Saturday, January 28, 2012

What Makes a Classic?

The first time I saw Casablanca, all I could think was...YAWN. Also, meh. The problem with seeing a movie like Casablanca seventy years after it was released is obvious: It has been referenced a zillion times in subsequent movies...everything fresh and new in 1942 has been rendered Old Hat. I was a lot more affected by Citizen Kane, but again the weight of all that came after blanched any perception I had of the movie. What makes a classic? Movies we can all agree upon as "awesome"? We should let the experts decide, I guess. But if you think about it, the classics for the individual are based on entirely different criteria than theatrical excellence and longevity.

When I was home, I asked my mom, "What is the movie you can and want to watch over and over again?" When she answered, "Independence Day," you can imagine my delight. What makes this movie so eternal? It's scary, it's snappy, it has a lot of (cheezy) heart, and, let's face it: It is totally All-American. Yes, yes, the world unites...but of course the US figures out how to defeat the bad guys. Like always! But with uber sexays Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. I mean, HELLO. How more American can you get?

Another classic for me, the individual?: Grease 2. Anyone who loved this movie back in the day (7 to 13 year olds), will now tell you it is a shitshow that makes you blush to be watching it at the first frame. You should be ashamed of yourself. And for anyone who participated in the making of this dorkalicious idiocy. And yet! You can love a movie specifically because it makes you the point of the point of screaming with laughter. Who can negate the pure glee of watching Johnny Nogerelli (Adrian Zmed) snake dance on his knees during the "We're Gonna Score Tonight" song at the bowling alley...especially after experiencing his falsetto screech, followed by "Hey Paulette, take a look over here"? This is Danny Zuko's successor?? A 4'9" squealing poser? Awesome. How about the showdown in the bowling alley's parking lot, when the "Cool Rider" (Maxwell Caulfield) actually sings (badly) "Everyone around you thinks that you're a star!!!!!" Really, who IS that guy? And when can we smack him in his overfat lips?

But, really, what makes it a classic? Is it the uber naughty "Reproduction" (make my stamen go berserk) or Stephanie Zinoni's (Michelle Pfeiffer) extra sexay "Cool Rider"? Nah. It's the afternoon I spent watching this movie with my sister, insisting that it was a coolkid classic "in the moment" of 1983...then over the course of all the ridiculousness, the absolute meltdown of giggles (screaming giggles) once we reached the emotional climax of the movie: Michael has zoomed off a cliff to (supposed) death and his love, Stephanie, still must perform in the high school talent show (like you do). And then the duet to end ALL TIMES commences: "Turn Back the Hands of Time." Jesus Please Us. It is absolutely the greatest moment of stupidity ever caught on tape...and edited for film...forever...on purpose. WOW.

And it is a classic because I will never forget that afternoon, rolling on the floor with my sister, screaming with laughter. And, oddly enough, I will also never forget the hours my best girlfriends and I spent watching Grease 2 years earlier, idolizing Stephanie Zinoni and crushing on Maxwell Caulfield. We watched it on repeat for hours, eating anniversary cake (white cake, white icing: the beginning of my obsession with that particular cake), just before my very best friend in the world was whisked off to Venezuela for four years (it was supposed to be 3 months). And just before my mom lost her job and we had to move to the wrong side of the tracks, where I soon learned about food stamps and ill-fitting clothes...just in time for puberty.

Classic. See how that works?

Friday, January 06, 2012

Not to be racist, but...

Back in '93 or '94, before we were married, Mr. Chan and I had a frank discussion about race relations. It was relevant to our relationship and future: When we have kids, what are the repercussions to a child that is half white, half Asian? He told me stories that made me sick; incidents when he suffered terrible racism. We even experienced it firsthand in Amarillo, Texas...a place I'll never really be able to forgive. He was so angry and I felt so helpless. That's the trick, isn't it? You are not a racist, but you live in a world filled with it. Do you apologize? How do you fight it? What can make this outrage stop?

It was during our discussions that I related my Theory of Progress. It's simple minded and idealistic...but I do believe in it still. What shores up my conviction? Evidence. First, the Theory: Change doesn't happen in an instant. It progresses through time when each generation is born into a world where things like race, gender, and homosexuality are less charged than they were before. As I approach my 40th birthday, I can absolutely stand by this conviction.

When I was 13 I had a massive, crushing love for a boy at my middle school: Quy Nguyen. One of my friends teased me mercilessly. She related a story from her neighborhood, when her sisters were making fun of the Vietnamese family next door: "You tell your yang yang to go inside and put on some clo!" This coming from a Mexican American girl...a perfect example that all races judge and hate. Not just Whitey.

Less than ten years later I was engaged to an Asian man. For the most part we were left alone. The Amarillo incident was the worst of it, but we did get looks from whites and Asians when we went out to eat. It was certainly nothing we couldn't get over. After all, my mother dated primarily African American men when I was growing up: I knew the stares, the whispers. Aside from some apocalyptic eruptions in the family, I don't recall any overt moments of racism from the outside world...and this was the Midwest, don't forget. My little teen friends would say things from time to time: "Doesn't it bother you that he's BLACK??" or "OMG, he's BLACK." No one threatened violence, no one was ever murdered.

This was not ideal. Nor was it ideal that my high school friends were terrorized for being "fey" or "gentle": Until one very unapologetic friend came out to me in the back of a pick up truck, it never occurred to me that "gay" even existed. She was sobbing uncontrollably and I was an ignorant hick ill prepared to console her. But I did. And it was still years later when I realized how many of my friends from high school were gay. This doesn't include my closest gay boyfriends. I am talking about the kids who were just girding themselves behind a shield of Dramatic Arts, waiting for the day when they could get the HELL out of North High and Wichita.

I love that things like "Shit White Girls Black Girls" exist. I even love that things like "Shit That Girls Say" exists. Reasons? Well, for the first: Finally! If you can post it on YouTube you know you are fearless about whether or not people can relate. I can relate. Like many a whitey before me, I have had many black friends. And I really have. And I think it is great that we can talk about this crap openly. My work pal told me once how much it irritated her when people asked to touch her hair. "Like, OMG, it is so soft!! I thought it would be like steel wool!!" We should be able to watch this video, see ourselves, laugh, and say OK, let's get on to the next level when were less than fascinated about how different we are.

"Shit That Girls Say"? YES, because for me there's no such thing as feminism. Outrageous! But the thing is: I never have been a feminist. Crazy? No. Think about it: I was raised by a militant single mother: There was never a question that women were equal. In my household, the idea of the submissive wifey was a hysterical fairy tale. While I understand and appreciate what the Women's Rights movement did for me, I was lucky enough to be raised in a house where it was a foregone conclusion. I don't get my panties in a twist about videos like "Shit That Girls Say" because they DO say those things, Women's Movement be damned. Also, I don't get my panties in a twist about "panties" being in a "twist." There's nothing to be reactive about. I do, as a fact, wear panties.

Race relations progress, women's rights progress, gay rights are coming along. And the last of that does bother me. The fact that "It Gets Better" became a major meme after the suicide of Tyler Clemente makes me both hopeful and terribly sad. I am angry that so many gay teens feel that the only way out is death. The idea of "It Gets Better" is phenomenal: I just hope that these teens understand. Like all teenagers, they do not understand that the microcosm they live in now will be blown apart by the progression of life. College is one thing, but life after that is entirely another: You can seek out places to be exactly who you are. You do not have to live in fear of bullying, scorn, or judgement. What is sad is that so many have chosen death as a way out long before now: Family and friends mean everything. They still can, God knows, but there's no reason to forfeit life just because you want someone of the same sex.

I believe my theory still holds true. Republicans now speak out against racism...this wasn't always the case. Gay marriage? Forget it. In 1990 such a thing was beyond unbelievable. Race relations...are they perfect? NO. But time progresses. And every generation grows up with a different perspective. One where race wars are an antiquated joke, gay rights are so yesterday, and women have never been anything but equal. You can't rush it. It will happen.

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