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Having woken up this morning to be greeted by teary-eyed New Yorkers reading off name after name after name of those who died in the towers -the same towers I used to work in as a messenger in High School - I find myself trying to come to terms with what I myself really stand for.
I was working in Hollywood as a comedy writer two years ago and not at all proud of my efforts or the final product that got on television. I then struggled mightily to get my next job in TV and was never able to provide my agents with the material it takes to sell something these days. Though this could be due to a lack of talent on my part, I think it's more complex.
I personally am an issue-oriented person who will take the worst episode of "All in the Family" over the best episode of "Will & Grace" any day. That show stood for something. It helped get things out in the open so people could see themselves more clearly, could explore their most challenging thoughts more openly - and most importantly it was about how conservatives and liberals could, despite their heated differences, live together. The show stood for something.
When I look out at the landscape of our media I see an endless sea of shows that have made an art form out of appearing to say something, while really saying nothing. From the essentially pointless re-telling of the headlines on "Law & Order" to the anti-septic nothingness of "Friends" to the sex-saturated perversions of "Temptation Island" to the all-heat-no-substance blatherings of "Cross Fire" and Fox "news" to the utterly meaningless farce that is modern sports, as a viewer, I am left with the same mixture of negative feelings almost every time.
Those feelings include feelings of inadequacy - 'cause even though I'm stunningly gorgeous at 5'6', 160 and a full head of shiny pate, I'm nowhere near as good-looking as most TV heroes nor do I own their cars, homes, electronics, etc. TV often makes me feel totally unnerved, anxious, disconnected, fearful, hopeless and can even reduce me to wondering if it's possible for my little girl to truly ever love herself and feel secure in a world that seems to prize a warped sense of physical beauty above all else.
In TV you got a funky little ID card that gives you the keys to the kingdom - where it all goes down, where the stars are. Every time I flashed my little key-card that let me onto the studio lot - a simple act that 1000s upon 1000s of writers would kill for the ability to do - I felt filthy inside, like I was fighting on the wrong side, the bad guys. Maybe I should mention here that "Passions" was filmed across from us, and "Big Brother" behind us. I truly hated being there despite the fact that I was making more money than I ever thought I could make.
Don't get me wrong. Some men - like David Chase (The Sopranos) and Matt Groening (The Simpsons) and Shawn Ryan (The Shield) have the incredible talent, strength and courage to hold their nose and battle through the endless sea of sewage that is the great majority of our media. I don't. For me, I find it nearly impossible to write something truly great in the best of circumstances. Modern American culture is, in my opinion, the worst of circumstances. I couldn't do it.
This brings me back to AOL and my extremely negative feelings about this company - feelings I've voiced here a billion times. Read any book about the early days of Hollywood and you will see quotes by executives in which they seem to truly appreciate the awesome responsibility of providing dramatic entertainment to the masses. That's why they often adapted classic literature and made films that were actually about real things that effected real people. The common man and his troubles were the heroes - not always, but way more than today. Think about Charlie Chaplin trying to work the assembly line, Ralph Kramden trying to get out of that crappy, little apartment or even Lucy trying to get in the show. Compare these heroes to giant-jugged no-talent hack actresses polluting today's cop and lawyer shows or Frasier or Seinfeld - who's very mantra was to stand for nothing.
Today's media does all it can to bring out our most base, simplistic desires - fight, f--- and feed, and that's it - period. I challenge any man to watch an hour of network TV and not wind up desperately wanting to chow down a pizza, nail a supermodel and knock the living crap out of some perceived evil-doer. In fact, to sit down to watch a good hunk of television is to submit to a sort of mind control-lite in which one agrees to condition themselves to feel a permanent thirst that can never be quenched. TV presents world after world that you will never live in, world's that make you feel bad about the only one that counts - the real one. But it doesn't have to be that way.
In fact, the most depressing thing about working in television is that time and time again writers will huddle over beers and share their truly great ideas - the ones they are saving for that day when they are so astronomically successful that the networks will grant them the freedom they need to experiment, to find their true voice. And for 99.9 out of 100 that day will never come and those great scripts will rot in attic drawers and wind up in trash cans after they're dead. During my brief flirtation with the industry many people asked me why TV is so terrible. I can only say this - it ain't for lack of talent.
So why should you, if you're not in the industry, care? For one, America's most powerful export is our culture. In your heart of hearts I ask you - are you proud of what we're exporting? Do you ever wonder secretly if our own actions are contributing to the negative perceptions so many countries around the world seem to feel toward us? Or is it entirely as simple as our President says - that our enemies hate us because they hate freedom. I heard Walter Kronkite being interviewed by Larry King and he said bluntly that the so-called Third World is in revolution against us. That's an incredibly powerful and deeply disturbing thought coming from one of our most respected elder statesmen. Couple this with Warren Buffett's prediction that so many people hate us we are certain to suffer an act of nuclear terrorism eventually.
With men like these saying things like this I ask you, my fellow Fools -isn't it time to kick Buffy the Vampire Slayer off TV for awhile and put some shows on that actually deal with the incredibly urgent and pressing issues of our day? Call me a nutjob, but maybe a a show about a Palestinian American family living next to a Jewish family might help foster some genuine understanding between people. The greatest thing about movies and television is that they give us the ability to actually put ourselves in other people's shoes and see the world as they see it. We need to use this awesome power to learn about each other with integrity and courage. Isn't our greatest strength, the entire foundation of our country, based on our fearless and relentless devotion to free speech? Ain't this the whole magilla people?
So why are our networks and media taking this spectacularly priceless gift and whizzing it down the drain? I mean, I'm sorry, I'm really sorry, but I don't give a howler monkey's branch hopping ass if Ross and Rachel ever get back together again or not. I really really don't. In fact, I'd pay a million dollars to have that horseman from Monty Python swoop in and lop off both their aren't-we-so-cute heads. Jesus H. Christ, that show is like a car accident victim wandering bloody in the night that doesn't even realize how dead it is yet. And it's holding up the whole entire network! Har har! As a matter of fact, Friends is actually the classy part of Must-See TV as the other young people are eating buffalo testicles on Fear Factor.
I apologize for the long post, but the Holy Spirit was in me on this hallowed day. To keep the pennies I have left in America On-Line, they need to stand for something and it needs to be something real, something beyond senseless hyper-consumerism - something we can be proud to share with the rest of the world. Our money matters. Where we place it matters. Therefore, we matter... very much. As John Lennon, yet another great fallen New Yorker, once wrote... "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you will join me. And the world will live as one."
During the incredible horror of that morning last year, our close friends gave birth to their first son, Bobby. He's so damn cute and good you can't even believe it. You just gotta see him wrestling his Mickey Mouse doll that's bigger than he is. I think I'm gonna take Bill Mann's advice today. I'm gonna pick my daughter up from pre-school early, get some Maggie Moo's ice cream and we're gonna go give that sweet little [kid] a big fat load of sloppy kisses.
Life is an infinitely great and wondrous thing. While I hope we catch and kill every terrorist and would-be terrorist on earth, we need to clean up our own backyard as well. Here's to more openness, tolerance and thought. And a lot less Brittney Spears.
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