Posts Tagged ‘Wizard of Oz’

Sex & Power

Monday, December 11th, 2017

340swept

Swept diptych by Max Greenstreet

“As if layers of lies could replace the green illusion; or the sophistries of failure, the stench of success.” John Fowles

As part of my anti-anxiety regimen, I avoid mass media news. Even so, I still hear about the ongoing criminal acts of Congress and the Supreme Court, as well as the latest ecological disasters. And the main thing I’ve been hearing about lately are the movie stars, celebrities, politicians, and people in positions of power in arts organizations and corporations and universities, mostly men, accused of egregious sexual misconduct.

To which I say, “So what else is new?”

My mother grew up in Los Angeles. Her mother, Goody, was a close friend of Freda Sandrich, wife of the movie director and producer Mark Sandrich who directed Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat and produced and directed many other movies. Goody’s husband, Casey, hobnobbed with movie people, too. Which is to say, when she was a young woman with aspirations to be an actress, my mother imbibed lots of insider information about the movie and theatre and music world, most of that info having to do with who was a homosexual, who was having an affair with who, and who did what to get ahead—and that what was usually sexual, and we’re not talking romance here.

My siblings and I did not want to believe our mother’s nasty lowdown on the many actors and actresses we admired, and on several occasions we protested, “Oh come on, Mom, not everyone got to be a star by having sex with the producer or the director or somebody who was already a star.”

To which she would reply, “Why do you think they call it the casting couch and not the casting stage or the casting chair? They call it a couch for a reason. I know. I was asked to audition for parts. But I wouldn’t lie down on that couch, and if you won’t let them screw you, you don’t get the part. It’s not nice, but it’s true.”

According to my mother, nearly all of our favorite male movie stars were homosexuals or notorious heterosexual predators, their prey young fame-hungry starlets. And all our favorite female stars had once been fame-hungry starlets ready and willing to have sex with whomever they needed to have sex with to succeed.

And my mother’s brother Howard, an entertainment lawyer who represented many big stars, told me stories about his clients that made my mother’s tales of Hollywood sound like Frank Capra movies. Yet when I sold my first novel to Paramount Pictures and Bob Evans (he had just made The Godfather and Chinatown) I forgot all about the casting couch and went to Hollywood under the noble delusion that my excellent novels and scintillating stories and neato screenplays would be all I needed to exchange for riches and fame.

Now lest you think my mother and her brother exaggerated the pervasiveness of sexual dominance and submission in the entertainment industry, read any thorough history of Theatre and you will learn that in Shakespeare’s time, theatre companies were composed solely of men and boys, and could only exist under the auspices of powerful aristocrats with excellent connections to incumbent royalty. Thus in order to legally form a theatre company, a man had to bend, literally, to the will of someone with greater societal power than he, and once that man had gained the requisite support of a powerful person, other men bent to him if they wished to join his theatre company. From that tradition, entrenched for centuries, was born the theatre and movie world of today.

So there I was, a neophyte in Hollywood meeting with upper echelon players, and from day one I was made aware that my excellent novels and neato screenplays were of so little consequence to the people with power in Hollywood, you wouldn’t believe how little. And every step of my way in the movie biz, and on several memorable occasions during my odyssey through the publishing world, I was presented with demands and invitations to bend to the sexual wills of men and women in order to further my career—demands and invitations I was unwilling to accept.

Thus, as a sympathetic movie producer said to me when I lamented my fall from grace in Hollywood and New York, “Listen, sweetheart, you don’t put out, you get put out.”

Which is why news of famous actors and famous writers and famous politicos using their positions of power to coerce sexual favors from those less powerful than they is very old news to me and old news to anyone who has been in the entertainment business for more than a week or two. So my question is: why is such a big deal being made about such behavior now, when Power Over Others, sexual and economic, has been an essential component of our culture for centuries?

Here’s my theory. The controllers of our media and our government and our economy are keenly aware that our stock and real estate markets are fantastic bubbles filled with hot air, and Trump or no Trump, those bubbles are soon to burst. But rather than allow the endgame of their Ponzi schemes to be the focus of our collective attention, they have pulled out the oldest arrow in their titillation quiver to distract the masses from the colossal rape of the already supine population—a rape in the form of more tax breaks for the wealthy and more plundering of the national corpus before our casino economy comes tumbling down yet again.

Or as the Wizard of Oz said to Dorothy and her comrades, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Keep your eyes on the screen. Pay no attention to the psychopaths ransacking your future. Keep your eyes on your screens and we’ll give you the name of yet another Famous Old Man who did naughty things to people less famous than he. Aren’t you outraged? Doesn’t it make you just want to…buy something?

Trillions

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

31 In The Field of Gold

in the field of gold by Ellen Jantzen

(This article was written for the Anderson Valley Advertiser January 2015)

“All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk.” Ronald Reagan

Yes, those were the words spoken by a man who was Governor of California and President of the United States, a man revered by millions of People With Small Brains. I stumbled upon that example of Reagan’s snotty idiocy while hunting for cogent things people have said about waste, and though Reagan was rarely cogent—and the world might be a better place had he, in his youth, sat for a few hours at a desk under which was stored a year’s waste from a nuclear power plant—his remark struck me as an apt preamble to the problem I want to discuss with you.

“Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” Henry David Thoreau

Not so long ago, when Americans in relatively large numbers (one per cent of the population?) still actively protested the dastardly wars sponsored by the imperial supranational overlords—before voluntary servitude to cell phones won the day entirely—I attended a big peace march and rally in San Francisco at which the brilliant historian and political scientist Michael Parenti spoke.

Early in his remarks, Parenti enumerated the good that could be accomplished if money spent to build the latest species of fighter jets for the American arsenal was spent instead on education, healthcare, and helping those living in poverty. And I noticed that the moment Parenti intoned the words billions of dollars, the crowd lost all interest in what he was saying and he might as well have been speaking to five people instead of the fifty thousand gathered to protest the wasteful stupidity of war.

Since then—my Parenti epiphany—I have confirmed on numerous occasions that while many people can hang with discussions involving one or two million dollars, any sum larger than that has little or no meaning to most of us. Why? Because money is real and important in our lives, and real money to most people is much less than a million dollars.

When we enter the realm of billions—a billion is a thousand million—we might as well speak of neon gorganzalids. Huh? Neon whats? The imperial overlords are well aware that we cease to pay attention when talk turns to hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, and not paying attention is what they want us to be doing while they rob us blind, year in and year out.

“Why waste time learning, when ignorance is instantaneous?” Bill Watterson

In 2008, when the worldwide Goldman Sachs-created toxic derivative hedge fund Ponzi scheme bubble burst all over the world, the imperial overlords ordered their operatives at the Federal Reserve to spend an initial trillion dollars to prop up the collapsed financial regime (while doing nothing for the unwashed masses) and thereafter ordered the Federal Reserve to spend a hundred billion a month to re-inflate the bogus stock hedge fund derivatives bubble. You’re getting drowsy aren’t you?

That’s my point. Government-condoned financial thievery of epic proportions goes on every day in America, thefts totaling at least ten trillion dollars in the last seven years, and we the people have no concept of what those thefts mean in relation to our collective and individual lives. You and I could sure use seventy dollars or seven hundred dollars or seven thousand dollars—wouldn’t that be nice?—but millions and billions and trillions…snore.

Add to the stolen ten trillion another trillion a year spent on the military and…Huh? Sorry. Dozed off.

“After a certain point, money is meaningless. It ceases to be the goal. The game is what counts.” Aristotle Onassis

On the other hand, sports, sex, food, violence, death, and the breasts and penises of famous celebrities and fashion models, these are things we are hardwired to be interested in. Penelope Cruz in an itsy bitsy bikini. Tom Cruise wearing skimpy underwear. See? You woke up. The overlords know this and have structured modern mass media to inhabit your television computer tablet phone as a never-ending stream of lurid high-definition images and videos of sports, sex, food, violence, death, breasts, and penises, or the bulges therefrom.

The media moguls keep the titillating deluge raining down on us day and night so you and I will pay no attention to the men behind the curtains (referencing The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland version) robbing us of billions and trillions of…your eyes are closing.

“Free will is an illusion. People always choose the perceived path of greatest pleasure.” Scott Adams

The perceived path of greatest pleasure. Hence, Las Vegas. Hence the election of Ronald Reagan and so many others of his kind to positions of great power over us. Hence the dominance of amoral bankers and hedge fund criminals who do grasp the terrible significance of redirecting trillions of dollars representing the collective wealth of the earth into the coffers of a relatively tiny number of Incredibly Greedy People.

What if those trillions had been wisely used for the good of everyone? Hard to imagine. Indeed, our minds boggle when we begin to imagine what our world might become should those stolen trillions ever be spent on reversing the current trends. Yes, our little hardwired breast and penis and food and sex and sports-loving little minds boggle when we try to envision a future in which all the clichés about freedom and equality and sharing the wealth come true. And that’s just how the overlords want our minds to be. Boggled.

Route 66

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

(Philanthropist painting by Nolan Winkler)

“If you ever plan to motor west,

Travel my way, take the highway that is best.

Get your kicks on route sixty-six.” Bob Troup

As I peruse the many articles decrying the ruination of towns and independent businesses by big box stores such as Walmart, and I read about Ukiah groveling at the feet of Costco and wasting millions of precious dollars to bring that destructive horror show to town, I recall that the largest assault on the remarkably diverse and egalitarian America of the 1960’s (egalitarian compared to America in 2013) was the construction of the Interstate Highway System, without which many of the fast food restaurants and chain stores and big box stores of today, not to mention much of suburbia, would never have come into being.

A popular television show of my childhood (1960-1964) was Route 66, a weekly hour-long drama about two handsome young men driving around America on Route 66 and having adventures with all kinds of different kinds of people in small towns and big towns and cities connected by that particular ribbon of highway. What I remember most clearly about the show was that the two guys—Martin Milner as Tod Stiles and George Maharis as Buz Murdock—drove a groovy Corvette convertible through cornfields and deserts and towns accompanied by beautiful dreamy traveling music (composed by Nelson Riddle and performed by his dreamy orchestra.)

The actual Route 66 was a 2500-mile highway that existed from 1926 until 1985 and ran from Santa Monica California to Chicago Illinois connecting thousands of pre-existing towns and cities in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois, most of those towns thriving as a result of the vastly increased commerce the highway brought them.

The Interstate Highway System, on the other hand, was designed to connect large population centers and bypass thousands of small and medium-sized towns, thus rendering them irrelevant to the larger economic forces driving the national and global economies. Many of those bypassed towns have since become ghost towns, while chain restaurants and motel chains and gas pumping stations (as opposed to service stations) have spread like cancers over our now freeway-crisscrossed land.

“President Eisenhower gave the nation its biggest construction project, the huge interstate-highway program that changed the shape of American society and made possible the expansion of the suburban middle class.” James M. Perry

Ah, the suburban middle class, as opposed to the rural or urban middle class. A friend of mine used to call the suburbs carburbia because living in the suburbs was virtually impossible without a car. Nowadays, I suppose, one could live in the suburbs, work and shop on the interweb, have everything delivered by UPS and not be totally dependent on automobiles, but if one could live that way why would one choose to live in an ugly culturally vapid suburb instead of in a groovy city or a splendiferous rural area? One probably wouldn’t.

“Our interstate highways make of America one gigantic assembly line of production.” Ellis Armstrong

I used to know a guy who drove a gigantic truck, the biggest truck allowable on the road, for a national chain of pizza parlors. He lived in eastern Kansas with his wife and three sons, but he was rarely home because the nature of his job was akin to being in the Merchant Marines. He would be away for two months at a stretch, home for two weeks, and then back out on the road for another two months, and so on. He truly worked on the “gigantic assembly line of production” for this pizza chain, and when he described his job to me I felt certain the world had gone mad.

He drove all over America, from California to Florida to Pennsylvania to Illinois to everywhere, picking up raw foodstuffs for assembling pizzas and salads and pasta dishes, as well as other supplies needed to stock a pizza parlor. He delivered these materials to a gigantic assembly plant somewhere in the middle of the country, and carried away from that plant hundreds of thousands of frozen pizzas and palettes of paper plates and napkins and salad mixes and soda pop and whatnot to be delivered to sub-stations around America from which smaller trucks would ferry the fixings to individual pizza parlors. And as my friend delivered the finished goods, so to speak, space would open up in his gigantic trailers and he would fill that space with more raw materials, and so on. Doesn’t it make you want to rush out and get a frozen pizza right now?

“Well! Evil to some is always good to others.” Jane Austen

I find it fascinating that so many Americans love going to Europe because so much of what used to be true about America is still true there. Small towns, little farms, ancient ways of life ongoing, cities with crooked streets, winding roads, trains going everywhere, all kinds of different kinds of people and ways of living existing side by side, so many people walking and riding bicycles and buying bread at local bakeries, every loaf unique. Lovely shops and bookstores and villages, herds of sheep in narrow lanes, donkeys braying, old picturesque churches, little museums and art galleries and fabulous food found in marvelous pubs and cafés and restaurants and inns, no two alike—richness and diversity!

Then these millions of Europe-adoring Americans come home and shop at big box stores and chains because why pay a dollar forty-nine for that can of tomato sauce at your neighborhood grocery store when you can get the same can of tomato sauce at Walmart for ninety-nine cents? Why pay fourteen dollars at your local bookstore (if you’re lucky enough to have such a thing) for the same book you can get on Amazon for 30% less? Why pay more? Why shop at your local stationery store (if you’re lucky enough to have one) when the same-sized envelopes, well, shit, you can get five hundred of those same-sized envelopes at Office Depot or Staples for practically nothing.

And these Europe-loving folk never seem to make the connection between the way they buy things in Europe and what they love about Europe—variety, surprise, depth, small, unique, locally grown, fresh! Nor do they connect the way they buy things in America and what they hate about America—sameness, blandness, stale, shallow, plastic, made somewhere else. Why, I wonder, don’t these people, some of them my dear friends, make the connection between where we buy things and the ongoing ruination of America and the world? Perhaps because we have become so enslaved to convenience and the illusion of paying less for more, that to admit our actions are the cause of the problem and then change our behavior would be too painful for us, too inconvenient, too costly.

“This place is great! You should franchise this.” exuberant tourist overheard in Mendocino’s Good Life Café and Bakery

Mendocino, for example, is a popular tourist destination largely because there are no chain restaurants here, no big box stores, no fast food, no Starbucks or McDonald’s or Taco Bell adorning the bluffs overlooking the mighty Pacific. The houses and storefronts are old and quaint, relatively speaking, and to fully enjoy the town and discover her secret charms one must walk around. Imagine. The best way to experience the European feel of the few square blocks in not-really-very-much-here Mendocino is to leave the car behind and stretch those legs. What a concept! I actually think walking around, that act alone, is a big part of what people like about coming to Mendocino. Forced out of their perpetual sitting positions, they end up enjoying how good moving their extremities makes them feel.

“Paris!” countless people have said to me. “We walked everywhere! It was glorious.”

“England! They have trains and buses that go everywhere. So many wonderful villages and small towns and winding country roads. We walked our butts off. Glorious!”

“Holland! We walked and rode bicycles everywhere! And the cheese! The bread! Glorious!”

Ditto Sweden, Spain, Italy, Germany, etc.

“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz

So the next time you pull into Trader Joe’s or Costco or Walmart or Staples or any of those places we go to save a few bucks, think about the Buddhist idea that we are the owners of our own karma, that we create our happiness and unhappiness through our actions and the choices we make, both as individuals and collectively. Then we might better understand that choosing to shop locally at one-of-a-kind stores is how we can help create a happier and more interesting reality right here at home.