Friday, June 23, 2017

Eric & Stacey, sobbing in a tree; S-O-B-B-I-N-G.

For those who listened to this week's show, here are some of the moments we mentioned in our conversation. Grab your tissues.

From Terms of Endearment, here's that moment when Debra Winger says goodbye to her sons on her deathbed. Don't say we didn't warn you.


Here's the reunion scene at the end of The Color Purple that never fails to make Eric blubber. Whoopi doesn't say a word, but her reactions are enough to draw tears from a stone.



This is the final scene in David Tennant's run of Doctor Who, which turned Stacey into a blubbering mess.



Here's the moment in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, when Will regains, then just as quickly loses his relationship with his father.


And here's a scene from the saddest episode ever of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, when Buffy is forced to tell her young sister Dawn that their mother is dead -- featuring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Michelle Trachtenberg at their very best.


And finally, here's that Land Rover commercial that turned Stacey into a quivering mass of hormones during her first pregnancy. But honestly, can you blame her?


If you're still functioning, don't forget to hit the "Subscribe" button wherever you listen to podcasts, or maybe stroll on over to iTunes and give us a review. Every little bit of feedback helps. Thanks for listening.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cue the Waterworks

by Eric Peterson

There’s a great scene in Blake Edwards’ Victor/Victoria between Robert Preston and Julie Andrews. She’s at the end of her rope, both financially and emotionally, and is sobbing uncontrollably in his arms. “There have been times I’d have given my soul to cry like that,” he says. She whimpers back, “I hate it.” He smiles, pats her back, and replies, “You wouldn’t if you couldn’t do it anymore.”



There’s something about crying that presents a puzzle to anyone who studies popular culture, even as a hobby, and it is this: We tend to avoid crying in life, or at least those situations that would call forth tears. And yet, some people don’t mind, even seek out, movies or television shows that cause them to weep in response to fictional characters and situations.

In a completely unscientific bit of research earlier this week, I asked my community of Facebook friends to weigh in on the movies that never failed to make them cry, and I learned a few things – about my friends, mostly … but also about me, and why we go to the movies, period.

Several of my friends named movies they had initially seens as children. Bambi was, of course, mentioned, as well as It’s a Wonderful Life and Old Yeller, which my friend Fay goes so far as to label “abusive.” An example mentioned several times by several friends was Disney’s classic Dumbo. In particular, the moment where Dumbo’s mother, caged and branded a “mad elephant” because she wouldn’t tolerate cruelty toward her beloved child, reaching her trunk through the bars of her cage, and cradling little Dumbo in her trunk to the strains of “Baby Mine” was a significant source of trauma for many of my friends. As my friend Ellen noted, “She every mother trying to protect her son from all the hurt in the world and it can't be done.


In fact, lots of people mentioned mothers. Like Stacey, Terms of Endearment was an immediate pick for my friend Franc, for a very particular reason. “I watched it … with my mother. My sister died from cancer and viewing this movie with Mom, still so lost in her grief at the time, just gutted me. Anytime I have ever watched it since, I can't separate that memory and sense of loss from the film.

Any kind of mother seemed to elicit tears, even the gorilla mother of a human child. My friend Dennis noted that “when [Tarzan’s] mother sings, ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ … my daughter just gets the tissues out for me.”

And of course, there’s Steel Magnolias. I told my own story in this week’s episode, but my friend Kathy sees that final scene in the cemetery from a slightly different perspective than I. “No parent can watch that scene without tears,” she says, “seeing Sally Fields try to grapple with her daughter's death.


My friend Kyle had a pick I wasn’t expecting. “As a kid, it was a VHS we had of Danielle Steele's Fine Things. It made me cry every time, mostly because it always made me think of what it would be like if I were to lose my mom.

And the dads got to join the party, too. My friend Brent (who just happens to write the best dad-blog ever) mentioned Finding Nemo, particularly the scene “at the end, where Marlin realizes he has to let Nemo grow up and experience life on his own. As a dad, I'm so not ready for that [talk].” And my friend Steve had a similar reaction at the end of Field of Dreams. “The last scene when his father says, ‘want to have a catch?’ … I start peeling onions.” My friend Leticia picked The Little Princess. “especially when she sees her father after being told that he's dead and he doesn't remember her! And then when they are finally reunited!” (She was clearly crying as she typed this.)

Familial bonds aside, stories about friendship were mentioned a lot. Beaches was a popular pick, as was Babette’s Feast. There were also some surprises in this category. My friend Erick remembers a scene from the end of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (and no, he wasn’t crying from sheer exhaustion, as I was). He notes, “when Sam says to Frodo on Mt. Doom, ‘I may not be able to carry the ring for you, but I can carry you,’ and hefts him up and climbs. What a heroic gesture, what an amazing friend, what an amazing bond between them.

And then there’s my friend Jeb, who teared up at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy, of all things. “Remember when the ship was crashing and Groot decided to weave his tree-like body around the group as a last-ditch biological protection? Rocket starts crying and asking Groot, his ONLY friend, ‘Why are you doing this? You'll die!’ Groot gazes into his eyes and simply says... ‘We are Groot.’ … That physical embrace and emotional union is something I cherish whenever I can find it with friends in my life, probably because I grew up in a culture that taught men not to be affectionate and not to say what is really in their hearts.


It might not surprise regular listeners to learn that there are a lot of gay men in my Facebook feed, and some of the choices reflected that as well. Latter Days, a film I’ve actually not seen, was mentioned by several friends. Jon wrote, “I really related to it and felt really lucky that I was never tortured at one of those conversion places. Never fails to get me when they are putting him in the ice bath and dunking his head under.” As pleasant as that sounds, I think I do need to see this film, given the sheer number of mentions it received.

Other LGBT films mentioned were Brokeback Mountain, Boys Don’t Cry, Freeheld, Longtime Companion, Philadelphia, and several votes for It’s My Party. “[I cry] for so many different reasons,” wrote my friend Eric. “The "what ifs: What if they hadn't broken up? What if they'd gotten back together sooner? The love story is so heartbreaking.

Finally, there were some political choices. “When Yvonne starts singing the Marseillaise [in Casablanca] and the tears run down her face, I'm right there with her,” wrote my friend Katherine.



And my friend Dan remembered the scene in Schindler’s List, “where Schindler looks at his Nazi pin and says ‘How many more could this have gotten?’” At the movies as in life, the political is often personal, too.

I admit that I had a similar experience recently, watching the national tour of The Sound of Music at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center. When the Captain got choked up halfway through “Edelweiss,” he was singing at the Kaltzberg Music Festival in front of four enormous swastikas, I could feel hot tears streaming down my face. And I wondered if I had seen this same show last year, if I would have cried. (Probably, but I did wonder.)

Other tear-inducing films that weren’t mentioned above include Avalon, A Beautiful Mind, Beauty & the Beast (2017), Big, Brian’s Song, Broadway Danny Rose, A Christmas Carol (1951), The Champ, Cinema Paradiso, Cooley High, The Deer Hunter, A Dog’s Purpose, Empire of the Sun, The English Patient, Ever After: A Cinderella Story, The Fault in Our Stars, Forrest Gump, Fried Green Tomatoes, Fur, Ghost, Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog, Harold & Maude, Heartburn, The Hollars, How to Train Your Dragon, The Ice Storm, Imitation of Life (1959), Inside Out, Lawrence of Arabia, Life is Beautiful, Little Women (1933), Love Actually, Love Story, Madame X, Me Before You, Moana, Mulan, The Notebook, Pretty Woman, Pride & Prejudice, Rudy, A Star is Born (1954), Stepmom, Toy Story 3, The Trip to Bountiful, W;t, and The Wizard of Oz. That’s a lot of Kleenex, right there.

Sometimes we cry about things that are sad. A parent or a child (or worse yet, a dog) dies, lovers are parted, people are lonely. Sometimes we cry because the joy we feel witnessing a long overdue reunion or the birth of a child is so overwhelming that we start to leak. Sometimes we cry because people – or hobbits – are wonderful and capable of so much good that it makes our hearts swell.

But in every case, I believe, we’re not really crying at hobbits, or clownfish, or a broke Buildings & Loans manager at Christmastime, or a girl from Kansas lost on the Yellow Brick Road. We’re crying because we see something of ourselves up there. It’s probably not a coincidence that everyone in my Facebook thread who mentioned Latter Days was at one point in their lives a young gay man afraid to come out, or that everyone who mentioned Beaches was a woman who could tell me a story about her very best friend that she’s known for years. Crying at the movies is basically the same thing as looking at yourself square in the mirror and telling yourself that it’s going to be okay … or that it’s already better than okay … or maybe just that you’re not alone in the world. (Or that if the Von Trapps could smuggle seven kids over the Swiss Alps, we’ll survive Donald Trump.)

I believe that we throw ourselves up there on the silver screen whether we’re watching an action movie, a silly comedy, or a maudlin tearjerker. That’s why we’re willing to give two hours of our lives to people and situations that don’t even exist. When a movie is just okay, it lets us get away from ourselves for a little while, but when a movie is fantastic – or just the right movie at the right time – it allows us to find ourselves. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Paternal Instinct

by Stacey Fearheiley

Parenting isn't easy.  Being a mom is hard. Being a dad....is just confusing.  In many ways, Dads get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.  

Mother's Day came first.  "Mommy" or "Mama" is often the first word from baby.  And when there's a boo boo, it's Mommy one runs to for assistance. 

Even in the movies, as in Steven Spielberg's Hook, Peter Pan's daughter tells Captain Hook that he needs " a mother very very badly."  



In this week's podcast Eric and I talk about our favorite movie and tv dads.  Peter Pan didn't make the list.  Peter Pan, in that movie, was not a very good dad.  Even in some of the films or tv shows where the dads made the cut, Father of the Bride  and the Dick Van Dyke Show for example, the dads provide for the family monetarily, but for the heavy emotional lifting of the family or the "getting stuff done with the kids" portion....that was Mom.  And while I will admit again that I equated Dick Van Dyke with my own Dad often, the emotionally distant, workaholic, remote father figure was NOT my experience.

Fun story:  Steve Martin's Father of the Bride and Hook came out the same year, 1991.  My dad, Don, and I went to see both of them that summer together.  At the end of both movies our cheeks were moist from tears.  During FotB, I was sobbing.  After seeing the second of the two, Don and I were talking and analyzing the films, as we were wont to do.  I asked him which movie made him cry more.

I'll be honest.  I knew the answer to the question.  FotB was all about the oldest daughter and her dad coping with her growing up, moving away and making her own life.  I knew this was a trigger for Don, and waited smugly for him to answer.  Interestingly, he needed to think about it.  For a few minutes.  "Hook."  he said.  I was gobsmacked! WTF?  Did he not picture me haring off to marry someone who might take his place in my life?  Where was the love?  (I've always been a tad dramatic.)



He smiled sadly and explained why he cried more for the Pan.
"I see me in Peter." he said. "When he shows up to the baseball field after the game is over because he's been stuck in a meeting, I saw me.  I felt like I had missed so much of your childhood experiences.  It made me regret."

My indignation melted away.  And then rushed right back...more righteous than ever.  I remember looking at him incredulously, shaking my head and admonishing him for ever thinking he missed anything of any importance.  In my memory, every play I was in, every recital I performed in, every volleyball game I played in, my dad was there.  Any time I looked out into the audience I saw Don. I couldn't think of a thing he wasn't there for.  But my perception and his were very different.  I like to think I convinced him to agree with mine.

And therein lies the rub.  The movies and tv shows put these concepts of the perfect dad out there. From Father knows Best to black-ish to Despicable Me's Felonius Gru to Mrs Doubtfire and even Logan.  In the end we see what we want to see, what makes sense to us, individually, based on our own experiences.

So, on this Father's Day, I know that I was very lucky to have Don as a dad.  He wasn't perfect, but being a father isn't easy.  You have a lot of pressure to live up to ideals created in history, in media and our expectations.  Upside....you're not alone, fathers of the world.  You should commiserate with each other. Grab a beer, pull up a chair and watch FoodTV (you know you want to).  And while you may not get the kudos that moms do...or the respect that moms do, in the present, we kids....in the end...remember the role you played, and love you for it.



Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Who's Your Diva?

by Eric Peterson

On Tuesday, the POPeration! team kicked off Pride Month with a show all about something very precious in the LGBT community (although admittedly more important to the "G" than perhaps the other letters in our alphabet soup) ... the diva.

(L to R): Barbra Streisand, Diahann Carroll, Liza Minnelli, Rihanna, Margaret Cho, Rita Moreno, & Marilyn Monroe
On the show, I mentioned that a good icebreaker when in the company of a group of gay men you don't know is a quick round of "Who's Your Diva?" - I've done this on several occasions, with old friends and new, and it nearly always works. The reason why a particular diva has stolen the heart of the gay man in front of you nearly always makes for a great story, and the choice itself probably tells you a lot about the guy than you'll ever learn from asking him where he grew up or what he does for a living. I don't know if there's a Buzzfeed quiz about this or not, but there probably should be (in fact, there are probably several).

I should say, right off the bat, that some men refuse to play. These are typically men who have never seen a movie that was made before they were born, and when you ask them what kind of music they like, will say something non-committal like, "whatever's on the radio." We can't change these men; we can only pity them. But for the rest of us, it's a pretty fun game.

When I asked my friend Ric this question, he first scoffed at the notion of choosing only one - but when pressed, he noted that "Eartha Kitt as Catwoman nearly made me straight."


Furthermore, he said that Eartha "personified sensuality, embodied elegance but was a strong woman with simple needs who gave no fucks and maintained her principles and integrity to the end." Indeed, in her heyday, she was often known as much for her fierce activism as her iconic voice and sex appeal. It perhaps should come as no surprise that in addition to being supremely witty and a connoisseur of high fashion, Ric is also someone who follows politics fairly religiously.

My friend Andrew reports that his diva of choice is Annie Lennox. "When she was young," he says, "she had a cool, almost icy persona with which I could relate, along with a soulful vocal style that I really wanted to emulate."




"Perhaps I thought in a subconscious way that being that icy could steel me in the face of being made fun of constantly, which I was," he continued. "But actively, if I thought anything, it was that first, Annie Lennox scared me when I was 10 years old, with her mannish hair and her expressive eyes and intense lyrics like in 'Julia' and 'Somebody Told Me' and 'Love Is a Stranger.' Second, that fear electrified me, and soon I realized that I envied how free she seemed to express herself however she wanted. And third, she and the other new wave and New Romantic performers I listened to ... were a refuge from the outside world. Alone, with no one watching, I could at least carry the fantasy openly that I was as made-up, emotive and talented as they, even if I looked delusional dancing around and singing like that while alone in my room. Most importantly, I just loved her voice. I still do."

I love stories like that. Mostly, I love that when talking about their favorite divas, gay men often start to open up about some of the most vulnerable moments in their life, as Andrew did. Also, I'm reminded of how important these women are to us -- as boys, but also as men. Somehow, these stories make my endless devotion to Liza Minnelli seem less ... trivial. But more about that later.


My friend Howard came of age during the age of disco, and his immediate choice was Donna Summer. "[Those] were the days of discovering (and creating) a gay community, exploring our sexuality, and the last pre-AIDS carefree days for gay men," he said.




As a 46-year old gay man, I never got to know that world. The virus that would eventually be called AIDS was discovered when I was 11, and by the time I was in my mid-teens, AIDS was a household word. When I came out to myself and everyone else in my twenties, I had already known men who had died from the disease, and the first explorations of my own sexuality were always tinged with a fear of getting sick. If I had memories of a simpler time and a diva to embody them, I'd likely cling to that as well.

My Uncle Lee - not related by blood but by choice, agreed that Summer "
did almost literally drive us for the better part of a decade ... Disco, and especially 'The Bump' let me have virtual sex with a hundred people without the exchange of ANYTHING." At the same time, Lee's true divas of choice are singers who can touch his soul when he's on his own, in a more contemplative mood ... someone like Carmen McRae.



Like her idol, Billie Holliday, McRae was known as a "song stylist," known for her unique and poignant interpretation of every lyric she sang. Play this game with the right people, and you'll find that there's a whole world of divas beyond Madonna and Lady Gaga.

Not that there's anything wrong with Madonna. She's the go-to diva for many a gay men born on the border between Generation X and the Millennials, and that's also true for my friend Matt.



And you have to admit, Madonna's "Vogue" is a little slice of gay heaven right here on earth. Voguing was a form of dance first popularized by queer men of color in the "ball scenes" of Washington DC and Harlem. That many of her fans had no idea what Madge was singing about in 1990 when this song debuted alongside the release of the Dick Tracy film, her gay fans surely did. And we loved her for it.

Michael John is another fan of Madonna. She's "someone who has reinvented herself time and time again," he notes. And I think that's important to us gay guys. Nearly all of us have felt like an ugly duckling at some point in our lives, and watching a diva try on one persona after another is perhaps proof that one day, we'll finally be a swan. Furthermore, "she unapologetically pushed the boundaries" in her music and her videos (burning crosses and a black Jesus in "Like a Prayer" come to mind). For a community that feels like our very existence often pushes the boundaries, this is -- for us -- something we admire, not something we shy away from.

Another Matt has an unusual choice for his primary diva -- unusual, that is, unless you know him well. This other Matt is a quiet sort. He'll sit around a table, still nursing his first glass of wine when everyone else is reaching for a new bottle, and he'll barely say a word ... until there's a moment of silence. Suddenly, the most devastatingly witty thing anyone's said all night will effortlessly fall from his lips. And then he'll shrug his shoulders. When I asked him who his favorite diva was, he was predictably succinct in his response. He paused, cocked his head, said "Angela Lansbury," and changed the subject.



Don't laugh. Before Mrs. Potts and Mrs. Fletcher, Lansbury was saucy in Gaslight, horrifying in The Manchurian Candidate, certifiably insane in Sweeney Todd, and every gay boy's ideal guardian angel in Jerry Herman's Mame.

As for my own diva -- I said it on the show, and a few paragraphs north of this one, and will say it to anyone who cares to listen: my gay heart forever belongs to Miss Liza Minnelli.




When I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I discovered Bob Fosse's film version of Cabaret. My father was a Navy officer, and we were stationed overseas at the time, and we had a copy of the movie on VHS. I watched it over, and over, and over again. My father admitted that my devotion to this movie worried him. I suspected that he suspected that I was gay, and I told him he had nothing to worry about. I thought I was being honest.

Part of my fascination with Cabaret had to do with Michael York's character, Brian -- and his crush on Maximillian, played by the very handsome Helmut Greig. When he confessed to a sexual relationship with Max toward the end of the film, it was a devastating moment, and remained so -- even after repeated viewings. But that's not what drew me to watch this particular movie again, and again, and again. That impetus was all about Sally Bowles, as portrayed by Liza.



In the film, she's heartbreaking, funny, pathetic, brassy, insecure, desperate to connect while being completely ignorant of how to do so, and driven to be nothing less than her authentic self while not having a clue who that is. In other words, she was a lot like the closeted teenager that I was when I first saw Cabaret. I maintain that it's one of the finest performances in a musical in the history of film, and it deservedly won Minnelli an Oscar in 1972 -- when I was a year old. That it spoke to me fourteen years later, and still speaks to me today, as an out gay man in my forties, is a testament to that performance.

And it's not just about that one film. In the 90's, when she was at the peak of her powers, I saw Liza perform live on three occasions, and they remain some of the most magical show biz memories of my life.



Some people (see what I did there?) see Liza as simply a parody of a gaudier time, and I credit myself with not a little bit of a maturity that these days, I don't try to convince anyone to love Liza as much as I do. Because no one really can, at least not in exactly the same way. Liza Minnelli entered my life, encased in a plastic VHS cassette, when I needed someone to really understand me, at a moment when I didn't really understand myself. And it's entirely possible that that's who Annie Lennox was to Andrew. It's likely that this is what Madonna means to Michael John and Matt no. 1, and what Angela Lansbury means to Matt no. 2. And what Cher means to Sidney, what Sara Bareilles means to Kyle, what Stevie Nicks means to Rob, what Mina means to Larry, what Diana Ross means to Lou, what Lady Gaga means to JJ, what Joan Baez means to Steve, what Barbra Streisand means to Garrick and Brett, and what Bette Midler means to Jon, and what Adele means to John.

If you've got your own answer to "Who's Your Diva," please leave it below or on our Facebook page. Because we truly can't get enough of these stories. Oh, and ... Happy Pride.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Going Viral--Not Just for Sick People Anymore!

by Stacey Fearheiley

This week Eric and I talked about the whole "viral" community of the early 21st century.  We discussed how Youtube, Facebook live, etc are the new "Star Makers".  People are becoming celebrities never leaving their house.  We talked pros and cons, we talked the good and bad, we talked what we liked and disliked.  This week's blog is basically a list of places you might want to visit.


Eric loves:
Tired Old Queen at the Movies
Louisa Wendorff
Megan MacKay





Stacey loves:
Randy Rainbow
Mamrie Hart
PopTrigger
Post Modern Jukebox

Other fun places:
Philip DeFranco
Hannah Hart - My Drunk Kitchen
Viral Video Film School
Foil Hogg & Arms --- They're British
Todrick Hall
SuperFruit - 2 of the singers from Pentatonix


Randy Rainbow's NY Times Article
The Nasty Ass Honeybadger - as suggested by Eric

Here's my bottom line--if you have never checked out YouTubers, give it a try.  You may hate the whole concept or you may find some fun entertainment that you've never been exposed to before.  I don't suggest that anyone become addicted to anything that promotes anti-social behavior, but keeping up with the 21st century isn't a bad idea.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Can't We Just Be Friends?

by Eric Peterson

I had a great time recording our "Guilty Displeasures" episode with Stacey. While we generally focus on things that we like, it was cathartic to vent a little bit about things that we didn't like, and freeing to do so about movies and shows that so many in our orbit seem to love.

But listening to the episode again, I was struck by a common refrain -- the insistence of friends who happen to love The Big Bang Theory, American Horror Story: Coven, Moulin Rouge, or Game of Thrones -- that because they love these movies and shows, that we should too.

And it's not as though I don't do this as well. If a friend tells me that they're just not that into my favorite actors, directors, plays, movies, or television shows, I find that I do my best to talk them into my way of thinking. And it gets worse if they can't give me a good reason why they don't like what I hold dear. Fair warning: if we're ever discussing one of my favorite things, and you say something like "I don't know; it just didn't do anything for me," I might be tempted to talk your ear off about all the wonderful things that you obviously didn't see in this thing that has captured my imagination and turned me into a raging fanboy.

So what's going on here? Why can't I just like what I like and allow you to like what you like, or not if that's what makes you happy? It turns out that the answer might lie in some of our most primitive impulses.

Back in 2013, a Yale researcher named Karen Wynn did some psychological experiments with infants and toddlers between the ages of nine and 14 months. They offered these babies a choice between two snacks: graham crackers and green beans. After the kids made their choice, they were presented with two stuffed lambs, one of whom was seen bobbing up and dowln over the bowl of graham crackers, and the other over the bowl of beans. The infants were then presented with the stuffed toys. Wynn discovered that the babies who preferred green beans were certifiably insane; c'mon, what little kid is going to choose green beans over yummy graham crackers? tended to prefer the lamb who also liked green beans. The same went for the comparatively more well-adjusted kids who preferred the graham crackers. They even liked it when a dog puppet attacked the puppet who preferred the snack they didn't choose.

The implications of this research are clear. First, it's obvious that babies are not as sweet and cuddly as their parents would have you believe. Second, it's apparent that human beings are deeply tribal in their thinking -- from our earliest days, we are possessed of an "Us vs. Them" way of looking at the world. What's more, that part of what defines who belongs to "Us" and not "Them" goes beyond contentious issues like race and gender; this can also be determined by relatively benign things such as tastes and preferences. After all, whether or not a stuffed lamb prefers graham crackers over green beans isn't that much more substantial than whether or not a friend of mine likes or dislikes Scandal or South Park or Schindler's List.

Perhaps what's going on here is that we use common cultural experiences like movies or TV shows to help define our social circles, and that the risk of not challenging your friends and loved ones who can't stand your favorite show is a sneaking feeling that the friendship isn't nearly as strong as you once believed.

Maybe we should all lighten up a little bit. So, okay -- I promise that I won't talk your ear off about all the wonderful things that you obviously didn't see in my favorite summer movie if it just didn't ring your bells ... if you'll promise to let me hate the things that I hate.

That is, until next December rolls around, and a certain "holiday classic" (yes, those air quotes are sarcastic) once again captures the romantic yearnings of half my friends and causes me to doubt their sanity as well as their taste. I can't promise that I'll be able to hold back at that point.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

When Favorites Aren't in Favor Any More

by Stacey Fearheiley

I saw Gone With the Wind for the first time when I was 12 years old, growing up in Tennessee.  I was dragged there by one of my best friends. She had read the book and it was being shown on the big screen for the first time in years.  So we went.  And I fell in love.


From that moment until the last 15-20 years, any time I was asked my favorite movie, Gone With the Wind was the answer. Unreservedly.

After I saw the movie and crushed HARD on Clark Gable, I read the book ten times, at least.  I bought everything I could that had to do with Gone With the Wind  Gable, the search for Scarlett, Atlanta....anything at all.  I fan-girled hard!  But why?

I don't think there was just one reason.  I think it was the perfect storm of puberty + beautiful alpha male + smart, sassy heroine who always gets what she goes for...eventually + gorgeous production values + soap opera story line = 1970's teenage white girl from the South dream!

In this week's podcast, Eric and I talk about 1939 and the plethora of really classic films that came out that year.  We talk about Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and The Women, specifically.  I mentioned why I hadn't made my daughters watch Gone With the Wind, even though I do still consider it a classic (hint: misogyny and racism).  What I don't really go into is how I got to that decision.  I will admit ... it was painful.

So what happened in the years since my adolescence to change my enthusiasm for this movie for which I had been obsessed?  I guess I'd call it evolution.  My life evolved.  My point of view evolved. My world of acquaintances and experiences evolved.  My thinking evolved.  And there I was, educated past the point where I could truly accept and enjoy as entertainment this bit of a monument to the Old South.

Do I still love bits and pieces of the movie and story?  I do.  But my white privilege lets me.  Now, I'm going to try to not get too political here.  It is not about politics or right and left for me.  It is about who I've become in the intervening decades.  Let me explain.

I grew up in the late 1960's and 70's.  In the afternoons I'd watch Gilligan's Island, Scooby Doo, Bewitched, and I Dream of Jeannie (I will always love you, Larry Hagman!).  This was in the days of 3 networks + PBS on TV.  In high school, cable channels became more abundant and accessible. More options and the 1950's and 60's TV "classics" were no longer shown.  I went to college. I went to work. I traveled. And suddenly it's the late 20th Century, and there is a classic television show network showing I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver along w/my childhood faves.

So, as a 30 something year old, I sit down to watch ... to feel that same way again that I did as a kid; To laugh at Jeannie making a mess of Tony's life; To giggle when Samantha had to get Uncle Arthur out of a jam.  So I watched.  I didn't giggle.  I didn't laugh.  I certainly didn't feel that fun, free way I had as a child when watching Sam stifle her magic for Darren or Jeannie call Colonel Nelson "Master".  It made my stomach hurt.

Now, I realize this is a long way to get to a point about Gone With the Wind.  But that stomach churning/turning feeling was even more pronounced when I sat down to watch Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara on the big screen, when it came touring in our area in the 1990's.  I no longer felt comfortable saying that it was my favorite movie ... certainly not around my African-American friends.

Because as beautiful as the dresses, cinematography, directing and acting are ... the story is painful. It's painful in its brushstrokes of misinformation.  I cringe at the accents the black actors have to put on. I wince every time the "n" word and "d" word ("darkie") are dropped.  And I get downright nauseous during the KKK scene where its very existence is rationalized as being only for the "safety" of the womenfolk.

But, Gone With the Wind is still a classic.  It is, technically, film making at its very best.  It lives in the time period in which it was created.  I can accept that.  I can respect that.  But as a woman in 2017, "loving" this movie is now beyond me.  I'm not sad, because I like where I am philosophically and how I think now.  But I do miss the innocent feeling.  You can't go home again.  Wow ... sometimes evolution sucks.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Kids are Better Than Alright

by Eric Peterson

This week's episode was all about child stars, the dangers of being world famous at a very young age, and the number of entertainers who began working professionally as children and have, either despite or because of that experience (and probably, in most cases, a mixture of the two), achieved success as adults.

Entertainment is one of the few professions where children are still employable; stories about people naturally involve children, and audiences would never accept an adult playing the role of a young child -- teenagers, maybe (see: Grease), but kids in the business are a necessity.

But are they any good?

Some of them certainly are. We discussed Shirley Temple on the show, who was -- at the height of her career -- was a four or five year old child, and simultaneously the biggest box office draw in the world. In 1935, she won an Oscar in special recognition of her contribution to film the year before -- a year in which she made eight films.

There are a lot of problems with using the Academy Awards as a barometer of quality; they're so incredibly political -- literally the result of campaigns waged by the nominees, and besides, who's to say among five performances as five different characters is the "best"? But in the absence of any other metric, there are some performances by kids that the industry has chosen to nominate for one of its highest honors.

There used to be special categories for "Juvenile" performances (Judy Garland won the same award as Shirley in 1940, the year after The Wizard of Oz), but they eventually went away, and the only way for the Oscars to recognize child actors was to nominate them along with the adults.

Tatum O'Neal was 10 years old in 1974 when she won the Best Supporting Actress Award for her work in Paper Moon, beating out her co-star Madeline Kahn and fellow child star Linda Blair (The Exorcist). Tatum played the accomplice of a Depression-era con man (played by her father, Ryan O'Neal, who was not nominated for an Oscar for his work - just saying), and there's a decent argument to be made that she belonged in the Lead Actress category. There's little argument that she's terrific in the film, moving from vulnerability to precociousness in the blink of an eye sometimes.


In 1994, three women won Oscars for The Piano: director/screenwriter Jane Campion (nominated for directing, but a winner for her screenplay), Holly Hunter, and Anna Paquin in the Supporting Actress category -- Anna was 11 years old. As I mentioned on the show, as much as I admire Paquin's later work, I didn't really care for her performance in The Piano. As I recall, she was often grating in the film, and I wonder if she was supposed to be at some level. Mostly, I remember that I believed that Rosie Perez should have won instead, for her performance in Fearless (if you haven't seen it, don't judge; Rosie was amazing).

Six years later, Haley Joel Osment was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work in The Sixth Sense. He didn't win; that award went (deservedly, I think) to Michael Caine in The Cider House Rules. But again, there's a real argument to be made that he belonged in the lead category as the little boy who "sees dead people." The film is really all about him, and there's good reason to believe that the producers of The Sixth Sense ran him in the supporting category because he had a better chance to win there, as Tatum and Anna had done before him. If you've seen The Sixth Sense, you know how good Haley is in this film -- because of the plot, he's asked to do things that weren't imminently relatable to his young experience, and the surprise ending aside, Haley's understated nature of his performance is ultimately what made that film a worldwide hit (sorry, Bruce).

More recently, in 2013, Quvenzhané Wallis was nine years old when she was nominated as Best Actress in a Leading Role for Beasts of the Southern Wild (a movie she had auditioned for when she was only five). She is still, to this day, the youngest performer ever to be nominated for an Academy Award in a lead category (before Quvenzhané, the youngest nominee was Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was 13 when she was nominated for Whale Rider). I really wanted Quvenzhané to win in 2013 (the Oscar ended up going to Jennifer Lawrence for her work in The Silver Linings Playbook). Yes, she was really young, but she was fantastic. I heard people say that as a child, she wasn't really acting, but probably just playing, and wasn't doing the work that her fellow adult nominees were doing. I didn't care, really; all I knew was that she leapt off the screen in that movie, and affected me much more deeply than the other nominated performances I'd seen that year. I was sad, but not surprised, when the Academy did not send a 9-year old home with an Oscar.

And perhaps the critics had a point. Of the five young Oscar nominees discussed here, only Paquin has been doing work as an adult that I've seen (and yet, another young Oscar nominee -- Jodie Foster -- later went on to win two Academy Awards as an adult, so it's not always a fluke). Quvenzhané is still a kid, but her follow-up effort, as the lead in Annie, didn't show the same promise that she exhibited in Beasts.

So are amazing performances by children just luck? Do they have an advantage, in that they don't edit their emotions in the way that most adults have learned to do? Do they really understand, when immersed in a set and a story, that they're pretending? I guess for me, the most important question is: does it really matter -- so long as they're telling a story in such a way that it takes the audience with them, at least for a time.

If I missed your favorite performance by a young child here, leave us a comment below. And, as always, thanks for listening.

Friday, May 5, 2017

An "Unfairest of Them All" Bloglet

This is going to be short and sweet, but ... in our sixth episode, The Unfairest of Them All, we talked a lot about a report from the Women's Media Center and promised a link to it.

So, here you go: click here to access the full report. There's so much amazing stuff here, including:
The only film in the top-grossing
2,500 movies of all time with
100% female dialogue
  • How men dominate news coverage
  • How more men than women write and direct for TV and film
  • How women are sexualized on screen, as compared to men
  • How this "female hypersexuality" can be broken down by race/ethnicity
  • The percentages of executive producers, producers, editors, and cinematographers who are female (hint: it's a low number)
Also that breakdown of the top 2,500 movies of all time by how many lines are spoken by women and by men can be found here. In addition to that data, this report includes:

  • How often women play lead roles
  • Percentage of dialogue according to age (for both men and women)
  • An analysis of over 30 Disney screenplays, broken down by gender
If you're a feminist, a data nerd, or just a fan of pop culture, this all makes for some fascinating reading. Enjoy - and thanks for listening! A new episode drops every Tuesday, wherever you stream or download your podcasts.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

For Some Tests, There's No Easy A

by Stacey Fearheiley

If you listened to this week's POPeration! podcast you know that Eric and I talked about women in pop culture and in media in particular.  The unfairness monetarily and in role availability specifically.  We talked about how there were so many fewer female roles than male and that the quality of those roles was often insulting.  Eric brought up the Bechdel test.

The Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women or girls who talk to each other about something other than a man or boy.  (Thank you, Wikipedia.)  

What we didn't talk about were variations to that "test". In one variation, a comic book writer stated that her "sexy lamp test" was if a sexy lamp could take the place of your female character and the plots still worked, you should probably do another draft. Thus create a better female character. This intrigued me. Can these tests be used in real life; everyday living; in every day situations?


Do I leave a conversation with a girl friend if we're just talking about her husband or boyfriend?   Can I have a discussion with my female HR rep about my male boss and thus fail?  Do I give that colleague who contributes to my brainstorming meeting as much as a chair to the Salvation Army?

As a feminist, I want to be all gung ho about keeping the world as fair and safe for women as it is for men.  I want equality.  The Bechdel "tests" and its derivations, while evolving from the idea helping to that end,  are not perfect.  Indeed they weren't really meant to be.  They were and are created to just hold a mirror up and say, "look where and who we are.  Do we want to change?  Is this ok?  How can we improve?"

But they are being used in a more weighted way.  Critics are right in that "passing" any of these "tests" does not prove quality, or art.  It doesn't quantify a good story or characters.
As a writer and artist, the idea that I must create characters who are equal to each other, in any way, feels stifling.  I resent it.  I should be able to create characters who have the traits and values I want them to have...they may be male, female, gay, straight, black, white, good or bad.  And therein lies the battle.

Now, clearly no one is making film makers or writers put female characters in their pieces...there are too many male/male buddy movies for that to be a thing.  But maybe we do need to let those who DO write female characters have more opportunities.  Thereby more choices for characters to talk about more than men and more plot lines than those driven by men.


Eric and I mentioned Thelma and Louise, from 1991.  But there have been more recent examples. They include the Ghostbusters (2016), Wonder Woman (2017), Table 19 (2017), Bad Moms (2016) and The Girl on the Train (2016).  

This is by no means an extensive list...there are MANY more, but these were hits and/or bigger budget gigs.  These had marketing money spent on them.  And all were clearly female in brand.

These are facts that make me feel better. The wins, if you will...not the losses.

If the Bechdel test, and those like it, do anything, it is to keep us thinking and aware of the inequalities still out there.  Awareness is key.  Admitting there is a problem is the first step.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Not THAT Again! The Trouble with Sequels

by Stacey Fearheiley

This week's podcast was all about sequels--movie sequels-- the good, the bad and never should have been.  Eric and I talked about the ones we liked--and the ones we didn't (we're looking at you, Speed 2).  The conclusion we came to, to a great extent, was that the bottom line was the bottom line, and reason for green lights.  If the original made money, there was a really good shot at there being a follow up.  Sometimes artistry doesn't come into a lot of play (we see you, Transformers!).

I really enjoyed the "Sequel on the Spur" of the moment game Eric and I played.  We were to come up with a sequel plot line for movies that did NOT have sequels.  I gave Eric Jesus Christ Superstar, one of my all time favorite musicals.  The crucifixion not withstanding, Eric suggested that the hippies of the 70s would come back in the 80s to that same desert and create a mega church--full of hypocrisy and greed.


Eric gave me When Harry Met Sally and I took its sequel's plot down a dark path to "When Harry Divorced Sally".  I think the 21st century is hard on 20th century relationships.  But the idea of sequels being where they don't currently exist intrigued me.  What other unlikely movies could do with a sequel?  Here are a few of my choices.

First up:  Titanic....but it was a bit of a sequel in itself, as it showed the life the ingenue led through photographs and newspaper clippings.  So...pass.  Changed my mind.

Gone with the Wind is also a fave of mine and could have used one...but only with the original cast. The tries at sequels for this epic have failed miserably, not only because of storyline issues, but the chemistry between Gable, Leigh, de Haviland, Howard and MacDaniel could not be replicated with others.  So the story of the Scarlett, Rhett and Tara in the late 19th century is best left to our imaginations.

Pride and Prejudice is a fun choice. The original story has been told and re told so many times, it's hard to keep track. While I love the Lawrence Olivier version, the stylized acting (and Greer Garson being a 36 year old debutante) put it at number 2 version on my list because... COLIN FIRTH!!!


Not many take on this hefty classic to sequelize (if not a word, it should be).  It's a challenge and there is the gauntlet of fans one would have to get past.   Although I actually saw the PBS production of "Murder at Pemberly" and it was really entertaining.  By not going down the romantic story path, taking it down a different genre, the writers bypassed some of the pitfalls that trip one up when writing for well-known and beloved characters.  That said, with all the fan fiction out there re: what happened to Lizzie and Darcy, it is a wonder that more movie "sequels" for P&P haven't happened.

Forrest Gump is one that might be fun.  Enough history has passed for either Forrest or his son to have been involved in, and CGI'd into, iconic scenes.  I think there are some topics that the personality of Forrest could tackle in a way that was palatable to many viewers.  But you would need to have Tom Hanks at least involved.  Otherwise you don't have the connection...and NO ONE ELSE can play Forrest.

I will admit that these choices are specific and very much of a style.  I enjoy action movies, but most of the successful DO get a sequel.  I enjoy some costume dramas as well, but often they are tied up at the end, or some one really important dies and thus a sequel would be superfluous.  Fried Green Tomatoes was great..please don't make a sequel.  Color Purple, wonderful...no sequel please.


At the end I do believe that there is a place for sequels, especially those NOT created entirely for monetary purposes.  Sometimes I want to know more of what happened to my favorite characters after the epilogue.  But sometimes, I'm good.  Because sometimes continuing the story would ruin the feeling I had for the initial movie.  And I'd hate that.

So, here's to the sequels we love...and the ones we don't miss!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

About that Disclaimer

by Eric Peterson

If you’ve listened to our fourth episode already, you’ll notice that for the first time, it doesn’t begin with a guitar riff and the resonant baritone of Frank DeSando, our editor, mixer, occasional critic, and constant cheerleader.

Instead, I kicked off this episode, with a disclaimer. Specifically, I said exactly this:
Hi, this is Eric, and you’re listening to POPeration!. We’re beginning this week’s podcast with a disclaimer. This episode is all about what happens when actors, directors, and other artists do unsavory things in their personal lives, and how it affects their audiences. One of the people we discuss at length is Casey Affleck, who recently won the Oscar for Best Actor amid allegations of sexual harassment dating back to 2010.
Stacey and I had this conversation about a week before we were ready to publish it. At that time, I was under the impression that Affleck had essentially admitted to some of the allegations made against him. He has not. To be clear, Casey Affleck hasn’t admitted to anything. The lawsuits against him were settled out of court, and he has not specifically confirmed or denied anything he was accused of. I apologize for misspeaking. Enjoy the show.
My words were not lightly chosen. Nor were they “off the cuff,” as is typical for the conversations Stacey and I usually have on our show. They were written in advance, then rewritten, then edited, then perused by Stacey for her agreement. It was the first time we’d noticed we’d gotten something wrong, and wanted to be very clear and intentional about how we admitted that.

It was important to me that I take full responsibility for my mistake. If Casey Affleck ever listens to our conversation (and I realize that he probably wouldn’t want to and therefore won’t), he deserves to have these allegations discussed factually. More importantly, Stacey and I won’t always be perfect, and we wanted to set a template for taking accountability for our errors in a way that was satisfying from an ethical standpoint. We’re really proud of our show thus far, and wanted to remain so.

Try shaving, Casey. Also, try not being so rapey.
So there are things I said in my little disclaimer and things I didn’t say. I said that I got the facts wrong. I said that it was a mistake (i.e., I didn’t know I was mistaken at the time). I offered an apology. What I didn’t say was this: I still believe that Casey Affleck did just about everything that he was accused of doing.

And it’s a long list. Affleck’s two accusers stated that he consistently bragged about his sexual exploits in a way that made them uncomfortable. According to them, he ordered a crew member to take off his pants and show one of the women his penis. One of the women says she was prevented from returning to her hotel room one night because Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix were there, having sex with women (and, by the by, the fact that Affleck was, at the time, married to Phoenix’s sister adds an additional layer of creepy to this story). At one point, Affleck allegedly suggested sharing a hotel room with one of the women, who refused; at that point, Affleck was alleged to use physical intimidation to force her to comply.

Let’s pause for a moment and recognize that yes, this was a movie set, which many of us probably imagine is one big creative playground for adults, and … for these women, it was their workplace. Think about your boss treating a woman who works for him in this way, and ask yourself if that’s remotely okay.

Of course, there was also the incident mentioned on our show, where one of the women alleged that she woke up in the middle of the night to find Affleck in her bed, fondling her from behind. Again, just for full accountability, Affleck never admitted to doing this.

Nevertheless, I believe that it happened, just like I believe everything else in that suit. I can’t prove it; I can’t responsibly discuss it as fact. I regret doing exactly that during our show -- hence the disclaimer. But I can repeat that I believe it as often as I want, and so I’ll do it again: I believe Affleck’s accusers.

A quick review of the Internet Movie Database reveals that one of Affleck’s accusers, a cinematographer, has continued to find work on a number of projects, with four currently in production. The other woman, a producer, has two credits that follow I’m Still Here and hasn’t worked in the film industry since 2012.

This evidence isn’t conclusive, but it does suggest that filing these lawsuits was a big risk for Affleck’s accusers, and that one of them – either by circumstance or by choice – is no longer working. And while some find it feasible, even likely, that for these women, this was just a big money grab from a rich and famous person, the fact is that you can make a lot more money being a successful producer in Hollywood than you can from suing Casey Affleck for sexual harassment (each woman sued for around $2M, and the case was settled for an undisclosed amount, which could very well be less).

Add to this a 2013 study that suggests that 70% of sexual harassment goes unreported, and it’s clear that there are a lot of people out there (mostly women) who will remain silent about sexual misconduct from bosses and colleagues – probably for a host of reasons, but the fear that they’ll be forever known as the woman who sued her boss (and therefore “can’t take a joke” or “hates men” or “is motivated by greed” or “probably asked for it”) is likely chief among them.

When Variety asked Casey Affleck about the lawsuit, he said this: “People say whatever they want. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you respond ... I guess people think if you’re well-known, it’s perfectly fine to say anything you want. I don’t know why that is. But it shouldn’t be, because everybody has families and lives.”

It’s an incredibly dismissive comment, one that suggests that these women were just interested in gaining attention, probably motivated by greed and/or jealousy, and that these allegations just fell thoughtlessly out of these women’s mouths, as if the act of recounting these stories wouldn’t be degrading in and of itself. It's almost as if Affleck takes for granted that anyone who would buy a copy of Variety to hear what a movie star has to say about anything would take his word over the idea that the only good reason his accusers would have to sue him would be to see justice done.

Personally,  I find it a lot more believable that Casey Affleck thinks that if you’re not well-known, it’s perfectly fine to do anything you want.

I disagree.