Acceptance in sports: Not quite there yet

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Acceptance in sports: Not quite there yet – Los Angeles Loyolan.

In a country that once embraced gay-bashing and made bullying based on sexual orientation popular, it’s hard not to be proud of the recent swell of support for LGBT individuals in this country. Marriage equality is a cultural buzz phrase. The promise of the It Gets Better campaign seems to be coming true for so many young people growing into strong, confident individuals. And in the world of professional sports, NFL players are supposedly considering coming out.

Except, maybe they aren’t.

Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, long on record as a marriage equality proponent, told the Baltimore Sun last week that he knew of “up to four players” in the NFL who were in talks to come out together.

“It would make a major splash and take the pressure off one guy,” he said. “It would be a monumental day if a handful or a few guys come out.”

An announcement like this was guaranteed to make waves and have LGBT advocates hopeful for real change. So of course, it took all of one day before Ayanbadejo started retracting his statement.

“Potentially, it’s possible, it’s fathomable, that they could possibly do something together, and break a story together,” he told Anderson Cooper on CNN. “And one of them had voiced that he would like to break his story with someone else and not do it alone. … Not all these athletes are in the NFL. Some are in other sports as well.”

He might as well have said, “Hey, so everything I said yesterday? Forget about it. Never mind. My bad.”

Such developments are disheartening, particularly when the world of professional sports could really use a big push forward on the path to acceptance.

Boston University Professor Robert Volk once called professional sports “the last bastion of homophobia.” While I think that’s inaccurate (I’m pretty sure Virginia, which recently passed the Crimes Against Nature law banning sodomy, has “last bastion” status locked down), it does reflect an ugly truth about the heteronormative culture of sports: Things aren’t changing as briskly as it may seem.

Yes, there are allies like Ayanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe petitioning publicly for equal rights. And yes, there are plenty of teams, like the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants, that made It Gets Better videos to support victims of bullying due to LGBT status. But right now, all this amounts to is a more supportive public face. This begs the question: If this environment is so supportive, then why are gay players not coming out of the nearest closet they find?

The truth is that all the ‘It Gets Better’ messages in the world can’t take gay slurs out of locker rooms in a flash. The Ayanbadejos and Kluwes are incredible allies, but they are two men out of almost 2,000 in the NFL alone. Equality and acceptance are trending topics, but behind the curtain, we have no idea how well these values are truly espoused.

Athletes and pundits need to stop pretending everything is resolved already or engage in wishful thinking about groups of athletes about to come out of the closet. Instead, they should focus on tangible goals that will go a long way to creating the equal culture they so desperately want to believe is already here.In fact, professional sports figures would do well to pay attention to their college brethren. The NCAA took major steps forward with the release of “Champions of Respect,” its guide for creating a more accepting climate for LGBT individuals.

The guide is full of instructions and guidelines for working with LGBT athletes and coaches, it offers great suggestions for coaches and athletes, including educating themselves about LGBT issues in sports and monitoring the use of anti-gay slurs. These things may seem elementary to you and me, but for a culture that has long suffered from these issues, they really aren’t. If the guide is effectively implemented, it could signal real change in the college sports climate.

I get it, I really do: Equal rights for LGBT individuals are having a moment. I’m absolutely thrilled. The idea that we could see major steps forward on marriage equality as early as June is stunning to someone like me, a Texan kid who grew up wondering if there was anyone who understood how he really felt and would stand up for him. But attempting to catch up to the cultural trend in one fell swoop without going through the proper steps isn’t going to work. Equality is most effective when everyone understands not only the what, but the why.

Four professional athletes coming out together is an incredible idea, and one that, if it ever came to pass, would inspire so many LGBT individuals playing sports. But creating false hope, which I’m sure was not Ayanbadejo’s intention, doesn’t inspire, and it doesn’t really help create acceptance. Because the sports world isn’t there yet.

Call Me Maybe - Carly Rae Jepsen

2012 pop music: 2011 redux

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: 2012 pop music: 2011 redux.

Call Me Maybe - Carly Rae Jepsen

Photo Credit: YouTube | CarlyRaeJepsenVEVO

Summer has officially ended, and the popular consensus has arrived: Frequently parodied earworm “Call Me Maybe” by Canadian artist Carly Rae Jepsen is your Song of Summer 2012. By now, you’re probably just a little tired of listening to it – which is natural for songs that you hear almost every day for a full 3½ months. But imagine how Canadians must feel – they first heard the song in September of last year.

This highlights one strange trend that emerged this year with pop music being even more behind the times than usual. Both of the most popular songs of the year – “Call Me Maybe” and Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” – were actually released in 2011, as was the highest selling album of this year, Adele’s “21.” While radio is no stranger to late-peaking hits, it is strange for the gap to be almost a full year after release.

So how did we wind up with pop music in 2012 that was nothing more than 2011 redux? With Adele’s album, we can chalk her continued successes up to being Adele, the savior of modern album sales, and write it off as an aberration. But with “Maybe” and “Somebody,” trying to explain why only leads to more questions.

Both Jepsen and Gotye are from outside the country, which might explain why their songs didn’t make it here earlier. But if that’s the case, why did they become so big anyway?

The songs aren’t exactly the electropop dance songs or ringtone hip hop we’ve come to expect of the radio, so it might have taken them longer to catch on. But if that’s the case, why did they catch on anyway?

Big pop artists like Adele, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé stayed out of the singles game this summer, choosing not to release anything to radio. Compare that to the era of monster singles like “We Found Love” and “Someone Like You” at the end of last year, and it’s easy to see that there wasn’t room for Jepsen or Gotye until this year. But this summer brought big songs from the likes of Rihanna (“Where Have You Been”), Katy Perry (“Wide Awake”) and Maroon 5 (“Payphone”), yet the two scrappy upstarts still reigned supreme.

The best explanation I can come up with is that there is no explanation – at least, no simple one. “Maybe” and “Somebody” seemed to rise to prominence independently due to the promotion from their labels and other Internet success. Whereas Jepsen had Justin Bieber and all his famous friends on her side, Gotye had Walk off the Earth’s five musicians-one guitar viral cover. The songs’ 2011 roots seemingly had nothing to do with their success – all just a coincidence. However, when you realize that the third biggest hit of the year, fun.’s “We Are Young,” was also released in September 2011, you can’t help but feel you’re missing a pattern.

Pop music is obviously cyclical, and there are always going to be transition years. I’d chalk this year up to nothing but radio programmers trying to find a new sound as the dance revival is cooling down. We’ll see more songs in the next year or so mirror the sounds that Adele, fun., Jepsen and Gotye first made popular this year.

Until then, enjoy your last remnants of summer music, including Ellie Goulding’s “Lights,” a song peaking in popularity right now that was first released in – er, 2010. Back to the drawing board.

A Separation

Iranian film is relatable despite subtitles

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Iranian film is relatable despite subtitles – Los Angeles Loyolan.

A Separation

Photo Credit: YouTube | iranianfilmfes

Living in Los Angeles allows better access to independent and limited release films than almost anywhere else in the country. It’s that sort of access that allowed me to see “Black Swan” on its opening day in 2010. Such opportunity is a gift, but it doesn’t allow residents of the City of Angels to see absolutely everything.

Case in point: I saw the best film of 2011 in March of 2012. The movie was “A Separation,” an Iranian film that just recently won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The story follows a couple that goes through a divorce and a legal battle with hired help simultaneously. It is, in almost every way, a perfect film, yet because of its status as a foreign film, not to mention an Iranian film, I couldn’t see it until almost two months after 2011 had ended. Those in other cities may never get the chance to see it in theaters.

“A Separation” is a wrenching portrait of a family falling apart, as well as the greatest legal thriller I’ve ever seen. The screenplay and direction, both by Asghar Farhadi, are superb in equal measure. The ensemble of talent is worthy of the masterful film it inhabits. The plot is irresistibly human and relatable. It is only foreign through its language – the story could be told about any culture or any family.

This isn’t the first example of a good film getting lost in translation when distributed in the U.S. With very few exceptions, including Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, “The Artist” (a French film, albeit with several American influences), international movies are constantly relegated to the foreign dumpster despite easily relatable themes largely because American distributors are convinced that the language barrier will simply be insurmountable.

Unfortunately, those distributors are proven right time and time again by American audiences that would rather see sequel upon “threequel” instead of fascinating stories that happen to be in different languages. It’s a shame that so many in America and beyond won’t get to see “A Separation,” for example, because it has so much to offer, not only to fans of foreign cinema, but to general audiences everywhere.

That’s where the “foreign” label really fails: it creates a barrier between its American audience and the film itself. A story like “A Separation” would work in any language because it’s so relatable – yet the subtitles at the bottom of the screen drive away audiences.

It’s likely that “A Separation” will see some success thanks to the publicity generated on Oscar night. Rentals of the DVD will probably be quite high for some time on Netflix. A story this great deserves better than that, though. It deserves a place among the classic titles we all regard so highly. It deserves a wide audience and huge grosses. It deserves so much more than it will ever get simply because it’s a human story told in a different language.

Since we do live in Los Angeles, “A Separation” is still playing in several art house theaters around the city, including Laemmle’s Royal Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard less than 10 miles from LMU. If you have the time, do yourself a favor and go see it. You likely won’t get the chance to see such a compelling, heartbreaking story from American cinema any time soon.

Smash

NBC takes a musical gamble with ‘Smash’

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: NBC takes a musical gamble with ‘Smash’ – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Smash

Photo Credit: YouTube | NBC

The Super Bowl may be over, but for hosting network NBC, their big gamble happens tonight. At 10/9 central, the struggling fourth-place network will air the pilot for “Smash,” a new musical drama that has been in development for several years. Starring Debra Messing of “Will and Grace” fame, as well as “American Idol” runner-up Katharine McPhee and grand dame of cinema Anjelica Huston, the show is attracting a lot of buzz for being a very different kind of project for NBC.

The pilot has been available on NBC.com and iTunes for some time now, and after watching it, I can say with absolute certainty that “Smash” is pretty terrible. Yes, the music is fun, and it certainly has its moments, but make no mistake, it’s really rather bad on the whole.

Here’s the issue, though: It’s still more ambitious and interesting than half of what’s on network television today. So should “Smash” be applauded as a risk or bashed for what it really is, a flop?

Let’s start with a quick diagnosis of why “Smash” fails. First, the good news: the musical moments are actually pretty great. While one might wonder why McPhee suddenly can’t sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” her breakout song on “American Idol,” the other members of the ensemble, particularly Megan Hilty, are accomplished. Hilty is the only one who can act and sing in equal measure. The other principal performers, especially Messing and Huston, are hit-and-miss. Almost anyone who isn’t already a star in his or her own right on the show is borderline awful. Messing’s family might as well be played by pieces of plywood for all of their range.

Even the best actors are saddled with bad dialogue – Messing has to convincingly deliver a filibuster about revivals on Broadway rather than new material in the first five minutes of the episode, and the whole thing just arrives with a crash. Huston is chewing the scenery all over the place, which is a shame, because her wonderfully understated work in “50/50” was a highlight of the last year in cinema.

But the biggest problem with “Smash” is also one of its strengths: It is fully immersed in the theater world. Not the biggest fan of Broadway? “Smash” doesn’t really care about appeasing you – it’s going to continue talking about insider stuff, and expects you to keep up. That level of apathy for audience capability is rare to find on network television, but this isn’t exactly a cop show. If you live outside of New York City, some of this is gonna be flying over your head.

The nature of “Smash” is something more shows should try. So often, television series are weighed down by exposition to the point of never recovering fully – or they never catch up their audience. By the end of the episode, I already felt better about the show’s abilities to remain insider-focused but also attainable. The last song of the episode, “Let Me Be Your Star,” is an absolute home run, too. The finale was the only time I felt “Smash” could be a hit. But that was the end of the episode. It was just because of this column that I kept watching. Other viewers don’t have to stay tuned.

NBC was smart to release the pilot early – any fans that make it through the whole episode will be likely to stick around. As always, you can never count out musical theater nerds as an audience. After all, they’re the ones who keep “Glee” alive. But the next episodes just need to be better or else the show will never succeed.

Making such an ambitious, rare show is admirable on NBC’s part. However, the network just isn’t in the place to be taking such risks. More chances like this should be taken by CBS, the first-place network, because they can afford it. As far as “Smash” goes, it looks like NBC’s gamble just isn’t going to pay off.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

A letter to Ryan Gosling, national treasure

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: A letter to Ryan Gosling, national treasure – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Dear Ryan Gosling,

I have a confession to make. As a major fan, it’s embarrassing for me to tell you, but I feel like being honest with you. After all, what’s a little awkward admission between imaginary friends like us?

Here’s the truth: I don’t like “The Notebook.” More than that, I don’t think you’re very good in it.

I know. As a fervent Gosling fanatic I should have been fanning myself over your heartthrob performance as Noah Calhoun. But I thought you were just OK. You had chemistry with your co-star and onetime girlfriend Rachel McAdams, yes, but it was definitely less than your best.

But that’s all in the past! You’re back now with incredible performances in movies such as “Drive” and “The Ides of March,” and you were smoldering and stellar in equal measure in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” You’ve captured the hearts of the nation and the attention of critics who hold you up as the actor of your generation.

It’s so funny to think of you as the boy who was in the “Mickey Mouse Club” revival as a mouseketeer. You’ve risen above the exploits of your co-stars Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, both of whom haven’t quite had the careers we expected. You’ve become a massive star in your own right, an A-lister who set Twitter aflame with the mere notice that you wouldn’t be attending the Golden Globes.

Personally, my love for you started with your performance in “Half Nelson.” Your only Oscar-nominated performance stands as one of your best – as drug addict and junior high teacher Dan Dunne, you were deeply affecting, with real gravitas and humanity. You only kept that roll going with “Lars and the Real Girl” as Lars Lindstrom, a man in love with a sex doll. In a role that could have been downright creepy in the wrong hands, you were charming and wonderful.

Unfortunately, a dark period soon fell upon us, and you waited for almost three years before gracing us with your on-screen presence once again. We were forced to rely upon a lesser Ryan (Reynolds, that is) to fuel our nation’s collective need for a heartthrob.

The drought ended when you gifted us with “Blue Valentine.” Your performance as Dean Periera felt lived-in and was truly arresting. Your chemistry with Michelle Williams was magnetic, both attracting and repelling. Your total willingness to commit to the role was impressive. I was smitten with your talent.

Then came the triple play of 2011. You turned America on as the suave ladykiller who is broken by Emma Stone in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” You fit the role just as well as your suits fit you – perfectly. You followed it up with one of your most morally ambiguous roles – Stephen Meyers in “The Ides of March.” It’s not easy to make politics sexy, but you succeeded.

For me, the role that I’ll hold dear to my heart is your performance as Driver in “Drive.” An absolute knockout, you were especially impressive with sparse language and a towering presence. You sold the romance with Carey Mulligan and the violence against the gangsters with equal talent. Every movement was a well-choreographed dance of power. It sealed the deal – you clearly had the talent to fit the devastating movie star looks.

You’re so much more than your performances, too! You’re an Internet sensation with plenty of blogs dedicated to your image. You set the media world on fire when you broke up a street brawl and it was captured on video. You’re wanted by many, adored by most – what more could a man want?

You’re standing at the edge of your career – on one side, several devastatingly good performances; on the other, a future of success and fame. You’re destined to be not only a heartthrob, but a legendary actor, and I have no doubt that you can live up to your promise.

Let’s just agree to disagree on that performance in “The Notebook.”