We R Who They R
Pop media eons ago, controversy erupted when Justin Bieber told "Rolling Stone" that he didn’t believe in abortion. Depending on your interpretation of the quotes, and the several spins and retractions and Joycian dissections afterward, he might have implied that his views would be the same if the woman were raped.
The most puzzling reaction to the brouhaha came from Barbara Walters on "The View," who reminded us that "children often take on the beliefs of their parents," and then defended The Bieber by telling us his 16-year-old brain was still developing.
Not to sound too childish, Barbara, but, "Um, der."
The veteran newswoman’s statements were the silliest comments I’ve heard since music executive Steve Stoute took out a $40,000 New York Times advertisement slamming the Grammy’s for, among other things, being un-democratic by not feeling monarchial enough to give Bieber the Best New Artist award. "How is it," Stoute writes, "that Justin Bieber, an artist that defines what it means to be a modern artist, did not win Best New Artist?"
Not to sound too impish, Stoute, but get a life.
Far be it for me to defend the Grammy’s, but if an artist who defines modern art is the criteria for being the "best" artist, Kim Kardashian is owed one heck of an awards-trophy back-catalog.
More "shocking" than Bieber’s "Rolling Stone" comments, or that he was asked the questions to begin with, was how compelled people were to justify his quotes, as if Bieber’s views were removed from mainstream, "mature," thinking. Perhaps on a future "View" episode, Walters can remind us that lawmakers who want to prevent all women, raped or otherwise, from abortion access, "often take on the beliefs of misogynistic parental Church leaders," or that hateful bigoted racist Elizabeth Taylor funeral protesters are "still developing their childish interpretations of the Bible."
The kids may be all right, but their parents are turning immaturity into an extra-marital affair. This year we’ve witnessed John Galliano ramble on about his Hitler crush, Newt Gingrich blaming his adultery on overzealous patriotism, and a hissy fit media catfight over who’s better, Lady GaGa or Madonna, the magnitude of which we’ve not seen since the 25-year-old catfight over who’s better, Cyndi Lauper or Madonna. As if that weren’t enough, the entire world took Shadenfreude pleasure in watching an evil despot fall from power -- Charlie Sheen’s meltdown put Egypt off the map.
Contrary to Wisconsin Republican thinking, adults, not teachers, are turning into baby-sitters, and not very effective ones. We don’t have a parental role model in President Obama; we have a guest lecturer; one who makes the periodic, required speech and then runs to his office hoping students won’t knock on his door. His Walker/Christie/Brewer class of 2011, free to roam the halls unsupervised, ignores the rules and plays Dodge Ball with paraplegics, and transplant victims.
New to the parental scene are gay grown-ups, and we’re not always making the grade. Some of the most selfish offenders are gay-rights activists, who don’t care if Libya rises or gets razed or if Japan recovers or if Afghanistan becomes the longest running "off" Broadway show in history. "As long as Obama says no to same-sex marriage I’ll vote for anyone else," is their mantra. Because every adult knows that Huck or Mitt or The Donald would handle world problems more effectively and rush to the same-sex altar to officiate.
On Broadway we have "Priscilla Queen of the Desert," the pop-musical-jukebox extravaganza about three drag queens traveling through Australia and belting out radio tunes to pass the time. Part "La Cage Aux Folles" and part "Mama Mia," with a book that makes those shows look deeply poignant, the adult creators behind "Priscilla" have queer-PC’d the stage by briefly planting the words "Fuck off, Faggots" on the set, while betting the rest of us are so smitten that our infancy plight has been acknowledged we’ll settle for second best.
Gays aren’t so much a minstrel act in "Priscilla" as they are zoo animals: The straight audience members ooh and ah at the fabulous foliage, while the gay men try to attract the mating call from one of the three leads, a buffed-up hottie far more interested in showing off his muscles than his dress size. Never mind that drag queens usually hide their male form, this is the new Gay Book -- it doesn’t matter if it’s good; it only matters that it’s gay.
The Philadelphia Inquirer’s review of "Priscilla" summed up this philosophy best: "Just give yourself over to its giddy theatrical turns," writes Howard Shapiro. "It is, after all, about acceptance." I haven’t heard such blatant cult-jingoism since "You’re either with us or against us," "You’re in the right place," or the Glee Cast’s anthem "Loser like Me."
"Glee," the pop-musical-jukebox TV sensation, is the real companion piece to "Priscilla," not the 1994 film from which it’s based. Openly gay creator Ryan Murphy has fashioned a hit series on the notion that his losers are the real winners, and anyone who disagrees is a "hater" who hasn’t yet succumbed.
Set in a fictional Ohio high school with no budget but unlimited pyrotechnic funds, the lead characters on "Glee" don’t really resemble the sad saps we all knew (or were) in school, or even the "Gleeks" who rabidly devour the show’s watered-down, auto-tuned Top 40 covers on iTunes each week. The "Glee" kids are more like the cliquey theater majors from college; spoiled egomaniacs who crush competition and friendship, and who, ironically, bully anyone who stands in their way.
Fronted by Lea Michele’s "Rachel," a character more self-absorbed than all the Mean Girls put together, "Glee," like "Priscilla," doesn’t concern itself with substance or backbone -- this is a show where one character goes into labor and delivers a child during the same amount of time it takes for another character to sing Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody," and a long-lost mother and daughter are reunited and express their strained relationship in a heartfelt-harmonized duet, Lady GaGa’s "Poker Face." "Glee" only concerns itself with self-congratulatory fabulousness, Queer owned and gay approved.
Now that the two gay "Glee" kids have shared an on-screen kiss (Murphy slammed "Modern Family" for not showing a same-sex kiss on the sitcom last season), the show can proudly fly its superior gay colors, and articulate what it’s really about: Ryan Murphy. Murphy, not Sue Sylvester, is the true tyrant of "Glee," presiding over his empire like the Wizard and threatening anyone who questions the man behind the rainbow curtain.
Murphy made headlines last year when he demanded a boycott of "Newsweek" magazine, after an openly gay theater critic said an openly gay "Glee" cast member was unconvincing in a straight role. Since then he’s majoritized his minority, verbally spitting on anyone who denies him the rights to their music. Guitarist Slash, who called "Glee" "worse than ’Grease,’ and ’Grease’ is bad enough," was hit with [people like] Slash, "who make those comments, their careers are over, they’re uneducated and quite stupid."
When the members of Kings of Leon refused to grant permission to incorporate their work, Murphy, in a "Hollywood Reporter" interview, wrote, "Fuck you, Kings of Leon.... They’re self-centered assholes, and they missed the big picture. They missed that a 7-year-old kid can see someone close to their age singing a Kings of Leon song, which will maybe make them want to join a glee club or pick up a musical instrument."
Not to sound too much like a snot-nosed brat, Ryan, but "I know you are but what am I?"
Far be it for me to defend Slash or Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill, who shot back with a homophobic rant, but public tantrums aren’t excusable simply because you’re convinced your product is what’s best for mankind. Murphy is reality’s Rachel; a narcissist who’s so impressed with his worldview he thinks he’s above the critical law. Next thing you know he’ll force all of the entertainment industry to wear a "Glee" lapel-pin.
He’s winning for now: Sandra Bernhard told the Miami Herald that she doesn’t let her 12-year-old daughter watch "Glee" because "It’s trashy. One minute you should be singing in the Glee club and the next thing you’re threatening some other girl and sleeping with somebody’s girlfriend." She added, "I shouldn’t say that, because I should be on that show."
From Gwyneth Paltrow to Carol Burnett, virtually every entertainer is salivating for a "Glee" guest spot, and almost every musician has been drafted for cover tune rights. What started, smartly, as a Madonna tribute episode, led to overblown dedications to GaGa, Britney Spears (in a shameful rehash of her videos), and, more recently, Justin Bieber.
While credibility to "Glee" as innovation goes down the tubes with each passing star, the "haters" have been reluctant to criticize the show. For good reason: "Glee" makes for enjoyable children’s fare, and there’s the rub. Critically speaking, it’s sanitized, glossy entertainment, a show that’s mission is to market itself. For young adults, and their grown-up counterparts, pleasure can be found in that mix, in the same way that Broadway’s jukebox musical craze can make for a fun night on the town. If you’re one of the people who "don’t get it," it might be because you were hoping for something more substantial.
After the Grammy Awards, my friend and colleague Aaron Heier, host of the online talk show "He Said/sHe Said," wrote that 68-year-old Barbra Streisand, with her power-restrained voice, had no right to sing "Evergreen" anymore, adding that 24-year-old Michele, with her power-perfected chords, was the song’s rightful heir. Yes, and Sarah Palin is the rightful heir to Gloria Steinem. "Glee" would like to teach the world to sing with all the authenticity of that ancient Coke commercial.
Those same kids who adore "Glee" now probably won’t grow up to view the show as brilliant, anymore than smart theatergoers will reflect on "Priscilla" as excellent theater. Inventive themes, not imitation, have to drive a good story, and fireworks don’t mean a thing if there’s no reason to set them off. What those kids do have for the time being, and where Murphy deserves credit, is politically correct fun in an industry that is, for the most part, bereft. That doesn’t mean you should skip dinner every night and go straight for the sugar rush.
The responsibility we have as adults is to pick and choose, for ourselves, what to think and what to share. If we’re bossed around by spoiled grown-ups and indoctrinated into their version of our life choices, we might as well just set the DVR on "Glee: Now and Forever," become Beliebers no matter what dribbles out of his mouth, plug in our Netflix recommendations, and join the millions of others who follow Charlie Sheen’s Tweets. Forget the 16 year olds; we’ll stop developing our own brains and let the kids go it alone.
Not to sound too much like the world’s oldest adolescent, Dan Quayle, but the mind is a terrible thing to lose.