Wednesday, February 21, 2007

History Repeating

The other day I ranted at Britney Spears' mother in this blog, asking where the hell has she been while her daughter was falling apart in front of our eyes. Well, I want to retract that rant and in its place issue an apology.

From what I've been able to find out, Mama Spears did try--several times--to intervene, even to the point of near-bullying her daughter to get help. So did her father. It appears that Britney is the only one who doesn't want to take action. As of 1pm today, it has been learned that she has again checked herself out of rehab at Promises in Malibu--again, after less than 24 hours in the facility.

I don't know if anyone is going to be able to help her. Things are falling apart, and the center is not holding. We may be looking at another Anna Nicole situation, and God bless her family for trying to stop it.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Blackjack Jesus

I have to say, I was a bit enamoured of my glib turn of phrase the other day. I even congratulated myself on my literary wit. However, Jean, in her generosity and brilliance, actually caught it by the tail and turned it into a catchphrase that I now love even more. She's just better at that than I am. Plus, her writing is just wonderful, and I always enjoy reading anything she has to say.

It got me thinking. I've been catching up on my blog as well as other friends' blogs, emails, and the like. Brock had sent me a lovely email a while back, and I read some of his always gentle and optimistic posts, despite some hardships he's having at the moment. His wife Auny had some interesting entries on her website about faith, too. Now, I'm not by any means a devoutly religious person, as I've said before. I consider myself a questioning Christian, if indeed I can call myself a Christian at all. As I've also said before--maybe not here on this blog, but I think I said it on Brock's--I believe that everyone probably has a piece of the God puzzle, and I also think that sometimes people get too bolluxed up in scripture, squabble too much over doctrine, and miss the big picture. Everything gets blown out of proportion so much that they forget what their original fight was really all about. And all I can think is, God is either up there shaking his head in defeat, or laughing his ass off at the silliness of the human race.

God and Jesus are gamblers and gamesmen. And their prophets? So was Bhudda, and so was Mohammed. Moses was a rather compulsive crapshooter, and Abraham was the most consummate poker player of all the prophets; the man looked God in the eye and bluffed Him down on Sodom and Gomorrah. The Earth is a giant casino, and world history as we know it is full of improbable gambles--not the least of which was the creation of homo sapiens.

I realize that people may look askance and aghast at me for what appears to be blatant blasphemy. If a hardcore fundamentalist got near me, I'm sure he'd be in fear for my soul and try to save it from the fiery pits of Hell. However, irreverence is not disrespect, and I maintain that a dose of humor to go along with theology is a healthy thing. It keeps you from getting into that bolluxed-up state I was talking about. Laughter is a universal leveler and it keeps things in perspective.

Jesus had a sense of humor, you know. What group of young men would drop everything they had--their families, friends, and livelihoods--and follow a guy who was somber, gloomy, and portentious all day and all night for three years? Galloping around the Galilee, depending on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter? I don't know about you, but I have a hard time believing the disciples would have stuck with Jesus as long as they did if he wasn't a fun guy to be around. The hordes of people who came from all over to hear him preach must have seen a dynamic and entertaining speaker--who wants to traipse out of town for a day to hear someone drone on with maddening brevity or hurling invective? Yuck. If I want that kind of crap, I'll watch American Idol.

Then there were the children; the New Testament tells the story that when the disciples tried to keep the kids from bothering the Rabbi, Jesus chastised them, saying, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not; for such is the Kingdom of God." Kids freakin' loved him--and anyone who has ever been around children for any appreciable length of time knows that they don't suffer fools gladly. If you scare them, talk down to them, or if they find you utterly boring and without any redeeming playtime value, they won't bother with you. That the village urchins were said to excitedly run to him whenever he came around says a lot for his charisma.

If you read between the lines of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, you'll also find other examples of Jesus' humor. Man, it was sharp. Now, it wasn't the kind of humor we might recognize today; as far as we know, they didn't tell "knock-knock" jokes or have an ancient version of "Jackass" back in the day. Jesus' humor was contemporary and subtle; it was used in such a way as to illustrate a point to his flock, rather than jamming it down their throats. He loved allegory, metaphor, was a master of sarcasm and a lover of puns. Sometimes when I read the Gospels, I can all but see the deadpan delivery when Jesus confronts a situation so ridiculous, the only way to respond is with humor.

Take Luke, chapter 19. Zacchaeus was a short little man, and a tax collector--one of the most reviled--if not the most reviled--of men in that day. No one ever wanted to mix with tax collectors, because to do so was to soil oneself with a man in cahoots with Rome. Sort of like any member of Congress in today's world.

Anyway, Zacchaeus was really short. One day Jesus came to town and a huge crowd gathered round him as he walked through the streets. Zacchaeus had heard so much about the Rabbi and wanted to get a good look at him. So he tucked his pride in his pocket, skirted the edge of the horde, and climbed as far up a tree as he could go in order to get a birds-eye view.

Now, the idea of a tax collector debasing himself in such a way is funny enough. But when Jesus saw this short little man dangling precariously atop the branches, he stunned both Zachheus and the crowd by saying, in what I imagine to be a completely droll and straight-faced manner, "Zacchaeus, come down. I'm going to stay at your house tonight."

I mean, what would you say to a man peering through tree branches at you? You might smile and wave, or maybe nudge your buddies and point the guy out. Jesus went one better, shocking the assembled crowd by not only inviting himself to the sinner's house, but actually deigning to speak to the man. It turned everyone on their ears. And Jesus knew it. It's hysterical. Better yet, he won a convert with humor rather than force. That's an effective speaker.

Here's another example: Jesus came across a man possessed by evil spirits, and conversed with the demon, asking, "What's your name?"

And they said, "My name is Legion, for we are many."

Well, Jesus was about to drive the demons out of the poor man, but they begged him not to cast them back into hell again. So what does Jesus do? It's pretty cheeky. He says, OK, fine, I won't send you to hell. No problem. Instead, he knocks them into a herd of pigs, all of whom promptly went insane and careened into the Galilee like a flock of insensate lemmings--and drowned.

I mean, come on! That's funny. Jesus got the last word and the last joke, and thoroughly enjoyed showing Legion the folly of their request. You don't want hell? All right, but I won't guarantee what I give you will be any better. It's your funeral.

Blackjack Jesus. If you ask him a question or make a request of him, you better mean it, because he won't necessarily give you what you want or what you want to hear. What he will give you is what you ask for. He won't cheat; he's just better at the game. You say "hit me", and he will. Just don't complain when he knows the cards better than you. You take your lumps and suck it up like a grownup. Don't worry; he'll let you play again. That goes for God, too, by the way. Or Allah, or Jehovah, or Uncle Bob--whatever you want to call him.

One of my favorite examples of Jesus' humor--aside from some of the wonderful brilliance when he's talking to Peter (who, we must admit, was a little thickheaded and hot under the collar)--is this one, and I'm paraphrasing the first part:

There was a rich man who came to Jesus and asked him, "What do I need to do to be your disciple? What must I do to follow you?"

And again, ever the consummate Blackjack player, Jesus deals out the hand. "Oh, come on," he says. "You know the commandments. Don't cheat; don't steal. Don't kill, don't lie. Honor your father and mother."

The rich man says, "I've done all of these all my life."

Jesus was impressed and saw that the guy was genuine. So he calls the final bet. "There's only one more thing you need to do, then. Sell everything you have, give your money to the poor, and come along with us."

It's the only thing the man wasn't expecting. His face fell, and he walked away without a word.

Jesus watched him go, and then looked round at his disciples, saying, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."

Contemplate that imagery. A camel trying to squeeze through the eye of the needle. It's one of the trippiest, most evocative, and hilarious analogies Jesus ever used. Even through his disappointment, Jesus was able to use humor as illustration, and people got it.

Take a look at the world's most sought after speakers. I don't care who they are; politicians, philosophers, preachers, or prophets. You'll find that every single one of them used humor to keep people interested and thinking. Now go look at your Bible, your Koran, the I Ching. See it?

Whether you believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or that he was a brilliant and insightful prophet, one thing is incontrovertible: He was human. As God's son, he was sent down to experience being a man. As a prophet, he was flesh and blood from day one. Men--human beings--get angry, get tired, get scared, get hungry and thirsty and sleepy. They cry, and they laugh. To say Jesus never joked or laughed or couldn't poke fun at himself is, for me, highly illogical and unbelievable. The guy possessed a rapier wit and intelligence even the Pharisees couldn't match. To me, that truly makes him the Son of Man.

Bald Truths

Boy howdy, I knew Britney was on that bobsled, but apparently it's careening downhill even faster than I thought. The very day after I posted the "Tapeworm" blog, she went and did this.

I hear her mother hopped a plane from Louisiana to Los Angeles, rushing to do damage control. Which is good; someone obviously needs to take the wheel.

My question is, what in the hell took the woman so damn long? Her daughter's been imploding for months, if not years, before now.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mea Culpa

Hi, everyone! Guess what! New post coming later on--either tonight or tomorrow morning. I promise. Really and for true. I just gotta finish it.

See you then!

The Tapeworm

A friend of mine from back in Hollyweird called me last week. She was trying to find out who's designing and distributing the infamous "Gift Baskets" for the Oscars this year. Now, bear in mind, I got out of Los Angeles about eight years ago. I still keep in touch with a few old pals, just to kind of keep my finger on the pulse of things, and I still get a bit nostalgic about Hell-Ay. But by and large, I'm really, really glad I left when I did--otherwise I doubt I'd like myself very much at this point. That town has a way of sucking every bit of your own soul out and putting something else in. It lacks in substance and harbors an excess of ickiness. I call it the Tapeworm.

Anyway, my friend needed me to call a few contacts and find out this kernel of information for her. It brought me back to thinking about Celebrutality again...remember, one of my earlier posts during which I railed vituperously at the entitled attitude of Hollywood bourgeoisie? Well, guess what? The Academy, in their infinite wisdom and ball-shriveled fear, have completely washed their hands of the heretofore traditional gift baskets. No more freebees for people who make enough money to afford the actual items in the basket. No more getting away with receiving said freebies without giving some of the largesse back to the government. They'll have to make do with designers giving them gowns to wear in exchange for publicity, and Harry Winston loaning jewels for same.

As you may surmise, Hollywood's Babylonians are decidedly not happy about this unlucky change in events; their world is tilting on its axis. Half the reason they go out to these soirees is to bilk and shill for goodies. You just know Paris Hilton is moaning into her Grey Goose at the injustice of not getting a bonus Treo for her trouble; forget the fact that no one, including Paris, really knows why she got an invitation to the event at all. The day Paris Hilton is nominated for an Oscar is the day the Seventh Seal will be opened and a great silence will be heard in Heaven for half an hour. Because even the angels and cherubim will be stunned into unholy speechlessness. Jesus will start dealing Blackjack in Vegas, and God will go to Turks and Caicos for a well-earned vacation.

But I digress. My point is (I think) about the fact that the more money people seem to have, the less they want to spend it and the greedier they get. The Academy may not be putting up gift baskets this year, but I'm willing to lay odds that the after-party hosts will take up the slack; the uproar otherwise would simply be too deafening, and besides, no one would go to the parties if there were no goodies to heist for free.

"FREE" being the operative word.

Vanity Fair has the best party of the night--as a rule, they usually host it at Morton's after the awards ceremony, and it is by far the most coveted invitation out of all the parties on Oscar night. Everyone who wants to be seen must go. Even if you're George Clooney, unless you've gotten that golden ticket of an invite, you're relegated to the B list for the evening. You're crap, and no one wants to photograph you. And VF has the best food, the best place settings, and the biggest open bar this side of the Mississippi. It's a great party that simply smells of money. However, none of the guests will spend any.

It's amazing to me, actually. There are people in that industry that make more money in one week than most of us see in five years, and yet, they never seem to have to open their wallets for anything. I don't know how that happens, really. They get free dresses, free jewelry, free food at tickets and free hotel rooms, you name it.

Take Anna Nicole Smith, for instance. God bless her, she was a train wreck of the first water. Not even really a C list celebrity. Okay, yeah, she had a couple of pithy endorsements for questionable diet remedies, and a now-defunct reality show--but at the rate at which she appears to have consumed drugs and alcohol, her paycheck couldn't have lasted that long. She had yet to receive a penny from the Marshall estate. Where did she get the money for all her traveling? The hotel rooms and airfares? Vacationing in the Bahamas isn't cheap, let alone living there. And the phalanx of attorneys she had working on various lawsuits is mind-boggling, and I'm sure they were keeping meticulous records and invoices for their billable hours. I'm sure they still are.

Where the hell was the money coming from?! How can someone who had no obvious marketable skills (besides her boobs, a sad and tragic life that translated into a media spectacle), and no apparent source of income that supported her lifestyle--how could she live the way she did?

Keep in mind, she was a celebrity of a lower order, and she was able, somehow to enjoy (if indeed she "enjoyed" anything, poor thing) a level of comfort and luxury not many of us do. Now, consider the A and B list people. They get even more than that. None of them ever seem to end up having to pay for anything, or if they do, they get huge discounts and are shitty tippers.

So much gets wrapped up in their sense of entitlement that it's like a tapeworm; they can't stop feeding it, and it never fills them up. Remember what I said about Hollywood eating your soul? That's the tapeworm. It always wants more, and more is never enough. Meanwhile, the things they really and truly so desperately need, they never get. Like a wake-up call.

Anna Nicole was a woman who so desperately wanted to be famous. Everything she did was to that end, but you know, I really think she would have been so much better off had she remained "undiscovered". If she had stayed in Texas the rest of her life working in a greasy spoon, raising her son and marrying a mechanic, I seriously think she'd be alive today. Yes, she got famous, just like she always wanted, but her fame also enabled her addictions. She needed help, not Methadone. She needed someone to care enough about her to take her by the elbow and steer her towards a reputable doctor and treatment facility. Instead, what she got was a gaggle of lawyers, lovers, and general sycophants who only hung around her so that they could feed on the fallout of her largesse. They didn't give a crap if she was high or drunk or messed up beyond belief; as long as the cow kept farting cash, they were content with the status quo. Why change it? If she were, God forbid, to straighten up and sober up, she probably would have realized just who these people were and forthwith booted them out on their asses. Their insurance was her addiction and her insecurity.

She's not the only one. Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears aren't far behind Anna, if you ask me. Both are riding on an out-of-control bobsled straight into the hell of ignominy, and no one seems to care enough to try and stop them. Nobody. Where are their parents? Where are their friends? Do they have any? They have people around them all the time who are more than happy to ride on the bandwagon, get into exclusive clubs, and suck down free booze. Both starlets are in their early twenties and look forty. That's just pathetic, and terrifying. One day, we're going to have another headline on the news that tells us one of them is dead, killed by an overdose, or alcohol poisoning, or a DUI.

In large part, it happens because these people do get too much free stuff, too much unwarranted license to behave with excess, too many excuses. The tapeworm inside them keeps clamoring for more and more and more until finally, as Yeats said, Things fall apart. The Center cannot hold. They are eaten up from the inside, like a rotting corpse with a beautiful makeup job, until it all simply falls in on itself. That's what tapeworms do: lets you live on just enough to keep you alive, but takes the bulk of everything for itself and demands more. Finally, it just takes everything.

It's ironic to me that two of the women I've just named--Lindsey and Anna--worship Marilyn Monroe. Anna wanted to be Marilyn; Lindsey wants to emulate her, too. Hell, Linds just bought Marilyn's old apartment. This woman was the blueprint, really. Marilyn was beautiful, she was idolized. She was actually an exceptionally talented actress, which makes her story even more tragic, because what she might have become will forever be speculation. But she was also insecure, vulnerable, helpless in many ways, and she was enabled, coddled, addicted, and mishandled. And she died. Even her rivals felt bad for her.

Joan Crawford was nobody's fool. She was tough, ambitious, hard-working, some would say cold. But no one could ever call her stupid. She didn't like Marilyn and made no bones about it; Marilyn offended her, threatened her ego, and represented a debauchery in the business that Crawford abhorred. But despite those feelings, Crawford pegged Marilyn's problem with a precision a surgeon would appreciate.

Right after Marilyn died, Joan became very upset when she heard about it. She was having dinner at director George Cukor's house and talking about Marilyn when he called bullshit. "What is this?" he wanted to know. "You never liked Marilyn."

As always, she was bitingly honest. "Yes, you're right," she admitted. "She was cheap, and an exhibitionist. She was never professional, and that irritated the hell out of people. But for God's sake, she needed help. She had all these people on her payroll. Where the hell were they when she needed them? Why in the hell did she have to die alone?"

There will always be stars, and twice as many tapeworms looking for hosts.