Society’s Blessing of Mixed Messages

Over the past few weeks, the media has reported a flurry of incidents involving men in positions of power that range from inappropriate sexual comments down to sexual assault.  The attention saw the sudden rise of the #metoo hashtag campaign became the rallying cry on social media and women from around the world shared their personal experiences of alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault at the hands of men in positions of authority.

NOTE:  Referring to the comments of others as alleged sexual harassment and sexual assault in no way impugns the reality of sexual harassment and sexual assault victims endured.  An allegation is a claim that has not been proven meaning it may or may not have happened and/or it may or may not have happened as the involved parties recall the situation from each one’s recollection of what may or may not have happened.

We have heard celebrities such as actor Richard Dreyfuss claim he was “horrified and bewildered” to find out that his behavior towards Jessica Teich “wasn’t consensual.”  We have heard celebrities such as comedian Louis C.K. claim he thought he had permission to do what he did because he “asked the women first” before proceeding.  We have heard politicians and authors and others from all walks of life admit to various levels of sexual impropriety, harassment, and assaults, and the reaction from society has been consistent:  Such behavior is unacceptable, inappropriate, and unsavory.

Have you read any articles in the media claiming that using power of authority to victimize a target is acceptable? I haven’t. Have you heard any news reports claiming that subjecting a subordinate to harassment and assault is laudable? Me neither.

And this is where society’s hypocrisy is found because in the grand scheme of things, society gives its blessing to such behavior through mixed messages.  I know, I know.  Isn’t that surprising?  Shocking, even?  Confusing, without a doubt?

I realize some reading this will disagree so providing examples is the best way to show, not tell, what I mean.  While I could have chosen any number of movies or books, I am using “A Christmas Wish II” to highlight where society’s blessings to mixed messages may be found.  For those who are unfamiliar with the movie, I am sharing the story synopsis from four different websites with regards to this specific movie.

The first three versions provide what many would consider a wholesome story line, certain to appeal to the heartstrings of those who love romance — especially romance that could possibly result in a fairy tale ending where the young woman is swept off her feet by Prince Charming and taken to live in his palace somewhere in “happily ever after” land.  The last version implies a little impropriety on the part of the billionaire.

The scene involving the mistletoe kiss, however, isn’t the tame, innocent, consensual scene you might think.

Cooper Montgomery’s on-again off-again on-again girlfriend Brittany waits in the lobby of the building where the playboy billionaire’s sister works as Editor-In-Chief of Trend Fashions magazine.  Cooper Montgomery has dropped in to speak with his sister before returning to his girlfriend in the lobby  However, on his way back down in the elevator, after others in the elevator have stepped off on their respective floors, he finds himself in the elevator alone with his sister’s assistant, Jenna Kingston.

No problem there so far.

Cooper notices the mistletoe hanging in the elevator just above him and Jenna.  Cooper looks at Jenna in a way that can only be described as a look most women would be wary of, and perhaps a bit concerned over.  Suddenly, he grabs her and plants a great, big, sloppy kiss on Jenna who initially resists before succumbing to his charms.  The elevator doors swish open when the elevator reaches the lobby, and Cooper’s girlfriend, Brittany seems them locked in this passionate embrace which is quickly broken off.

So what’s the problem?

This kiss is what is the basis for this so-called “love story” where the girl eventually winds up with Prince Charming (sorry for that spoiler).

Jenna Kingston doesn’t file a police report against Cooper Montgomery for the sexual assault in the elevator.  She doesn’t even tell her boss about it when advised by her boss that she’ll be working closely with the man who sexually accosted her in the elevator.  To her credit, she does tell her male neighbor but based on the discussion that ensues between them, neither of them feels it’s anything bad.

Message in the movie regarding unwanted sexual attention from a complete stranger:  Everyone’s good to go, and you should be so lucky as to have that happen to you someday!

Message in real life regarding unwanted sexual attention from a complete stranger:  Call the police and have that person arrested, charged, found guilty of the crime, and locked away!

If society wants to put an end to the confusion, society needs to take a unified stand against behavior it deems unacceptable and inappropriate.  It can’t say that sexual assault is abhorrent under certain situations but encouraged — even welcome — under other certain situations.  In doing so, society is placing an unfair burden on men and women to figure out when sexual assault is all right when the fact of the matter is this:  Sexual assault is never all right.

Elyse Bruce

P.S.  For those who are wondering, the story didn’t need that sexual assault in the elevator scene for the movie to work.

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That Time When Sharks Attacked Those Artists

It’s 2017 and people are still shouting at people, “Watch out for sharks!  Stay out of the water!”  This is wise advice if you happen to be swimming in shark infested waters.  If you know the waters are offering refuge and sanctuary to carnivorous sea thugs, the wise thing to do is to steer clear and find a way around them.  After all, the wisest course of action is the most obvious, right?

But here’s something I’ve noticed over the years.  Some people are so focused on what they want, they fail to see the warning signs, and they put themselves at perilous risk.  They jump in with both feet and actually swim out to embrace danger.  What’s worse, when they come face-to-face with these fierce predators, the tendency is to blame everyone on shore for failing to hold them back.  It almost always ends badly for the swimmer, and occasionally ends badly for the shark.

Do you remember that time when those sharks attacked all those artists?  It was especially horrific since the sharks in question attacked landlocked artists who were unaware that, not only were these sharks predatory in nature, those sharks were too far inland to be trusted.

Some of you are undoubtedly trying to figure out the incident to which I’m referring, and really, I’m not talking of one incident.  I’m talking about the same incident that happens repeatedly albeit with slight variations each time.  I’m talking about the sharks that swim circles around naive and even gullible authors, artists, musicians, and other creative types, and at the first chance, they go in for the kill, leaving well-fed and their victims stripped to the bone.

I’ve been fortunate over the years to stay far away from sharks whether they happen to be in the waters where I happen to be vacationing or they happen to be circulating at industry parties and conferences on land.  I suppose this has a lot to do with the fact I learned about such dangers early on from watching those who failed to navigate to safer shores.  Sometimes being an observer an arm’s length away from danger is preferable to being the main course grabbing for a sliver of the limelight from someone else’s success.

Last week, as I researched an entry for my Idiomation blog, I found myself reading magazines from days gone by.  I don’t mean reading as in devouring every single article, and hanging on each and every word published between the front and back covers.  I mean I browsed the pages and remarked on the differences between magazines from the 1930s and magazines from the 2010s.  Near the back, I found a very small, easily overlooked advertisement from a business that was established in 1917.  Always interested in a good story, especially one that’s at least a century old, I screenshot the advertisement, curious as to whatever happened to those who waited patiently for eager men and women to pound down their doors with the next amazing motion picture script.

The dollar signs said it all:  Riches were ripe for the picking in Hollywood if you were a writer who hooked up with this agency.

Universal Scenario Company was really on the hunt for talent. Why, they even went as far as to advertise in Popular Science and other reputable magazines. Sometimes they were located at 214 Security Building on the corner of Santa Monica and Western Avenues in Hollywood, California. Sometimes they were located at 238 Security Building. Every once in a while they were located at 206 Western and Santa Monica Building or even 406 Western and Santa Monica Building in Hollywood, California.


These guys were everywhere, and they needed more scripts than any successful studio could ever ask to receive in this lifetime or the next. There was so much demand, one has to wonder why it is these days that Hollywood seems to be subsisting on reboots and remakes instead of delving into the many fine photoplays that were sent to Universal Scenario Company over the years in the early days of movie making. But I digress.

Universal Scenario Company was really on the hunt for talent. Why, they even went as far as to advertise in Popular Science and other reputable magazines. Sometimes they were located at 214 Security Building on the corner of Santa Monica and Western Avenues in Hollywood, California. Sometimes they were located at 238 Security Building. Every once in a while they were located at 206 Western and Santa Monica Building or even 406 Western and Santa Monica Building in Hollywood, California.

These guys were everywhere, and they needed more scripts than any successful studio could ever ask to receive in this lifetime or the next. There was so much demand, one has to wonder why it is these days that Hollywood seems to be subsisting on reboots and remakes instead of delving into the many fine photo plays that were sent to Universal Scenario Company over the years in the early days of movie making. But I digress.

The hook was more than just the money offered for original photoplay stories. They did it all for unknown authors trying to sell their first story. They revised. They copyrighted. They submitted to studios.

And because they were “located in the heart of motion picture industry” they claimed to “know production requirements.” What a sweetheart of a deal!

There isn’t much that can be learned about the Universal Scenario Company past a grat many advertisements in a great many publications but there was a lawsuit I found of particular interest. It was a lawsuit filed by Robert H. Sheets of Jackson (TN) against Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation with regards to their 1936 movie titled, “The Road To Glory.” The plaintiff claimed the studio had plagiarized his story and in making it a movie, he expected a six-digit pay-out (a considerable sum in 1934) for being the author of the story.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The plaintiff’s claim was dismissed when proof was submitted to the courts that the title of the story typed in the form had been erased and typed over with the new title, “The Road To Glory.”

In his lawsuit, Robert H. Sheets claimed the following:

The plaintiff also introduced in evidence a letter, dated February 7, 1935, received by him from the Universal Scenario Company, in which he is urged to sign an enclosed application and agreement, providing for the payment of $25 in such installments as might suit the plaintiff for the publication of a synopsis and other marketing service. The printed form of agreement attached to that letter has, in the space for the title of the manuscript, the typewritten words “The Road to Glory.” The only other typewritten characters on the form are the figures “1250” to indicate the length of the synopsis to be published in the event the agreement should be signed. This is submitted by the plaintiff to corroborate his testimony that the story in controversy was in existence shortly after the time he stated that it was written by him, and that a copy of the story had been sent by him to the Universal Scenario Company. The plaintiff states that he did not execute the agreement nor make the remittance.

Mr. Sheets wasn’t signing a contract for representation where his agent was to be paid from the proceeds of the sale of his photoplay.  The payment was set up much the same way vanity presses in 2017 are set up to fleece unsuspecting authors and writers.

The point of all this is simple:  People looking to make a quick buck at the expense of others have been around for longer than any of us can probably imagine.  When something looks or sounds too good to be true, the numbers are not in your favor.  Chances are there’s something going on, especially if you’re desperate to have your voice heard.

As for what I plan on doing with all this information, I think I’ll keep scouring the Internet and old magazines and archived newspapers in search of details about the Universal Scenario Company.  For a company that did so much advertising, there isn’t that much more than just the advertising proclaiming the virtues of being involved with the company.  I wonder what became of them, and whether they were bought out or just faded away into obscurity.

Yes, a hundred years later, at least one person wonders whatever became of the Universal Scenario Company, and did they ever place any photoplays with major motion picture studios in Hollywood, California that became major hits with big stars in the roles.

Elyse Bruce

Shuffle Off To Buffalo and Other Parts Unknown

Sometimes we recognize old songs without realizing they were originally songs from a musical before they became radio hits.  I love songs by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics), and 42nd Street is a musical that spawned a number of Warren and Dubin radio hits (who also had cameo roles in the movie version of the musical).

In a nutshell, 42nd Street is about small-town Pennsylvania Peggy Sawyer (played by Ruby Keeler in the movie) who hits out by moving to New York City in the hopes that she’ll make her mark in Broadway.

Peggy Sawyer finds herself as a member of the chorus much to the dismay of Broadway diva Dorothy Brock (played by Bebe Daniels in the movie) who is romantically involved with the financial backer of the production, the very wealthy Abner Dillon (played by Guy Kibbee in the movie) who, unlike the director Julian Marsh (played by Warner Baxter in the movie), didn’t lose all his money in the stock market crash of 1929.  But behind Abner’s back, Dorothy is seeing her Pat Denning (played by George Brent in the movie) and thus the stage is set (pardon the pun).

The 42nd Street Special was a train that left Los Angeles on 20 February 1933, headed to President  Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration on 4 March 1933 – the day after the movie version of the musical premiered in New York.  On board the train were stars such as Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Loretta Young, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  It was an amazing way to draw attention to the film and captured the attention of the country in the middle of a bleak period in American history.

 

The train trip extravaganza began as an idea courtesy of Warner Brothers studios publicity chief, Charlie Einfeld.  The Depression had seen the number of moviegoers drop by more than fifty percent in the three years since the Crash, and Warner Brothers studios was dealing with huge losses to the tune of $14 MILLION USD.  This publicity stunt was going to set the studio back another $400,000 USD.

During the election campaign, the Warner brothers had backed Franklin Delano Roosevelt while MGM studios’ Louis B. Mayer had backed Herbert Hoover.  The spectacle was promoted in the media as “the greatest train ride since Paul Revere.”

General Electric, seeing an opportunity to get in on the publicity, co-sponsored and fully equipped the six-coach express train with outdoor lights, speakers, and an all-electric kitchen with what was then considered to be a state-of-the-art electric oven, refrigerator, and dishwasher.  At every stop (which totaled 30 in the space of 17 days), the public was invited to tour the kitchen car and see for themselves what these amazing appliances looked like.

With so many wonderful songs to choose from to include in this entry, I’ve gone with these for this article.  “Come and Meet Those Dancing Feet” sung by Ruby Keeler is mesmerizing.

 

You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” sung by Bebe Daniels is fun and cheeky.

I’m Young And Healthy” sung by a very young Dick Powell (who in later years was known for his role as Nick Charles in the Thin Man movie series).

 

The song that first introduced me to 42nd Street was one I heard courtesy of the Bugs Bunny cartoons.  As a child, I had no idea where Buffalo was exactly, but the song was something I recognized and sang along to before I was old enough to attend kindergarten.    “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” was the kind of song that resonated with children as much as it did with adults.  The scene with this song in the movie version of 42nd Street makes the song even more fun than the Bugs Bunny segment (which was absolutely memorable and completely amusing).

The golden age of musicals may have been decades ago but the songs from that era still stand up to inspection in this generation, don’t you agree?

Elyse Bruce

Guybrarian Breaks It Down For Everyone

Nearly everyone with access to music has heard Bruno Mars’ hit “Uptown Funk.”  It’s catchy, right?  It makes you want to get up (or down) and dance, right?

Chapman University and Orange Public Library along with Pogona Creative pulled together an amazing video for National Library Week that parodies “Uptown Funk” in ways you could never have imagined before.

All of a sudden it’s not so nerdy to be a librarian.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the collaborators, here’s the 4-1-1 on them.

Chapman University is located in Woodland, California and has been around since the Civil War.  The university’s mission statement is quite simply this:  To provide personalized education of distinction that leads to inquiring, ethical and productive lives as global citizens.

Orange Public Library is, of course, a library, and it’s located, of course, in Orange, California.  The  main library was built in 1961.  While it hasn’t been around as long as Chapman University, the positive impact it’s had on the community is impressive.

And Pogona Creative is located in Orange, California … the brainchild of David and Adrianna May, who were students at Chapman University just a few years back.

David May’s senior thesis in the undergraduate program (writing and directing) was “ItsyBitsy” and once you watch this nine minute video, it’s easy to see how creative he is.

While Adrianna is passionate about dance, she majored in psychology with a minor in leadership and organizational studies.

Is it any wonder that when these three organizations partnered that they came up with such a brilliant National Library Week parody?  I think not.

Elyse Bruce

Statistics and Privilege

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012 the American Community Survey showed that, based on race, 77% of working artists were white, 8% of working artists were Hispanic, 8% of working artists were black, 4% of working artists were Asian, and 3% of working artists were another ethnicity.

The Wall Street Journal chalked most of that up to the fact that 11 of the 15 most expensive universities in the country are art schools, and therefore white privilege is supposedly to blame for the numbers expressed by the survey quoted.

The problem with making such a claim without looking at other facts is that it gives a skewed view of the statistics.  In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012, 63% of the population was white, 17% of the population was Hispanic, 13% of the population was black, 5% of the population was Asian, and 2% are another ethnicity.

General Population v Arts Population
In other words, while it’s true that most of the artists working the arts are white, it’s also not an outrageous fact.  The percentages aren’t as out of line as the Wall Street Journal implies with its claim that the greater percentage of whites working in the arts is due to white privilege and the luxury of higher education.

What does seem to emerge is the fact that one’s choices regarding employment is a much greater influence on where one works than ethnicity is.  And let’s keep in mind that statistics can be made to reflect whatever the person manipulating the statistics wants them to reflect.

When the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics published its report in October 2013, the lowest paid people were Hispanics who earned $568 per week on average.  This was followed by blacks who earned $621 per week on average, whites who earned $792 per week on average, and finally Asians who earned $920 per week on average.  Does this mean there’s actually Asian privilege going on, or is this a case that job choices are dictating the average weekly income?

Average Weekly Wages in the U.S.
The point of this is that statistics and percentages shouldn’t determine whether someone has a chance of making it as a working artist.  Passion, talent, skill, determination, and business savvy are what should be the determining factors.

And if you happen to be an ethnicity other than white, don’t buy into the argument that you are less likely to succeed in your endeavors.  The percentage of white people working in the arts isn’t much more than the overall total percentage of white people in the general population.  Don’t let numbers and armchair statisticians determine if you have what it takes to make it as a musician or an artist or an author based on manipulated numbers and your ethnicity.

Be the kind of person working in the arts who is the master of his or her own fate … who sails towards his or her version of success … who isn’t afraid to be true to who he or she truly is.  That’s the kind of person working in the arts who finds contentment with their career choice.

Elyse Bruce

The Sun Ain’t Singin’ The Blues

This week, I’d like to share a story about someone who dreamed of being a famous singer-songwriter, or, failing that, a famous author.  It’s based on a true story and while the person’s identity isn’t important, the story is one that many starry-eyed hopefuls have when they travel to music centers in search of industry success.

This particular person stated in a book she wrote (and published a decade ago) that in spite of having her songs recorded and released, she “did not reap fame and fortune.”  In her twenties, she hoped to break into the Nashville scene (for a decade beginning in 1973), supporting herself with day jobs to pay the bills.  She distantly rubbed shoulders with other singer-songwriters who were making names for themselves and watched as they reached the heights she had hoped to grab for herself.

Nearly forty years later, she still holds her tattered dreams up as a banner, reminding people on social media that she was once introduced to Dolly Parton back in the day.

When she wasn’t able to achieve her dream, she walked away from the music industry.  Two decades after leaving the music industry, she tried her hand at writing books, with her last book being published by a vanity press in 2004.  The website set up as a companion for her last book no longer exists anywhere online as a live website.

SIDE NOTE ABOUT THE VANITY PRESS MENTIONED:  It appears that back in 2004, a law firm in Gary (IN) allegedly began a class action lawsuit against the vanity press.  The law firm represented a number of authors and writers who had published books through this particular vanity press, and who claimed the vanity press had not performed their contractual duties as agreed to in their contracts.

It’s sad that the woman who dreamed of “fame and fortune” allowed two dreams to fail.  Perhaps she wasn’t as talented as her hometown friends had led her to believe she was.  Perhaps she didn’t fit in with Nashville’s culture at the time.  Perhaps she alienated more than she endeared herself to during her decade there.  And perhaps she just wasn’t able to understand that, like every business, success rarely falls into your lap with minimal attention and effort invested.

It’s rumored that Willie Nelson and Toby Keith were once told that they would  never make it in Nashville as songwriters or singer-songwriters. The ones who succeed in the arts industry are those who keep knocking on doors.  They keep presenting their art to the public.  They get out on the “entrepreneur street” and show people what they are capable of doing.

They don’t ever think for a minute that they know everything about their industry on the basis of having a few minor successes and five or ten years of professional experience behind them.  What’s more, they are very aware that there’s a limited number of people in each industry who will make it to the top of the ladder.

Those who stay in the arts industry are able to answer one question with a smile:  Does success hinge on your perception of success or on what you believe other people say success looks like?

If you live for other people’s definition of success, no matter how high up the ladder you may climb — or may have climbed during your stay in the arts industry of your choice — you won’t be happy and you won’t be satisfied.  You’ll be miserable and bitter, and that misery and bitterness will last long after you’ve walked away from your dream (or dreams).

There’s a reason for sharing this story.

Far too many aspiring success stories in the arts industry — whether it’s music, literature, dance, visual arts, or any other domain — fail to plan for the possibility that their dreams may not come true exactly as they have envisioned them in their naive understanding of their industry.  Not everyone will make it to the top of the pile, and many will fail to adapt with their situation and turn their backs on their dreams, bitter that ultimate success wasn’t theirs to hold.

Oddly enough, however, those who are miserable and bitter about their failures oftentimes seem to think of themselves in narcissistic terms in order to avoid facing the reality of their failure to achieve “fame and fortune.”  Those who are most affected by their failure seem to resent those who continue to be successful on their own terms, and will stoop at nothing in an attempt to discredit them.

One word of advice:  Avoid miserable, bitter people as they are toxic, and they know they are.

If the sun ain’t singin’ the blues for Jack and Jill, Jack and Diane, Harry and Sally, Melissa or anyone else, you shouldn’t be singing the blues for yourself.  Turn your attention to the success you are working towards achieving, and be grateful with each new accomplishment you reach.

Elyse Bruce

Know What You’re Getting

Being creative is something that isn’t easily quantified and while there are recurring themes in every creative endeavor — whether it’s literary, music, dance, visual arts, or any other creative domain — it’s up to the creative individual to find inspiration and flesh out that inspiration so that the message is clear to their audience.  Sometimes creative people endure blocks where the creativity takes a sojourn, leaving projects waiting for an infusion of creativity at the midway point.

Are there short-cuts to shaking up that dry spell so the waters flow again?  Of course there are.  And sometimes, the best thing to do is to take a break from whatever you’re working on, and give yourself a mini-vacation from the project.  Start something new and stop hyper-focusing on what’s not working in the current project that seems to have temporarily stalled out.

Most authors I know have a “snippet” file where bits and pieces of what may eventually become a short story or a novel are filed (this same sort of file exists with a number of artists in any artistic domain).  That being said, there are fledgling authors who either haven’t thought of starting such a file, or who feel the “snippet” file they have doesn’t have what they’re looking for to kick-start their writing back into gear.  It’s not a big problem per se as one can build up a “snippet” file at any point in their career.

What alarms me, however, are those who are making money on the backs of fledgling or uncertain authors or hobbyist authors by promising to kick-start their entire book with pre-written plots with one simple rule:  Authors who purchase these pre-written plots MUST shake things up a bit in the pre-written plots to make them original.  You see, some of these pre-written plots are allegedly short stories all on their own hence the insistence that those who purchase these pre-written plots MUST shake things up a bit before publishing them.

Now in one case, the seller makes a point of insisting that authors purchasing this book of pre-written plots are only limited by their imagination, and to this end, there is a nugget of truth.  In fact, the seller proves his/her point by making available for purchase a book of pre-written plots which is very creative and takes a fair bit of imagination to pull off successfully.

However, if an author is only limited by his or her imagination, then there’s no need for a book of pre-written plots.

Real life presents so many incredible plots waiting to be retold in an imaginative way by a creative author who sees a moral or a theme he or she wishes to explore in greater detail.  Rather than pay someone for a book of pre-written plots, pick up a newspaper and find out what’s going on in the world.  It doesn’t have to be a front page story.  It could something as small as a 100-word feel-good story on the back page about a boy and his dog.  Or check your email to read the humorous tidbits sent to you by friends and family.  Perhaps a song on the radio as you’re driving somewhere has the “what if” moment just waiting for some creative sort to extrapolate just a bit further than the song took it.

But what if, as the seller of the book of pre-written plots wrote, you have “no clue how to come up with ideas or formulate the right structure for a story.”  Then pick up a few good books and read.  Pick up a few more good books, and read some more.  And when you start writing, keep picking up good books and continue reading.  If you’re still unsure how to proceed, there are many websites that have the information you need in point form as well as in long, drawn out articles.  All you have to do is choose how you prefer to have information shared with you to start figuring out how YOU would like to structure your story or book.

But whatever you do, never pay someone else to be your voice.    If you have something to share with others, it’s up to you to find a way to communicate that with your audience.  There’s no book of pre-written plots that will be as effective in telling your story as finding your own voice and cultivating ways to keep things flowing.  And when you hit that dry spell that may happen, there are ways to dislodge that dry spell.

Just remember that Judy Garland was quoted as saying:  “Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.”  In other words, allow your creativity to express itself in its own time and don’t default to someone else’s creativity in the hopes that no one will notice you’re not being yourself.

Elyse Bruce

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