Wednesday, November 16, 2016

MR. KOMMENTS AND ME



In light of yesterday's open letter to Jared Kushner, I have received a great deal of feedback either through Facebook, or via text and email. I have therefore collected all those shared expressions and will now attribute them to an imaginary character named Mr. Komments.

Below is a script for my one-man show called Mr. Komments and Me. 

OPEN ON A BAR. TWO MEN ARE SITTING AT A TABLE, ONE IS IMAGINARY. BOTH ARE DRINKING BEERS. 

Me: Oh, hey. 

Mr. Komments: Hey, man. How's the big anti-Semite watch going?

Me: Whoa, whoa, whoa. We're starting there already? What happened to small talk? Nice day out maybe? Having Thanksgiving guests?

Mr. Komments: Well, dude, you're the one who started all of this yesterday with your open letter to Jared Kushner. I mean, c'mon. Are we still talking about Donald Trump? It's been a whole week since he won. Move on. 

Me: I've already addressed that. No, it's not time to move on. Now take your daily dose of Ritalin so you can accept people focusing on one singular topic for more than a few minutes.

Mr. Komments: Did you get that rubber "anti-Semite" stamp you ordered from Etsy yet? Should come in handy. 

Me: I assume you're referring to my utter distaste for Steve Bannon and his appointment as Campaign Strategist to the White House?

Mr. Komments: ALL I'M SAYING IS THAT EVERY TIME I LEAVE FOR SHABBOS ON FRIDAY HE SAYS, "SHABBAT SHALOM!"

Me: Look, man, I never called Bannon an "anti-Semite," and in fact, I think it's almost irresponsible to.

Mr. Komments: Oh, word....?

Me: Yeah. I have no idea what's going on in his heart. And I could never make that accusation especially when the proof is not all that substantive. We're talking about something his wife said about him in court during a custody battle. Or there's that time, under his editorial leadership at Breitbart News when one of his writers called Bill Kristol a "Renegade Jew." Personally, Renegade Jew sounds like nothing more than a Seth Rogen movie. A pretty funny one, mind you. 

Mr. Komments: Ah-ha! So, Steve Bannon is a friend of the Jews! Hoorah, hoorah! [To the rest of the bar] DRINKS ON ME, GUYS!

Me: I didn't quite say that. It's presumptuous to assume that that's the case. 

Mr. Komments: [to bar] DRINKS NO LONGER ON ME, GUYS! [To me] But I don't understand. Shmuley Boteach, who is "America's Rabbi" has gone on record saying...

Me: [starts laughing hysterically]

Mr. Komments: What's so funny?

Me: [wiping tears] You said "Shmuley Boteach is America's Rabbi."

Mr. Komments: But he is. He was friends with Michael Jackson. He had a reality show. He's written thirty-one books! One of them is even about having relations with food. 

Me: You know Kosher Sex is not about that, right?

Look, no disrespect to the man, but it's just a touch presumptuous proclaiming and touting yourself as "America's Rabbi." Was there a Rabbi America pageant? Did he beat out Rabbi Puerto Rico? But I'm not intent on dismissing his credibility overall. Just this time. In his essay titled, ahem, "America's Rabbi rises to defend Steve Bannon." How heroic, by the way. 

Mr. Komments: I sense sarcasm. It's palpable. 

Me: Possible. Here's the thing, though, when it's buried in the third paragraph "I barely know Mr. Bannon, having met him for the first time last week at The New York Hilton," but then you go on to defend based on the characterization of one of Bannon's own employees...well, then credibility shot. 

Mr. Komments: But then isn't that what you're doing here; presuming to know a man without, you know, actually knowing him. 

Me: Incorrect. What I'm saying here--and I want you to pay attention to this really closely because this is the important part, kind of like that point in the movie when the main character explains that he's been dead the whole time and he's actually a ghost and the kid can see dead people. I am not calling Steve Bannon an anti-Semite. I am not saying the Holocaust is coming. I am not saying that the Nazis are taking over the White House. I have not broken the glass over the Hide in Your Attics Alarm. 

I am simply stating that Bannon, who is in large part responsible for the success of Breitbart News has courted and flirted with the alt-right movement--who should be called, for the sake of total transparency, "white nationalists"--and is right now being touted as their hero. 

Let me ask you something...do you trust CNN?

Mr. Komments: You mean the Clinton News Network? 

Me: [sighs] Yeah. That one. Anyway, just yesterday they posted an article about white supremacists celebrating his appointment. In fact, David Duke, who also loves a spotlight, said--and I quote--"You have an individual, Mr. Bannon, who's basically creating the ideological aspects of where we're going. And ideology ultimately is the most important aspect of any government." How can you not see that as problematic? That outspoken racists are high-fiving one another because of Bannon. 

Mr. Komments: You've got it all twisted, dawg. The Zionist Organization of America thinks he's the bee's knees.

Me: First off, any organization with the name "Zionist" in it cozying up with white nationalists is beyond surreal to me. Like, imagine the awkward pillow talk. Two, did you know he's a guest at their dinner this Sunday? Would be kinda awkward if they trash talked him before he even got a chance to sample the buffet. Three, here's an important point I'd like to make...

Mr. Komments: Another one? Two wasn't enough? We needed a third?

Me: Breitbart News was established by Andrew Breitbart who was himself a Jew and a profound lover of Israel. Andrew is now dead, and with him, his restraint. Breitbart News didn't always flirt with the alt-right in the way that it does now. And you can blame that sea change on Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos, specifically when the latter wrote his alt right screed titled An Establishment Conservative's Guide to the Alt-Right. 

[Looks up at the ceiling] Dude..the impression that these deplorable basket fillers are friends of Israel is not totally wrong, but we embrace that notion at the sacrifice of the safety of American Jewry. 

But here's another scoop of truth I'm going to serve on your lunch tray of thought; just because you're a Zionist and pro-Israel doesn't always mean you're 100% pro-Jew. 

Let me draw that distinction; white American nationalists wants America to be white. Other countries are not of their concern. All the Jews can go to Israel for all they care. Just as long as they're not here. Oh, and take the Muslims, gays and blacks with you while you're packing up your Moishe's Movers truck. 

And I need to clarify again before your Semite sense goes off. Steve Bannon may not feel that way personally. But he represents it and validates it. And it's irresponsible of media outlets...forget that, it's irresponsible of my friends to say otherwise. 

Mr. Komments: Okay...so, I'm getting a better sense of where you are on Bannongate. Incidentally, have you seen that Buzzfeed article titled "This is How Steve Bannon See the Entire World?"  

Me: You mean the one we just got emailed to us like fifteen minutes ago? Yes, I read it while you were talking. There's one weirdly vague and somewhat unsettling part of the whole thing. This article features a transcript from the Human Dignity Institute conference in 2014 which Bannon spoke at. The speech and the Q&A segment is more or less pretty uncontroversial, but at one point Bannon is asked about the racist inclinations of the conservative right. 

And he says, "I’m not an expert in this, but it seems that they have had some aspects that may be anti-Semitic or racial. By the way, even in the tea party, we have a broad movement like this, and we’ve been criticized, and they try to make the tea party as being racist, etc., which it’s not. But there’s always elements who turn up at these things, whether it’s militia guys or whatever. Some that are fringe organizations. My point is that over time it all gets kind of washed out, right? People understand what pulls them together, and the people on the margins I think get marginalized more and more."

Bannon ostensibly first diminishes the criticism by making the "they" into a delusional enemy. Secondly, he denies the racism as a whole by saying "which it's not." Then he talks about the racism and attributes it to a fringe, or just "militia guys." Finally, and the most offensive part of the whole thing, is that he proactively refutes any claim otherwise by assuring us that "over time, it all gets kind of washed out." 

Mr. Komments: Hmmmm...

Me: Yeah. "Hmmm." Racism doesn't get washed out. Anti-Semitism doesn't get washed out. Homophobia doesn't get washed out. I mean, of all the terms to use in regards to racism..."Washed out?!?" Like bleach white-washed out? Really? 

Look, it's getting late. I've got to get home to the fam. I don't want to go on too much longer about this because it is what it is. I just wanted to clarify my position here. I'm not presumptuous enough to name call. Calling someone an anti-Semite is only something you can do once they have been outwardly anti-Semitic. This is not the case here. 

I would also never bring up the Holocaust and Nazi Germany flippantly. All I'm saying is history offers us many lessons and when we look back on it, we can parse valuable things from it. Such as when some dude who is also an alt-right thought leader gets a position in the White House. Things that make you go hmmmm.

Mr. Komments: Oooh, delicious. A C + C Music Factory reference? 

Me: And I know everyone is exhausted about all of this. I'm exhausted. I'm tired of caring so much. I'm tired of second guessing myself about caring so much because some good friends are telling me to get over it. But I don't know, man. That's like telling your heart to stop loving someone. Or telling your stomach to stop reacting to dairy with bad gas.

Mr. Komments: Is that what I've been smelling?

Me: This is how I feel. I feel conflicted. I feel concerned. You can tell me anything and everything about how much Breitbart loves Israel. How Steve Bannon says "shabbat shalom" to some rando Jew who literally five hours ago accused NPR of racism. And I sure as Hell won't trust the self appointed "America's rabbi." 

So, Mr. Komments, don't work so hard on invalidating the concerns of millions because you don't relate to them. Just as I may not relate to your concerns. 

[Smirking] And you want to know something? I envy your peace. I'm jealous that you're so accepting of this reality because it's probably nice to go home and chill and watch an episode of Kevin Can Wait without having that "holy moly"-moment. Yeah...it must be nice.

[Phone rings] 

Me: Hello? Hey, kiddo. Yes, I'm coming home. OK. See you soon. 

[To Mr. Komments] Look, man. That was my kid. I gotta go. But it was good chatting. I appreciate our talks. It's...cathartic.

Mr. Komments: Yeah, me too, dude. I get where you're coming from. No disrespect for challenging that. 

Me: All good. Hug?

Mr. Komments: Oh, most definitely.

[They hug. Lights go out]

THE END

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

DEAR JARED KUSHNER



Jared.

During Dave Chappelle's opening monologue on this week's Saturday Night Live, the comedian joked that "if I could quit being black today, I'd be out tha' game." And in context, it was pretty funny. But as a provocation, it unsettled me. 

I had a hard time sleeping that night because for the first time in my nearly four decades on this great planet, I thought about the choice I would make if I had been offered the opportunity to quit being a Jew. To give up this rich tradition I value immensely. To go "full goy." Again, for the first time in my life, I had thought that yes, I probably would. I would give it all up. And those feelings shocked me. 

But it wasn't because I was inconvenienced by strict kosher regulations. Or that I had lost my appreciation for daily prayer. Or even that I didn't cherish my observance and how it shapes a moral and meaningful life for both me and my family.

It was because I was scared. Simply put. And the fear was palpable and real and concrete. And it has a name associated with it and it is Steve Bannon. 

Before I articulate my inarguably valid concerns, I want to congratulate you on the election win. It's an incredible thing to be the President of the United States' son-in-law. I'm sure surreal doesn't even cover it. Good luck on all that follows. 

But platitudes aside, I want to first express just how much I have valued your family's presence in my life over the years, and to reiterate how deep our mutual history goes. My family was involved for nearly twenty-five years in building and solidifying the prominent reputation of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy, a school that does profound and wondrous things for your grandfather's legacy, may he rest in peace. He was an incredible man whose name now boasts an indelible impression on the Jewish community as a whole. 

Your own mother and father have opened their hearts to me a number of times over the years with selfless consolation in times of tragedy and generous advice in times of career stagnation. I have even  shared a simcha or two with the Kushners. In fact, speaking of smachot, I myself was married in the Puck Building and that magical night could have never happened without your father's involvement, and for that I am forever in his debt. Incidentally, both he and your mom were there. 

Jared, you have always been a mentsch to me whenever I reached out whether it was to wish you a mazel tov on the birth of a child, or when I sought your advice on the media industry. You have always been a consummate gentleman in my presence. Which is why I am so torn apart inside about all that is transpiring right now.

I cannot fathom it. I cannot comprehend it. I cannot accept it.

Now, I know you have been outspoken about your father-in-law's embrace of you and your religion. You wrote in The Observer, "The fact is that my father in law is an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife." And then added, "There’s real racism in the world. There’s real anti-Semitism in the world. These are pernicious, dispiriting truths."

Steve Bannon is now Donald Trump's Campaign Chairman. We can argue on semantics as to whether we have the right to label him outright as a racist or not. Whether he is an anti-Semite or not. Whether he is a misogynist or not. But the fact that we're even having this conversation after months and months of divisive campaign rhetoric?  The fact that we're even having this conversation after your father-in-law has assured the rest of the country that he'll bring everyone together? The fact that we're having this conversation about someone who has the undivided attention of the President of the United States of America? This is beyond problematic. This is crisis. This is history on the brink of impending catastrophe. 

Steve Bannon courts the alt-right, as you know. He is outspoken about doing so. And while I could never know what it is in his heart, the movement's platform is built on white nationalism. It resents political correctness. It embraces homophobia. It believes in the age old Zionist protocols of Jews owning the banks and the media. The alt-right's anti-intellectualism feeds on hate. Its solipsistic leadership encourages the bullying of any detractor with name calling ("cucks"). It is a destructive force to all that is open-minded, progressive and empathetic.

Since Donald Trump won the White House, I have started reading Breitbart News to familiarize myself with this Person Who Is Not Me. It can be argued that the content in of itself, while controversial, is not outwardly racist. The undertones are there, but it's coy about intolerance. I invite you, however, to read the comments which should scare in a way that the worst horror movie couldn't. 

These are the people your father-in-law has now ennobled and validated. They are the dregs of society who now have a White House ambassador to represent their white nationalistic hate. The message this sends reverberates throughout our country in a pungent and unprecedented way. 

Jared, I call on you this time to not just write an editorial defending Donald Trump and his misconceived appointment. I call on you to do more than speak out to news outlets about this threat to our liberties. Not that either of things have been done yet.

No. I call on you to demand of your father-in-law in the strongest terms that you can muster to reverse this appointment. For him to come out and speak against the alt-right's burgeoning movement of hate. I call on you to remind Donald Trump that your children are Jewish and are at risk of growing up in a society which is now inexplicably reacting to racism and hate with shoulder shrugging apathy and denial. We cannot just give Bannon a chance, as many are saying. We simply don't have that luxury. 

These are scary times indeed. So much so that a proud Jew--the son of a revered Modern Orthodox rabbi and a respected Jewish educator and leader--finds himself questioning his faith, and worse, his fate. This is a moment in time in which we need to stand on the right side of history. 

For our children? Kind of.

But more so for our grandparents and their respective memories. Because they all experienced something eerily similar to this in the lead up to the Holocaust. 

This is not to say that we are heading toward a Holocaust. I'm not prone to hyperbole. But the unknown of a Steve Bannon appointment to the inner White House council sure does send the mind to some terrible places. Which are now all conceivable. 

All best to you and yours. 

Arye Dworken

Monday, November 14, 2016

FAREWELL NORMALCY



"This is not normal."

John Oliver, during the last episode of his HBO series' third season, recommended that we fight the normalization of the Donald J. Trump presidency by sticking a post-it-note on our refrigerator. It should say "This is not normal.


Because it's not. 


Yet over the weekend, I had a few friends tell me that everything will be okay. As if only six days after the country was completely jolted into a new reality by the 2016 election results, we should all #moveon. As if they had been briefed directly and assured by the president-elect on policy in his Fifth Avenue penthouse and felt more comfortable about a Donald J. Trump presidency. Just you and him talking about Mexicans, gay people and Steve Bannon. 


"You can't know that," I responded. Because they couldn't. There's no way to see this as a glass half full just as there is no way to see this as a glass half empty. [Although I would say that there's a stronger precedent for the half empty scenario.] This is not normal, we have to all remember. And that means sometimes being inconvenienced by impassioned screeds. Well intentioned screeds. 


Because I presumptuously believe this is minimally what needs to be done when things are not normal. Yet, over the weekend, I also saw people talking about the "unfollow" option on Facebook as if they had been inconvenienced by readings things that did not align with their thinking. Or worse, they felt their Facebook feed had gotten too "melodramatic."


I'd like to reiterate that it's only been six days. It is not time yet to return to adorable puppies and cute photos of your kids. We don't have the luxury of moving on just yet. We are willfully irresponsible if we assume everything will be okay. We are ignoring history's many paradigms of intolerance and hate. We are just as culpable for falling into passivity if and when we're made to feel guilty for feeling an unquenchable ire deep within our bellies.  


In fact, noted writer and philosopher Leon Weiseltier wrote in the Washington Post that we should "stay angry." 


"Difficult times are giving way to dark times," he writes, "And dark times require a special lucidity and a special vigilance and a special ferocity about principle. We must not lose our faith in moral progress and in social progress, but we must remember that moral progress and social progress are not linear and unimpeded and inevitable." Meaning, we are already taking our liberties for granted. 


And as Donald Trump has showed us in just the last twenty-four hours with the appointment of Breitbart's Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, we can take nothing for granted. Especially not normalcy. Because a man known for his poisonous invective now has the ear and the attention of the President of the United States. A hate monger who has on record showed his disdain for immigrants, Muslims, Jews and women has been embraced by the office of the White House in a way that should unsettle everyone, regardless of faith and culture and demographic. 


This is not normal. 


And amidst all of this, where is the universal outcry? Why aren't religious leaders who spoke out against Donald Trump during his campaign screaming out now? Where are the Trump supporters who insisted on their candidate being the furthest from being a racist? Where are my friends who groan about the Facebook rants and threaten to brandish the unfollow button like it were noise canceling headphones? This is a very tangible threat to our liberty. Why aren't we all literally and appropriately overreacting as such? 


Last night, Shana told me she was scared. Not worried. Not even concerned. She was scared.  We talked about escape plans. We talked about procuring weapons. We talked about a great many things, but none of them was about hope. It's intense to have these conversations in 2016. In a world of irreverent nightly talk shows. In a world in which we have made so many progressive strides. 


Shana wondered aloud how we could watch normalcy erode and that so many people can be okay with it. Move on, they say. Everything will be fine. 


I remember hearing a myth once that women forget the pains associated with labor so they would be more amenable to having children again. And I couldn't help think that this is also very much how we process history; if humanity would internalize and absorb all of our collective pains from throughout time, optimism would be impossible. Procreation would be pointless. Hell, it would be difficult to ever smile. And so we almost have to forget. So we can live. So we can go on. 


But this means we also have to experience hate and intolerance firsthand for that is the only way we can be awoken from our apathetic slumbers. And that is what is happening right now. The trade off. 


This is not normal. 






Monday, November 07, 2016

REFLECTIONS, ELECTION EDITION

I'm not the kind of guy who says things like, I want to take every opportunity and use it as a learning experience. I'm not that insightful. On the contrary. I'm fairly superficial. For example, today I am wearing a multi-colored polka dot shirt. If that doesn't say "lacking substance," I don't know what does.

But that being said, on the day before the election, I'd like to take a moment or two to reflect on what I've learned about people in the last year or so. Or in other words, I'd like to take this opportunity and use it a learning experience.

It's been a fairly enlightening year and in many ways, it's also been a frightening one. Of all the things I've learned about my friends, acquaintances and strangers, I realize foremost that social media has almost inadvertently made us all exponentially more passionate about the things we know and feel. Because it's encouraged all of us to be more articulate. And articulation is the catalyst for unearthing intensity.

Being passionate is good. It's just what's done with that passion...that's where it gets iffy.

FEELINGS: This isn't some profound thought here, but I've noticed both sides of the argument using "I feel" as the prelude for citing inaccuracies. I've been guilty of this as well which is why in the last few months, any time I've felt compelled to say "I feel" when discussing the election, I've made every attempt to either turn that feeling into fact or give it enough substance that it's not irresponsible to say it.

It's probably too late to reverse the cultural degradation of fact, but I know, personally speaking, that I'll try less to presume based on my feelings. As hard as that may be.

[Incidentally, when you debate with facts as opposed to arguing about feelings, opposing sides tend to get less offended and/or less hostile]

CONFLICT; RELATIONSHIPS: This is a tough one and it's one I've been thinking about for a lot of the time throughout this whole fiasco. What happens when I find out people I like and hold in high regard are actually ideologically opposed to what I believe in? What happens when I start wondering whether we share any of the same core values? What happens when I start asking questions about someone's character? Is that judgmental? Is that unfair?

I am certainly guilty of unfollowing people on Facebook and I would assume there are those who have unfollowed me as well. I'm okay with that. And I can't help consider that my rabbi encouraged his congregants a few months back to reach across the aisle and share dialogue with the "opposition" but I'm finding it hard to even want to do so. Like, I have zero interest right now. Because doing so is exhausting. Attempting to have a discussion with someone interested in solely venting their feelings (see above) is rarely productive.

Last night, Shana and I lamented on how Facebook has become this fraught place, while we'd rather use it to share good news, family photos and (for me) updates on superhero movies. But it's become a revealing indicator of character and values. A outlet for faulty liberalism or vitriolic conservatism. Intolerance and, in a few instances, spiteful aggression.

It's hard to look at people the same when they say a man like Trump is for their best interests. It's hard to value the friendship of someone who lacks the dignity and respect to engage in civil political discourse. I have seen many people on my social periphery who have shown their worst selves completely unaware of the reverberations. I'm still not sure what to do with all that information. Still processing it. But it's heavy stuff, man.

OUTLOOK: Gosh, how does one maintain a positive outlook on things when he or she is told the country is a mess, that a lot of people hate Jews, and that everyone is corrupt and bad? It's not easy, but no matter how challenging it's become, I'm trying my damnedest to remain a hopeful idealist.

The logic behind my optimism (or naïveté, according to some) is that I believe that no matter how intelligent you are--I'm talking a hypothetical Mensa, here--you are still susceptible to the media. No one is immune. It's an inarguable fact. Trust me here. I do this for a living--make people believe in things which in my instance is nothing more than a product.

It's in the media's best interest to amplify everything because amplification means crisis and crisis means viewership. If they keep telling us how awful things are, you'll eventually believe they are awful. But you'll also want to keep watching just in case things get better or even more awful. All media outlets benefit from that fear. It's unfortunate but they're all in the business of fear mongering, some to a lesser degree than others (but nobody does it better than Fox News--I need a stiff drink after just watching five minutes of it. Heck, I'm googling architectural plans for underground bunkers).

This is not to say that things are not bad. They are bad. Oh, I know they're bad. But they're not quite apocalyptical. Again, it could be naïveté, but I embrace that warm enveloping blanket. Because as a parent, I'd rather expose my children to hope and idealism than indoctrinate them with toxic fear.

ENTITLEMENT: We've become a very entitled nation. I've become a very entitled guy.

And I think that's the reason for a lot of divisiveness. From how I see it, we hate Obamacare because it makes things expensive for us. But what about all the people who can't afford their own healthcare? Some of us are a religious people and therefore, the rest of the country should be subjected to our belief system when it comes to gay marriage and abortion. So, let's regress on all our social progress and make that into an actual platform selling point.
We want to read all of those 33,000 Hillary Clinton emails and, well, why can't we? Maybe it's because we're not privy to all of it. But why not? Aren't we privy to everything?
We're not? Then put her in jail.

If you want to tell me that this country has fallen apart, perhaps you could focus on the aspect of unity and collective concern for one another. The "I" has taken place of the "We, the people."

As an Orthodox Jew, this resonates with me. I have chosen a lifestyle for myself but cannot and should expect others to be subjected to my choices. It's selfish and inconsiderate. Ultimately, as an American, I want to see this country as a place of mutual respect for another. Which is why I tend to lean liberally and this election has reinforced that perspective.

LIVING IN AMERICA: Which brings me to my next point. I love Israel and as a Jew, I value it immensely. No one has the right to doubt that. But I do not understand when it becomes the singular issue. I don't relate to it. Without going into the candidates' policies, I have concluded that since I live here with my wife and children, there is way more to consider than the relationship we have with Israel. That's my prerogative.

But what makes me uncomfortable is how our relationship is being used--yes, being used--by Jewish people and politicians opportunistically. In some instances, without merit. Just the other day, someone posted about support for a local New Jersey politician who is "a friend of Israel." Mind you, this is a local politician who will has zero relevance to foreign policy. It felt like a ruse. As if your civic duty to research on overall policy wasn't necessary because of that key phrase: "friend of Israel."

I challenge myself to consider more than just that, and I think I've so far succeeded in that. And I challenge others to maintain their love for Israel but to consider the larger platform as well. Right now, we live in America--sure, that could change, and good luck to you. Sincerely--but there's a fringe but growing acceptance of anti-Semitism. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we look at this country as a rental, and not as our home. [I'm not suggesting you not see Israel as a home]. It sends the wrong message that we're not invested. It reinforces the wrong supposition that we're just a people of opportunists.

I love living in America. I feel lucky to be here and not in, say, France or England or Turkey or South Africa. And so I want to show that appreciation by valuing America and what it has to offer. That, in this instance, happens to be an overall consideration of its future.

THE THINGS I'VE LEARNED: I'm only started to process it all here. I'm sure more insights will come to mind in the next week or two as the healing commences.

Some friends think that healing won't come and it will just get worse in the next four years. Who knows? I do know however that I have control over myself and how I think and feel. And that's what I'm starting with. By taking everything I've heard, felt and seen and contemplating on it in an effort to better myself as a person, as a Jew, and as an American.

Call it a learning experience.


Friday, August 05, 2016

BBS ANSWERS YOUR SUICIDE SQUAD FAQS



Will I like this movie?
Yes? No? Maybe? Who knows? That's your opening question? You want to know if you'll like this movie? Here's a better question; should you keep an open mind when going to see this movie, and the answer is, why yes, you should. Rotten Tomato score aside, are you really that conflicted over spending $15 on a summer blockbuster? I mean, c'mon. You gonna see Bad Moms instead?

When it comes to method acting in comic book movies, I prefer less Daniel Day Lewis. Will Jared Leto's portrayal of the Joker annoy me?
Surprisingly, no. And I was prepared to be annoyed. Don't get me wrong--Jordan Catalano for life, but really, 30 Seconds to my Tuchus Hole is more like it. So sometimes, I'm like, yay, Jared! And sometimes, I'm like, noooo, Jared. This time, I was way into it.

First off, despite his heavy presence in the promotional material, the Joker is more of a cameo in the movie as opposed to being a key player. Which is fine. Maybe I liked him so much because it was in small doses. Who knows. But I will say that Leto definitely made it his own. Jack Nicholson gave us the PGA Tour Joker. Heath Ledger delivered on the Pyscho Town population one-Joker. Jared Leto gives us an actual sexy Joker--no, a pansexual Joker--and I was into it. He wasn't hammy. He wasn't brooding. He was menacing, tripolar, unpredictable, chaotic, frenetic, zany, shirtless and seductive. It's wild seeing a character we've known for so long redefined and recreated for a modern time.

High praise. What's with the baby clothes though
No idea. Get back to me on that if you hear something.

Okay, cool. You liked Joker. Now, how did you feel about Harley Quinn without sounding like a creepy, leering, misogynistic adolescent fanboy?
Homina, homina, homina. 

I said, without acting like a creepy, leering, misogynistic adolescent fanboy?
Sorry, you're right. Look, I'm going to acknowledge the exposed butt cheeks in the room. Harley's outfit is definitely on the skimpy side, and I'm not entirely sure why it's so on the skimpy side, but here's the thing, Margot Robbie conjures up all the weird feeling you felt as a creepy, leering, misogynistic adolescent fanboy in a good way (sorry, not sorry) which is feeling some undeniable and weird attraction to a comic book character. Which is a thing that happens to boys all the time. Ayers kinda tapped into that bawdiness which is problematic but undeniably effective.

G-d, writing all that was so awkward.

Anyway, Robbie is a gifted actress and she brings her A game with Harley Quinn. It's a great character with emotional range and an established back story. I thought she did an exceptional job. But more so, she brought the comic book character to life in a way I have never seen any other actor or actress do so before. She almost literally tore Harley out of the pages and onto the screen. And some of that is the weird, sexual undercurrents that comes along with all of it. I'm not excusing it. I am simply stating that it is a thing and also one of the reasons why Harley a fan favorite when it comes to cosplay.

So yeah, she did great. Can I stop talking about this now? I feel like you're looking at me funny.

Yeah, we should move on. What about Will Smith?
I admittedly have a low threshold for him because every time I look at him, I think C'MON MAN THETANS IN YOUR BODY? So it's like, well, if I can tolerate him, we good. This time around, I more than tolerated. I liked him. Forgot all about the thetans.

He is good as Deadshot. No, he's very good. He brings his thespian range to the character and I believe in Floyd Lawton as a conflicted person who's capable of separating his good side from his bad side. He is a daddy who loves his daughter (awww) but he's also a hired killer (uh oh) who doesn't kill women or children (awww).

I just want to say that if he did, however, take up Deadshot again, and they had him break his no children rule to kill his own son Jaden then I would get some schadenfreude thrill from that.

Wow. okay. So it sounds like it's all good here. Suicide Squad is all thumbs up. Which makes me think you're either an idiot or a contrarian. 
Well, here's the scoop. The movie is not without its faults. Obviously. But all the working parts are there. Great actors playing great characters. Flourishes of humor. A simple, direct plot line. Established and believable characters. Great visual POP moments. Good direction.

But there are many factors here culminating into the bad reviews I've been trying not to read: 1) you can only hype a movie so much, and we have been waiting on Suicide Squad for a year already with clip after clip after trailer after behind the scenes after clip. You can't possibly live up to year long hype, especially one that's been so monumental. But this is a comic book/ movie making industry problem as a whole. Anyway...

2) The editing is somewhat problematic in that it feels a wee bit choppy but that's kind of out there as being a studio interference issue which AGAIN is a comic book/ movie making industry problem. For some reason having to do with a billion dollars, studios are super nervous Nelly when it comes to directors actually making the movie they intended to make, and so studios then get super involved in the final product too close to the release date which results in mediocrity. (see; cooks in kitchen).

3) The dialogue has some HE SAID WHAAAAAA semi-whack moments which did elicit the occasional groan or two. Specifically this one scene SPOILER ALERT in which Diablo says something about the people he had just met two days prior being his family. Gag. But whatever. I'm not excusing it, but a lot of this stuff sounds like actual comic book dialogue come to life. Which is bad but also good but also bad.

4) About that plot I mentioned. It's not great. It's not bad. It's just not great. It's fairly linear. And often the Comic Book Movie Defender Society (not a real thing, by the way) always point out that the first movie is set up for a sequel. Look, I hope there's a Suicide Squad sequel. I truly do. But you can't make a first movie based on the presumption that you'll get a second shot at Deadshot (see what I did there?). That being said, I was entertained and it succeeded at being an Effective Summer Blockbuster.

You have a lot to say about this movie.  
That's not an FAQ, but I'll respond to it anyway. Look, I liked this movie. I think it deserves a chance. I think this hyperbole-slinging critical mob gnashing their teeth and sharpening their knives is weird and disproportionate. Do they resent the Hollywood super hero movie initiative? Maybe. No. Yes. I don't know. Some of them? That's unfair to dismiss all critics as one thing and also it does a disservice toward improving the super hero movie genre. There are very valuable things David Ayers can learn from some of the criticisms if or, again, when he is given the chance to do this again. So let's read reviews with a grain of salt. Sure, Rotten Tomatoes has a 27% (ouch) but Independence Day has a 32% and I literally think of that movie as two hours of turd. Like watching someone poop on a screen. So, whatev.

Why is a movie titled Suicide Squad rated R?
Unclear, but it was very apparent to me that Ayers was purposely holding back on the bawdy talk and the violence and that, to me, was an issue. I wanted this to be DC's response to Deadpool as it should have been. And there's no question in my mind that it would have benefitted from being "harder."

But of course this was a studio decision to scale larger, but when you make narrative decisions based on how many people you can stuff into theater seats, the narrative suffers. And to be perfectly honest, I would even go so far as to say that Warner Bros unintentionally sabotaged its own bottom line by pandering to teens. GODDAMN TEENAGERS!

Any other standout moments from the movie?
I liked Jai Courtney's take on Captain Boomerang a lot and wish they gave that dude more to do. And considering that his name in the movie is Captain Boomerang, I commend him for taking it seriously because, well, Captain Boomerang. Killer Croc, also, bad ass.

Oh, and not a huge Joel Kinnaman fan. I want to want to like him, but I dunno. Whenever he talks, he sounds like he's doing a John Wayne imitation solely based on someone describing what John Wayne sounds like. It's off to me like milk that could go either way.

So, it's not a movie without its problems...?
Absolutely not. Would never claim that to be the case. But I liked it because I want to like things more than I don't want to like things. I approached this movie as a fan looking to be entertained.

Here's the thing. I was an active music critic for a long time and I listened to music in an effort to pick it apart and describe it and analyze it and find reference points and be all PHD on it because I was being paid (or not, in most cases) to be the opposite of being a fan. That's just the reality of being a critic. So you see things way different than they see things. That's a fact, and also a reason for the huge discrepancy between critic score and audience score.

How's Viola Davis by the way?
Pretty fierce. I dug her. Nice to see an African American woman in charge for once, which, by the way, Amanda Waller is kind of a big deal history-wise in the comics, and even better, in the movie, she's portrayed by an incredibly competent actor.
But here's more on that.

Did you like this better than Batman V Superman? Because I think I heard that you liked it, which is also kind of contrarian. And wrong. 
Look, I acknowledge all of BvS's faults. But the larger problem with that movie is explained better in this wonderful lil' video here. And I'm not going to go off on a tangent about my feelings on that movie because it's over and done with.
Ultimately, Suicide Squad is better than BvS for many reason, a lot of them mentioned above. But the primary reason is that last night, I felt an undercurrent of joy in the movie that many people may not see or feel. This is for me personally what I walked out with. I got the sense that everyone pretty much believed in the potential of this franchise and wanted to make it work and had fun trying to accomplish that. And this is primarily because each individual actor made his or her respective role their own. I can't say the same about Ben Affleck or Henry Cavill.

And Gal Gadot?
Homina, homina, homina.

Will you stop that? It's making me uncomfortable. 
Gal's wonderful. I'm all in. Best part of BvS as far as I'm concerned. And there's a lot riding on that movie coming out next year and I am so hopeful it hurts.

If you were to give Suicide Squad a Rotten Tomato score, what would you give?
Not sure I want to answer this one because I hate that we have scores and that's how we assess whether we should see a movie or not. I love going to the movies. Often times, I'll go see one on the Thursday night it comes out just so I can make my own assessment. So, no. No score for you. Go see it. You hate it? Okay. I'm sure you've done worse things with two hours of your time like when you did that thing with the mayonnaise jar and the skateboard.

You saw that?
I'm going to finish up here even though I have a lot more to say about this movie. And I want to end it on this hopeful note. I am so happy to be alive in a time in which all the things I loved so much as a child are now coming to life. I can't begin to describe to you the joy I feel whenever I hear about a new super hero/ comic book project green lit. And no matter how many times I have been let down, I will still recognize the special thing that is happening. The fact that these things in of itself exist is a wondrous thing. The very notion that my insular, introverted adolescent experience is now a widely accepted mass experience resonates with me in a profound way. To think that my oft misunderstood outlet, the escapism from the harshness of the day-to-day is now being embraced by so many around me. I am happy for them. I feel privileged to witness their exposure.

It's sappy, but it's real. I'm happy they made a Suicide Squad movie. Unequivocally.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

SO, YEAH. LET'S TALK ABOUT HILLARY & ISRAEL



My mother thinks the future of Israel is very important. I think the future of the United States is very important. These two things are not mutually exclusive. It's just a matter of immediate focus.

And because of this focal shift, I feel like I'm losing her and people like her more and more to Trump. Which is a very weird thing to me, because it's not like Trump has been so explicit about his support of Israel. And a presumption otherwise is based on just that; presumptuousness.

But before we even get to this point of discussing the liberal vs conservative scale and all points in between, I'd like to understand what I'm thinking versus what they're thinking. This is an intellectual exercise I must partake in to alleviate the frustration and anxiety I'm feeling about the current political landscape. Of which I am feeling a great deal of deep within my soul.

For as long as I can remember, the Jews have been convinced of the fact that the Republican party will support Israel regardless of potential conflicts. They do not have the same faith in the Democratic party. The reason for this, from what I can tell, is that the Republican party has aligned itself with the Evangelicals of which there are an astoundingly 95 million in the United States. And it's no secret to any of us that Evangelicals support Israel not because they believe in a Jewish homeland for the sake of it being a Jewish homeland, but rather, they believe that the Jews must have possession of Israel in order for Jesus to return. Which has always felt to me like that fairytale we were told as kids about the witch who fattens up the lost child so she can eventually cook him for dinner. And that obviously makes me feel uncomfortable.

But if we're looking at the right here and the right now, there is a growing fear amongst my friends that a) the Liberal agenda is consuming the Democratic party b) that same Liberal agenda is dangerously and ignorantly progressive when it comes to Middle East politics and c) Hillary, if elected President, will adopt those left leaning philosophies as her own. And no matter how much you try to contest it, there is an unwillingness to accept it. Because, ultimately, that presumption is based on faith.

Which brings me back to Donald Trump. I can't remember a time prior to this in which I have been so viscerally affected by current events. I can't recall ever experiencing this burrowing sense of doom in my stomach. This is in a literal sense. I wake up in the mornings unsure of literally everything. The economy, foreign policy, racial tensions, an overall feeling of our collective safety at risk. And maybe it's because I have so much at risk with my wonderful family and home, thank G-d. The children who I would sacrifice anything for just to assure for them a stable future. Right now, I am worried for America more than I was when Sarah Palin was nominated as Vice President. More so than when Bush ran for a second term. More so than--and I don't use this comparative lightly--after 9/11. This is just how I feel. And no one can contest that.

This is why when it comes to considering my nominee, I choose Hillary. Hillary Clinton who first visited Israel 35 years ago. Hillary Clinton who has had a relationship with Yitzhak Rabin. Hillary Clinton who posted a prominent article on her website titled Hillary and Israel: A 30 Year Record of Friendship, Leadership and Strength. 

I have yet to see any of that blatant articulation from the Trump camp. Aside from the insistence of his son-in-law. And his advisor on Israel Jason Greenblatt with zero political experience whose only qualification for the job is that he's an Orthodox Jew.

But now with the recent addition of Tim Kaine as Hillary's VP pick, we're experiencing a plot twist. The extreme conservative crowd asserts that Kaine is bad for Israel based on the following facts: he is supported by J Street. He boycotted a Netanyahu speech. And in 2007 picked a controversial Muslim American to Virginia's Immigration Commission. My response to these points is foremost, the Vice President rarely if ever affects foreign policy. That is unless he's Trump's Vice President. But in a hypothetical world, let's say that you're genuinely concerned about Hillary dying, then let me quote from the J Street website: "Kaine speaks of himself as a Truman Democrat, committed to making Israel a lasting home for the Jewish people that is safe, secure and at peace with its Palestinian neighbors. Kaine is also supportive of an active role for the United States in achieving a two-state solution." I see nothing controversial there.

Now regarding his Netanyahu boycott...this one isn't so simple. But then again, nothing Netanyahu is involved in or with is simple. The man is not an unequivocally likable person. In fact, in Israel itself right now Netanyahu is at a 29% approval rating. So he is not without his critics. Kaine's boycott came at a complicated time and involved circumstances that require bigger comprehensions other than an immediate gut reaction. "I'm sad that the Israeli ambassador and the prime minister went along with this They went with the notion of "we've got to keep this quiet and not tell the Democrats," Kaine told the Forward about Netanyahu's speech to Congress. "Our party has a long tradition of being pro-Israel and being pro-Israel doesn't mean we agree on everything. We're friends, we're allies, we're partners to the extent that we have disagreements we try to work them out productively," he added. And he wasn't wrong. There were many other critics of Netanyahu's polarizing political maneuver.

And as for the last issue of concern: I could not find anything substantive on this aside from Breitbart articles or "Unofficial Megyn Kelly" blogs (yes, there is a fake Megyn Kelly blog), so I truly don't know how to respond to it.

Ultimately, though, I want to clarify my opening statement. My mom's focus is not paradoxical to mine. And it's not necessarily a semantic thing either. It's simply a comfort level discrepancy. I'm way more comfortable with a Clinton administration than with a Trump one because simply enough she is not the wild card. And he so very much is.

I would warn every single Jewish person I know to not fall victim to the desperate conservative agenda which harbors and feeds off of fear and panic. I encourage every single one of you to Google search things and to critically determine whether or not you feel those things are hyperbolic fear mongering. But most importantly, I urge you--and I can't emphasize this enough--to not just blindly share or forward a panicky clickbait link to everyone you know without understanding the implications of this forward. Because in many instances these fine purveyors of truthiness have the singular goal of getting you to their website. Not to understand the truth, or to approach the fraught nature of things with delicacy. But bling bling ad dollars.

Now it was never my intention to write this whole thing to educate others. It's my way of processing. It's how I cope with so many conflicting emotions. Fear, love, anxiety, hope, anger. All of it rolling up into a ball bouncing around my consciousness. And I have to believe with a full heart that if you care about America (of which you should) and Israel (of which is your prerogative) then Hillary Clinton is way less unpredictable than Donald Trump.

And if that's the comfort I'm given, that's the comfort I'll take.

UPDATE: Please see former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's Facebook post. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

MAMA, DON'T LET YOUR BABIES BECOME MUSIC CRITICS



Elvis Costello famously once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, which is a lyricist's way of saying something that years later has even more relevance; Music criticism is redundant. 

I used to write album reviews all the time. And I hated it. It always felt to me both patronizing and egocentric, and that was during a time in which albums didn't leak early. The reader, more often than not, hadn't heard what I heard. Hadn't formulated an opinion yet. 

And no matter how long I did it for, I never felt like I gained anything from it. Never felt fulfilled. I would even consider it for myself to be the lowest form of a creative outlet. Assessing an art form based on personal preferences and taste? Knowing not enough about the process? Trying to condense someone's soul into 150 words? It's a daunting task. It's also a pointless one.

I've never felt more positive about my conscious decision to not write music reviews than I did this past weekend. Because there were three different music criticism-related links shared on social than reinforced my belief in the futility of it all. Not like everything in the world-all. Just the writing about an album aspect of things. 

The first instance of my irk monster being roused from its slumber was an article titled "Here Are 41 Reviews of Kanye West's The Life of Pablo So You Don't Have To Read Any Others." The implication here is that you're already going to be online looking for reviews because you need help formulating your own thoughts. Because you're a dummy and you can't process a record with your feeble non-critic brain. 
But Vice never does anything conventionally, so it does it in such a way that irreverently mocks itself for posting a review by not delivering one review.

Because everyone has an opinion of all cultural contributions hours after it's reached sunlight, here are forty-one  "informed" cultural opinions. 

But then again is it also mocking reviews based on, say, one submission titled "A Quick Review Written On a Phone While Out of the Office and Barely Hearing The Record, by Eric Sundermann?" Probably? Possibly? Who the hell knows? Because some of those contributions are written by real music critcis...or maybe I've thought too much about this already? All I do know is that nearly every single review, if not every single one (I couldn't get through all the millenial cuteness) shared one identical thought; that whatever Kanye does, it's probably great. And that's what you get when you ask forty-one goddamn critics to weigh in on an album. Good thing we did that. 
We are all individuals. I'm not. 

The second instance is also Yeezy-related--I mean, was anyone talking about anything else this weekend? Ironically this one also kinda proves my point which is weird because a music critic shouldn't be highlighting the redundancy of her job. I like Lindsey Zoladz's writing normally, but her article this weekend left me scratching my Jew-fro. In "Reviewing Yeezus in 2016 To Better Understand Kanye West and the Life of Pablo" is exactly that. It's an album review of an album that came out in 2013. 

"A couple of nights ago, at a party, I was trying to explain to someone the very odd thing that I do for a living," Zoladz writes. “I am a pop-music critic,” I said. That title means something a little different than it did a few years, or even months ago. A lot of the time, especially in the current era of the “surprise album,” a critic is hearing the music at the exact same time as the general public." She then proceeds to talk about the Life of Pablo and how her article would be better served reviewing his previous album Yeezus with the hindsight and perspective one can only get from living with an album for three years. 

But that's not the job. Sadly. And I admire the effort, but the article just amplifies the pointlessness of writing a music review. 

The final example is a perfect example of why music criticism is at a bad juncture. Tom Breihan's "Macklemore's "Spoons" Is The Worst Song Ever Recorded" isn't really a criticism, per se. It's a clickbait piece of narsty. And I feel like at this point in the game, that's the only way you can get people to truly care about what you're saying about music. Which is something I want nothing to do with. 

I am by no means a Macklemore fan. Let me just clarify that. I don't even care enough to write a whole article to defend the guy. He's an easy target. A white guy rapper who takes himself very seriously. Hilarious, right? Here's the thing: I admire Macklemore's efforts to rap about something substantive unlike, say, almost anything Kanye says on Life of Pablo. He cares about gay marriage within an art form where "no homo" is really the only instance in which you address homosexuality. He recorded the divisive track "White Privilege II" which I have listened to twice and each time I have found it affecting. The dude who makes rap music for white people made a lot of white people a little uncomfortable for listening to a dude who makes rap music for white people. 

Anyway, about Tom's article. "Spoons" isn't genius. I know. Understatement. But here's the thing: Breihan attacks the lyrics. Again, see anything Kanye says on Kanye's new album. So let's just say lyrics and hip-hop should not be a uniform qualifier for what's good and what's not. 

But that music. It's dorky, yes. Tho the song is not the worst song recorded in history. You can't make that qualification. It makes anything written by you from that point on therein ridiculous. Say it's awful. Say you don't like it. Say it fails, but kudos for the effort. Say anything starring John Cusack. [BTW side note: if Rivers Cuomo had recorded this song with these exact lyrics, it would have been "hilarious."]

The thing is when you're a music critic in 2016, a) you're saying the same thing everyone else is already thinking, b) you're questioning your role in the world of art, or c) you're making angry hyperbolic statements to get "people" "talking" about your blog posts. I don't blame any of the people above for what they're doing, and again, for the most part (at least the latter two), most critics are strong writers with great ability.

But if I could give any advice to anyone, or if I could be presumptuous enough to offer advice and assume people will listen to it, my thoughts are you're wasting your talents. In 2016, there's more merit in talking to the artist and get a deeper understanding of who they are before you judge their very being. Which is why I will only take on music journalism related assignments that involve direct involvement with the artist, like a profile or a collaborative piece. This is also why Genius is so popular--people want to understand the songs more than they want to know about a overinformed critic's take. 

I don't know what the alternatives are. I get it. It's a job. I'm just saying that some guy sold fax machines awhile back. And I'm sure he figured out what else he could do next. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

THE BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS PROBLEM



There are two types of noteworthy actors; the ones that truly disappear into a role. Your Michael Fassbenders. Your Christian Bales. Then there are the actors that are reliable and dependable in the art of acting, but ultimately, there isn't a discernible core difference from movie to movie. Your Matt Damons. Your Samuel L. Jacksons. Both serve a greater purpose, the former provides the audience with unpredictable entertainment. The latter is analogous to comfort food.

Brian Michael Bendis is one of the greatest comic book writers alive today. Undoubtedly. When he is on, he is awn. And after an impactful and influential streak of published work, I am finding myself frustrated and disappointed by his recent output. This is because Bendis, while exceptionally capable, is comfort food.

I want to make two clarifications first:
1. I am not insulting or belittling his work. Comfort food carries with it a negative connotation that is not intended. I mean it simply as a qualifier for how his work always tastes good.
2. Bendis, like comfort food, has perfected his recipe in a way that, comparatively to his early work, feels lazy but also dependable. Tasty, but not adventurous. Palpable but lacking in provocation. Like sweatpants.

I've thought about this a great deal because I value his contributions. His work on Alias (or Jessica Jones), Goldfish, Torso, Ultimate Spider Man, Daredevil, amongst a few others were, for the most part, revelatory. However, his run on the Avengers, X-Men and especially Guardians of the Galaxy all read as non-essential contributions. Especially Guardians which has the potential to be a flagship title for Marvel in light of the titular movie's success, but instead it reads as a mish-mash of afterthoughts. And I truly care for this title. I want it to work so badly because it has crazy potential for depth and emotion and significance.

Because I genuinely care, more than a middle-aged father of three should, I've thought about why this is happening. Why is it that a marquee name like Bendis that was once synonymous with quality storytelling has reverted into a churning quip factory? What has happened to this once uncontested superstar of the comic world?

[Full disclosure: I once had an idea for a limited edition series starring the Israeli mutant Sabra. I think in light of Marvel's progressive initiative, it would be interesting to see how they would handle a superhero from Israel. But instead of relegating this thought to daydreaming, I wrote a draft of the first issue, and upon completion, I sent the draft to Bendis who still has his email address inexplicably posted on his personal website. I never heard back, which is understood.]

After having analyzed recent issues, I've come to a very simply conclusion for why Bendis hasn't been "killing it" of late. I'm almost disappointed by how simple it is.

Bendis excels when he's focused on one singular character. His tonality and voice is wholly distinct in a way that when it comes from one focal point, it's always entertaining. It's his distinctive mix of jaunty humor, the dark undertones, the humanity of the characters, which is a significant achievement when you'll consider that for nearly half a century comic books ostensibly served as escapism from humanity.  You could almost say that Bendis is the Tarantino of comic book writers; a perfect amalgamation of sharp storytelling and winking self-awareness.

The problem is that when it comes to an ensemble cast, the characters all share one singular voice, and reading a comic in which a talking rodent sounds exactly as a half-Terran isn't much fun. There's too much dialogue. Too much "character." Everyone has a line. Everyone needs to banter. There's very little development, and even when there is, you don't care much about said development because as a reader, you don't feel connected to the characters.  The connection is lacking because when nothing is distinctive, everything is a mess of affected blather. Generic is the enemy of empathy.

Or it could be the workload which has relegated Bendis into a story arc generator who feels like he has to provide on schedule with less and less opportunity to live with these characters in his mind. My proof for this is that the current Iron Man series, while not quite quality, is still an improvement over the disappointing Guardians.

One need only look at the year end lists which compile the great titles of the previous year. New Marvel series like Vision, Squirrel Girl or Dr. Strange make it. Even Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman is getting a tempered yet respectable nod. But nowhere have I found mention or hosannas for Bendis' 2015 contributions.

In order to restore his legacy, as far as I can tell, there are two solutions. Bendis needs to focus on a series that features a starring character. This is when he really shines. He also needs to soften the Disney touch on his current series and instill more of the noir element he was once known for. Guardians doesn't need to get darker necessarily, but it has to feel less non-essential. As it stands, it's a disposable space fantasy which features all the right ingredients but when it's cooked together, it's comfort food. Which, when you think about all the quality storytelling hitting newsstands now week after week, doesn't feel as enticing as it once did.

It's a great time to be a comic fan, but it's amazing to consider how much greater it could be with some quality Bendis work.