Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kelly Ripa and Beyonce – Women Right To Rage Against the Machine

First appeared on Blogcritics.

Timing is everything, or so they say, and the planets aligned this week for two women in the spotlight to shine – Kelly Ripa and Beyonce. While their stories are not related they have something in common – raging against the machine, the one with the grinding gears spun by men who will call them divas and other derogatory terms. Alas, that is because what both are doing is shining a glaring light on the social inequity that still exists between men and women.

Let me say I have never watched Live! With Kelly and Michael nor do I regularly listen to Beyonce’s music, so I am not a “fan” and my perspective is rather unbiased. I am aware of both women by default – most recently hearing these stories about Kelly’s problems on her TV show and seeing Beyonce perform at the halftime Super Bowl show.

hostsKelly’s story was both familiar and unique in that her work drama became national news. How many women suffer similar inequities on a weekly basis cannot be discounted, but Kelly’s played out on a national stage. The basic points of the issue were that her co-star on Live! (former football star Michael Strahan) had taken another job behind her back with the obvious blessings of her superiors. The suits forgot to mention this in advance to Kelly, so she learned basically when the rest of the world discovered that Strahan was moving full-time to Good Morning America.

Kelly’s reaction to this news, according to press reports, was to explode with rage and have a tantrum that included her walking off the set and calling in sick for a few days. For his part, Strahan apparently played the good soldier and went on air with guest hosts while it was said that a livid Kelly went off on a “scheduled” trip with her family.

The story here was more about Kelly’s meltdown than what happened to her. Her hysteria was the focus of reports; she was a woman scorned who reacted in typical female fashion by exiting stage right in a huff. Listening to pundits after the fact only exacerbated “the overreaction” by Ripa and downplayed what happened as a common workplace situation that she should have handled differently. She’s making so much money; how dare she behave that way!

In Beyonce’s case she shocked the world in a different way – by releasing videos of her album Lemonade on HBO. Fans had to digest quite a bit of information to be gleaned from the songs’ visual and narrative messages – most of them a rage against something or someone who has wronged her. Fans immediately reacted with shock and sadness at the prospect that Bey’s husband Jay Z may have cheated on the singer.

The purposefully provocative lyrics only fueled the Jay Z rumor flames, especially these lines from the song “Sorry” : "He only want me when I'm not there / He better call Becky with the good hair." A viral firestorm erupted after this, identifying fashion designer Rachel Roy as “Becky” (and in some circles TV chef Rachel Ray and singer Rita Ora as well). One thing’s for certain, Bey has a loyal fan base who are fanning the flames, and their outrage is notable because this is another case of a woman going up against what is considered business as usual – men cheat on their wives and the wives are supposed to accept that.

Beyonce debuts 'Lemonade' on HBO, releases album of the same name on April 23, 2016.Watching Beyonce’s videos will clearly put that notion to rest. Consider the lyrics of her song “Freedom” when she sings “Freedom/Cut me loose” to a montage of pictures of her and Jay Z. There is no subtly here and this could become this generation’s “I Will Survive,” a song that embodies a woman’s right to live her life and go on without her man.

Which brings us back to Kelly Ripa who, in essence, is being forced to go on without her man – Strahan is, after all, leaving a show with Kelly and Michael in the title. Some of Beyonce’s lyrics certainly could be sung by Kelly – happily married in her private life but jilted in her TV one.

People invest a great deal into believing they “know” famous individuals they are watching on screen. It’s easy to think that we know someone we watch every day, as many people do with Ripa; it is also understandable that fans digest every word of Bey’s songs and look for meanings hidden and otherwise. I come from a generation who played a Beatles’ record backwards in order hear a secret message, so I understand this.

Yet we never really know celebrities – we only think we do. Kelly on TV is not the Kelly at home with her husband and kids, nor is Beyonce the same person strutting triumphantly through those music videos when she’s home with Jay Z and daughter Blue Ivy. What we think we know is cultivated by the celebrities themselves, and we all are guilty of buying into that.

So when writers and pundits were saying Kelly was always hard to deal with, caused Regis Philbin to leave the show five years ago, was in danger of losing the show itself, and all sorts of various nasty rumors, we have to take it from where it is coming. Whatever messages Beyonce is sending out in her songs may just be creative license and not necessarily a road map to divorce, but nothing gets people who are fanning the flames to want to put out that fire.

Was something wrong done to Kelly Ripa? Absolutely! The suits at ABC took her for granted, expecting her to accept whatever it is they are shoveling. This is a typical male executive perspective regarding a female employee. You will notice that Strahan is not talking – obviously he knew and his bosses knew (perhaps for a long time) and they were going to inform Ripa on their own schedule.

Beyonce is a female in a male dominated industry. Male musicians can get away with most anything – the rock star mentality – and the executives not only condone it but welcome the behavior as good for business. When female singers like Miley Cyrus dare to break the mold they are not supported in a similar fashion. What Beyonce is doing with Lemonade is a statement way beyond her marriage – she is highlighting the discrepancy between what’s acceptable for males and females. She may have been wronged by her man and the other men in her industry, but she is having none of it. Good for her!

So while the pundits were expecting fireworks upon Kelly’s return to Live! yesterday, she actually turned the tables on everyone. After coming on stage to a deserved standing ovation, Kelly was not some hysterical, out of control female as many predicted; she was calm, cool, and stated her case with clarity and dignity. She noted that what happened “started a much greater conversation about communication and consideration and, most importantly, respect in the workplace.” Yes, she is absolutely on point here – ABC thought she didn’t deserve to know or get an explanation, but she has proven them to be wrong.

Kelly Ripa and Beyonce have nothing yet strangely everything in common. This is about women getting respect, being treated fairly and equitably, and having empowerment. Kelly took a stand against her bosses and Beyonce made a statement in her songs about the way a woman should be treated by men. Life gave her lemons and so she made Lemonade.

Kelly and Beyonce – two powerful women have put men on notice that business as usual doesn’t work anymore. As a man who loves the women in his life, I can only say it’s about time!

Photo Credits: ABC


Monday, April 25, 2016

Presidential Election Shocker – Ugly Campaigns Could Destroy The Democratic and Republican Parties

First appeared on Blogcritics.

At this point in the madness that is the political process to elect a new President of the United States – caucuses, primaries, delegates, super-delegates – there is a sense of despair among many Americans, particularly those who like me identify as Independent voters. The Democratic and Republican parties certainly show their disdain for us, but we shouldn’t be surprised because they also display disregard for their own party members.

Clearly something is wrong with the big, increasingly fractured picture. In the recent New York Democratic primary, over a hundred thousand voters were told they could not vote when they went to the polls. The Board of Elections indicated it was part of a normal “purge” of the voter rolls, but if you believe that I have a nice bridge over the East River I’d like to sell you. The probe into why this happened continues, but the whole thing leaves a bad taste in our collective mouths.

I944842_1706431329627150_3483506715227118289_nf you are registered as an Independent, you are an invisible voter here in New York and elsewhere. You are ostensibly told your vote doesn’t count by both parties, but here is the shocker – Independent voters are going to be the ones who decide this election. A look at the numbers means the two self-destructing parties are going to be in for a big surprise – that is if both of them can survive this whole mess.

In truth the notion of these parties and their labyrinth-like delegate process has been long due for an overhaul. The entire concept from caucus to primary to convention is archaic and should be scrapped for a much more democratic process – the candidate receiving the most popular votes should receive ALL that state’s delegates. Simple math should replace simply stupid and nonsensical practices.

On the Democratic side there has clearly been an anointing of Hillary Clinton as the party’s standard bearer for a long time. That annoying fly named Bernie Sanders that Clinton originally thought that she could shoo away has morphed into an albatross around her neck. “What to do about Bernie?” must be whispered behind the scenes by party leaders as he continues to have huge turnouts at his appearances and doesn’t sound like he is going away any time soon.

trump cnnOn the Republican side they are scratching their heads as Donald Trump has overcome all the low expectations for his candidacy, while an anointed one like Jeb “Low Energy” Bush never got anywhere with voters who are more sick of his family name than they are of Clinton’s. Now the party is simmering like a covered pot and ready to explode because no one knows how to derail Trump; while others in the party seem resigned to “Lose with Cruz” or just outright give the election to the Dems. Their philosophy seems to be better “business as usual” than being out of business completely.

If the Democrats nominate Hillary and she wins, it will be perhaps the biggest loss of all – the disenfranchised base that saw the truth in Bernie through all the party’s lies may finally have had enough. The Democratic party leaders probably think that Bernie might accept a high position in Hillary’s White House – Vice President perhaps? The truth is that Bernie is so anti-Hillary in his policies and philosophy that is incongruous to think that he would sell out and accept this.

Business as usual for the Republicans – even allowing a Hillary win to keep those party leaders in control – may end up shattering the party for good. Witness the latest in this Republican party soap opera we could call The Dumb and the Restless – now Team Cruz and Team Kasich are joining forces to block Trump’s drive to get 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. They hope this will bring about an “open” convention in Cleveland, and if that occurs it will be like Wednesday on the old Mickey Mouse Club TV show – Anything Can Happen Day! This is when business as usual could bring about the dismantling of the party itself.

Actually, the best thing that could happen to America is the total destruction of both major parties. For far too long they have been an unnecessary evil that has hampered true progress in Congress and thwarted the attempts of any other parties trying to make real change in America’s rotting political landscape.

Imagine the new dawn for American politics without the Democrats and Republicans. The rise of new parties is essential, particularly a strong Independent party that would be more sensitive to the electorate’s concerns rather than to their own power hungry motivation is something that could usher our country into a new and glorious era.

bernie-sanders-mug_5fea106e0eb494469a75e60d8f2b18ea.nbcnews-fp-320-320In the end all voters are Independents when you actually speak with them. Some Democrats that I have spoken to lately say that they despise what is happening in their party. They feel Bernie Sanders is the better candidate and that he is a victim of “highway robbery” on the road to the White House. A few have even confided in me that if Hillary is the party’s nominee that they will vote for the Republican candidate – even, wait for it, Donald Trump.

Republicans have told me that they are sick of the GOP and how everything is manipulated by the powers that be. Some may have wanted Cruz, Rubio, or even Bush, but they don’t like the notion of bringing in someone who hasn’t run like Paul Ryan and making him the candidate. They have confided in me that they rather vote for Hillary in that scenario.

Truthfully, it is not surprising that disenfranchised voters are sick of both parties and the business as usual policies they follow. There is no God in the machine that is going to help them now – no character to descend to the stage to save the day now that they both have painted themselves into the corner.

So whoever wins in November is going to face a Herculean task of bringing the country together as the major parties crumble. Whoever gets elected has to be smart enough to see the writing on the wall and lead America into a new political era where business as usual – which has always been risky business to say the least – is replaced by better business practices that will benefit the American public. If that is not the case, he or she will likely be a one-term president and the Republican and Democratic parties can write their own obituaries.

If that day comes everyday Americans aren’t going to shed any tears. The Republican and Democratic parties will die ignoble deaths, with even less people mourning them than old Ebenezer Scrooge when he died in the vision shown to him by the Ghost of Christmas Future. More people will be celebrating – the death of business as usual, the death of the archaic two-party system that is strangling the life out of American politics.

If this comes to pass – it is only a matter of time if the Republicans and Democrats keep self-destructing – then it really means the start of a time where the will of the people will replace the will of the few party bosses on either side. That will be a day to celebrate, a day when we can truly start being the democracy we want and need to be.

Photo credits: alucidnation, CNN

Friday, April 22, 2016

Prince Dies at 57 – Fondly Remembering Listening to ‘Purple Rain’ During Trip Through Europe

First appeared on Blogcritics.

160421153915-restricted-64-prince-file-medium-plus-169
Yesterday when I heard that Prince died I was in total shock, but then I realized this is 2016 – the year the music died. Adding him to the list that includes David Bowie, Glenn Frey, and Merle Haggard seems particularly cruel but apropos in a year where every month seems to be the cruelest one until the next month comes along.

When my kids noticed I looked sad I told them why – “I just heard that Prince died.”
Now my kids listen to Taylor Swift, Megan Trainor, Justin Bieber, and I’m not sure how many other current acts, but my daughter’s reaction was priceless. “Oh no, which one, William or Harry?”

I shouldn’t be surprised because though Prince made an indelible mark on the music world he was before her time – way before it. I explained who he was and then the kids started looking up stories on the iPad about him. "He was pretty good," my son said. Out of the mouths of babes indeed!

I went outside on a glorious spring day and stared at the blooming flowers in my garden, recalling a time long ago (32 summers this year) when I was a very young man travelling through Europe by bus, train, and on foot. This was an exciting time in my life, and it would be when Prince came onto my radar and would stay for a long time.

I recall riding on a bus between Paris and Lyon when I started striking up a conversation with a pretty young girl named Erika sitting next to me. She was from Sweden and was listening to her SONY Walkman (I had mine in my backpack). Erika put her earphones on her lap, and we talked about our lives (hers in Stockholm and mine in New York).

After a while I asked what she was listening to and she said “Prince.” I had heard the song “Purple Rain” on the radio before I left home in June, but I didn’t know much more than that. I took my Walkman out of my bag and said, “I’m listening to Dylan.”

“Want to switch?” she asked with a smirk.

So I gave her my Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits (1967) tape and she handed me Purple Rain. I started listening to “When Doves Cry” and began tapping my foot and hitting my hand on my knee. When I looked at her she smiled and gave me a thumbs-up. Thus began my real introduction to the artistry that was Prince’s music.

71EO7kQUfWL._SX355_By the time we got to Lyon I was definitely hooked on Prince. Purple Rain might as well have been called a greatest hits album because every song was amazing and could be a number one hit in its own right.

As we got off the bus I said, “Erika, this is a fantastic album.”

“It’s a copy so why don’t you keep it,” she said.

I hadn’t bothered to look at the cassette but my 
Dylan tape was also a copy so I said, “That’s a fair switch.”

She was making a connection for the train, and I was waiting in town to meet my friend Dave the next morning. We said our goodbyes and off I went to the small hotel on a dark lane in the shadow of the cathedral. After grabbing a quick meal, I spent the night staring out the window and listening to Prince.

For the rest of my vacation that took me through southern France, down into Italy, up through Austria, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, I would spend part of my travel time listening to Purple Rain. I also had Led Zeppelin, U2, Springsteen, and a few other tapes with me, but at least once a day I would listen to Prince’s entire album while watching the beautiful scenery going by my window.

One night in Austria Dave and I went to a local weinstube (wine bar) and sat down in a large courtyard and started sipping glasses of ice cold wine. We got friendly with a group of people there who had a cassette player and were listening to Depeche Mode’s Some Great Reward. When the tape finished playing I popped Purple Rain out of my Walkman and said, “I think you’ll like this.” It wasn’t long before the girls got up with the guys and started dancing and laughing. Prince had cast his spell on them too.

All these years later I so fondly remember that voyage through Europe as a young man, and Prince’s Purple Rain was an integral part of that journey. I do think of the castles, the cathedrals, the rivers, and cities I visited and all the people I met, but even after over three decades that trip is vivid in my mind and that time is inextricably linked to Prince’s music.

Ten years later I went to the Late Show with David Letterman and Prince was the musical guest. It was December 1994 and now he was known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Letterman, with his penchant for being silly, had to fool around with the symbol that Prince now used instead of a name as he announced him before his performance, but once he started playing the guitar and singing the song “Dolphin,” his talent shone through and it was a grand performance.

At the end of the song Prince fell down on the stage and pretended to be dead. Someone came along and carried him off the stage, and all these years later that moment of his playing dead came back to when I heard that he had passed away.

160421142237-people-we-lost-april-2016-exlarge-169Now Prince is gone – another great talent taken too soon. He joins a growing list of music legends, actors, and other notable people who have passed away during 2016. There has never been another year that I can remember in my lifetime like this one in terms of so many losses. It is only April, and we have lost so many people already.

Prince has left us much too soon. Alas, though he made an indelible impression on our lives, his loss leaves us shaking our heads and asking why. As so many people around the world mourn him, it is indicative of the impact he had on music and his legacy will live on.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet Horatio bid another too soon dead prince a fond adieu with the words: “Goodnight, sweet prince/And fights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” and they are more than apropos here.

Rest in Peace, Prince Rogers Nelson.

Photo credits: CNN, Amazon



Thursday, April 21, 2016

Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill – An Inspired and Extremely Appropriate Choice

First appeared on Blogcritics.

Upon hearing that former slave Harriet Tubman will replace slave owner President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, I felt relieved because for a while there it was supposed to be the $10 bill and Alexander Hamilton who got replaced, and that would have been a travesty.

Hamilton’s story of rising up from being born out of wedlock and soon orphaned to becoming a Founding Father of America and one of the most important proponents of the Constitution is nothing short of astounding. Only look at the popularity of the current production of Hamilton to witness how there is a new resurgence of respect for the man who founded our nation’s banking system, the Federalist Party, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Jackson’s slave owning and brutal relocation of Native Americans – known as the Trail of Tears – is nothing to honor or celebrate. Despite having served as 7th President of the United States, there seems to be no other reason to have his face on our currency. There were many other more substantial and deserving presidents:  Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt among them.

160420174229-harriet-tubman-1024x576Harriet Tubman’s rise from obscurity and oppression is even more amazing than Hamilton’s story. Born a slave and constantly abused and oppressed, she made her escape on the Underground Railroad in 1849 to Philadelphia. Instead of enjoying her new found freedom, Harriet risked her own life to go back to the South again and again to help family members and others escape to freedom.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump cited the choice of Harriet Tubman for the $20 bill as “pure political correctness” and said Jackson “had a great history” (leaving uncertainty as to what that ‘history’ of greatness could be). Trump did say of Tubman that she was “fantastic” but suggested that someone come up with a different denomination for her (like the discontinued $2 bill). Could it be that The Donald has delusions of grandeur that one day his mug will appear on that bill instead?

Listening to “talk radio” here in New York as I drove around doing errands today, I heard other people talking negatively about Tubman’s selection and wanting "to keep Jackson" on the twenty. As I have suggested in the past, these same people would probably have no problem if they learned that Kim Kardashian had been chosen as the new face on the bill – but that is the problem with America today where notoriety is mistaken for accomplishment and achievement.

Harriet Tubman is a sublime choice for the $20 bill to replace Jackson, a slave owner who should have never been chosen to be on our currency in the first place. Tubman, because of her life of service and dedication to her country and her people, more than deserves this recognition.

160420163934-andrew-jackson-white-house-780x439Treasury Secretary Jack Lew made the announcement and noted that Jackson will still appear on the back of the bill. The image will probably be that of the statue of Jackson that is found in Lafayette Square near the White House. I find it incongruous that Jackson has to appear anywhere on this currency, but his removal from the front and replacement by Tubman still is monumental and an important step in confronting our American past that, while inconvenient for some, included presidents and other politicians who were slave owners.

As Lew noted, “The life of Harriet Tubman is really one of the great American stories.” He also mentioned that Tubman had not received much compensation for her sacrifice of safety and freedom to help other slaves, but that misses the whole point of what Tubman did. Her dedicated service was not for notoriety or accolades but rather a concerted effort to right wrongs, to save lives, and to fight back against an evil system of oppression.

This development should send Americans and people all over the world a resounding message and signal hope for more changes to come – like isn’t it about time a Native American appears on our currency as well?

While providing long delayed affirmation of Tubman’s glorious efforts, former slave Harriet Tubman will be replacing slave owner Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill – now that is probably more compensation than someone born into slavery could have ever imagined!

Photo credits: CNN

Friday, April 15, 2016

Movie Review: Disney’s The Jungle Book – Going Beyond the Bare Necessities for a Great Film Experience

First appeared on Blogcritics.

THE JUNGLE BOOK - (L-R) MOWGLI and BAGHEERA. ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
There is only one way to describe Disney’s new version of The Jungle Book – a simply sumptuous visual delight. The CGI is so amazingly woven into the texture of the film that it is never detectable. Seeing it in 3D is well worth your extra cash to allow you to savor more fully the beauty of this jungle world. During every moment of the delectable 105-minute run time, the words “green screen” will never enter your mind.

Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and screenwriter Justin Marks have taken great care in getting the beloved Rudyard Kipling story right. In doing so they have kept the essence of the book but have left the animated film far behind with breathtaking moments reminiscent of other great Disney films like The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as well as a climactic battle sequence that borrows shamelessly from the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Predator.

No time is wasted as our protagonist Mowgli (wonderful young newcomer Neel Sethi) literally hits the ground running in his training under the careful eye of black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) as he races through the jungle with his wolf cub brothers. Through Bagheera’s voice-over we learn how Mowgli was raised by wolf mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and father Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). Though Mowglii is a human boy, he is accepted as part of the pack and by other animals in the jungle as well.

screen%20shot%202016-04-11%20at%2011.30.21%20pmHaving seen the 1967 Disney film as a kid and recalling my fear of villain Shere Khan, I was hoping that my son would have a similar experience; however, this Shere Khan (Idris Elba) makes the old animated one look like a choir boy. The fierce tiger is a loathsome killer who, even when recognizing the law of a “low water truce” still threatens everyone at the watering hole. Needless to say my son was shaken by Khan’s ruthlessness throughout the movie.

Favreau makes Khan one of the most intimidating villains in recent films, with his cunning wit on display one moment and his merciless fury leading to vicious murder the next. We understand the hatred the tiger has for the man-cub because a human once burned his face with a torch (we later learn that it was Mowgli’s human father), and he will stop at nothing until Mowgli is dead.

THE JUNGLE BOOK - (L-R) MOWGLI and KAA. ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.This is when Bagheera warns the boy to run away and get to the human village he has shown him. Of course, once on the run Mowgli will have the expected run-ins with sinister snake Kaa (Scarlett Johanson), Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), and the apes and their King Louie (a scary but hilarious Christopher Walken), who more than subsumes any memories we may have had of the animated Louie with a much more ominous tone.

Baloo exploits Mowgli’s skills for his own purposes, allowing the boy to get stung by bees many times in order to procure him honey from the side of a cliff. When Mowgli is in the clutches of the apes, Louie is as vile a creep as we would expect any Walken character to be. It takes a few moments, but then you start thinking that Favreau must have let Walken ad-lib some of his lines because of the way they are delivered, making Louie the best gangster ape in the jungle.

Cinematographer Bill Pope’s lush landscapes and luminous inner jungle shots, the musical score by John Debney, and the motion capture magic displayed throughout that makes these anthropomorphic animal characters speak and move perfectly highlight the depth of care taken to make this film look, feel, and sound like the masterpiece that it is.

THE JUNGLE BOOK - (Pictured) MOWGLI and BALOO. ©2015 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, Mowgli and Baloo do get to sing “Bare Necessities” (my son would have been disappointed if it had not been included), but here it is an entirely different experience as Baloo floats on his back with Mowgli sitting atop of him. While in the animated film it was a moment of comic relief similar to Simba, Timon, and Pumba singing “Hakuna Matata” in The Lion King, here there is no escaping the sense of danger that lurks around every corner and hides behind every tree.

Two of the more memorable scenes in the film involve Shere Kahn playing a scary game with Raksha’s wolf cubs and when Bagheera and Mowgli encounter an elephant march in the jungle. In one the tiger toys with cubs but does not disguise his threat to crush them; the other reveals a mystical moment when Bagheera tells Mowgli to bow in respect to the giant regal creatures as they pass. In both cases we witness what this jungle world can be – either the most frightening or beautiful place depending on the circumstances.

Not enough can be said about the acting chops revealed by young Sethi. Clearly a talented and gifted young actor, his reactions and dialogue are completely natural and never belie the actuality that he is playing all his scenes in front of a green screen. While Shere Khan's presence infuses the story with more than enough fear and dread, it is Sethi's remarkable performance as Mowgli that is essential to making the whole film come together.

Favreau makes the most of everything at his disposal to bring to life Kipling’s tale of a man-cub who, while caught between two worlds, finds that though he is human that his place may very well be alongside those animals he has grown up with and loves, a place where the bare necessities seem more than enough.

Photo credits: movies.disney.com

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Walking Dead – TV Rick Must Do Better Job Than Comic Rick Against Negan

First appeared on Blogcritics.

*Some Comic spoilers are in this article.

Okay, sure, after the season 6 finale, all the talk has been about Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his barbed-wire baseball bat Lucille’s indelibly grim impact on The Walking Dead TV series. That final, brutal scene left a lasting impression on the viewers as much as it did on the head of one of the characters who is now lost to us – and we have to wait six months to find out who it is.

rick1 amcSo, yes, nefarious Negan’s impact on the show is enormous, as is his presence in the comics, and there is no doubt that this is a game changer for the series. Season 7 is going to be all about whomever Negan kills and the spiral effects on all the remaining survivors.

First of all, I am going out on the limb here and predicting that it is not Glenn (Steven Yeun) whose blood we saw running in the James Bond-like victim’s point of view over the camera lens; I believe it is Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), whose brazen rise of head and shoulders to look squarely at Negan surely made him a prime target. I could be wrong, but all Abraham’s lovey-dovey stuff with Sasha (Sonequa Martin Green) and the crappy way he treated Rosita (Christian Serratos) clearly set him up for a toe-tag.

But the point of all this is not Negan or even whom he kills. His hammy performance (not the actor’s but the character’s) clearly sets him up as full of hubris and ready for a fall; however, if you recorded this episode and studied Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) facial expression while kneeling before this vile killer, there is some rather impressive non-verbal acting going on. Yes, Rick looks totally devastated and lost and defeated – exactly when the TV Rick is the most dangerous.

If you have read some or all of the 21 volumes/125+ issues of the comic versions of this zombie saga, you know that Robert Kirkman has a tendency to stretch things out in order to keep the story going. You cannot do 125+ versions of anything without doing that. As we approach season 7 of the TV series, it will be imperative for showrunner Scott Gimple and the writers to keep on the mostly steady course that they have been on (even though sometimes the series too has been bogged down unnecessarily).

rick-largeComic Rick has been defeated by Negan too many times. TV Rick is at once the same but a different character. He seems more resilient than his comic counterpart, and in the battle against Negan things shouldn’t play out the same on TV unless Gimple and the writers suddenly try to do everything from the comics scene by scene – and that would be a ghastly mistake.

Just as when you adapt a novel for TV or film, it is simply impossible to bring everything to a screenplay. Writers of novels take more time, go into more detail and description, and sometimes invest chapters in deeper character development; that is just not possible on screen. This is why great novels do not always make great films, especially if fans are expecting every exact thing they read in the book to happen in the movie.

One of the strengths of TWD TV series has been the conspicuous differences from what happens in the comics. This has led to fans of the comics to scream about things that never appear on TV, and fans of the TV series not necessarily wanting things from the comics to show up on screen. It has been an unusual coexistence, sort of like parallel TWD universes - Sophia and Andrea die on TV but live on in the comics. Shane dies in the comics, being killed by Carl rather quickly, but lives much longer on TV and is killed by Rick. If you were looking for some rhyme or reason to it, there seems to have been none.

Yet when the comic world and the season 6 finale collided, we have TV Rick on his knees just as his comic counterpart; however, the look in his eyes and the tilt of his head should have given Negan notice that he has much to dread. This is the Rick who peered out of the train car at Terminus and declared that the Termites were screwing with the wrong people. In the comics Rick says this (using the F-word), but he is not an unarmed prisoner in a train when he does so, making TV Rick’s claim much bolder and more resonant.

Now I could be wrong about things and Rick could end up being the one who gets his head bashed in; however, my thinking is that Negan wants to break Rick so much and make him pay for killing so many Saviors, and a quick death just won’t cut it for Rick. Negan knows he can make Rick suffer oh so much more by having to witness the death of one of his flock. That’s Negan’s way of retribution with the goal to make Rick fall in line and serve him.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 11 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMCTV Rick needs to fight back against Negan and be successful much more quickly than comic Rick has done, unlike his extended battle with the Governor (David Morrissey). That story line went on far too long (he even got two frustratingly long episodes of his own); I would hope Gimple has learned from that and does not try to humanize Negan or give us a back story. After the season 6 finale, most fans (judging from a wide range of feedback I have received via text, email, and in-person) want to get to the part where Rick kills Negan (preferably with Lucille). That has yet to happen in the comics.

Knowing Gimple and the TWD writers, things won’t unfold as fast as some of us would like, but they should definitely wind up Negan’s story more quickly than in the comics. The TV show has so often veered away from the comics – fan favorite Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) doesn’t even exist in them – but has brought the two together when convenient or inconvenient depending on your point of view. Still, they are separate universes and Gimple should treat them as such.

Right now there are many disgruntled fans – some of whom wanted to know who Negan’s victim was, and they feel betrayed by that ending. When we knew Herschel or Beth died in a final episode, at least there was a chance to come to terms with that during the hiatus. Now season 7 will hit the ground running, and recovery will be a much more difficult process (I am betting that’s just what Gimple is hoping for).

Comic Rick has yet to destroy his most vicious enemy, but TV Rick should be able to do so more quickly. If Negan winds up killing either Glenn or Daryl (both fan favorites), then the call for swift justice will be even more vociferous.

Besides missing one hand, comic Rick also is lacking one indispensable relationship that TV Rick has – Michonne (Danai Gurira) as a domestic partner. If both survive the wrath of Negan’s Lucille, that union should strengthen Rick’s resolve to play ball with Negan until the opportunity comes to strike him out for good. Hopefully, that will come at least by the season 7 finale.

Photo Credits: AMC, thewalkingdead.com

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Emotions 101 – A New Kind of English Class?

Photos of preschoolers from Palmer's Hill of Childcare Learning Centers
While a good piece of literature should stir us up and get us thinking, often we do not assess the consequences of the emotional heft that may be associated with it. In a recent article in The Atlantic, writer Andrew Simmons explores the emotional impact literature has had on his high school students. For example, he tells of teaching William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and the adverse reaction one student experienced. His basic premise is that “English teachers, it seems, are in a unique position to impose some degree of emotional and moral rigor on the curriculum.” Yes, this is absolutely true, but many instructors may not feel adequately prepared for that task.

The problem is that students are human beings and they react in different ways to things. Ask 100 people if they cried after watching the last scene of James Cameron’s Titanic, and many will say they did, but many others will say they did not. Obviously, emotions are not at all an easy thing to gauge or predict, but even so educators must have the tools at their disposal in order to deal with them effectively.

I first knew that there should be something more to my teaching English classes than knowing the technical aspects of an essay when discussing George Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” with a group of college freshman. Chosen because it was a great example of a narrative essay, I had not thought about the “emotional” impact the story would have on my students; I only cared about the academic goal of showing them a great example of one kind of essay that they were expected to generate in the course.

“Shooting an Elephant” definitely got some of my students emotional, while others became indignantly unhappy with the piece. While a few felt sad when talking about it, others were furious that the police officer shot the animal. “How could he?” they screamed. If ever a moment called for stopping the process and dealing with my students’ emotions, this was the time.

While I had not been trained beyond a mandated psychology class in my doctoral coursework, I knew I had to facilitate a session with these students about their reactions to Orwell’s work. Taking the time to sit on the edge of my desk and let the students vent their anger and frustration did way more to teach the story than anything I could have said or done. All these years later, I believe that the death of one poor misunderstood animal in Burma had a real (and dare I say lasting) impact on these young people because I took the time to let them share their emotions.

emotion1 - amazonShortly after this experience I would learn about Claude Steiner’s book Emotional Literacy: Intelligence with a Heart. His guide for training people to become emotionally literate did not just make sense for in the classroom but in life. So much happens to us, so many ups and downs occur in 24 hours, and being able to negotiate the emotional roller coaster of everyday life is a necessary and compelling skill for everyone.

Steiner emphasizes three things that we need to do to become emotionally literate: “1. Knowing what feelings we have, how strongly, and why. 2. Caringly recognizing other people’s emotions, their strength, and reasons. 3. Developing the love-centered ability to express or hold back feelings so as to enhance the quality of our lives and the quality of life of those around us.” Admittedly, these concepts are not simple to teach, and the idea that something “love-centered” could be taught in a sometimes austere academic environment was in some ways a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

Fortunately, later in my career as an administrator I encountered the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence that promoted an Emotional Literacy Program in one of my schools. Having had long discussions with the instructors before the implementation of the program, I came to see that this was not just a one-shot visit to promote something but a serious weeks-long program that attempted to create a culture of emotionally literate students who could one day evolve into young people who could handle a variety of situations including a range of daily emotions, bullying, and eventually difficult situations as adults.

emotion2 -emlit.comWhile programs like this do cost money (we got ours through a generous grant), there are other ways to approach achieving emotional literacy. Educators have to be trained differently, especially those who are going to one day be teaching literature and writing classes. If their training could include an emotional literacy component, it would help to prepare them to deal with eventually wide ranging student reactions to what they are going to teach.

Educators who are not familiar with emotional literacy should research it to help them deal with students proactively when they are discussing works of literature that will have an impact on them. Parents and students could also learn from this exploration of self and reactions to how books, poems, films, and television shows make them feel.

My seven year old was deeply affected when we watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens and witnessed the death of Han Solo. The loss of a beloved character caused him sadness and to note “how unfair life is.” He saw the film in December and now, four months later, he still keeps asking questions about it that indicate how deeply and emotionally affected he was by what he saw, and we have discussed it on a level that we have never reached when dealing with the other books and movies that he likes. My background with emotional literacy has helped me deal with his ongoing reaction to the film.

It’s safe to say we could all use some kind of emotional literacy training. As adults we face many different aspects of emotions over the years that can cause a plethora of feelings and challenge us as we try to move forward in life. A course we should all take is some kind of Emotions 101 – it could help us learn to cope, to handle the ups and downs, and be respectful of how others are feeling as well.

With the way things are in the world we live in today, a course like this should not be an elective but a mandatory one to help us to assist ourselves and offer support to others; but, since many of us are done with our school days, it would do everyone well to research this topic and apply the acquired knowledge to situations in their daily lives.

emotion4 -emlit.comSteiner says “’Opening the heart’ is the first phase of emotional literacy training,” and, while I would agree with him, I think the essential first step for all of us is opening our minds; if we do so, understanding our emotions with open hearts will make perfect sense and be the logical next step for us all.

Photo credits: emotional literacy.com, yale.edu, amazon