A few random observations in these first days of autumn 1999.
(1) The Donald’s Presidential Platform. All together now: Two chicks in every hot tub. Two sinks in every bathroom. An annual summit of the supermodels. Gold-plated weapons systems? “I wouldn’t have ’em any other way.” How do you deal with an oppressive lobby? “Marble.” What about campaign finance reform? “Remember: Big donors–and senior citizens– always get comped at the all-you-can-eat buffet here at the Trump resort-casino-condominium-government complex.”
(2) The Seven Seasons. For some strange reason–perhaps having to do with global warming, cyberspace or Gulfstream jet time-sharing packages–it seems to me that as we close out the century, the old farm-based calendar just doesn’t cut it anymore. So I’d like to propose the following new, improved, media-friendly seasons for the new millennium:
Hype. September and October. The months when everyone and everything in every field of creative endeavor–from fashion to media to tropical weather systems–is hailed as either “awesome,” “powerful” or “genius.”
Holidays. November and December. The time when we turn our attention to hearth, home and shopping–mainly to avoid the embarrassment of having to confront the fact that all the things we called “awesome,” “powerful” or “genius” a mere six weeks ago have now turned out to be “dreck.”
Health. January and February. The time of year we all promise to stop smoking, join a health club, lose 20 pounds. Added bonus for Manhattan guys: Once you’ve struggled to drop the first 20, the next 120–meaning the first wife–is usually gone in a flash.
Hope. March. Formerly known as Oscar Season, this is the only time of the year we believe things like: “Someday that’ll be me up there”; “It was just something I had hanging in the closet”; “I never expected to win”; and “It was enough just to be nominated.”
Horror. April. It might as well not be spring: first dates, income tax, bathing suit ads, the specter of Martha Stewart proffering suggestions about spring cleaning–starting with how to synthesize the chemical compounds needed to concoct your own cleaning fluids.
New Hype . May. The warm-weather variation of September and October Hype season–with exactly the same degree of accuracy.
Hamptons. June, July, August. At this late date, does this really need to be explained?
(3) Candlelit Dinner for One, Please. Why do I imagine Warren Beatty–in his house on Mulholland Drive at 10:30 on a Tuesday night–sitting alone at the head of a dining room table that’s been set for 12, reading Talk magazine? Why can I picture him, looking up–distracted and perplexed, unable to finish the story detailing Liz Taylor’s relationships with men and Michael Jackson–whereupon he stands and walks to the window overlooking Los Angeles, shaking his head as he wonders: “Wait a minute. Where is it? What happened to the ground swell?”
(4) The Bugatti Question. Like many of you, I’ve been following the recent spate of books and articles concerning the moral virtues of having less. Boiled down, the basic argument by both Peter Singer in his recent New York Times magazine piece and Robert Frank in his new book Luxury Fever , is: You can either order that dessert sampler at David Bouley’s new restaurant, Danube, or save 200 malnourished children from certain death.
What interests me here isn’t so much the ideology–with which I can’t disagree–but the sociology: Why here? Why now? What’s caused this cluster of dots to appear on the radar screen?
Call me cynical, but I suspect what we’re witnessing here is the first attempt by anxious baby boomers to deal with the dot-com generation. How? A $200 donation to charity allows one to rationalize about not being able to afford a 20,000-square-foot house–and, in the process, makes for a morally superior human being.
Again, call me cynical–although this does sound an awful lot like boomer behavior to me. But in the meantime, the proof of my hypothesis lies in a subtle variation on the Bugatti dilemma–wherein 70-year-old “Bob” is asked to throw a railway switch, saving either the priceless Bugatti that represents his retirement fund or the life of an innocent child.
My variation? This time, Bob is a 55-year-old advertising art director. The car is a cherry ’65 Corvette. And instead of an innocent 10-year-old, the potential victim is a 29-year-old I.P.O. baby with a 9,000-square-foot house in the Hamptons, a 22-year-old supermodel girlfriend and $100 million in the bank.
The correct answer here is: “What’s the dilemma?”
(5) Action , the TV Series. As a working screenwriter, I’ve been asked: How real is this show? What do they make of it in Hollywood? Do people really act like that? Do they really treat each other that way?
Before I answer, a short story is in order.
Several years ago, I was invited to an Amnesty International human rights fund-raiser in Malibu. I’ve forgotten the specific cause–supporting the Sandinistas, damning the Contras, toppling the Chinese Government–but during the previous six months, I’d worked on a screenplay for the soliciting host, and he’d been particularly abusive. “I’d be glad to give Amnesty International a thousand dollars,” I told him, “as soon as they agree to start investigating human rights violations in Hollywood.”
That said, the genius of Action is that it can be viewed in three entirely different ways, by three different audiences:
The general public sees it as an over-the-top satire on Hollywood.
Hollywood (read: unsuccessful Hollywood) sees it as a gritty, no-nonsense documentary–a tragic, real-life portrayal of desperate, squandered lives and heinous behavior–as if written by Samuel Beckett and directed by Ingmar Bergman.
And finally, there’s young, upwardly mobile agent-producer Hollywood–where the lead character is seen as a role model, and copies of the show are passed around and studied for their instructional value.
Yes, it’s autumn in New York. Isn’t it?