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.