Wednesday, August 17, 2011
A few months ago, I was privy to view a public service advertisement (PSA) dealing with tolerance of homosexuality before it was to be broadcast locally. After it was played, I noted to the other persons in the room that it was indeed bold, especially the personalities involved in it. It has since aired in the media, without much fanfare or controversy and I had all but forgotten about it.
That was until however this recent brouhaha over another PSA, featuring a former beauty queen and her brother. Christine and Matthew Straw are the only two persons in it and it barely lasts a minute but the deafening outbursts from the media and Church have come to derail it even before we can view it for ourselves.
A few things have disheartened me about this: first, the ad has not even been aired or viewed fully by all of the entities actively seeking to refuse it. Television Jamaica (TV-J) has disappointed no one by refusing to air it as its family-oriented position is well-known. However, the management structure of the RJR group (responsible for TV-J) has failed to look at the ever-changing direction of our culture. It has used the weak excuse of identifying its own brand with the PSA’s message and our buggery law as a staunch guide. When last I checked though, The Broadcasting Commission, not TV-J, dictated what was proper to be aired. Nor did I remember seeing a memo stating that the station was a registered religious institution. We watch TV-J for local entertainment and to learn. Indeed, RJR’s own website says it stands unwaveringly for, among other things, fairness and social responsibility. Thus, we can deduce that RJR is an anti-gay tolerance body as that was simply what the PSA was advocating against only. The PSA mentioned nothing about legalizing same-sex unions, (which is a whole different issue). If I’m wrong then I’d be happy to see its own message that is geared to promote tolerance in our society aimed at any minority groups. If no such PSA is forthcoming then I stand correct.
For, how can a media titan like RJR be accused of inaction in the age and rise of social media responsibility? We now know that the journalists working there are obligated therefore to uncover only happy, photo-cropped and biblically-pleasing images we wish the outside world to see. For, if we do not focus on something then it doesn’t exist, right? Homophobia is a part of our culture, there can be no denying that fact but is it the place of media in Jamaica to promote or hide that status quo or is it their responsibility to press our leaders into action as well as themselves?
My own interest in the PSA begun when I realized that I actually went to prep school with Matthew as well as the fact that the Church and the media were working overtime to get a forced reaction from the public for different reasons. The Church’s response to anything homosexual is the same stock reply. And as perversely homophobic as we are, newspapers know that any gay-themed headline sells papers like hot bread. Listening to the one progressive local media entity (Nationwide) and hearing the different church-folk decrying the PSA without even as much as watching/listening to it makes one wonder if they have any moral authority to, for example, criticize politicians, because their interest is limited and will never change. Indeed, what is the Church’s position on tolerance then? Where is their PSA? How would they frame an ad that sticks to their valid principles yet accept that such errant lives shouldn’t be killed? For that is what faces many gay people in Jamaica and you’d be a fool to think otherwise. Or, is it that the Church doesn’t see the need to be publicizing such an issue? No one asks the Church these questions but as an entity looking to dictate the morality of our lives, shouldn’t we expect more?
As for the media, I’m sure John Maxwell is turning in his grave at the display of silent cowardice. Homosexuality touches on every aspect of life (negatively and positively) so I’m sure there are gays in powerful positions in media, the Church and no doubt reading this article. They know that a few gay hustlers in New Kingston are not the only representation of that part of our society. Let’s not blindly forget that there are just as many heterosexual hustlers in the area too that are a nuisance. We can’t just dismiss their lives because Jesus would not have. We need to understand their misery and think that there may come a time when our own lives fall into such a state. Given the harsh economic crunch we’re in, for some of us that will be sooner rather than later.
If in rejecting the PSA both entities had put forth put feasible alternatives then there would be some choice. What they advocate though is delayed action or none at all and that approach lacks vision. No one I’ve spoken to since this story broke has even heard of this now infamous PSA but thanks to Youtube ,Twitter& Facebook, people can view and judge for themselves if its relevant.
The reception may stun the Church because it still feels as if it controls the way we think. I could incite hypocrisy on other topics like adultery (an even wider practiced biblical sin in Jamaica) but deep within every adult, lays a conscience and it guides you, with or without religious or State approval. What TV-J has done is to turn its back on its conscience and embrace instead the ideal of merely living a lie in hope no one pays too much attention. Like the popular #OnlyRealJamaicansKnow thread running on Twitter currently, this is the effect of the two-edged cutlass.
Within its first fifteen minutes, Bad Teacher springs a refreshing premise upon us—that of a sorta teacher romance story---then oddly just allows the pieces to unravel without much direction thereafter. There’s no denying Cameron Diaz (There’s Something about Mary, Gangs of New York) great moments but director Jake Kasdan’s (Zero Effect, Orange County) clumsy overreach is a constant sour point whenever things start to get clever. Even the film’s poster shows up this flaw: Elizabeth (Diaz) preciously slinking behind dark shades, with just the right levels of deliciousness, only for an ‘eat me’ post-it on a red apple defeating her cutesy purpose.
As the film begins, she thinks she’s done with teaching forever so she wears a stunning yellow dress on the last day, smiles broadly and speeds away in her car with a loud ‘adios, bitches’. It’s a memorable last line but sadly for her it comes back to sting immediately. She arrives home to find her fiancé and his mother waiting for her. It is a bad sign made worse with her forgetting that it’s his birthday. Thus caught out by a simple thing she offers to sign a pre-nuptial then informs them she’s pregnant. It’s a cheap, desperate ploy and she only gets cast out from the luxury she’d gotten used to as just reward. With no other choice around, Elizabeth returns to James Adams Middle School (J.A.M.S) to plot her next move.
That oddly enough means securing ten thousand dollars for a boob job. At first she tries to guilt her ex to pay for it then, in a terribly funny bit, asks her roommate. These moments of distress allow Diaz’s comedic talents to shine and when she learns that the teacher with the best overall student grade gets a bonus of nearly six thousand dollars, she goes into overdrive. Sadly, so too does the script written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg. We get, at best, a mixed bag as Elizabeth’s twin aims become more convoluted and less funny.
Not that the film gives her a set-up fit for someone who appears ever the clever schemer: for starters, it took her a whole year to finally get the boyfriend to propose and it took an even bigger schemer (a male parent) to trip her unto an extra-lesson plan that could potentially bring in extra dough. Nor is she cynically practical. Most women would wait until they’ve secured the ring before quitting their day job but instead Elizabeth comes across as impetuous and rash…the antithesis of what she’s supposed to be. Diaz is the reason why it works any at all and the film pays very little detail to anybody else, which plays into stereotype with varying degrees of success and rancor. Thus we’re left with more questions than answers about Elizabeth. For example, how exactly did she end up in teaching when there are far more viable or quicker ways to climb up the social ladder?
Elizabeth is the typical American: using a job as a stepping-stone to something else. In this case, it isn’t a more rewarding job but to land a husband who’ll take care of her financially. Her cynicism towards the children is harsh but she’s well aware of the happy-fake level needed to operate within her realm. She even witnesses it among her own students and allows it to play out without much interference.
Kasdan however interferes too much; it’s not enough that Elizabeth has to deal with being alone but there’s a drinking and drug problem too. We never witness the beginning of her manipulative streak, thus the implication is that it’s an innateness that affects all women. Unlike the recent Bridesmaids though, Bad Teacher shoots through the smokescreen of love and feelings and gets right down to the more sinister issue of human property. For that’s how Elizabeth and her rival, Amy (Lucy Punch) view men here (through their battle for Scott, played boringly by Justin Timberlake).
Kasdan stumbles upon this darkness within both women then backs off in hope that slapstick magic will occur. It doesn’t because both are so steeped in their own game that you see the elimination of one of them long before it happens. What is less clear is how everyone else will pan out in their own miserable lives once the drama between the two divas finally concludes. The initial focus---that of the real plastic image women use as they make their way into the world of potential husbands—has been long lost since Elizabeth started to assess her own superficiality and attraction to, gasp, the penniless gym teacher, Russell (Jason Segel). He, at least, doesn’t mind the lack of silicone in her chest.
The Good Grief
In the field of psycho-analysis, we’re told of the four varying levels of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance. One step may not strictly follow another in a certain order but in the maelstrom of emotions involved, all four cycles will be completed. One can argue as well that everyone is perpetually in one of these states but the process can only be fully appreciated after it is completed. That sense of completion comes through strongly on 4, the new album by Beyonce Knowles, former Destiny’s Child singer aka Mrs. Jay Z.
Hers is a career that has focused on huge achievements (Grammys, Billboard hits, ect) but none more culturally-relevant than that point in 2003 when she surpassed Jennifer Lopez as the ‘it’ girl of pop music with the release of her solo debut (Dangerously In Love). If that was the bargaining step of her career then it did not come without blows; many felt Knowles through her family involvement had ditched Destiny’s Child to selfishly pursue her own motives. The hits came but outside of Jay Z and NARAS (the Grammy organization) few felt an emotional connection to her. Then came B’day, her sophomore album that explored themes of backlash. It’s her anger meme but with some brilliant and wry tracks like Ring the Alarm and Irreplaceable. B’day did also start to see her tie concepts together with a little black humor---which, often times than not, makes for her best songs (Sugar Mama, Freakum Dress).
By the time I am…Sasha Fierce rolled around the playing field had shifted with the rise of ‘dark-side-of-the-force clones’ Rihanna and Lady Gaga. The album had a monster hit in Single Ladies (Put A Ring on It) but the pretentiousness involved only reinforced a sense of denial: she was no longer queen by might alone.
4 thus is her acceptance that she’s in a different space in her career now. Whereas her music before felt aggressively defending turf and ambition, here she mellows nicely in reflection. At first when I learned that she submitted seventy-two (72) tracks for the album, I felt it was more an egocentric ploy but hearing her cite Fela Kuti and Stevie Wonder as main influences made me realize that she was serious.
And there are great moments of raw emotion here: 1+1 showcases her vocals in its purest form, without any stylistic tricks or heavy padding. It’s the type of song one imagines she warm ups to in front of the mirror before going onstage to belt out the real gems, but here it ends up being a solid highlight. The piped in guitars and atmospherics chime in at just the right levels and Knowles—never one to pull back from excess—surrenders to the moment with ease. When she sings the line, ‘darling/ you got enough/ for the both of us/ so, come on baby/ make love to me…’, it is not mere recognition that her man has strayed but more acceptance that he is not perfect. I Care is a slow tempo groove that, while not quite sexed up to Aaliyah-like levels, rocks its slick production brilliantly. Knowles growls, purrs & throws her tightly-wound format out and, towards the end, when you seemingly hear the horns pipe in, you suddenly realize that it’s her humming a few lines instead. It is a stunning, reflexive gesture…one that puts her in an unprecedented angle of vulnerability. The standout though is Love on Top and its breezy, early-90s r&b killer hooks to accompany her vocal longing. I’ve never heard Beyonce get so lost in a song, for such an extended period.
These three songs demonstrate the real depth she keeps in reserve or, perhaps more precisely, hidden from us. I’m not sure the reason for this but no doubt there is heavy calculation done by her PR team. The other songs are hit and miss concepts: I Miss You is at times gorgeous but never pushes beyond her comfort zone. Best Thing I Never Had feels like a hit but retreads to much into Irreplaceable territory to blast forward into transcendence. Party achieves the impossible: Beyonce bringing the brilliance (except the ‘hey, hey’ chorus which is just annoying) but somehow Andre 3000 can’t hit his part out of ballpark. Rather Die Young is a good Mariah Carey impersonation, which in its own way is a huge problem unto itself.
Her vocals are gorgeous but still, at this stage of her career, it’s alarming how the goal-post continues to shift for Knowles in terms of inspiration. She’s era-less one minute then sultry the very next. Within the niche between these alternating states lies the best of her effort here. That includes the frustrating inconsistency that has been a hallmark of her career. To its credit though, 4 does seem to reveal the final, most personal side of her as an artist and human being. It’s a heady mix of strength and vulnerability…the only tools any artist needs to emerge as a musical icon. Up to now, we’ve had our doubts that beneath the public image there was something really tender and likable about Beyonce Knowles but, with all its flaws and all, 4 will come to be the album that we’ll remember as the first step of her career as an important soul singer, fit to be mentioned alongside her contemporaries.