Punditry, celebrity, and linguistics

In looking at the last three reviews that I’ve published and forgotten to post here, I realized they were all documentaries. Since I’m only getting published every two weeks now, I’m feeling less of a need to be focusing on what’s big right now and rather on what I think you should see that you probably haven’t heard about. Or that’s the idea anyway.

The Best of Enemies

People stay in their hermetically sealed ideological camps and hear only the echoes of themselves and the people they agree with, and when they interact with others, it is as if they are encountering an invading force of abjectly evil barbarians. Compromise, mutual understanding, and respect are almost nonexistent in our political discussions (and I am hardly innocent in this). Liberals blame Fox News, and conservatives blame the so-called “liberal media,” when neither of them are not just simply calling the other side degenerate idiots. Again, it’s a complicated process, but the fantastic new documentary he Best of Enemies makes the case that demon seed of this horrible situation can be traced to the televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. during the 1968 Republican and Democratic National Conventions. [read the rest]


There were so many terrible things about Amy Winehouse’s death in 2011 at the age of 27. She was arguably the greatest singer of her generation, having produced two instantly classic albums, the jazz album Frank (2003) and the throwback soul album Back to Black (2006). Like those of entirely too many great rock stars who died at 27 – Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain – Winehouse’s death was an artistic tragedy for popular music and its fans. More importantly, it was horrifying, if unsurprising, for the family and friends who adored the magnetic, spectacular, deeply troubled Winehouse. Less importantly, but particularly troubling for me, was how the worst people in the world used Winehouse’s death to express their misogyny, pathological lack of empathy, and judgmental derision for addicts. She was troubled before she became famous, but the celebrity media, fed by its schadenfreude-infected consumers, turned her troubles into disasters and then gleefully covered them until they killed her. In the days after her death, I unfriended a couple dozen people on Facebook, the ones who called Winehouse a skank, a loser, a whore, and deserving of her end. I want them those people, and I want George Lopez, Jay Leno, and every other comedian who mocked Winehouse’s troubles, to see Asif Kapadia’s excellent and disturbing documentary about Winehouse’s life. [read the rest]

Do I Sound Gay

When I figured out that other people were figuring out I was gay, or maybe gay, or maybe just weird, say around the age of 14, I became hyper-vigilant about how I might be perceived by, well, everyone who was close enough to perceive me. Most of it was in my clothes (carefully disheveled instead of carefully dapper), my proclaimed interests (basketball not Bronski Beat), and my physical gestures (unlimp that wrist). When I heard my voice recorded on an answering machine, I was a little bit horrified. The long, dramatic “Hellohhhhh” and the Valley Girl inflection of “Call me?” I wasn’t even trying to be funny. Yes, there was some internalized homophobia, but I was more concerned about detection, about what would happen in my high school social circle if they correctly determined that I was gay. (It happened, and some of them behaved wretchedly.)

I modulated my vowels as best I could, dropped certain references and added others, and kept a watchful eye and ear. This was, of course, exhausting. It seemed to have worked, however. In a way. Before I started my review of David Thorpe’s insightful and excellent documentary about whether there is a gay “voice” Do I Sound Gay? I asked my Facebook friends just that question. Every single straight person who answered, including several I went to high school with, said I didn’t. Several of my gay friends, however, wrote that I speak in such a way that signals to other gay people that I’m gay, but that these signals, they claimed, are rarely picked up straight people. But, it also seems, if I’m excited, I’m really obviously gay. This is not surprising, since I’ve been known to belt “Yaaaaassssss!” in such moments. [read the rest]