Friday, 27 December 2013

Some Beef for Christmas

Here is a list of things that annoy me greatly. As I have always been something of a curmudgeon, I am offering them in the spirit of the season.

  1. Cuisine Movies.
I’ve had it with these stupid cuisine movies. I haven’t even seen any of them and I don’t intend to. First there was  ‘Juro ‘Dreams of Sushi’ and now there is ‘Spinning Plates.’ Who cares? It all comes from the mistaken notion that creating food is an art. It’s not.  (How do you tell if something is an art or a craft? Easy. If it’s an art then you simply must do it, you are compelled to do it. You’d go mad without doing it. And yet you can’t make a living from doing it, and your work will never be fully understood in your lifetime. If you are quite happy, generally, and you are doing something people not only love but fully understand, and buy up in droves -- then what you are doing is categorically not art.)  Anyway, rich, fat, bourgeois couples love to go to restaurants. So, somebody figured out that making movies about how wonderful restaurants are is a surefire moneymaker. But I don’t have to see the damn things, do I?

  1. What after all, is an apology?
Rob Ford has been giving apologies a bad name. Recently he delivered a so-called apology for implying a Toronto Star reporter was a pedophile. But what he delivered instead was what I call a ‘Right Wing Hater’s Apology.' This is when you are a Tea Party Member or the Head Of Ford Nation and some left wing crackpot catches you red-handed in a dumb political correctness mistake.  So instead of a real apology you do a fake one. What’s great about a fake apology is that you not only take absolutely no responsibility for your actions but also manage to blame your accuser. Let’s say your right-wing fundamentalist dog tramples on some lefty’s lawn, and they go all crybaby on your ass, and you are obligated to apologize.  This is what you say: “I’m sorry that you feel that my dog trampled your lawn. I certainly didn’t mean for that to happen. But if that is what you think happened, I am sorry for any hurt you feel.” The meaning is clear: “You are demented. I would just say ‘put a sock in it’ but since everybody is pressuring me to apologize all I can say is that I’m sorry that you’re crazy, nuts, and insane, and that you imagined the whole thing."

  1. Yes, women are evil too!
I got this idea from my female writer friends Moynan King and Lynn Crosbie both of whom have written fabulous stuff about female serial killers. Okay, so have you seen Chris Lilley’s new HBO show Ja’mie Private School Girl? The leading character is a deliciously horrible, selfish, racist, privileged, spoiled brat named Ja’mie. She is concerned only with keeping a tightly knit clique of close friends in awe of her, and excluding girls who she spurns as fat, lesbian, foreign or poor. This show will hopefully encourage many to entertain the radical notion that yes, women are just as evil as men, it’s only that most of them lack the brute force needed to carry out their schemes.  Fortunately for evil young women everywhere, social media is a very convenient tool that can be used by less physically powerful members of the female gender to drive their victims to depression, and sometimes, even, to suicide.

  1. The demise of bathroom sex……
I don’t know how it is in straight clubs -- but in gay ones you’re not supposed to have sex in the bathroom anymore. I got lectured at Toronto’s Eagle recently for trying to have a bit of quite innocent sexual perversion in a bathroom cubicle. There was no one around. We were upstairs near a sex maze in a leather bar on Church Street. What was the problem? I don’t blame The Eagle; I blame the police for pressuring gay bars to clean up their act. I, of course, am the only gay man in Toronto who will ever complain about this, because apparently Toronto gay men are so busy getting married, attending church, and adopting little black babies, that they have little time for promiscuous sex. Which begs the question, who am I actually having my promiscuous sex with? Is it with men who don’t exist?  I leave this question -- which has a ‘who created something out of nothing’ quality to it -- for Stephen Hawking.

that's all for now.....

Monday, 23 December 2013

Good for you, Justine Sacco!

            In case you haven’t heard, Justine Sacco, an executive at an American internet corporation, recently tweeted from an airplane “Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!” Justine, (who was born in South Africa) received a barrage of angry tweets, and the controversy has gone viral. TV pundits are shocked not only by Ms. Sacco’s racist sentiments, but by the online reaction, which ranged from ‘Total looser!’ to much more virulent, apparently unquotable, responses.
            I find Sacco’s tweet ideas not only racist, but homophobic as well -- especially in the context of her apology: ‘There is an AIDS crisis taking place in…(South Africa)…that we read about in America, but do not live with or face on a continuous basis.” Ahh. It seems that -- like so many people -- Justine Sacco has difficulty feeling empathy for the sorrows of others – especially those whose race or sexuality is different than hers. Well, I don’t know how to tell you this, Justine, but in the USA where you now live the AIDS crisis is not something that gay people have merely ‘read about.” No. It is a terrible personal tragedy that has ripped our lives apart.
            That said, I must applaud Justine Sacco for bursting the nauseating bubble of comforting hypocrisy that typifies our recent love affair with political correctness. As we all know, two forms of utterance are dictated by western culture’s relatively new conception of a diverse society: the public and the private. It is universally accepted that all forms of public speech – i.e. books, newspaper and magazine articles, speeches, and interviews – ban the n-word when referring to African Americans, the f-word when referring to gay men, and the c-word when referring to women.  Most of us abide by this rule most of the time, and congratulate each other ceaselessly for our civility, tolerance and open-mindedness.
            But private speech is another matter. When we are having a drink with a friend or whispering sweet nothings in the ever-ubiquitous post-coital ear – anything goes! It’s our private time, after all. How many of us have ever leaned over to a pal ‘sotto voce’ confiding – ‘I know I shouldn’t say this, but –‘ or -- ‘Shh… I hope know one’s listening…’ or the ever popular: ‘I know I say that, but what I really think is – .‘
            Civil society is as fragile as the civil laws that provide its coherence.  It’s one thing to legislate against hate speech, and quite another to wrench hate forever from the human heart.
            So thank God for the internet.
For though we may think we know the difference between public utterance and private speech, internet chit-chat has made it increasingly difficult to separate the two.
            Up until recently the worldwide web seemed like the wild west of ideology, where anything ‘went’  -- and anonymous scatalogical rants ruled. But now Google and Apple have decided that some books should not be available (it’s called censorship!), And Facebook categorically assures us that some of our interchanges are protected and others (how’s that again?) are not. At the same time we grow increasingly paranoid of government and corporate attempts to use computers to gather our personal information.
            In other words, we’re not entirely sure if the internet a public space or a private one.
            So classy, politically correct publicists like Justine Sacco can be caught with their panties down and their hate quite visible for all to see.
            Of course it’s not easy to eradicate racism, sexism and homophobia -- especially in an increasingly fundamentalist world  (witness the recent ‘Duck Dynasty’ controversy).
            On the other hand, the only we can deal with hate is not by pretending that it’s over, but by bringing the hate centre stage and discussing it, admonishing the sin (not the sinner): i.e. the hypocrisy that lies at the very core of western culture.
            So thank you, Justine Sacco. You remind us yet again that each and every one of us --when it comes dealing with our own, personal ingrown hate and prejudice, --is wholly, completely -- nay utterly -- FULL OF CRAP.
            You may quote me.


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Why is Theatre so Boring?

            I used to think it was that all plays are now an hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission. Then, I used to think it was because theatres lie about even that. Plays are sometimes even longer. They usually say ‘90 minutes without an intermission’ in the program – and you know then that you’re in for up to 2 hours without a break, and you’d better go to the bathroom, now.
            But no, it’s not that.
It’s not because of  ‘the death of the intermission.’
            It’s certainly not the fault of the actors. They seem to get more and more talented every day. Musical comedy actors now have to be quadruple threats: they have to sing, dance, act and, if possible, play a musical instrument. (I’m sure glad I don’t go to musical theatre school!)
            No, I don’t blame the actors.
            I blame the writers and the directors.
            You see once upon a time there was a difference between plays and movies. 
            When you went to a movie you could go to sleep or have sex with your girlfriend in the back row -- and it didn’t really matter. But when you went to a play, you knew that whatever you did might have an effect on the action.
            What do I mean? Well I don’t mean ‘audience participation’ -- like in a hippie way, like having sex with the actors -- like in Dionysus in ’69. No, I don’t long for those days, don’t get me wrong. That whole experience always kinda scared me.
            What I mean is that there was a time, it seems to me (and of course I may be wrong), when the way the audience reacted affected the way the actors acted. If the audience laughed (and it was a comedy) the actors would play (delicately of course) to that laughter.  If the play was a drama, then the actors could feel, quite often, if the audience was ‘with’ them or not, and play to that energy. Watching a play wasn’t a passive experience; it was active, because you knew that it was in your power to affect what was going on in front of you.
            But alas, no more. Now we sit, and we watch, and the actors do their thing, and the set is fabulous! It twirls around, or it falls on our heads, or whatever, and it’s pretty clear that the actors know what they’re doing. And they won’t likely be doing anything else  -- i.e., responding to anything that we, the audience, do. If we’ve paid a lot of money for the show (which we usually have) and we’re out for an evening with ‘the wife’ or an afternoon with ‘the kids’ then we usually stand up and give the play a standing ovation no matter what.
            So how did things come to such a pretty pass?
            Well, the purpose of going to see a play these days is to pretty much just to have our view of life confirmed. It’s 2014 (almost) and we know very well what is right and what is wrong, and we certainly don’t have much more to learn. We know who the good people are. Good people are good citizens, usually, and they care about the environment, and the future, and the kids, and they go to work, and make a living, and they kinda care about things generally. And we know who the bad people are too. They are, for the most part, not like us at all. They do drugs, and they do not talk nicely, and they act inappropriately around --you know -- sexual matters, and they don’t care about children, the environment, or the future. And from the moment the play starts, it’s easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. And if the good guys win, we will laugh -- and if they lose we cry. But there aren’t any surprises.
            Thank God.
            So in a way, going to a play is kinda like not going to a play; they’re both basically the same thing.
            The only thing that’s different is that going to a play is an occasion, cuz, after all, we went out to dinner first, and we got dressed up -- or at least we’re not wearing what we wore when we sat at home and watched something on youtube the night before, right?
            No, we’re civilized.
            And so are the actors.
            And that’s why theatre is so boring.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Killed by A Chorus Line: The Death of the Musical

            It keeps happening. Here I am, doing what old fags do, buying old musicals in the sale bin at HMV (Do I still shop at HMV? Yes, I certainly do.)  Well, recently I came across So Long, 174th Street -- a long forgotten musical – a big failure in 1976 (16 performances). Who was involved with it? Oh -- people like Joseph Stein, Robert Morse, and Kaye Ballard. So, I took the cd home, and listened to it. And guess what.
It was fabulous.
            This keeps happening over and over again. I find an old musical that everyone has forgotten about, one that was a flop sometime around 1976 (hm…why does that year ring a bell?) put in the ol’ computer, and big surprise! It’s better than anything I’ve heard (musical-wise) in years.
            Well, I did a little digging (web-wise) and discovered that 1976 was a year that featured two other musicals you may have heard of: A Chorus Line, and a little show called Chicago. Interestingly, A Chorus Line was a mega-hit (6,137 performances!), and spawned what we now know as the megamusical. It also killed Chicago (936 performances) and So Long, 174th Street. And as far as I’m concerned, it killed musical comedy, period.
            Now I don’t blame A Chorus Line. Sure, it’s a boring musical with only one good song (okay, maybe two). So why was it such a big hit? Well, it seemed incredibly contemporary at the time – gay content, monologues, and an altogether avant-garde feel.
However the fault lies not in the musical, dear Brutus, but in ourselves.
The problem is capitalism. Money kills culture. It eats culture and spits  culture out its rear-end. (Catch Spiderman. On it’s way to Las Vegas no less.) When capitalism marries art, art goes down the tubes. (See Garth Drabinsky. I know Elaine Stritch praises him in Showstopper. But let’s face it, she’s an actress, and when it comes down to actresses, they really need jobs).  
            So since musical comedy is now a thing long gone, it makes sense to me (cuz I’m an ol’ guy) to try and remember what it once was.
            The most important word in ‘musical comedy’ is ‘comedy.’ It’s a word that is usually excised from the phrase. That’s because comedy has pretty much disappeared from mega-musicals. And comedy was the most important element in musical comedy.
            Opera finds its origins in tragedy, and operetta finds its origins in farce.  Opera is not funny (except unintentionally). Operetta is intentionally funny in the hands of Offenbach, or Gilbert and Sullivan. But the characters in operetta are not real. They are cardboard cutouts singing funny songs and representing human vice.
            It took the American musical to carve out a very special niche for music and comedy – which appeared together for the first time. This means that the characters in musical comedy are sympathetic and real as well as being funny, The best songs -- the ones that define musical comedy -- are not the ballads (though they can be nice) but the comic songs.
In Stan Daniels’ score for So Long 174th Street there is not a single bad song – not a tuneless number, or a witless one. Kaye Ballard brings tears of laughter to my eyes every time I listen to her sing ‘My son, the druggist,’ because she was portraying a real mother, and singing a very funny ode to human vanity -- sweet and hilarious at the same time. What did the estimable Clive Barnes say after the musical opened?
“When the music and lyrics do not work for a musical, the musical does not work.”
Well that’s biting criticism.
            What he should have said was:
            “The American musical comedy is dead. When money and art fight, money always wins.”



Saturday, 16 November 2013

Coming Out is Not Easy: Especially for an Oxfordian!

            Okay I’ll start by telling you everything. It’s true, I'm a drag queen. I am also an associate professor, not a full professor. I hold a University Research Chair at the University of Guelph -- but only in the arts, not in science. During my long and checkered career I have held many far left political opinions. And yes, I sometimes fart, in the presence of my long-term partner -- late at night, when no one else is around. And finally, yes, I have a cat. And, truth be told – that cat has the ungodly name of well…. Booger. And yes, he is now being treated for constipation. And finally well, my cat is -- the vet tells me -- not grossly, but at least very, very, very overweight.
Why did I feel it necessary to unburden myself in this way? To reveal these personal, nay disgusting details of my private life (things that might make Rob Ford blush)?
Because I’m coming out.
            I am one of those who think that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, was the real Shakespeare.
            I made all those horrible admissions before telling you I’m an Oxfordian for one reason only. When we Oxfordians reveal  ourselves, we know that our ideological opponents -- those who believe that Shakespeare was The Man From Stratford (Stratfordians) --  are not the least bit interested in discussing matters of proof.  In fact they are not interested in discussing the issue at all. Instead, they will employ the Ad Hominem, argument, i.e. -- they will proceed to attack us, personally.
            This is what happened to Don Rubin and I, when we organized a Toronto Shakespeare Conference (‘Shakespeare and the Living Theatre’) in October 2013. Don was criticized for wearing leather vests. My own colleagues attacked me in the local newspaper for giving students ‘incorrect points of view.’ One Guelph doctoral candidate compared my views to ‘creationism.’
            Some people think that an English professor who says that The Man From Stratford was not the real Shakespeare is the equivalent of a science professor who says that the sun revolves around the earth. But universities provide tenure, and support academic freedom, so that professors cannot be fired for having unpopular views. If professors had to operate in a sort of scholarly ‘wild west,’ then new research would be impossible. If a science professor says that the sun revolves around the earth, he or she will most likely not be published, students will laugh at them, they will lose academic support, and soon slip into (albeit, paid) oblivion.
            However, more and more academic essays are being published around the authorship issue, and several universities are teaching courses that take it for granted that Oxford could very well have been Shakespeare.
            One argument that is often raised against Oxfordians is that we are classist. It is an Ad Hominum argument -- one I would like to address here.
            Yes, I think the Earl of Oxford – not a lowly gentleman farmer -- probably wrote the plays that have been attributed to Shakespeare. But of course, yes, even a gentleman farmer can be a genius! That is not the issue. What is the issue? The plethora of education and information evident in Shakespeare’s plays. Such a display of knowledge and erudition would only have been possible for someone who had Oxford’s extraordinary privilege, privilege that allowed him (for instance) to tour Italy for fun, to access the library of magician Francis Dee, and be tutored by the leading Ovid scholar of the day (Arthur Golding) at a very young age.
My argument for supporting the candidacy of Oxford is the opposite of classist.
            Bardology has popularized the myth that a real writer must be (like The Man From Stratford) an ordinary, model citizen, a heterosexual, and, most importantly: a man who cannot be discovered in his work.
            Oxfordians, on the other hand, believe that the Earl of Oxford (Shakespeare) was possibly bisexual, possibly a murderer. We believe that he led a somewhat tragic life, and that his biography and personality are revealed in his  works.
            Could the greatest writer in the English language have been a flawed human being? Could he have been, even a  ‘failed’ person? (The Ad Hominum argument returns!)
            The answer to that question is part and parcel of your very own humanity.
            And a message to Stratfordians everywhere: you won’t find the answers to these, or any other questions, by continuing to do what you are doing: trying desperately to protect your own, failed, scholarship.
And the rest (someone said) is silence.