new victors

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One month ago, I was a normal Netflix bingeing, Great British Baking Show watching homosexual man in his 40’s. I seek out, I binge and I move on. This is my philosophy for  television in the modern era. I have my things I love, the shows I’m on the fence about and the things that I know are crappy but I keep watching anyway. It all works for me that is until something throws my whole machine out of whack. The something we’re talking about here is the Olympics.

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I swam up-stream with everyone else into NBC’s river of self-congratulatory Go America Olympic Bullshit last week and my carefully curated television viewing habits have been thrown down the toilet. Instead of perusing PBS for documentaries about British castles, I now finding myself saying shit like,”I wonder what time badminton is on.” And it’s actually a lot of fun. I’m a sucker for person-against -all-odds storylines and the Olympics is overstuffed with them. I’ve cried like a baby when the women’s gymnastics team and Simone Manuel both took home gold medals last week. I’ve held my breath while watching incredibly tense beach volleyball matches. I’ve cheered as countries who’ve never medal suddenly walked home with the gold. It’s cool to see athletes and women and people from far-flung nations get recognition in primetime, an era usually devoted to men’s only sports.  While NBC’s abominable coverage could perhaps be bested by the all-stoner audio/visual club at my high school, the only real part of the Olympics that’s left a sour taste in my mouth is the bully narrative. Look to Kim/Kanye/Taylor. Look to that orange buffoon currently running for president. Look in the comments of any Gawker post. Bullies run the world and they are distinctly American in flavor. Sadly, our gnarly gift to humanity can be seen at the Olympics too. For every awe-inspiring female athlete, there was a Lilly King or a Hope Solo to remind the planet that no one does piss-poor competitor like Americans. U-S-A! U-S-A!

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All of this, in addition to a witnessing what a televised week-long Michael Phelps boner looks like, made me start thinking about what really makes a winner in 2016. While I have zero opinion about the participation ribbon generation currently cultivated on the kids’ soccer fields of the country, I do think our idea of a winner should probably change. If you frequent the halls of recovery or spend time with survivors of abuse or have lived through horrific natural disasters, it’s hard to stand up and cheer for entitled white kids from Ivy League schools. Winners, as it were, are actually all around us. A friend of mine who has been watching her husband fight for his life in a hospital for over a week sure looks like someone who deserves a medal to me. Ditto another friend who recently picked up a six month chip after several relapses and false starts. In every American neighborhood in every town, people are overcoming some badass shit and doing so with grace. Yet because of some dusty old stigmas we are still reluctant to talk about these sorts of victories. Hence maybe why during the 150 hour Phelps-fest his battle with alcohol was only mentioned once and only in voiceover by the announcer. His camp, as a matter of fact, doesn’t really mention it at all, as pointed out in this excellent Sports Illustrated piece. Which is too bad given what an openness around it by an athlete of his stature could do for the stigma of alcoholism. Unsurprising, to be sure, but none of it affects the winning going on everywhere, all of the time.

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What I’ve witnessed is that winning happens and not just every four years. Winning happens even without an inspiring Katy Perry ballad. Winning happens without the low emotional intelligence which requires making someone else a villain. Watching the Brazilian men’s team emotionally explode last night as they won their country’s first men’s gymnastics medals, I was reminded the feeling of victory,however, is pretty much the same. They held their breath, they cried, they couldn’t believe it was happening. I felt the same way when I picked up my one year chip after not thinking I could ever stay sober that long. And this, I suppose, is what still makes the Olympics great. We like to see one another win. We identify with overcoming the odds. We hang onto the hope that maybe we can win too. But, it should be pointed out, if you’ve finally gotten out of bed after a long depression, if you left a toxic relationship or if you’ve somehow manged to stay sober another day, you deserve a goddamn medal too.

 

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My Week In Pop Culture: Simply Red

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My week in pop culture probably looked a lot like yours. It was spent gobbling down episodes of season 4 of Orange is The New Black. Truth? I resisted this show in its early days. I was repelled by the very idea ( I mean another prison show?) and interviews with the author of the source material had me rolling my eyes into the back of my head. But two summers ago, I gave it a shot and I’ve been hooked since. The writers do some pretty magical stuff when it comes to having us not only relate to but fall in love with criminals who are far from model citizens. Season three was criticized for not having enough action and for being too literary and melancholy. Which is exactly what my Irish bookish ass loved about it. I thought the season finale was pure poetry.

Season four picks right up where it left off and the ride is nonstop from episode one. More intense, higher stakes and the no-holds-barred discussions on everything from rape to race to homosexuality to transphobia are fast-flying and brutally honest. But what the show is really about is people and relationships. As we started the season last week, Michael said, “Aww. I’ve missed all of these people!” Flaca, Sophia, Gloria, Lorna, Taystee aren’t just prisoners. They’re people, which might be the bigger point the show is trying to make. And people we’ve gotten to know and enjoy doing time with over the past four seasons.  For me, the one I find myself missing in the long year in between seasons is Red. Galina Reznikov, or Red, played with tough as nails Russian intensity by Kate Mulgrew, is the bad ass prison mama we would all want on our side if shit got real. And we’re lead to believe that Red is amazing cook which endures her to my heart even more.

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For all of her toughness and drolly dished out one-liners, Red is also a hotbed of raw emotions. From heartache to betrayal, we’ve seen Red go through a lot over the last four years. Mulgrew gamely takes on the task of letting Red become a three-dimensional character. She rarely lets her guard down but when it comes to addict and perpetual hot mess Nicky Nichols, she a fiercely protective mama bear.

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Nichols, played by Natasha Lyonne, is Red’s “daughter” on the inside. Red has seen Nicky struggle with drugs and is continually heartbroken when Nicky does what addicts do and lets her down. A lot of Nicky’s struggles with drugs are based on Lyonne’s own which I’m sure makes the performance even more powerful. Naturally, I identify with Nicky and Red. Who didn’t I let down when I was loaded? Who hasn’t had their heart-broken by an addict? And aren’t they’re thousands of us who want to help someone struggling with drugs or alcohol but don’t know how? As relapses sweeps through my own recovery community this summer, Red’s helplessness over Nicky’s addiction feels more timely than ever. Without giving anything away, I will say having this dynamic back is one of the few reasons I think this season is one of the best.

Another thing to love about Orange is The New Black is how it’s given a lot of overlooked actresses a real chance to shine. Mulgrew was previously known to most as Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager gets to sink her teeth into a character with a lot of layers. But it’s not just Mulgrew. Laura Prepon and Lori Petty’s characters are thrust head first into a really juicy storyline in season four which gives both actresses a chance to really knock our socks off. Prepon uses some dramatic chops we never saw coming when she was on That 70’s Show while Petty’s portrait of a woman struggling with mental illness is at once hilarious and devastating. The show also gives dozens of amazing Latina and black actresses a platform to do incredible work and become stars in their own right.

I have a handful of episodes left and I’m savoring them. By now, I’ve learned my lesson. I’m no Netflix novice. It’ll be a year until I get to spend time with the women of Litchfield again. Therefore, I’m taking my time. Elsewhere, in pop culture I’m reading my first Stephen King book. Okay. That’s a lie. I read On Writing like 15 years ago but nothing before or since. Yup. No The Shining. No Carrie. No Misery. But I’ve seen the movies? I know. It’s not the same thing. That’s why when I saw the first Dark Tower book and I grabbed it. Not usually my genre but I’m kind of open to whatever that isn’t the news these days so I’m giving it a shot. It’s good page turner stuff and has a bunch of wryly placed thoughts about God, revenge and isolation.I’ll let you know how it turns out.  Of course I watched the Game of Thrones finale and I loved it. Listen, this season is getting some flack about setting too many plots in motion but I feel like it set out to entertain and deliver the goods on long burning storylines and for me it did just that.

But what are you guys watching? What are your thoughts on OITNB? Tell me your GOT gripes! And lastly, give me a good juicy somewhat trashy summer book recommendation!

My Week in Pop Culture: Crap Therapy

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Kids,

My Week In Pop Culture is a new feature here on the Seanologues. Since I consume film, television, books and music like Pac-Man does little dots, I thought one weekly ramble about it would be cool. Each Sunday, I’ll tell you what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to and hopefully you’ll be inspired to do the same.

xo, S.

It’s been a week since my heart basically fell out of my ass. It’s been 7 days since I went to a meeting on Sunday morning feeling like a lost lamb with crying the only thing I was capable of doing. It’s been a week. Fuck has it.

 In addition to the people in my life who’ve graciously nestled me like a baby bird for seven days, I’ve relied on a lot of outside help. Meetings. Meditation. Prayer. Animals. Flowers. Chocolate. And lots of bad television and a juicy, trashy novel. I’d say they’re my guilty pleasures but in the words of the immortal Barbra Streisand, “We’ve got nothing to be guilty of.”  I mean I also love highfalutin arty stuff too. But it’s all about balance. Back in the day, in order to ease the pain of modern life I’d simply drink enough tequila and snort enough cocaine until I couldn’t feel anything. This is obviously a healthier route. After all, hours of reality TV never made me throw a shoe at someone or get kicked out of a bar. My Sunday ritual of Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley was entertaining although I kind of don’t remember them because I still felt pretty sad and numb.

Monday, I needed an extra heaping helping of brain rot. Enter Food Network Star. Now, by all accounts this show should probably be against the law seeing as it is solely responsible for thrusting the food and television plague that is Guy Fieri onto the global consciousness. Yet I can’t stop watching this bizarre combination of Star Search and Top Chef. The idea is that the contestants should be able to cook and be able to present themselves like cohesive human beings in order to win their own show on Food Network. Weirdly enough, they’ve cast some people who can barely do either. It makes for foodie trainwreck complete with the douchey guy obsessed with bacon, the scary skinny lady who wants to teach healthy eating and the sassy girl who speaks in Internet clichés. (Yaaasss, Tregay!) The whole thing about reality TV (spoiler alert!) is that they often pad the cast with people who make for good television but some of these people are so boring and so untalented that it almost has the opposite effect. Like Anna, for example. She apparently was a Real Housewife of Wherever the Hell but what she really wants to do is be  a chef. Uh. Okay. So boring and uncharismatic, Anna’s food must taste really incredible or she’s using some Miami via Stepford sort of mind control to stay in the competition. Really though, I think I actually watch Food Network Star to see itty-bitty judge Giada De Laurentiis make a stank face while she chokes down disgusting food and raise her perfectly waxed brow as the hot mess contestants try to present garbage to the camera.

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Speaking of food reality shows, I should probably attend a 12 Step meeting for Gordon Ramsay shows. Listen, I don’t even love Gordon Ramsay. I think his whole goofy empire of yelling at people cooking shows is really ridiculous. And people who think he’s sexy?gag

I’ve somehow managed to quit watching his other 187 shows but every year I get pulled into MasterChef. This summer is no exception. I caught the premiere and I’m toast for the rest of the season. Unlike the aforementioned culinary sideshow, MasterChef presents normal folks who can really cook. Or they tell us they can. This being television we can’t actually taste the food so the whole thing could be a big Milli Vanilli style lie but we trust our judges Christina Tosi and Gordon Ramsay. This season they’re doing faster eliminations, head to head cook-offs and have trimmed it down to just two judges allowing space for guest judges. This Wednesday kept the action moving while trimming the fat of contestants that seemed to be taking up space. It’s a better format so far but honestly if they held it in a swap meet parking lot and had six weeks of contestants frying corndogs I’d probably watch it and still love it.

Elsewhere this week, I watched more Girls reruns on HBO Now, continued my brain-sizzle with America’s Got Talent, caught up on movies for the new season of Sloshed Cinema and tore through a really juicy book. The novel in question is 2014’s Little Big Lies by Liane Moriarty. This Australian based potboiler is one party mystery, one part suburban confessional and all parts addictive. I haven’t finished it yet but am looking forward to doing so as I take a little train ride up to the mountains today. After reading several depressing ass books in a row about rape or World War II, Moriarty’s little elixir is just what I needed plus it’s really, really funny. Next year, you’ll see it as a series on HBO with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern. Can’t wait.

I’m writing a piece celebrating 30 years of Madonna’s True Blue so I listened to that a few times. This was a wise move. As a gay kid from the 1980’s Madonna is often my musical therapist during times of strife. From lip synching “Dress You Up” in my basement as a kid to voguing at gay dance clubs as a teenager, Madonna has always been there for me. This week was no exception. It occurred to me was that True Blue was the very beginnings of Madonna starting to develop a narrative as a pop artist and songwriter. I’ve got lots to say on this record but we’ll get into it (as well as the groove) next week when I publish it.

So the answer is no. No, the candy-coated dance songs of Madonna nor the delights of reality tv didn’t make my pain go away but they did help me move through a tough week. But that’s enough out of me. Please. Tell me what you’ve been reading, listening to or watching over the last week. Also, I wanna know what’s your go to movie or album when you feel terrible. Also, share with me some hidden pop culture treasure you’ve recently discovered. Finally, share with me your guilty pleasures. This your safe space to tell me the crap you unabashedly love. No judgement.