Banter M Issue 38

In this week's edition of Banter M:

'Liberal' Hollywood's Mutilation of Women - Bob Cesca discusses Hollywood's atrocious exploitation of women that not only devalues them as human beings, but requires them to mutilate themselves for profit.

The Virtue of Pain - Tommy Christopher pens a thoughtful essay on the virtues of physical and emotional pain after experiencing a horrific tooth ache that put him out for several days. Was pain a good thing? Perhaps, but this was all a bit too much. 

Dance Dad - While suburban mom and dads were buying Range Rovers and 1.5 mil McMansions, Chez Pazienza was doing drugs and having sex with people he'd just met. Now he would have to spend the weekend with them at an "Access Broadway" show in Vegas that his 7 year old daughter was participating in. 


'Liberal' Hollywood's Mutilation of Women

by Bob Cesca

With the Oscars coming up this weekend, we've all heard by now about the atrocious lack of representation of African-Americans among the nominees despite the existence of numerous noteworthy films by and starring actors-of-color. The counterargument can be made, of course, that it's a process based on merit and, perhaps, there weren't any significant movies or performances featuring African-American actors or filmmakers.


Hollywood is most definitely not a meritocracy. Nor are the Oscars an election. Hollywood is loaded with assholes and hypocrites whose best skills are wrapped up in making sure the outside public doesn't notice the asshole behavior or the hypocrisy. Needless to say, the Oscars have never really been an objective judgment on the quality of the previous year's slate of films. To suggest it's all about the best pictures is to deny the reality of how it all works.

The nominees and the "winners" (it's an honor just to be nominated, don't you know) are chosen based on purely subjective whimsy sparked by cynically expensive campaigns to market the movies to Academy voters. Yes, many fantastic movies make the cut and often win. This year, the existence of Mad Max: Fury RoadSpotlight and The Big Short among the Best Picture nominees is indeed a reasonably accurate representation of truly great films at the top of the Oscar heap. The snubbing of Beasts of No Nation, on the other hand, a breathtaking film set in Ghana and starring Idris Elba, highlights the pathetic side of Hollywood -- the side that reveals the utter lack of liberalism in Hollywood.

It's morbidly hilarious that Hollywood continues to be characterized as ground zero for liberalism. While the industry is loaded with self-identified leftists who donate millions to liberal causes, it's a corporate town driven almost exclusively by the profit motive. "Liberal Hollywood" wouldn't exist without corporatism. And corporatism brings with it a brand of sociopathy not unlike what occurs on Wall Street or within board rooms around the world where decisions are stripped of humanity in lieu of satisfying the bottom line. 

African-Americans aren't the only demographic to be historically ignored in the race to pander to moviegoers and thus appeasing boards of directors and shareholders.

Last year, Patricia Arquette made news by calling for wage equality and equal rights, presumably the Equal Rights Amendment along with it, during her Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech. A year later, not much has changed to ameliorate the concerns of Arquette and other feminists who deserve more from the industry that's exploited and, in some cases, mutilated women for profit.

A new study released days ago by USC Anenberg, and conducted by Stacy L. Smith, PhD, Marc Choueiti and Katherine Pieper, PhD, revealed that of the characters in film who are 40 years or older, only 21 percent are women. Out of 11,306 characters across all of entertainment, including broadcast, cable and streaming, there are two male cast members for every one female cast member.

In liberal Hollywood, this is the sad reality: "Film was less likely than broadcast or cable to show women 40 years of age or older. Streaming was the most likely, with females filling 33.1% of roles for middle age and elderly characters."

Likewise, even though women are grotesquely underrepresented, they're most often sexualized on screen in some way, be it with "sexy clothing," "nudity," or generally referenced as "physically attractive." Among nude scenes, for example, 33.4 percent feature female nudity, while only 10.8 percent feature male nudity.

And those aforementioned boards of directors? Only 19 percent of boardmembers are women.

Yes, we all have our contradictions. But the alleged liberalism of Hollywood clearly doesn't include one of the major tenets of the left: racial and gender equality. Given the numbers in the Anenberg study, Hollywood isn't even trying. I suppose over a long enough timeline reaching back to the early part of the 20th Century we can track significant progress on equality, but in 2016, there's no excuse for this unforgivable level of sexism to exist, especially in the information age when feedback is immediate and everyone is a critic.

So, how are women in Hollywood expected to wrap their heads around the demands of the industry?

We're not breaking any news by observing that creative people, especially actors, are insecure and self-conscious about their appearances. If your face was blown up and projected onto a screen the size of a small building, you would be, too. Every imperfection becomes exponentially magnified, even on small screens, which, in the age of DVR freeze-frames, plasma and flat-screens, aren't so small.

Amplify these understandable insecurities with an industry that demands visual perfection for anyone who's interested in, you know, buying things with money, while also refusing to cast women -- and women alone -- who happen to be older than 40. Hell, both Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr., and the new Batman, Ben Affleck, are either 50 (Downey) or pushing 45 (Affleck), yet as soon as any female actors come even close to that age, they're virtually set afloat on ice drifts to die slow deaths at sea, while much younger actors are cast as love-interests. (One of the primary reasons why 47-year-old Patricia Arquette made it to an Oscar acceptance speech is that she was cast by an indie director, Richard Linklater. And their film, Boyhood, was an undeniable phenomenon -- too tempting for Hollywood to overlook. After all, sexist a-liberal Hollywood never hesitates to horn in on the action of something that more or less defies and eschews Hollywood's corporate trappings. See, we can be edgy and indie, too!)

Combine natural insecurities with an industry that demands physical perfection of its women in order to turn a profit... enter the macabre plastic surgery industry. One female actor after another has been shoved into the surgical meat grinder in order to continue working -- more often than not making themselves look worse than they did when they were younger. We've seen the sad results time and time again. In an effort to reverse the march of time, actors like Melanie Griffith, Meg Ryan, Renee Zellweger and countless others have been ridiculed for their plastic surgery "disasters" by observers who very likely ridicule other 40-plus women for looking too old. Indeed, very few 40-plus women in Hollywood have successfully navigated around the unspoken demand for size-zero clothing and unnaturally smooth faces.

Renee Zellweger before and after Hollywood's insane beauty standards got to her. 

Renee Zellweger before and after Hollywood's insane beauty standards got to her. 

Make no mistake, more than a few male actors have self-mutilated in order to pass muster. But it's not even close to being a 1:1 ratio. Women, quite simply, are expected to pump their faces with toxins or to have their natural good-looks destroyed in violent surgical procedures. 

Facial features such as lines and contours that define the character and personality of the human face, while projecting subtle emotions, are routinely obliterated with Botox and dermal fillers, resulting in a puffy, frozen, catchers-mitt appearance. Eyes are blown out with blepharoplasty -- the flesh above the eyelids is chopped out, fabricating a permanently disturbing button-eyed, surprised expression. And then there's the almost Medieval series of face lift procedures in which strips of skin are cut out around the ears or within the hairline and the flesh of the cheeks, jowls, neck or forehead is pulled back and sutured to a degree at which otherwise sublime faces go from appealingly natural to unrecognizable, repulsive and absolutely unnatural. We won't even get into the breast implants, which are arguably the most potentially dangerous and life-threatening surgeries in the long-run.

Beyond Hollywood, 40-plus women of all walks of life are subjected to hectoring and coercion by the practically unattainable standards of pop culture -- as well as the men who buy into those standards. Yet average American women often can't afford the same top-shelf doctors found in Hollywood, and so they end up with results of a less-than-Hollywood quality, underscoring the maxim that we get what we pay for. In this regard, the Hollywood demand for self-mutilation literally bleeds out to women of all walks of life, whether or not they can afford it.

While very few phenomena are caused by one inciting factor, it should be obvious to any rational observers that male dominance in Hollywood and the clear-as-day misogyny that goes along with it are, in tandem, ruining the lives of women both inside and outside of Hollywood. 

Sure, it's easy to say that cosmetic surgeries are voluntary, but are they really

When careers and livelihoods are at stake, is it really voluntary or is it a mandatory, unavoidable job requirement? Is it voluntary when women are verbally bombarded by sexist men who are constantly "man-splaining" about everything from age, to clothing choices to make-up to weight. In the 21st Century, there are literally millions of American men, many of them self-identified liberals, who go around telling women that they somehow "lose their value" after 40. I honestly can't think of anything more upsettingly atrocious, short of physical abuse, than telling a woman that she has no value when her chronological age happens to tick past her 40th year. Ironically, these are insufferable men who also happen to be older than 40 and therefore whose erectile reliability and testosterone levels, hence their own sexual "value," vanish at a certain advanced age. Feel free to use that, women, the next time a stupid guy 'splains to you about what it means to be older than 40.

This weekend, as we honor the best and brightest Hollywood has to offer, it's important that we also take a hard look at the industry's dark side -- be it "liberal" Hollywood's ignoring of African-American achievements in filmmaking or, in this case, the way it manhandles, exploits and, yes, mutilates women for profit. And then ask yourself whether gender equality remains a compulsory goal to achieve in 2016 and beyond.

Poor Tommy. Not having the greatest week...

Poor Tommy. Not having the greatest week...

The Virtue of Pain

by Tommy Christopher

I've been thinking a lot about pain lately, mainly because I've been in a lot of it for the past week or so, and I've re-thought my opinion of it completely. It's not as great as I thought it was.

You know what is great? Having insurance. Early last week, I started to develop a toothache, as one does when he hasn't been to a dentist in two years, but it wasn't so bad right away, so I thought I'd wait until I got my brand new dental insurance cards in the mail before going in to have it taken care of. It took effect February 1, but to go without the card meant I'd have to go into another room, connect a printer cable to my laptop, and print out a temporary ID card, and who needs that shit?

Part of my reticence, though, was fueled by that inner voice that we all have, saying "Sheeiit, this is nothing, I can take this." As it turns out, though, I should have expended the massive amount of effort it would have taken me to print out that card, because on Thursday, I developed a little lump on my jaw, and the thing started to really hurt, and when I called my dentist's office, they couldn't see me in time for me to be able to make the appointment. And they were closed on Friday.

I wasn't happy about it, but I figured I could hold out until Saturday. I'm tough. Then, a few hours later, my face blew up. That picture is from Thursday afternoon, and by the time I got to the dentist on Saturday, it was about three times that size. 

The intervening time period gave me a lot of time to think  about what it was like not to have insurance, because there I was, self-medicating with six shots of vodka each night, just so I could get to sleep. My family begged me to go to the emergency room Friday night because I looked like The Elephant Man after a three-day bachelor party, but I didn't want to spend the fifty bucks on something I could accomplish with Three Olives. I only had to make it til morning. Pain notwithstanding, though, it was a good feeling to know that relief was in sight.

I finally got to the dentist Saturday morning, face all messed up, stomach wrecked from too much Ibuprofen, still in the kind of pain that makes you tap on the steering wheel the whole drive there, but when I got into that waiting room, I felt a swell of pride at having made it. Fuck you, pain! I got this!

Pain, as it turns out, was not impressed. 

I've never understood how it is that, with all the technological advances in my lifetime, dental tools have managed to continue to look like an embalming kit for porcupines. What is it about Novocaine that it needs to be delivered in a gleaming silver torture implement? My way of dealing with this has always been just to look away or close my eyes, and I was surprised, this time, at how tolerable the numbing process was. 

The dentist told me what his plan was, which was to cut into my gums and drain the infection. Lovely. At least I'd be numb. Then he started digging around in my jaw, and it wasn't so numb. That's nerve-wracking, because the pain is dulled just enough to make you wonder when he's going to hit something really bad, and then you're going to kick him reflexively, and he's going to carve your face up like Hannibal Lecter without his Ritalin.

Here's where everything went to shit for me, because in my infinite wisdom, I figured I'd be getting my tooth fixed, lots of Novocaine, and a script for pain meds, so I didn't bring any Advil with me. I'm not sure it would have done any good, anyway. As son as they were done, they told me I'd have to come back to have the tooth fixed because the infection needed to clear up enough so I could open my mouth. They gave me a script for antibiotics and Codeine, and as I walked to my car, the Novocaine seemed to completely wear off.

This was not good, because I had a twenty-minute ride to the pharmacy ahead of me, plus however long it took for the pharmacist to fill it. I barely got out of the parking lot, and I was audibly moaning from the pain and pounding the steering wheel. It became quickly obvious to me that the Novocaine had not, in fact, completely worn off, because the pain kept getting worse as it actually did continue to wear off.

By the time I got to the supermarket, tears were streaming down my face, and over the papaya-sized lump on it (the "draining" had had no appreciable effect on the swelling). I leaned out of the car and spat out the blood, gauze, and puss, and tried to shove a new piece of gauze in there, hands shaking, and now I really had to piss, too. As I staggered toward the store, I dreaded all the helpful people who were going to say "hi" to me and/or make some friendly observation about how I look like they feel, or say anything at all to me besides "HERE ARE YOUR DRUGS!"

I guess I was a hideous enough mess that nobody wanted to bother me, so I made it all the way to the pharmacy counter without adding annoyance to injury. The pharmacist was behind the counter to my left, with a little partition partially blocking my view, but I could see him adding some shit up on a calculator and writing it down in a notebook, which he continued to do for several minutes as I panted in obvious agony.

Now, let me tell you something about pharmacists, because I worked in the health care industry for 12 years before I became a journalist. They are some grumpy, not-gonna-move-a-muscle-to-help-you-assed motherfuckers who are obviously bitter about washing out of medical school, but who have at least a mediocre facility for counting pills. You'd think all the free drugs would make them a little more cheerful. The ladies who work in the pharmacy are super-awesome, but the pharmacists are the fucking worst.

So, the guy hears me panting, which I am in no way putting on, which I am in fact doing to suppress the screaming I feel like doing, and actually puts his fucking finger up, says "Just a minute," and continues his note-taking. Finally, he comes over to me, I hand him the script, point to my face, point to the script, and manage to growl out "How long?"

"Should be about 25 minutes or so," he says, and like an idiot, I actually bother to squeeze out the words "Can't you just give me one now, and then do the rest?"

Of. Course. Not.

Rather than give this asshole the satisfaction of watching me writhe for half an hour, I pace the store, go to the bathroom, go out to my car for a cigarette, spit more blood and puss out in the parking lot, and game out just how fast I'll have to drive home so the pills don't mess me up.

I go back to the pharmacy, and the old dude in line ahead of me lets me go first, and I frantically open the Codeine bottle and slam one down with the bottled water I'd just bought, gave the pharmacist the least-sincere drool-flecked "thanks" I can muster, and head home.

I guess different drugs affect people in different ways, because that Codeine took forever to kick in, so I downed several Advil when I got home, and curled up in a ball waiting for the pain to ebb. When it finally did, I started thinking about pain, and about the peculiar feelings I'd been having about it.

I thought about the shame I had felt when I kind of lost it in the car on the way back from the dentist, and the silly pride I had felt about not going to the emergency room. To a certain extent, our culture romanticizes pain, makes enduring it into a badge of bravery.

I also thought about the strong personal value I've always placed on emotional pain. When my older kids were little, I spent years fighting to get custody of them, and whenever they would leave after our every-other-weekend, I would completely lose it, and sob for hours after they had gone. It was a horrible, wrenching feeling, but I also never felt my love for them more strongly than when they had to leave. I held onto that.

But this kind of pain? Completely unnecessary, and the pride we take in enduring it is harmful. I'm lucky to have access to help, but I think the attitude that we've been conditioned into, that "taking the pain" equals toughness, erodes our cultural capacity for empathy and allows us to enable the suffering of others. Just because you can take a certain level of pain or suffering doesn't mean there's a good reason for you to take it. 

This isn't the worst pain I've ever felt, not even close, but it made me think. For several days, even on the drugs, the pain was pretty bad, and the Codeine was mainly there to let me go to sleep. I'm going off of it today because I don't want to wreck my bowels, and I think the Advil will do the trick from here on out. Those are good reasons to take a little more pain. 

Dance Dad

by Chez Pazienza

I got drafted. That was how it came about. My ex-wife’s due date for her new baby just happened to coincide with our 7-year-old daughter’s dance competition taking place in Las Vegas. So with her otherwise indisposed, somebody else would have to be the one to accompany Inara to the big “Access Broadway” show with the rest of her dance school. And that somebody would have to be me. Not that I would ever argue against the idea given that I relish daddy-daughter experiences, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a near-lethal combination of terrified and overwhelmed at the thought of having to both coordinate the trip and stand up straight in front of a bunch of Orange County dance moms for two days. The life my ex leads is so far removed from my own that we may as well be on different planets: I knew going into it that most of the people I’d be dealing with were wealthier and generally a hell of a lot more stable and suburban than I had ever been or likely would ever be. While these nice people were buying Range Rovers and 1.5 mil McMansions in Aliso Viejo, and always building for their futures, I was doing drugs, having sex with people I’d just met, and writing about it all for a meager paycheck and minor internet notoriety. I imagined the scent of condescension wafting visibly off of everyone who’d come into contact with me and I wouldn’t be able to blame them.

I had Inara for the entire week anyway because it was her winter break from school. But looming there at the weekend ahead was always the responsibility I had to get her to Vegas and shepherd her through the lengthy competition process. She’d been training for Access Broadway for months, rehearsing a series of acts involving various other members of her dance troupe as well as one solo performance that featured her and her alone singing and dancing. My daughter’s life is pretty well scheduled given her dedication to dancing; although I had seen several of her recitals and knew she was a giant fireball of personality onstage, I hadn’t really seen her let loose with something that she’d practiced and honed to a knife’s edge. Running through her solo with her more than a few times the week before the competition, I finally really got an idea just how talented my child is. What she didn’t have in flawless technical vocal skill -- again, she’s seven -- she more than made up for in balls-out enthusiasm. The kid knows how to knock people dead with her fearlessness and I’ve already seen it serve her well in her interactions with other people. She’s good at working a crowd, no matter the crowd.

By the time Friday rolled around, we were ready to go. Well, she was anyway. As it turned out, I was actually the one with the stagefright because it could be argued I’d be playing to a tougher crowd. But we packed up my car and hit the road, beginning the first stage in a surreal adventure that saw me engaging in rituals I’d been through so often before as an adult, but now in the company of my little kid. That drive from L.A. to Vegas, I’d made it more than a few times with the goal of channeling my inner Hunter Thompson and eventually drinking myself into a stupor by the side of one Vegas pool or another. Now, though, again, the whole thing was about me being a good dad and about being there for a pivotal moment in my daughter’s young life. No, I wouldn’t play Taylor Swift every time the mood struck Inara during our drive out, but I would play Charli XCX, and in her eyes that’s good enough. My kid wasn’t the least bit nervous. She was excited to get on with the proceedings -- and I have to admit, that excitement was infectious. It was hard not to bury all my insecurities and just go with it because in the end I was going to get a weekend with my daughter taking part in something, one-on-one, that I hadn’t had a chance to before.

Access Broadway itself, the competition, was happening at the Santa Fe Station Hotel and Casino, a real shithole out in Northwest Vegas, far removed from the Strip. I had thought about getting a room there for Inara and me, given the convenience factor, but when I saw how much they’d jacked up the prices for what amounted to pretty lousy rooms, I turned my attention to better deals in better areas. So we wound up at the SLS, a really gorgeous incarnation of one of my favorite L.A. and South Beach hotels on the north end of the Strip where the old Sahara used to be. Inara fell in love with the place -- and in particular, our room -- reveling in the stylish vibe of the lobby and bounding back and forth between our full-sized, side-by-side beds. As she christened the room in this manner, I negotiated with the dance moms what the first order of business would be for all of us via a group text I’d been looped in on. Oh, and I also poured myself a small bottle of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel from the minibar, because no one could deny me that at that moment. One of the texts from one of the moms lamented the “very hungry daddy” she and her children apparently had with them and would need to satiate at some point in the near future. This may have earned an extra hard swig of my Jack, given that I’m not sure I’ve ever used a phrase like that my entire life.

We decided on the M&M store near the MGM Grand on the southern Strip as a good place for all of us to meet. The first to arrive -- after Inara and I, because at the very least I was going to be punctual -- was a mom and her daughter, a close friend of Inara’s. I always imagined what little girls are like when they suddenly have the ability to travel in a pack, but experiencing it is something completely different. As the girls trailed into the shop, one by one, with the parents in tow, it was like a series of small explosions had rocked the place. There was yelling and shouting and dancing, with each new addition magically imbuing the girls already there with an extra jolt of pure adrenaline to the heart. By the time there were maybe five little girls, no one could say anything without shouting it and no one could simply walk, they all had to dance in order to move forward. It was the living embodiment of a #SquadGoals hashtag. I talked to the parents, although I already recognized that when I wasn’t being directly addressed I just kind of hung back because I’m terrible at small-talk. Somebody decided it would be a good idea to sit through the M&M movie they were showing on one of the upstairs levels of the store, so after allowing Inara to fill a plastic bag with M&Ms of all colors and kinds and paying a shitload of money for said candy-covered chocolates, we gathered the troops, put on 3D glasses and entered the little theater. At least I had a giant bag of M&Ms to raid throughout the show.

We had a hungry daddy by that point, despite the M&Ms he’d been eating steadily for the past half-hour, so somebody suggested Shake Shack, which neither this daddy nor any other one will ever turn down if he has any kind of taste at all when it comes to food. We ate. We talked. We went our separate ways, but not before Inara and I were regaled with a story about the rooms at the Santa Fe that made the two of us feel like we’d dodged one hell of a bullet. We had cool lighting and beds and floors you could eat off of -- the parents staying at the Santa Fe had faucets coming off the walls and spiders in their beds. While I felt terrible for those who were going to spend the next 48 hours being royally screwed by a crappy casino that was making them pay out the ass for a dumpster to sleep in, there was satisfaction in knowing that I’d made the right call by going with the SLS. I’m a noncustodial parent, which means that I worry. I worry that I’m making the right calls. That my decisions will benefit my child and won’t reflect badly on me in the eyes of my daughter’s mother. Whether she actually does or doesn’t, I imagine my ex getting everything right and being the world’s most spectacular mom, never making a mistake of any kind. I feel like I pale in comparison. So when I know that I’ve knocked one out of the park, I quietly beam. Or maybe I just breathe a temporary sigh of relief until the next opportunity for harsh self-appraisal comes along.

By 10:00pm, Inara was in bed passed out and I was getting ready to be. Tomorrow was the big day. We’d have to be up by eight and at the Santa Fe a little over an hour later. Her solo was one of the first acts of the day. She wasn’t nervous at all.   

Part 2 Next Week