.

With all apologies to those for whom it isn’t so simple – though many of us could stand to spend less on the distractions and diversions and foods engineered primarily to keep us distracted and sated and quiet – money only leaves your hands if you let it. We need so much less than we buy and consume. That’s an American pastime as well, but it’s one we may have to let go of a little bit if we want to regain our freedom. We’re as complicit in our own repression as those who lord over us, until and unless we change the narrative of our economic lives away from one steeped purely in sales and consumerism and back to one of reasonable, community-centric supply and demand.

What does this have to do with The Screen? Well, how else can we be expected to band together? The economic reality I’ve been discussing exists in direct correlation with a now “normal” way of life wherein the majority of our consumer population lives out most days shackled to jobs that, for us, remain linked to sustenance (money for food, shelter, transportation, health care). But for them (the intransigent old guard), our continued participation as workers and buyers only islinked more importantly to the bottom line. As has been established, the wealthy and privileged special interests that run our country aren’t interested in matters of livelihood. Many of today’s wealthy don’t even understand livelihood. They only know privilege and power, and want to maintain both, again, at all costs.

Should we blame them for that impulse? Not entirely, in my opinion. Human nature is what it is. But human nature isn’t only defined by greed and opportunism, a combination which historical precedent has shown invariably always gives way to subjugation and oppression. At the end of the day, we have to stop pretending that we aren’t collectively responsible for the mess these machinations have created. In very real terms, they have caused – and continue to cause – the deaths of a large numbers of Americans that our crumbling social compact has left behind.

Beyond this, I think we need to shake off the narrative we’ve been indoctrinated in for decades (that America’s past successes came about because of individualism and free-market capitalism only) and remember that human nature is also about community. More importantly, in terms of the task that faces us, human nature is also about emotional expression.

That’s where, for me, it all comes back around to what the proliferation The Screen, and of social networking in particular, means to our prospects for deliverance. I believe Facebook and Twitter and the like emerged and rose to such importance because of a symptomatic need on the part of everyday people to free ourselves from the one-way narratives that have failed us in life, and on which we have mostly soured as a result of their near-total corruption. I believe we turn to The Screen in part because it has always been there, talking to us, but that we fill it now with our own faces and the faces of our kindred because we crave the authenticity and connection that we have lacked for so long while we were bombarded with agendas on the television at night and were pushed in front of computers, often in service of similar agendas, during the day.

Even those of us who fail to understand this in any way, our privileged white whiners and our imitative hipsters, they turn to The Screen and the internet for the same reason the rest of us do. It’s not just about attention in their case. It’s about the intense sadness that is their life. It’s about the emotional neediness that pervades an existence that has been defined by the lie that life is anywhere near as shiny and fatigable as it has historically been shown to be on The Screen, a lie that has been blasted into our faces since we were children. The lie lords over the lives of such people even as they purport to exist in total opposition to it, because in doing so they ignore the fact that they are realigning their point of view using reactive rather than active energy.

I believe it’s crucial that we acknowledge all this, and that, further, we act upon it by attempting to share our experiences and our collective pain and broaden our perspective. It’s, admittedly, confusing. We are used to a world where The Screen speaks and we process and respond mostly from our own point of view and for ourselves. Now that The Screen has been paired with the internet and has proliferated into more evolved iterations, and we have begun to speak more frequently back to it in earnest, we need to engage with one another, more often, on real and honest terms. And we should do so with actual people, especially those who we were previously led to believe were different from us (they aren’t).

We should reserve our online energy for, and wield our own little versions of The Screen in service of, the real-world fight. Most important of all, we must remember when we interact with one another, that we are all in the same predicament. We can all, myself included, do a better job of remembering the crucial difference between the old narrative of The Screen and the new one: that the new narrative is a dialogue, and that we have a say the conversation.

Take it from someone who’s spent the last ten years stumbling after a means of engaging in a more honest cultural dialogue through his work. A two-way conversation is, admittedly, infinitely messier and more difficult than a one-way conversation. But it’s also truer, more human. Dialogue equalizes us, and we need so much more of it if we’re to ever bring validity back to the increasingly hollow claims we put forth in this country: that we’re all equal, and entitled to our fair shot at fulfillment and happiness.