As an esteemed wartime economist, I’m here to size things up—or down—with some lists about our frightful future. Things we won’t have anymore: reality TV (watching idiots pretending to be distressed in order to compete for a cash prize wasn’t that much fun to begin with); frequent flier miles; fringe magazines (you know, all those disposable luxury items I write for).
Things we’ll still have: irony (the Times and Graydon Carter both said it’s over, but I’m sure they were just being ironic); insufferably weepy music by Enya and various flag-waving country stars; Starbucks; cockroaches; Cher.
New things we’ll have: big hair; escapist sitcoms about genies on a three-hour tour; and lots more doleful telethons—like that last one, which trotted out an assortment of 50-plus rockers in such a morose, tasteful mode that we almost looked ready to surrender. The event did raise tons of money (Oscar winners and Penelope Cruz manned the phones) and couldn’t help but be deeply moving at times, but wouldn’t the best way to show American moxie be to turn out our most alive, resilient spirit rather than look so cowed and mawkish? Instead, as if any flash or fire might offend someone, we were served the most minimal TV event ever—one with no MCs, no studio audience, no Steve and Eydie, and so much uniformity and drabness that Will Smith‘s yellow running suit seemed like a dazzler. And the downbeat stars kept on coming: funnymen from Ray Romano to Chris Rock seizing the chance to look stricken, Bono wailing for freedom (though you’ll remember his boyfriend these days is Jesse Helms), and Bruce Springsteen invoking our city’s devastation. (Yes, the Boss decried cops’ behavior in his Amadou Diallo song, but now he was kicking off the biggest homage to uniformed men since the Village People movie!) And you had to love Tom Cruise, consciously lowering his voice in his assignment to pay tribute to the gay priest who died, though he didn’t mention (or probably know about) the gay part. The finale—in which all the stars stood awkwardly around Willie Nelson as he crooned “America the Beautiful” for days—was so mesmerizingly bizarre I bet it scared the terrorists. (Gossip update: I hear a lot of the celebs, including Jack Nicholson, had no idea who Faith Hill was, prompting one star to actually call a friend and find out. Her gospel choir must have thrown them off.)
A few channels over, Liza Minnelli was belting out “New York, New York” for the Mets crowd, and though they never showed a close-up—lip-synching, dear?—the woman had sparkle, life, and joy, and I love her!
Speaking of New York, New York, for years we attacked Rudy for “cleaning up” the town, and though we’ll never forgive his crackdown on nightlife, bohemia, sex, and art, some of the Giuliani-town gloss is starting to seem richly romantic in retrospect. It was an affluent metropolis with mysterious bands of twentysomething millionaires lining up for ritzy restaurants and pricey Broadway shows, and if you were a hideous yuppie—or a self-serving social critic—who was part of the fun, the New York of a month ago is starting to take on a certain luster.
But should he be allowed to extend his term? No, you don’t bend the rules of the democracy you’re supposed to be protecting, any more than you censure Bill Maher for critiquing our policies, put terrorist-content warnings on video shelves, or cheer Barbra Streisand‘s decision to remove any disagreement with Bush from her Web site. Oh, those things have all happened?
Well, back to doleful TV, the recent Miss America competition climaxed with a montage that contended it was a gigantic triumph of American freedom that we were still going to have beauty pageants. Even more insanely, it is! I enjoyed every surreal second, even Tony Danza reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
And there are even more absurdist images to be found right over in Times Square, where Hooters has added “God Bless America” to its marquee and Hedda Gabler has been sporting an ad campaign I bet they’ll be pressured to rethink. (“This season, she sets New York on fire.”)
The Producers still has Roger Bart as a big-time flamer, but his uncle, Variety editor Peter Bart, recently told me, “Starting at 12, Roger was accused of being the poor man’s Warren Beatty. He’s permanently priapic and definitely, overwhelmingly hetero.” I asked.
But back to the war, if they ever do find Osama bin Affleck, or whatever his name is, they should make him watch Glitter. (And where did he get a fax machine to spread his hate messages? Do they have Kinko’s in caves?)
On a lighter note, at least last week brought a vibrant all-star effort benefiting a worthy cause. It was The 24 Hour Plays, an assortment of quirky quickies written and staged in a day, to make money for Working Playground, Inc. (which brings arts to the kids—a war in itself). Playwright Richard LaGravanese told me that the authors chose their casts, stickball style, from a pool of big-name actors sitting in a circle. His first choice was Julianne Moore and then he noticed that a cardboard representation had (absentee) Kyra Sedgwick‘s face on it, so he took her next. (This brought back painful memories of when even puppets were picked over me for sports.)
The bios in the program were suitably succinct, like “Jared Harris—ugly as sin and twice as much fun.” And during intermission, I eavesdropped on some other intriguingly short utterances, like Robert Sean Leonard saying about The Music Man, “It’s like going to the gym for three hours every night.” Rosie Perez admitted she’d just ad-libbed some lines that might have thrown Leonard off. And Sedgwick said of her bitch character, “I don’t see her as a bitch.”
Well, call me a C-word, but when the Daily News came out with their list of what’s hot and not, they struck an offensive chord by saying “In: cops, out: fops.” Fuck you! Using the war to trot out homophobic sentiments is hideous, especially since that pronouncement implies that fops couldn’t possibly be cops or heroes (or priests). And we—I mean they—are, they are. In fact, I’m so kickass I’m planning an all-star benefit for my new drag character, Rachel Tolerance, and even Joan Rivers wants to attend.
Meanwhile—the wartime gossip keeps coming—author Brad Gooch hasn’t become a Muslim, despite the rumors, but he has been researching the subject for a book called Godtalk—Travels in Spiritual America. Are gays welcome? “It’s a debate,” Gooch told me. “Someone in a mosque in Long Island told me you can’t be gay and Muslim. Another from New York said there’s nothing in Islamic law about being gay. It’s like Christianity. There are your Falwells and your Episcopalian types.” I’ll take the latter.
And take this: I hear that David LaChapelle wanted to make a charity poster out of a shot he has of Gisele Bundchen sporting a red, white, and blue bikini, but she declined. She should be denied lip gloss for a year.
Finally, this from a reader: “A gay man helped divert one of the planes, but he wouldn’t be welcome in the armed forces. A gay man, even if HIV-negative, can’t donate blood. And all the queers who lost partners during this fiasco can’t file insurance claims either.” Thank God we live in a free country, right?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 2, 2001