Life and Living: The Commonalities Between Snakes, Knives, and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Flirting with death? From l. to r. - Jamie Coots, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cody Coots.

Flirting with death? From l. to r. – Jamie Coots, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cody Coots.

     Now, they say that Blondes have more fun, but personally, I don’t think that’s true. In fact, it appears that some rural Kentuckians are having far more fun than even Blondes do; (ready for it?) indeed, more fun than they can shake a snake at! (Cue sad trombone.) Why else would someone want to risk their life doing something, even after their own father has lost his life in the very same way?

     That’s what Cody Coots, the new pastor of the Middlesboro, Kentucky “Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name” church, says that he’s prepared to do. (1) For those of you, my fine young readers, that aren’t familiar with the story, we’ll climb into the proverbial Chronosphere, and like Jonathan LaPaglia on the late-nineties show, jump back seven days…

     Last Saturday, Middlesboro, Kentucky pastor Jamie Coots lost his life, having been bitten by one of the poisonous snakes that he and fellow attendees of the Full Gospel Tabernacle are so fond of messing with in the “name of Jesus.” (2) They believe that, according to bible passage Mark 16:18, if their faith is strong, that those pesky little snakebites won’t hurt them at all;

“They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
(Mark 16:18, KJV)

     Now, I’ve suggested in the days since that either the Bible is wrong, that Pastor Coots misinterpreted it, or that he wasn’t “anointed” in the first place. Indeed, during my initial flirtations with this topic on Facebook, one of my friends even suggested that the elder Coots had been “released from his calling,” to which I responded with a reference to Romans 11:29, which basically states that God doesn’t “issue recalls.” The debate, though, isn’t quite about that. The true crux of the issue here, in my own not-so-humble opinion, is once again, where faith meets religion, and religion’s never-ending propensity for the misapplication of faith…or does the “rabbit hole” go even deeper?

     Another friend once told me that the Bible is a “scary” thing. I don’t think so. The Bible, in and of itself, is just a book. This book cannot act of its own volition, can it? No. It requires a human element to use it, whether that be for good or ill. In that discussion, I likened the Bible to a kitchen knife. As everyone knows, a kitchen knife is a tool, designed and purposed to aid in the preparation of food for consumption. We don’t fear kitchen knives, do we? If I take a paring knife out and set it on the counter next to an apple, will that knife jump up, and cut my apple into several neat, little slices for me to eat? Likewise, will it jump up and stab someone? No, but it can be used to those ends! Once again, it requires the interaction of a person. In my opinion, some degree of accountability must be assigned to the person or people who are using the tool.

     Cody Coots has said that if he gets bitten by the snake, then he, like his father, will decline emergency treatment. He states that if he dies, then it must be “God’s will.” (Question: if there is a gun on the table that one knows is loaded and has a round in the chamber, and one picks up that gun, points it at their head and says, “If I die when I pull this trigger, then it’s God’s will,” and then pulls the trigger and dies, whose will was it actually that this person died?)

     Personal accountability. It’s something that, quite honestly, is fading fast in America. In 1968, then-Governor Ronald Reagan mused on this concept during a speech to the Republican National Convention when he stated;

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

     So, at what point do we hold a person or group of people accountable for their actions? In the course of asking this question, I’m reminded of the recent, tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Now, before anyone starts accusing me of trying to “capitalise on the death of a good and decent man,” please read on a bit.

     As a lot of you know, Hoffman was found in his West Village, Manhattan apartment back on the 2nd of this month, dead of a Heroin overdose. Several small bags were found, and Hoffman died with a needle in his vein. (3) Since that day, those following and commenting on the sad story, have done what people often do; play the “blame game,” and attempt to find some kind of meaning in an otherwise meaningless death. They blame the drug. They blame the pusher. They blame the stresses of celebrity life…but does anyone ever place even a smidgen of the blame for Hoffman’s demise…on Hoffman?

     This needle, like any other needle I suspect, would not have been able to simply jump up and enter Hoffman’s arm. His supplier didn’t dose him, nor did any other Tinseltown actor or agent. No, Philip Seymour Hoffman did this to himself, knowing full well the dangers of what he was doing. The sooner we acknowledge this, the better we’ll be at viewing things like this objectively. Of course, there will still be those select few who, like Coots and progeny, will blame their own and others’ ill-fated actions on everyone else, including their God.

 

The Chaser: A Thing of Beauty Is A Treasure Forever

Marina Abramovic and Ulay, in 2010.

Marina Abramovic and Ulay, in 2010.

     No matter how I try to preface this article, the words that I type seem to ring hollow, and do the subject of this piece no true justice. So, my fine young readers, I’ll just get right to it.

     In 1976, performance artist Marina Abramović moved to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. It was there, after a tumultuous and sometimes near-fatal early career, that she met German performance artist Uwe Laysiepen, who goes by the shortened “Ulay”. The two of them commenced a twelve-year relationship that was more often than not a strained and problematic proposition, due to the two artists’ competing egos. In 1988, Ulay and Marina decided that they had had enough.

     As an end to their career together, as well as their personal relationship, they decided to take a spiritual journey of sorts, walking the Great Wall of China, one from each end, meeting in the middle and saying their goodbyes. Marina later reflected on the journey;

“That walk became a complete personal drama. Ulay started from the Gobi Desert, and I from the Yellow Sea. After each of us walked 2500 km, we met in the middle and said good-bye.” “We needed a certain form of ending, after this huge distance walking towards each other. It is very human. It is in a way more dramatic, more like a film ending … Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do.”

     Flash forward twenty-two years. In 2010, as part of a Marina Abramović retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, Marina performed a piece named, “The Artist is Present”, in which Marina sat at a table and shared a minute of silence with participants. On the opening night of the performance, Ulay made a surprise appearance.

     While it is true that the two had been in contact sporadically over the years, and had also met and spoke the morning of the opening, it was during Marina’s performance that those in attendance could bear witness to something that doesn’t happen often enough, and with such poignant beauty; when the line between art and life gets whisked away like chalk on a breeze, and art becomes life…and vice versa. In that singular moment in which Marina’s eyes met Ulay’s, and in the minute that followed, a lifetime of experiences and emotions could be read within Marina’s tearful gaze. Pieces performed together, emotions shared. The walk on the Great Wall. Love, life and pain; all in the span of seconds.

     People often wonder if it is possible to have a meaningful conversation with someone, sans spoken words. I say yes, it is definitely possible. The video clip below is proof of that. Whenever I find myself in doubt of humanity, and people’s capacity to feel something honest and real, I find myself drawn back to this three and a half-minute reminder.

Life and Living: The Pain Left Behind…

Malinda Gayle "Mindy" McCready - (1975 - 2013)

Malinda Gayle “Mindy” McCready –
(1975 – 2013)

“Through early morning fog, I see
visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me,
I realize and I can see…”
(“Suicide Is Painless”, by Johnny Mandel and Michael Altman, from the 1970 movie, “M*A*S*H”.)

     After reading this evening’s news, I felt I had to write something. I simply couldn’t allow these events to remain in the “complete waste” bucket. Earlier today, 37-year-old country music artist Mindy McCready, after a years-long battle with manic depression and substance abuse, took her own life. She leaves behind two children, the youngest one a mere ten months young. One of the most tragic aspects of this story, is that this child just lost his father last month, in the exact same place and in the exact same way.

     Trying hard. See, I don’t want this piece to be just another one of the plethora of commentaries that have already been written on the subject of suicide, because it seems that, though we writers and opiners do our best to comment on it and dissuade people from going down that road, people still take their own lives. The depression, stress and / or hopelessness overwhelms whatever positive aspects mark out a person’s life, and they succumb to the darkness of their despair.

     My fine, young readers, I will now share something with you that I have as of yet, left unshared here. I have indeed contemplated “ending it all”, on a few occasions. I know I’m not alone in this, because I’ve done the research and read the studies on how many people who state that they have contemplated suicide. I know that depression can become a “force to be reckoned with”, and that situations can take on a gargantuan and insurmountable appearance. Yes folks, I have “been there, thought about that.”

     Needless to say, I’m still here. Not only am I still here, I’m glad of the fact! (If I wasn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this!) I yet draw breath, and will do so for the foreseeable future, because I love and am loved. I’m a family man, and have been since the late eighties. Had I decided to follow through with those hasty, yet intense thoughts while in the grips of depression, what would have become of my family? How would they cope with my premature departure? Short answer…not well.

     What does taking one’s own life accomplish? For the dearly departed, it might indeed be a guaranteed end to perceived problems. What do the dead care for the concerns of the living? (I know that sounds pretty callous, but please let me digress just a bit…) Once a person is gone, so are the problems that are, or were bringing them such pain and despair, right? Wrong. More often than not, those problems just get foisted off onto those left behind to clean up the mess while mourning us at the same time, and it also creates a host of new difficulties as well. In addition, I can’t help but think of the many suicide attempts that have less-than-successful results, (as if death could realistically be considered a “success”!) leaving the person severely disabled and creating additional hardships for those entrusted with their long-term care needs.

     Within the last few years, suicide rates among American service members have taken a drastic and unfortunate upswing. In the midst of this increase, the commanding general of Fort Bliss, MG Dana Pittard, opined in January of 2012 that suicide was “an absolutely selfish act.” General Pittard later came under fire for his opinions, and was pressured to retract his statements. (1) I however, am not as bound by the influence and opinions of certain congressmen, (yes Congressman Thomas Rooney, I’m referring to you!) so I’ll carry on where Dana left off. Yes, suicide is an act which is ultimately selfish by its nature. Those of us that have walked up to the edge of that cliff and peered over the edge into the abyss will readily admit that fact, if we’re to be entirely honest with ourselves and with others! What does a person think about when they’re sitting there, with the proposed “McGuffin” of their dramatic plot in their grasp? Where are their thoughts centered? I’m here to tell you that the majority of personal identifiers in that monologue are either “me”, “my”, “mine” or “I”.

     Here’s the thing, ladies and gentlemen. There are those of us out here, that have made it our lot in life and our mission, to listen. We understand that no one person is meant to be an island unto themselves. No matter how alone a person feels, they’re not truly alone. Given that there are over 300 million people in this country alone, the chances are that there’s at least a hundred other people if not more, that have the same general concerns as you do. Out of that hundred, at least ten of those would take the time to listen. (At least I would hope so, and that’s yet another key idea; to find, have and hold onto hope, for dear life!)

     If you’re reading this while finding yourself in that most dire of situations, the first thing I’ll tell you is don’t do it. It might seem like the “easy solution”, but in reality it’s anything but. While it might seem hard, start making a list of the reasons to stick around. Things you want to do, places you want to see, people you might like to meet someday. No, don’t say that it will never happen, because you can’t tell the future. (If you could, you’d be doing three shows a night in Las Vegas, and making a fortune!) No one knows for certain just what the future may hold, and that desperate situation you’re in right now may be, or may give way to opportunities that you hadn’t even considered. There’s always that chance. Yes, there’s always a chance.

Arts and Entertainment: These Rainy Days and Mondays…

Karen Anne CarpenterMarch 2, 1950 - February 4, 1983.

“Sing, sing a song;
make it simple,
to last your whole life long…

Don’t worry that it’s not good enough
for anyone else to hear,
just sing…sing a song.”
(The Carpenters, “Sing” c1973, A&M Records. Written by Joe Raposo.)

     It’s been thirty years to the day since a star fell from the sky, and was mourned by a multitude. You see, this wasn’t just any star… it was Karen Carpenter. Karen had been suffering from a condition called “Anorexia Nervosa” through most of the mid and late-70’s, but was beginning to finally come to grips with her condition. Unfortunately her heart had sustained too much damage in the course of the disorder, and on a cold Friday, the fourth of February, 1983, Karen left us all.

     Karen left us, but she did not leave us empty-handed. What she left us with is a timeless body of work which transcends mere music; it’s lessons for life. Each note, phrase, syllable and word speaks to a part of life that too many have simply forgotten how to express in a meaningful way; love. In fact, most of the songs in The Carpenters’ discography are about the many ways that one person expresses love for others, and themselves. I think the saddest part of this is that Karen, like so many people in the world, didn’t or couldn’t follow her own advice, the same advice that her music was conveying to others. For some reason that may forever remain unbeknownst to us, she couldn’t love herself  just the way she was.

“I’ve been on this lonely road so long,
does anybody know where it goes?
I remember the last time the signs pointed home,
a month ago…”
(The Carpenters, “Road Ode” c1972, A&M Records. Written by Gary Sims and Dan Woodhams.)

     Therein lies the tragic nature of her premature departure from life. There’s an almost unanimous agreement among audiophiles, that Karen’s vocal talent was on a completely different level, one that very few artists ever achieve. Although most of the songs in The Carpenters’ repertoire were written by other songwriters, only Karen could convey the full measure of their emotional depth. With this incredible vocal gift, coupled with her percussion abilities and the keyboard and vocal acumen of brother Richard, The Carpenters became a veritable household name in the early to mid seventies, at a time when their music was exactly the salve that a nation, just coming out of the turbulence of the sixties and an increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam, needed to aid in the long process of healing.

“Bless the beasts and the children, for in this world they have no voice;
They have no choice…
Bless the beasts and the children, for the world can never be…
the world they see…”
(The Carpenters, “Bless The Beasts and The Children”, c1971, A&M Records. Written by Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr.)

     Karen and Richard’s music remains just as relevant today, as it was back in the seventies and eighties. In this modest blogger’s own humble opinion, we could learn a lot from listening to The Carpenters. (I did, growing up on “Carpenters”, “Close To You”, “A Song For You” and “Now & Then”, played on the old console turntable. I’ve taken those ideas and commentaries on life and love, and have applied them in my own life and relationships.) If people could just stop in their daily “sturm und drang” and listen to a few of the songs from Karen’s catalogue, I know that their lives would be enriched for having done so.

     These are the gifts that Karen left us, these are her greatest legacy; the millions of lives that she touched with her music. Lives enriched by love, and a love of music. Although she left us at a still youthful thirty-two years of age, her legacy embodies that most important of adages; “It’s not the years in your life that count…it’s the life in your years.” So today, if only for a few minutes…sing. Take a page from the Karen Carpenter songbook, and a tune first made famous on Sesame Street. Sing a song.

“Sing, sing a song,
sing out loud, sing out strong;
Sing of good things, not bad.
Sing of happy, not sad…”

~ Karen Anne Carpenter – March 2nd, 1950 – February 4th, 1983. ~
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant en pace. Amen.

Faith and Religion: Faith Beyond Reason?

TLDR ADVISORY: The following article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers.

Bridging the gap...?

Bridging the gap…?

     Ah, another relaxing dies Solis. A cup of coffee, browser tabs open to the major news purveyors of the day, and what do we find? Blog fodder! (Huzzah, happy face!) Fox News aired a segment this past Friday, in which one of their hosts presented a ten-minute piece on whether a belief in God was “reasonable”. Appearing in the three-person interview were atheist Nick Fish and believer Dr. Alex McFarland, discussing concepts such as morality, along with the presence of theological and logical “holes” in each side’s argument for and against the existence of a God. (1)

     A little less than a hundred words in…can you already see my issue with this Fox segment? If you can’t, don’t stress. I’m about to expound on this in my usual candid and pragmatic fashion. The problem as I see it, my fine young readers, is this; discussions and debates such as this cannot be had in a mere ten minutes, especially when at least two to three of those precious minutes are taken up by the hostess, who really needed to just shut up and let these two chat! No, the debate between Atheism and Theism needs a far better venue than Faux News, and immensely more time than ten minutes.

     In 2007, ABC-Nightline’s Martin Bashir hosted a similar debate in which actor Kirk Cameron and his partner, author and evangelist Ray Comfort, debated the existence of God with Brian Sapient and Kelly O’Connor, two guests from the atheist “Rational Response Squad” organisation. (2) This debate lasted about an hour and a half, and in the end did little to answer the question in a definitive manner. Given this, one might ask the question, “Well, how long does it take to reckon out through discussion, the existence of a divine power, and whether belief in that divine power is a reasonable reaction to what we are able to discern with our five senses?” Honestly, this debate has been going on since science began disproving long-held church dogmas regarding the nature and workings of the universe, so the answer to this decidedly complex question might not be such a simple one.

     What I will do within the limited space of this article is present my own thoughts regarding faith, whether that faith is reasonable, and whether God’s existence can be proven, not necessarily in this order. Let’s start with what I believe, and why I’m persuaded to believe it…

     I believe in the existence of God. I believe that “he” created everything in this universe, both observable and unobservable. Why do I believe this? I believe this because I also believe what I’m seeing when I look up into the night sky, and see what astronomer Edwin Hubble saw; that there are billions upon billions of stars up there, along with a plethora of other galaxies that are moving away from us. I believe that our observations indicate that we live in an expanding universe and, if we press “stop” and “reverse” on the universal remote, that contraction leads right back to one single point; one “primordial atom” as described by Father Georges Lemaître back in the 1920’s – 1930’s. Science refers to this point as a “singularity”, and by my reckoning, that singularity had to come from somewhere. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about the Big Bang. Scientific observation and theory strongly suggest that the universe started from a singularity; immensely dense, immensely hot, within which was contained the four basic forces that we now observe in nature;

  • Gravity
  • Electro-magnetism
  • Strong Nuclear
  • Weak Nuclear

     There’s another reason that I’m led to believe in the existence of a divine intervening force in the universe; the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law of physics states that in an isolated system, entropy must increase. Plainly put, order cannot come from chaos, only chaos from order. In order to get order out of chaos, there has to be an intervening factor, and I believe that this factor…is God. How else does one explain the level of order that we observe in our universe, especially when the universe is supposed to have started from an ordered singularity? By all rights, if the Second Law were to hold true, we shouldn’t even be here.

     Granted, this is all based upon my limited understanding of these scientific concepts, and my beliefs are based upon indirect inference. Then again, a lot of science is also based upon indirect observation and subsequent inference, isn’t it? We didn’t witness the Big Bang directly, did we? No, but we can directly observe certain aspects of its aftermath with tools such as the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, thereby inferring that this is most likely what occurred.

     Which brings us to the next question; is my belief in God a reasonable one? I believe that it is, due to the fact that I’m basing my belief on not only the religious, biblical information that I was raised on, but also on observable, scientific principles. I also believe that, for my belief to be reasonable, it must be subject to the acceptance of new information as it’s presented. In other words, I’m “keeping an open mind”. The more I learn, the more info I have to go on. If new information contradicts what I believe, especially if that information is directly observable, I have to admiss it if I’m being truly reasonable. I believe that where faith becomes unreasonable, is when the believer refuses to admiss things like gravity, the speed of light through a vacuum, things that we can directly observe and prove. (See my previous article on “Young-Earth Creationism”.) In my not-so-humble opinion, willful ignorance is never a reasonable basis for faith.

     Can I prove that God exists, scientifically? No, no more or less than the atheist can prove that God doesn’t exist, and that’s where I think Cameron / Comfort got it wrong. By its very design, faith in God, Christ and salvation must come down to exactly that; a matter of faith. Faith is a leap, one that transcends the known and knowable. Much of science also requires this leap, due to the fact that things like evolution and the Big Bang cannot be proven, only inferred by indirect observation. So readers, I leave the final question to you; is faith beyond reason?

Parental Atrocities: Et tu, Lifetime? Tsk, Tsk…

Dance Moms ad poster, and owner / instructor Abby Miller

     In early September of last year, I wrote an article regarding what I then referred to as the “overt sexualization of small children,” which focused on the TLC reality show “Toddlers & Tiaras.” It would seem that the “powers-that-be” behind reality television did not take any socially productive lessons away from last year’s debacle over fake boobs, butts and prostitute costumes. Now, A&E Television Networks’ “Lifetime” has joined the disgusting fraternity of cable channels airing content that sexualises children for profit. Some of my fine, young readers already know what I’m alluding to; last Tuesday’s episode of “Dance Moms.”

     First, please allow me to present a bit of back story: Lifetime is a jointly-owned subsidiary of A&E Networks, ownership being divided amongst the Hearst Corporation (42.5% stake), the Disney-ABC Television Group (42.5% stake) and NBCUniversal (15% stake).(1) The show “Dance Moms” follows the exploits of dance instructor and school matron Abby Lee Miller, the owner / operator of the Abby Lee Dance Company in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania as she instructs young girls in the art of dance.(2)

     On last Tuesday’s episode titled “Topless Showgirls,” the students were in a local dance competition, performing a burlesque routine taught to them by Miller, while wearing what a Fox News article on the matter describes as, “barely-there sparkly flesh-colored bras and panties to give the illusion of nudity.” In the process of training the girls, some as young as eight years in age, Ms. Miller could be heard describing the attitude she wanted conveyed by the girls as, “I’m hot, I’m mean, you can’t have me, you can’t afford me!” The article also noted that, while several of the parents expressed what was referred to as “horror” regarding the costumes and dance number being performed, not one of them took any action on those concerns. Miller stated during the episode that the parents’ concerns were, “…ridiculous because all they’re worried about is their kids and their bodies and blah blah. Once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. This is show business, kid.” Miller also went on to refer to the costumes as “stunning” and “harmless,” stating that “…everyone in the industry knows the girls are completely covered.”

     Since the episode aired, various professionals in the fields of psychology and human behavior have expressed concerns over the relation between this type of apparent sexualisation of minors, and pedophiles / pedophelia. (3)

     This is show business, kid. During a 2006 interview on “Inside The Actors Studio,” comedian Dave Chappelle unabashedly expressed his opinion that the entertainment industry (“Hollywood”) environment was psychologically unhealthy;

     [Chappelle:] “So, let me ask you this; what is happening in Hollywood, that a guy that tough (speaking about Martin Lawrence) will be on the street, waving a gun, screaming “They are trying to kill me”? What’s going on? Why is Dave Chappelle going to Africa? Why does Mariah Carey make a 100M-dollar deal, then take her clothes off on TRL? Is it….a weak person cannot get to sit here and talk to you. Ain’t no weak people talking to you. So what is happening in Hollywood? Nobody knows. The worst thing to call somebody is “crazy.” It’s dismissive. “I don’t understand this person.” So they’re “crazy.” That’s bullshit. These people are not crazy. They’re strong people. Maybe that environment (Hollywood)…is a little sick.” (Chappelle’s critique of the issues in the industry received a standing ovation from the crowd at Pace University that night.)(4)

     Other celebrities have also voiced concerns regarding problems with the entertainment industry, and its penchant for child “sexploitation,” including veteran actress Allison Arngrim, who portrayed Nellie Oleson on “Little House on The Prairie.” Katherine Heigl has also voiced an opinion on this particular story, having taken to her own weblog at iVillage and stating that she;

     “…watched with open-mouthed amazement as girls as young as seven were encouraged to dress provocatively and shimmy around a stage doing a dance performance that could just as easily been a burlesque routine. I kept thinking all these girls were missing is a pole! I was also horrified by the way their instructor spoke to them when she felt they weren’t up to snuff. It was demeaning, belittling, and downright unkind.”(5)

     [SOAPBOX=ON] As with last year’s “Toddlers & Tiaras” episode, I once again find myself quite appalled at the depths that cable television and reality tv will plumb, all in the name of “entertainment.” I don’t find anything remotely entertaining in a woman (Abby Lee Miller) who appears to believe that it is perfectly acceptable, not only to parade young girls in front of others while scantily dressed, but to also convey ideas of sexuality to them that are in no way, age-appropriate! (“I’m hot, I’m mean, you can’t have me, you can’t afford me!”) “Have me”? “Afford me”? I wonder if Ms. Miller would care to explain to a seven-year-old exactly what “having” and “affording” actually mean in that context! In my not-so-humble opinion, Ms. Abby Lee Miller is one sick individual. She is not in an “effed-up situation,” she is an effed-up situation! How it is that any parent would entrust their young child to her care and tutelage, is mind-boggling to say the least.

     Also, Lifetime television must bear an equal amount of culpability in this instance. Like TLC last year, Lifetime has given us a real-time, high-definition video “how-to” guide on the sexual exploitation of our youth. It is no wonder that the entertainment industry in this country is a “sick” environment, as Dave Chappelle so astutely described it, when you have a major cable network partnering with a woman who is this nonchalant where the impressionability and vulnerabilities of young children are concerned! Shame on you, Lifetime! When Lifetime started out, it was a combination of the Hearst Daytime network, devoted to women’s programming, and Viacom’s “Cable Health Network,” which was devoted to health and wellness programming. My, how the times have changed, I guess! Lifetime has evidently done a complete one-eighty in the intervening 28 years.

     In closing, there are a few other peculiarities and thoughts that I have regarding this story. For one, I have yet to see a firm public statement from the Parents Television Council regarding last Tuesday’s episode of “Dance Moms.” Where are they on this one, especially in light of the rapidity with which they pounced on the “T&T” issue last year? (I put a call in to PTC President Tim Winter on this…a call that has yet to be returned.) Also, it should be noted that Disney (remember Disney? They own a 42.5% share of Lifetime…) has a poor track record of looking after the emotional and psychological well-being of its own stable of child actors. Now, they find themselves with a 42.5% tie to yet another issue of child exploitation. (Another “eyebrow-raiser.”)

______________________________

     PS: As this realisation was important enough to share on Facebook, it bears just as much applicability here…the realisation that this story, and the previous one regarding Jordan Powers, are related. In a society where the overt sexploitation of our youth has become so acceptable that networks such as TLC and Lifetime have no qualms in airing it, situations such as the one that Jordan Powers is in become all but an inevitability, due to the impetus and encouragement that is being provided to the predators…predators such as James Hooker.

The Chaser: Poor Samwise…

Frodo goes a little bonzo-seco...

     In the wake of last night’s 84th Academy Awards show, it occurred to me that since 2003, there hasn’t been a film nearly as good as The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King. On the night of February 29th, 2004, RoTK came away with all eleven of the Oscars that it was nominated for, including Best Picture.

     Every so often, I’ll sit with either my wife, my son or my daughter, (or all three!) and do the “LoTR Marathon” thing, where we watch all three of the boxed set, extended versions of the films. Once in a while, I’ll even cue up the “Appendices” documentaries. It was during the latest round of viewings, that something occurred to me…

     In the scene immediately following Frodo’s defeat of Gollum / Smeagol and destruction of the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, Frodo and Sam have just beat a hasty exit from within the volcano as it begins to erupt around them. After diving onto a rock outcropping, Frodo looks around, begins to smile, sighs and tells Samwise, “It’s gone, Sam!” It is at this moment that Samwise Gamgee gives Frodo a “look.” Maybe you know the look I’m referring to, but just in case you don’t, here it is in full high-def color:

I can't believe I actually WANTED to come on this vacation!

     If we could slow down time and read Sam’s mind in that split-second before he says, “Yes Mr. Frodo, it’s over now,” what would we hear? Given everything that Samwise had endured up to that point, I have a pretty good idea. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…Samwise’s Rant:

     (Frodo) “It’s gone, Sam!”

     (Samwise) “Really? Are you (expletive) serious? After everything we just went through, now you want to get all smiles and blissful? Maybe you hadn’t noticed, but we’re sitting on the side of an erupting volcano! The only one in all of Middle (expletive) Earth, might I add, mister “the ring is mine”! Oh, and by the way, thanks a whole hell of a lot for dragging that scraggly, puke-smelling wretch with us the whole way! I tried telling you that guy was bad news, but oh no, Mister “Buh…buh….but we need a guide!” You just had to have your pet frogman, didn’t you? Let him drag our sorry (expletives) all over hell and gone, climb this mountain, slog through that swamp, only to have him conk me over the (expletive) head with a rock! Drag my sorry (expletive) hundreds of miles away from my comfy Hobbit hole, just for you to go all “Charlie Manson” on me right at the end and want to keep that accursed (expletive) piece of demonic “bling”! I could be back in the Shire, making some serious (expletive) time with Rosie Cotton right now! But no! I’m about to get my (expletive) burned off by hot, boiling lava. Thanks a lot, mister “muahaha! the ring is mine”! (I can’t actually believe I wanted to come on this trip with you! I swear, if by some miracle we get out of this mess, next time we find a ring, I’ll hock that (expletive) piece of jewelry, use the money to go to Disney-(expletive)-land and leave your (expletive) back home in Bag-End! Let you trim your own Ficus plants! I can’t believe I let that old pointy-hatted, grey-bearded (expletive) talk me into this!) Sheesh!”

     Poor Sam.

Life and Living: Forever? For EVER Ever?

...let no one put asunder...

     When I married my wife back in 1988, we vowed that we would spend the rest of our lives together. Since then, we have been through some of the most difficult times that a married couple can go through, we’ve weathered the storms, and we’ve done it together. After 23 years, we’re still going strong.

     Earlier today, news broke in the world of entertainment that Sinead O’Connor is disolving her fourth marriage, after only sixteen days. That’s sixteen days, my fine young readers. The reason she gave for this dissolution was due to “intense pressure placed upon him by certain people in his life, not to be involved with me.” So, bowing to that “intense pressure,” Ms. O’Connor ends a marriage that began a mere sixteen days ago, in the back of a pink Cadillac in Las Vegas. Chalk up yet another in a long procession of examples of the decimation of the institution of marriage in a traditional sense.(1)

     What gets me, my fine young readers, is that when something like this happens, the only thing that we hear from the “Religious Right” is the sound of wind and tumbleweeds. When a gay couple wants to get married and honestly spend the rest of their lives together however, all of a sudden the clamoring and sabre rattling of the right becomes deafening, with cries about some supposed concept of the “sanctity of marriage.”

     In my opinion, the “sanctity of marriage” in the 21st century is not some broad standard that can be legislated and applied to the populous as a whole, especially in light of the plethora of frivolous nuptials being undertaken by people in the public spotlight. From Kim Kardashian’s 72-day whirlwind matrimony,(2) to such short nuptials as those of J-Lo, Drew Barrymore, Nicholas Cage, Britney Spears…the list is as long as it is ridiculous.(3) The sad thing about all of this is the increasing way in which life imitates art, insomuch as there are young people (and some not-so-young!) in the general populous that take their cues from their idols in the Hollywood microcosm. The example coming from the entertainment industry? That marriage is a frivolity, shouldn’t be taken seriously and can be entered into and exited from like a fast-food restaurant or a building with one of those cool revolving doors. Bleh!

     Evidently, marriage has various levels of “sanctity” (if were talking in terms of inviolability) from person to person. For me, it definitely means spending the rest of my life with the woman I fell in love with in 1987. It means making a lifelong commitment to each other, come what may. Anything short of that, in my opinion, is WOMBAT. Why go through the whole process of getting married, when you don’t really love the other person in that way to begin with? Maybe it’s a problem with the definition of love. Maybe fewer and fewer people, especially in the entertainment industry, don’t know what love really is or can’t differentiate between it and simple infatuation. As a result, they get married for “all the wrong reasons.”

     Given my 20+ years of experience, I’ll leave you all with a piece of advice, something that some may disagree with. Each person in a marriage should be able to be a complete person on their own. True, your spouse should complement and enhance you, and vice versa. It is perfectly fine however, to be your own individual self, without needing your spouse to assist with every breath; that’s called co-dependancy, and is unhealthy. Likewise, it’s perfectly acceptable to have your own hobbies, likes and dislikes. For instance, my wife collects and reads romance novels. It’s not really my thing. While she reads, I blog. Yes, we have things we share in common, like woodworking. (One of my Valentine’s Day gifts to her was a DeWalt orbital sander, her’s to me was a Delta table saw!) What I’m getting at is that he or she does not need to be interested in everything that you are, and that’s okay. A good marriage lets each of you be your own person…together!

The Chaser: Declining Family Values?

Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore

     The moral decline of America has been a subject that I’ve hinted at here and there, an inkwell that I’ve dipped my pen into at times, in the process of penning other articles. I’ve never really dove headlong into this pool…until now.

     I just read an article by one Nicole Fabian-Weber on “The Stir” at Cafe Moms, regarding the much-publicised split between Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. It seems that the former’s three daughters have come up with (what Ms. Fabian-Weber seems to think is) a “hilarious new nickname” for the actor with whom they have otherwise had an amicable family relationship these past years. This hilarious new nickname? “Major Offensive Di%^head.” (The acronym “MOD” had been previously attributed to Kutcher by the girls, as short for “my other dad.”)(1)

     Now folks, there is some solid justification for the angst felt by the girls. It seems that when they confronted Kutcher regarding his marital infidelity, he purposefully lied to them and denied that he had engaged in such behaviour. Now that the truth has been exposed, the girls want nothing to do with him, despite numerous attempts by Kutcher to contact them. In short, the whole thing is just tragic.

     (SOAPBOX=ON) In all actuality, I had already stepped up on the soapbox with that last sentence there, hadn’t I? What really bugs me about the whole thing is not so much that the Ashton Kutcher / Demi Moore marriage is failing, or that the kids are caught up inside the swirling vortex. While these things are quite tragic to be sure, the worst thing in this particular situation is people like Nicole Fabian-Weber, sitting on the sidelines while encouraging the spectacle. According to her on-line author’s bio, Ms. Fabian-Weber does not have children of her own.(2) (A quick perusal of her past “Stir” articles however, yielded one in which she claims to have become pregnant in August of this year. Hopefully, her progeny never have to go through this stuff!) To me, this is somewhat like a Monday morning quarterback, commenting on the offense while having never laid hands on the pigskin themselves. Personally, I find nothing “hilarious” about either the repurposed acronym, or the situation that brought about its usage. Forgiveness and healing may come in time, however in my own not-so-humble opinion, nothing about columns and stories such as Nicole Fabian-Weber’s serves to foster healing or forgiveness by any measure. At the tail-end of her article, Ms. Fabian-Weber does present the questions; “Do you feel bad for Demi’s kids? Do you find this nickname amusing?” My answers to both are emphatically yes, I do feel bad for the kids, and no I do not find this amusing in any way, shape or form.

     I personally know a couple that has been married for over twenty years, with three wonderful children. Two of the three children, both boys, were born within the first two and a half years of the relationship. In the first eight years of their marriage, the husband had numerous extramarital affairs, twelve in total. These affairs caused an immeasurable strain on the marriage and family, but there were also a few factors present in this marriage that apparently were not present in the Kutcher / Moore marriage: honesty, forgiveness and a willingness to communicate meaningfully. Due to these things, the marriage withstood the storms and, in the course of time and healing, another child, this one a baby girl, was born into the family. Now, had this family disolved earlier on due to issues of infidelity and communication failures, this bright and beautiful girl’s life may never have become a reality. This family is one of simple means, but is highly functional and loving. The family of which I speak…is my own.

     We can look around and see a society where strong and lengthy marriages are all but overlooked, while all of the emphasis and attention are given to failed relationships such as the Kutcher / Moore situation. We vicariously revel in the dysfunctional lives of people like the Kardashians, where the concept of “marriage” is reduced to a seventy-two-day farcical thing, while giving no credit to those whose lives and relationships embody true strengths. As a result, our society languishes. The masses continuously covet horseapples, while leaving the gemstones in the rivers of life. This is the saddest part of it all.

Arts and Entertainment: Perpetuating The Predation?

An evil in Hollywood

     In the past few weeks, there have been several news items on CNN and Fox News, usually buried toward the bottom of the page, covering the long-standing problem of sexual perversion in Hollywood. Just today, Fox News posted yet another of these pieces, entitled “Are Hollywood Stars Enabling Sexual Predators By Not Naming Names?” The article goes on to narrate various celebrity accounts of “casting couch” incidences, of sexual advances, rapes and even Pedophelia as being a constant issue in “Tinseltown,” and having been so for decades.

     (SOAPBOX=FAST ON) Now, I usually delve into the specifics of a situation from off of the soapbox, before climbing up and doing the usual “pontifications.” This time however, I feel like we need to perform some sort of “fast attack,” and get right to the meat and potatoes of the issue.

     So, are Hollywood stars (or other industry insiders) enabling sexual predators by not naming names, like the title of the FNC article asks? Short answer: YES. I would even go so far as to say that, not only are they enabling these douchebags, but by not naming names and telling someone what they know, they are by their inactions, condoning and perpetuating the abuses. These Hollywood people know what’s going on, yet they keep their mouths shut, sometimes because they don’t want to lose that multi-million-dollar movie deal, or negatively impact their marketability in the industry. My fine young readers, that’s called greed. Not only is it being greedy, but also compounding one wrong with yet another; a lie. (A lie of omission is still a lie!)

     One of my favorite “righting of the wrongs” quotes comes from Elizabeth Gaskell, nineteenth century writer and equal rights advocate. In the foreword to Gaskell’s first novel, “Mary Barton,” Macdonald Daly recounts a conversation between Elizabeth and Edward Holland, in which she stated;

     “My poor Mary Barton is stirring up all sorts of angry feelings against me in Manchester, but those best aquainted with the way of thinking and feeling among the poor acknowledge its truth; which is the acknowledgment I most of all desire, because evils being once recognized, are half way on towards their remedy.”

     In the case of “libidinous lasciviousness” in Hollywood, I think there’s more to it than just identifying the problem. The evil has been recognised, but the source not completely identified. For this problem to truly be “halfway on towards its remedy,” these victims have to start reaching deep down in their gut, drawing up some courage and naming names.

     Now what I am about to do may leave a bad taste in some of my readers’ mouths. As this weblog is still a rather small enterprise, there’s not really much to lose by saying what I am about to say, so I’ll just come out with it; WE are part and parcel of this issue as well. Every time we rent or buy a movie. Every time we pump money into the Hollywood entertainment “machine,” we fund this issue. Oh, it’s not like we’re walking up to director or producer “so and so,” handing him a G-note and telling him to go make unwanted sexual advances on a young child actor or actress on our dime. No, it’s a more convoluted chain of funding than just that.

     So how do we as consumers and patrons help put a stop to this problem? I asked my spouse this question just today, because I had reached a point of “writer’s block.” We discussed a boycott of Hollywood, and how it would be tantamount to “mass punishment, bathwater and the baby” thinking. By depriving the entertainment industry of our dollars, we would be making the innocent pay alongside the genuinely guilty.

     So, what do we do? I wonder just how many of us would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Hollywood talent, and back these people up if and when they came out and started dropping names in the effort to clean house. (I know I would, and with the publishing of this article, I am!) What else? Every one of you, my fine young readers, that also spends a considerable amount of money on any aspect of the Hollywood entertainment industry, should be asking yourselves these questions. I know I am. This is one aged specter that needs to be exorcised from the entertainment industry, for everyone’s benefit.

     ADDENDUM: After this article went to press, I had the unique opportunity to exchange some thoughts via email with Alison Arngrim, who portrayed Nellie Oleson on “Little House on The Prairie” and now serves as part of the grassroots policy board of Protect Dot Org. She shared that I seemed “unclear as to why everyone on earth doesn’t just jump up on TV and name the person who raped them.” (Thank you Alison, and again I apologise for not mentioning your courage in identifying and confronting your attacker.)

     I wouldn’t expect everyone to resort to that type of public “outting” of the perpetrators, however I would definitely encourage the establishment or shoring up of support systems and networks for combatting this most detrimental of issues plaguing the industry. Alison also brought up the fact (and yes, it’s a fact!) that several of these perpetrators who have been identified, don’t ever really feel the full sting of justice’s strap. That’s where our laws and punishments need to be changed and strengthened. (Don’t ask me how I would punish child molesters, because you might find my “burning barn” scenario a bit hard to palate!)

     Granted, there’s a lot to this issue that I personally am not aware of, being just a small-potatoes blogger from Central California. The point is that the more we all talk about this, the more open publicity it gets. The more we discuss the aspects, the more likely we’ll be to come up with viable solutions.

“We face the truth, we see it clear, with no disguise.” (Yes, “The More We Live, Let Go” c1991, Arista Records) 

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Further reading on this topic:

“Former child stars reveal sex abuse in Hollywood” (Daily News and Analysis, retrieved on Dec 14th, 2011)

“Recent Charges of Sexual Abuse of Children in Hollywood Just Tip of Iceberg, Experts Say” (Fox News, retrieved on Dec 14th, 2011)