"Everything is as it should be."

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What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Trump, That's What!

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 14 seconds

“HEY, BILLY BOY, BEEN READING THE PAPERS?” – WHITEY BULGER, BLACK MASS

 Johnny Depp has had an extraordinary acting career, but in recent years he’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons, marriage problems, financial woes, bad on-set behavior and even sneaking pets into Australia. Depp kept this current streak of bad decisions alive last Thursday when, while introducing a screening of his 2004 film The Libertine to an audience at the Glastonbury Arts Festival, Depp embraced violent language when speaking of President Trump.

Depp’s screed began when he asked the crowd, “Can you bring Trump here?”

When Depp was met with jeers and boos, he replied, “You misunderstand completely. When was the last time an actor assassinated a president? I want to clarify: I’m not an actor. I lie for a living. However, it’s been awhile, and maybe it’s time.”

Depp concluded by saying, “By the way, this is going to be in the press and it is going to be horrible. It’s just a question; I’m not insinuating anything.”

 “I AM NOT COMPLETE.” – EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, FROM EDWARD SCISSORHANDS

Depp’s diatribe is another in a long line of inappropriate remarks and actions by celebrities in regards to President Trump. There was Madonna’s “blow up the White House” remarks at the Women’s March in January, then the Snoop Dogg’s Ronald Klump video where the rapper jokingly shoots a clown-faced Trump character, and most recently Kathy Griffin’s infamous Trump beheading photo shoot. 

The thing that makes Depp’s comments even more thoughtless than those of his fellow celebrities is that they occurred less than two weeks after a left-wing lunatic, James Hodgkinson, literally tried to assassinate Republican congressmen while they practiced on a Virginia baseball field. Representative Steve Scalise is still hospitalized recovering from serious injuries as a result of the shooting.

“ME? I’M DISHONEST, A DISHONEST MAN YOU CAN ALWAYS TRUST TO BE DISHONEST. HONESTLY. IT’S THE HONEST ONES YOU WANT TO WATCH OUT FOR.” – JACK SPARROW, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN

The reaction to Depp’s screed was predictable, Trump’s family attacked the actor and White House spokesman Sean Spicer seethed.

Depp quickly apologized saying, “I apologize for the bad joke I attempted last night in poor taste about President Trump. It did not come out as intended, and I intended no malice. I was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone.”

“WHY IS THE RUM ALWAYS GONE?” – JACK SPARROW, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN

In court filings, it was claimed Depp spends $30,000 a month on wine, which gives us a clue as to what fueled his ill-fated Trump joke. For this reason alone I think Depp’s apology is sincere.

“THE PROBLEM IS NOT THE PROBLEM. THE PROBLEM IS YOUR ATITUDE ABOUT THE PROBLEM.” – JACK SPARROW, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN

What interested me about this situation was not Depp’s empty-headed remarks, but from where they were born. Depp, Madonna, Snoop Dogg and Kathy Griffin are artists that have been very successful by intuiting what audiences want and giving it to them. I think Depp sensed the violent animus that pulsates through our political discourse and embraced its darker instincts in order to satiate his desperate desire for love and acceptance from his audience.

Anti-Trump sentiment has reached a crescendo in liberal circles resulting in the onset of a sort of madness. This anti-Trump fever brings with it an ever-escalating level of fury and is reinforced by a cosmological feedback loop that is vigilantly patrolled by the like-minded. Depp is symbolic of most liberals in that he has surrounded himself with those who think exactly as he does. He also limits his information intake only to things with which he already agrees. Any contradictory information is down the memory hole, and any who dare question the suffocating group think are exiled out of the bubble. I have experienced this strident thought policing first hand out here in Hollywood.

This means that Depp’s tirade is less a statement on the actor’s personal character and more an indictment of the rage and moral depravity that permeates our collective political culture.

“CLOSE YOUR EYES AND PRETEND IT’S ALL A BAD DREAM. THAT’S HOW I GET BY.” – JACK SPARROW, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN

Anti-Trump fever has made Democrats desert any moral or ethical grounding and jettison their compassion. This fever forces liberals to be blind to the humanity of their opponents.  This dehumanization believes that, “not only are Trump supporters wrong, they are evil”.

When you dehumanize your opponent, violent language becomes acceptable, and violence unavoidable.  James Hodgkinson is a glaring example of this, but so were the mindless mobs that rioted at Berkeley against Milo Yiannopoulis, at Middlebury College against Charles Murray, and the masked fool who punched Richard Spencer on inauguration weekend.

The reaction to these violent acts reveals the rot at the soul of our politics. After alt-right leader Spencer was punched, the internet, along with some mainstream media outlets, erupted in joy over the punching of a nazi”. While Republican Steve Scalise was still lying in his hospital bed with serious injuries, MSNBC host Joy Reid attacked him over his political beliefs. Nebraska Democrat, Phil Montag, was recorded saying he was “glad” Scalise was shot because the congressman is trying to take healthcare away from people. Fellow Nebraska Democrat Chelsey Gentry-Tipton thought it was “funny” that Republican congressman were crying over the shooting of Scalise and she didn’t feel sorry for them because of their pro-gun political views.  I can assure you, these heartless and thoughtless opinions are not confined to MSNBC and Nebraska, I hear them consistently in Los Angeles from angry Democrats too.

Just last week, Tony Foreman, an alt-right Trump supporter was stabbed nine times in Santa Monica by two men hours after a pro-Trump rally. While it is unclear whether this attack was politically motivated, right wing media have not been shy in declaring this to be another violent attack by anti-Trump forces. When viewed in the context of recent liberal behavior, it is difficult to mount an effective counter argument to that claim.

Let’s not kid ourselves, Democrats are not dancing alone to the music ofblind hate, Republicans are just as bad. A recent Pew survey revealed that 45% of Republicans hate Democrats and 41% of Democrats hate Republicans. Hate, like hypocrisy, cuts across party lines.

In May, conservative pundit Charles Sykes wrote a very insightful piece in the New York Times where he lamented the fact that conservatism is no longer a place of ideas but instead nothing more than anti-anti-Trumpism. Sykes point was that the most important thing in the eyes of conservatives is to infuriate anti-Trump liberals. I think Sykes is correct about the vacuity of conservatives, and the same principle-abandoning dynamic is true of liberals as well. This sort of blind partisan hate is going to devour us all, and engulf us in a conflagration that will destroy America.

“I WANNA BE A GOOD PERSON.” – GILBERT GRAPE, WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?

So how to stop this downward spiral? For the moment I will direct my answer to my fellow Hollywood leftists among whom I live. Regardless of how awful you think conservatives are, liberals need to bottle the acid, stop unfriending people and start engaging them. Stop being so mindlessly emotional and start being strategic and thoughtful. Sharpen the sword of your arguments in the fire of debate, do not permit them to grow flaccid and whither in the safe confines of the left wing bubble.

“ALL MY LIFE I’VE TRIED TO BE THE GOOD GUY, THE GUY IN THE WHITE HAT. AND FOR WHAT? FOR NOTHING. I’M NOT BECOMING LIKE THEM; I AM THEM.”  - DONNIE BRASCO FROM DONNIE BRASCO

I am not a Trump supporter at all, but I know this, if you think he is a boor, then stop resisting him with boorishness. If you think Trump lacks decency, then stop resisting him with indecency. If you think Trump is a bully, then stop resisting him with threats and violence.

If you cannot change someone’s mind with your ideas, you certainly won’t be able to do it with your fists. If anti-Trump liberals don’t want to listen to me, maybe they should listen to Gandhi, who once said, “Conquer the heart of the enemy with truth and love, not violence.”

“YOU FIND A GLIMMER OF HAPPINESS IN THIS WORLD, THERE’S ALWAYS SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO DESTROY IT.” – J.M. BARRIE, FINDING NEVERLAND

I hope the resistance to Trump heeds Gandhi’s sage advice even if it is only for strategic reasons and not out of benevolent goodwill, but I fear that the anti-Trump fever, along with its conservative counter part the anti-anti-Trump strain, is too far along, and that we are in for a long, hot and violent summer.

Meanwhile, don’t blame poor Johnny Depp for his desperate attempt to gain acceptance with his audience by attacking Trump. Instead, we should blame ourselves, who not only permit this kind of hateful discourse among allies with our silence, but encourage it.

This article was originally published on Monday, June 26, 2017 at RT.

©2017

Trump - Griffin Scandal Underscores American Celebrity-Obsessed Culture

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 38 seconds

Last week, comic and attention-whore Kathy Griffin posted a photo on social media of her holding the bloody, decapitated head of President Trump. The ensuing outrage was not the least bit surprising and was exactly what everyone involved craved.

When I first heard of the uproar over Kathy Griffin’s infamous Trump photo, I hesitated even reading the story because I didn’t want to feed Ms. Griffin’s ravenous hunger for fame. But Hollywood is my beat, so I reluctantly dove into the story.

My first impression upon seeing the controversial photo was to be startled by the grotesque face with vacant eyes staring back at me, I then realized that vile and surgically contorted mug was Ms. Griffin’s and that she was holding a cheap replica of Donald Trump’s head, severed and bloody.

Kathy Griffin, for those that are lucky enough to not have heard of her, is a talentless hack of a comedienne. A sad desperation seeps through her every pore, proof of which is her myriad of plastic surgeries and her aspiration to be a D-list celebrity. While Griffin is devoid of any and all talent, she is not entirely without skill, her lone proficiency being the ability to tirelessly and shamelessly promote herself.

Griffin’s “career” is littered with one self-serving stunt after another. She’s been banned from the television shows The View, Today and Late Night with David Letterman for her crude and obnoxious behavior. After this Trump photo controversy, she can now add CNN’s New Years Eve special, which she co-hosted with Anderson Cooper, as among the growing number of shows where she is no longer welcome.

Reading up on the Griffin story left me irritated, frustrated and fatigued. Once again some dopey celebrity was giving aid and comfort to Trump, a man I abhor, by diverting attention away from his catastrophic administration, and instead focusing it on their mind-numbing idiocy.

As Napoleon once said, “Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake”, Hollywood liberals would be wise to stop ignoring Mr. Bonerpart’s sage advice.

Whether it be Madonna at the Women’s March, or Snoop Dogg and his Klump video, or Stephen Colbert and his “holster” joke, or Ms. Griffin and her ISIS-inspired photo shoot, the left-wing out here on the left coast keeps giving Trump a welcome distraction from his floundering presidency. With the President embroiled in a series of crippling investigations, leaks and a stalled agenda, now would be a great time for the liberal opposition to keep their mouths shut and let Trump get on with his self-immolation. But no, the temptation of attention is too great for those who endlessly thirst for it.

Which brings me to my central point, Kathy Griffin despises Donald Trump, but she is exactly like Donald Trump. Both Griffin and Trump have made a name for themselves by doing anything and everything to make a name for themselves.

They are both reality television stars, Griffin on My Life on the D-List and Trump on The Apprentice. Both of them require fame and attention like the rest of us do oxygen, and they both will do just about anything for it. Griffin once had a pap smear by a pool on her television show, and performed simulated oral sex on Anderson Cooper in Times Square. Trump has a long history with WWE professional wrestling, appeared fully clothed in a pornographic film, and has attached his name to everything from a scam university to steaks. Both of them have shown an astonishing ability to debase themselves and a remarkable shamelessness in their pursuit of fame.

This Griffin-Trump photo story is a perfect microcosm of all that is currently wrong with our celebrity obsessed culture and politics. You could have easily foretold the way this entire episode would play out from start to finish.

Kathy Griffin quickly apologized when the uproar over her photo became deafening, and then Trump jumped at the chance to play the victim. Both he and Melania made statements bemoaning how their 11 year-old son, Baron, was horrified by the photo.

Not to be outdone in the race for the crown of victimhood, on Friday Griffin held a tearful and defiant press conference with her press-hound lawyer Lisa Bloom, claiming that Trump and his family were bullying her and that she had received death threats. This script is as predictable as an episode of Real Housewives, but not nearly as dignified.

The reality is that both Griffin and Trump want this story to go on for as long as it possibly can because they both benefit from it. Trump gets a distraction from his disastrous presidency and bad press, and Griffin gets people talking about her, which is her lifeblood.

Caravaggio's "David with the Head of Goliath" (c.1610) - on display at the Galleria Borghese

Caravaggio's "David with the Head of Goliath" (c.1610) - on display at the Galleria Borghese

As I kept reading about this story and seeing the photo attached to each article, one of my favorite paintings, David with the Head of Goliath (c. 1610) by Italian Baroque master Caravaggio, came to mind. The reason I thought of Caravaggio’s painting is that in his work David holds aloft the decapitated head of the slain Goliath, much like Griffin holds the bloody head of Trump in her now infamous photo. Caravaggio painted multiple versions of this same event over his lifetime, but the one that has always moved me was the one currently hanging in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. I love this panting so much I actually made a pilgrimage to Rome a few years ago with the express purpose of seeing it. Witnessing the painting in person did not disappoint, as Caravaggio’s supreme talent and transcendent work resonated deep in my soul. What makes this painting so fascinating, besides the masterful skill required for its creation, is the subtext of the story it reveals.

In the painting, Goliath’s lifeless face is also that of the artist, Caravaggio at the time of creating this masterpiece. It is also said that the face of David in the painting is that of a young Caravaggio. And unlike Caravaggio’s other renderings of this scene (the one on display in Vienna for instance), in the Borghese version, David is not triumphant, or proud of his conquest of Goliath, rather he looks down at the giant’s lifeless head with “an expression of sadness and compassion”. Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath is not only a depiction of the story of David’s victory over Goliath, but of Caravaggio’s own struggle against his inner demons.

In relation to the current scandal du jour, it would have been much more interesting if Kathy Griffin and photographer Tyler Shields had the artistic vision and courage to eschew the usual attempt at trying to muster shock and garner attention, and instead recognized that Griffin and Trump are both symptoms of the same disease, celebrity, that ravages America, and let that fact be reflected in their work.

For instance, if Kathy Griffin had been photographed dressed as young David, with a sword in her right hand and her left her breast exposed (in order to mimic the painting and supply the titillation both she and Shields crave) while wearing a Trump wig, as she looks down with “an expression of sadness and compassion” at Trump’s decapitated head in her outstretched hand, then Griffin and Shields would be saying something both artistically and politically worthwhile. The symbolism of the eternally vapid Griffin mournfully understanding that Trump, the Goliath of vacuity, is just a larger version of herself, might awake America from its collective cultural and political madness.

That is what great art does and why it is so vital, it reveals a larger truth that resonates both personally and collectively for its audience. Instead, Griffin and Shields went the cheap and vacuous route in their photo shoot searching for the instant gratification of agitation and satiating their adolescent emotional needs rather than the more difficult, but ultimately rewarding, work of telling an artistic truth.

What makes Caravaggio’s painting so exquisite is that it is a work of artistic introspection that tells an uncomfortable truth about both its creator and all of humanity, while the Griffin and Shields photo is one of shallow projection meant to allow the artist to continue to lie to themselves.

Griffin and Shields lack of self-awareness does tell a wider story about narcissism run amok in America, but unintentionally, and that worthy revelation is only born out of the artists own unconsciousness and not out of any artistic vision or insight.

What our emaciated culture and politics truly need right now is a lot more Caravaggio, and a lot less Kathy Griffin. Sadly, as we spiral deeper into a new Dark Age fueled by our insipid celebrity obsession, there are no signs of a cultural and political Renaissance on the horizon. We are stuck with the culture, and the politicians that we have dutifully earned and so rightly deserve. Kathy Griffin and Donald Trump are living proof of that.

This article was previously published on Saturday June 3, 2017 at RT.

©2017

Snoop Dogg Barks Up the Wrong Tree

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 17 seconds

This past week Snoop Dogg released a music video showing a mock assassination of a clown faced Donald Trump. The ensuing sound and fury revealed liberal hypocrisy and some very dark truths about our current political climate.

Donald Trump has lived a charmed existence. He was born to an extraordinarily wealthy family and inherited a hefty fortune along his father’s successful real estate company. That is a pretty fantastic way to start off life.

Trump’s string of good luck has continued in the political realm as well, for he has been blessed with the best (meaning the least effective) enemies any candidate, and now President, could ever hope.

In the cacophony of anti-Trump voices shouting their disapproval this week, a few have risen above the din, most notably Snoop Dogg’s controversial video. The music video for the song “Lavender (Nightfall Remix)” shows the iconic, old school rapper pointing a pistol at a Trump stand-in adorned in full clown make-up, President Ronald Klump, and then pulling the trigger, followed by a cartoonish bang.

A music video from an attention-starved rapper two decades removed from the peak of his cultural relevance would usually not garner very much attention, except this time the President of the United States took the time to comment on it, which means a lot of people took notice of it.

Trump tweeted in response to the video,  “Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time!”

While the idea of “jail time” for artistic expression is legally a bit absurd considering the First Amendment, the essence of the tweet is accurate. Liberals and the media would go bananas if someone had done a similar thing to an Obama look-a-like. They rightfully went berserk when right wing boor Ted Nugent ranted that Obama should “suck on his machine gun” during a live concert. Hell, liberals even went crazy when a rodeo clown mocked President Obama by wearing an Obama mask. In the case of attacks on Trump though, the media response has been considerably more muted.

The reactions to the Snoop-Trump feud from fellow entertainers have been quite illuminating though. Actor and fellow rapper Ice-T commented on the controversy to TMZ, “I think it’d be terrible (if someone made a video where Obama gets shot), but Obama wasn’t the same kind of guy as Trump. It was very hard to make an Obama joke because of his race, and Obama was such a smooth character. I think Trump brings a lot of these jokes onto himself.” So, Snoop Dogg made a video of him shooting Trump because the President is White? Good to know, thanks for the insight, Ice.

Not to be outdone, Shad “Bow Wow” Moss, an actor and rapper, chimed in with his own unique brilliance. Bow Wow tweeted, “Ayo @realDonaldTrump shut your punk ass up talking shit about my uncle @SnoopDogg before we pimp your wife and make her work for us.”  Way to stay classy, Bow Wow.

Ice-T’s and Bow Wow’s tweets reveal the philosophical rot at the core of the opposition to Trump. Trump is routinely labeled a vulgar, misogynistic bully, by his enemies, and his “get tough” talk against protestors at his rallies, and the “Access Hollywood” video are solid evidence that proves their point. But with Snoop Dogg’s mock assassination, Ice-T’s explanatory tweet saying Trump brings these attacks on himself in part by being White, and Bow Wow threatening sexual violence against Trump’s wife, charges of Trump being a vulgar bully and misogynist by his opponents ring pretty hollow, if not down right hypocritical. You cannot intimidate someone with violence, blame the victim because of his race, and then sexually menace their wife and maintain any moral high ground whatsoever.

The reality though, is that this is just how Trump wants things to be. That is why he jumped at the chance to engage Snoop in a pop culture/twitter war, instead of being “presidential” and ignoring Snoop’s video, like President George H.W. Bush did when rapper Paris released a particularly menacing song titled “Bush Killa” back in 1992.

 

Snoop Dogg, Bow Wow and even Madonna with her “I’ve thought about blowing up the White House” comment at the Women’s March inauguration weekend, may think they are taking Trump down a notch with their blustery attacks on him, but the exact opposite is true. These public spats greatly empower Trump and weaken his enemies, first by allowing Trump to play the victim, and second by lowering the discourse to Trump’s level, where he excels.

Trump’s voters, even the marginal ones in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania who voted for Obama twice but put Trump over the top this time around, only get pushed further into Trump’s corner with these blatantly hypocritical attacks from entertainment elites. These luke-warm Trump voters see the double standard liberals apply to Trump as opposed to the democrats, and it reinforces their decision to have voted for him. 

Napoleon once said, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake”, which would be wise words for liberals to take to heart in regards to Trump. This week, Trump has been stuck in the muck and the mire of his healthcare initiative. As Trump flounders with the tedious monotony of governing, he hungers for these celebrity feuds as they are like oxygen to him and red meat to his base.

This week, Trump desperately wanted to change the subject from his governing struggles to anything else, and Snoop’s clown video gave him a frivolous, but more entertaining subject to divert people’s attention.

Trump is a master at manipulation and pushing liberal’s buttons, it is how he won the election, by irritating the right people, like the mainstream media and Hollywood. He has only continued that strategic needling as President as evidenced by his tweet in response to Snoop’s video. Trump thrives by keeping liberals in a constant state of hysterical irritation, forcing them to react to him out of emotion and not thoughtfully respond to him using reason. Democrats and liberals need to get a grip and stop getting sucked onto the playing field of emotion by Trump, and keep things calm, cool and rational, if they want to come in from the political wilderness they currently inhabit.

By ratcheting up the invectives though, both Trump and his foes may be playing a dangerous game. As Marco Rubio said in response to the Snoop video, “Snoop shouldn’t have done that…the wrong person sees that, he gets the wrong idea and you can have a real problem.” Little Marco, for once in his life, is entirely correct.

Here is an anecdotal piece of evidence to ponder, I was recently listening to a private conversation out here in Hollywood where a bunch of liberal acquaintances were talking about Milo Yiannopoulos, the alt-right firebrand, and how much they truly despised him. More than one of them said that they “literally wanted to kill him”, which was shocking to me. If these thoughtful, intelligent and successful people were so flustered by an obvious and shameless provocateur like Milo as to hyperbolically speak of murdering him, I can only imagine how less grounded individuals will react when a top-notch, master troll like Trump sets out to push their buttons.

Those other, less stable individuals, are the ones who will not understand the subtleties and nuance of artistic expression or hyperbole, they will only know that Trump makes them feel an inordinate amount of rage and will want to assuage that discomfiting anger by any means necessary.

Recent events have shown us that intense emotions, mixed with fervent political beliefs, can lead to chaotic and violent actions. For example, the liberal protests against Milo at Berkeley that turned into a riot, or at Middlebury College where students got violent while opposing right wing author Charles Murray, or even when a masked man punched alt-right leader Richard Spencer in the face in broad daylight during inauguration weekend. Violence can never be permitted to encroach upon political debate or discussion. If you can’t win an argument and change minds with your ideas, you certainly won’t with intimidation and violence.

This is a perilous time in which we live, fraught with volatile emotions across the political spectrum. With this powder keg of fury just below the surface of our public square, it would be wise for all of us to be more measured and thoughtful in our speech and artistic expression. The language of political violence, while tempting and at times invigorating, can often lead to actual violence, and ultimately ruin.

©2017

Previously published on March 18, 2017 at RT.