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Shared Secrets with BuzzFeed and Ze Frank

Ze Frank was a pioneer of vlogs, but that simplistic statement probably trivializes his contributions to American culture. Ze wasn’t just a YouTube celebrity, he was an icon for the then-new frontier of viral content.

I was an early fan, from his days in the early-2000s of his “How To Dance Properly” ecard, and evolving into one of many fans who were active participants in his year-long vlog experiment “The Show.” For Ze, there was no fourth wall, no distinction between the vlogger and his audience. Humans were on earth to create shared experiences, and the Internet was merely his medium.

When I found out in recent years that Ze was one of the folks at the helm of BuzzFeed Video, everything clicked. BuzzFeed has created a viral culture full of content about those shared experiences, but more than experiences, the videos are shared secrets. The hybrid of the two opposing worlds of PostSecret (anonymous confessions) and Facebook (your perfected public persona), BuzzFeed highlights, if often trivial, moments of each of our lives that we never considered others shared.

There’s nothing necessarily culturally significant about BuzzFeed Video’s content, and most wouldn’t consider it high art. But what it does do is create another art form somewhere in the middle of private and public, reminding the Facebook generation that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Everyone scratches their privates, everyone does weird things around their crushes, and everyone wonders if they’re the crazy friend of the group.

 

The simplicity of this approach is its appeal: let’s rub the shine off the perfect world we’re all intimidated by; this make-believe universe full of engagements and no divorces, hires and no fires, births and no deaths. BuzzFeed’s light portrayal that “we’re all human” is exactly what I’ve always loved about Ze Frank – and I’m glad he’s living in his element, and still bringing joy to the masses. Perhaps in a small way, although BuzzFeed and all of its counterparts (from blogs to vlogs and all in between) strive primarily to create content that generates ad views, it’s also giving us a much-needed breath of fresh air in our pristine Pinterest world. And that, my friends, is pure Ze.

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The Changing of the Hedwigs

The snow is falling gently, almost so gently that I’m unsure if I’m imagining it. I hold out my tongue to catch a flake, remembering the old adages about snowflakes being cradled with germs, especially in the cesspool that is NYC. I swallow it anyway. I welcome the burn.

Let me be clear: I am already covered in tomato juice, pulled from the sweaty chest of John Cameron Mitchell. My new shirt is dripping with a chilly water stain, a spit mark from earlier in the evening, and I am glowing from the inside out. I have been Christened by a master.

I am an undeniable nerd; an unabashed freak. I love the underbelly of humanity; the trod-upon and the brokenhearted. Earlier in my trek back to the city, I found myself at 2am in a piano bar, alone and yet surrounded by friends: transgendered pioneers trudging through showtunes along with me; a cancer survivor with vertigo who called herself a “regular;” two college girls who spent their weekends singing “Hello Dolly” instead of at nightclubs. We are freaks.

The freak factor is welcome at Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and its warm welcome to Broadway was unexpected. Who is this German woman with Coke bottle blonde curls and glitter beyond her eyebrows? Why do so many find their own humanity in the least likely place, at the Belasco Theatre, rocked in the arms of a genderless diva and ignored rock icon?

This type of theater worship is not unfamiliar to me: I am a fangirl. Perhaps this admission is more worth admonishing than my love for Hedwig. I stagedoored Spring Awakening more times than I can count; I’m on my 97th Broadway show. I tracked the stars of Hair as though they were featured in OK Magazine; curious less about their dating habits than I was about their next theatrical moves. There’s something magical about greeting someone outside of the stage door, where you’re both relative equals. There’s no other medium that allows this one-to-one experience, capped with an autographed Playbill and (if you’re lucky) a picture.

Since my fangirl height, I grew, and grew up. I watched my idols move to LA, become dance teachers, or grow into Broadway stars in their own right. Yet Hedwig always remained heavy on my mind; a memory of the movie, of the days before I moved to New York; a freak like me who was “internationally ignored” and confused as to why. She was selfish and yet abused; she was a seeker, hurt by her own desire to find love. She sought crowd worship but also threw herself at the feet of the undeserving. And I loved her all the more for it.

I heard Neil Patrick Harris would step into Hedwig’s heels when it opened on Broadway in 2014, and I was delighted. I had never watched his shows nor been a particular fan, but I knew what this would mean: Neil The Celebrity would bring credibility to my girl Hedwig; he would unfreak the freak for the masses, and as much as I struggled with Hedwig’s newfound fame, he did her true; he did her well. Neil brought Hedwig to life and made her an unlikely star.

I missed Andrew Rannells’ short run in the role of Hedwig, replacing Neil, a regret I’ll have to live with. However, I made the move this January to see the “changing of the Hedwigs,” as I dubbed it: Michael C. Hall’s last performance, followed by John Cameron Mitchell’s first performance back in the role he originated. And although I saw the same show, watched the same dances, and heard the same songs, I had entirely unique experiences.

Michael C. Hall brought less grace, less femininity, to the role—but somehow made the story truest. The moments that were unclear up until that point were suddenly crystal: the moment toward the end when identities are exchanged; the lead-ins encouraging a connection between Hedwig and her “other half” Tommy Gnosis: he thought the character through to the depths of her soul. He was always a true Hedwig, putting on a stage show for the rest of us. Hedwig, for him, was a tragic character wearing the mask of a performer. It was beautiful.

But John Cameron Mitchell was the master. As Hedwig, he improvised like no other, carried the performance element to the hilt, and reminded the audience that he created the uncreatable. His Hedwig was tragic and beautiful, but had the best comedic timing imaginable, fully aware she was performing for her fans. She floated into moments of tragedy but brought herself back with a quick-witted comeback or an audience-infused French kiss. John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig is always the wig-headed performer first, a trait born of a desire to be loved, and only offers suppressed peeks into her peppered, mournful past. She is there on her own terms. And this is the Hedwig I loved most.

Making an appearance at curtain call was Steven Trask, the master behind some of the most beautiful lyrics in Broadway history. I wanted to melt myself into his body, absorb some of his beautiful soulfulness and at least tell him how much his make-believe world meant to me. But I think he could feel it. We were all standing on our feet, cheering and crying together. We were amongst fellow freaks.

And I close with some of my favorite lyrics from the show; I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Hedwig, I’ll see you again soon.

 

The last time I saw you

We’d just split in two

You was lookin’ at me

I was lookin’ at you

You had a way so familiar

That I could not recognize

‘Cause you had blood in your face

And I had blood in my eyes

But I could swear by your expression

That the pain down in your soul

Was the same as the one down in mine

 

——– 

 

Forgive me, for I did not know

‘Cause I was just a boy and you were so much more

Than any god could ever plan

More than a woman or a man

And now I understand how much I took from you

When everything starts breaking down

You take the pieces off the ground

And show this wicked town something beautiful and new

And if you’ve got no other choice

You know you can follow my voice

Through the dark turns and noise of this wicked little town

It’s a wicked little town

Goodbye wicked little town

 

 ————

 

I was born on the other side

Of a town ripped in two

I made it over the great divide

And now I’m comin’ for you

Enemies and adversaries

Try and tear me down

You want me baby, I dare you

Try and tear me down

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One More Down

I completed TV Turnoff Week, and Monday was definitely the hardest night. It felt like a detox, but I found ways of dealing that weren’t so bad.

Tuesday and Wednesday, I distracted myself with dinners out with friends and coworkers, including an evening full of Cards Against Humanity with our departing intern Lauren and most of the work team.

Otherwise, the weekend was the next largest hurdle, but I realized by the time it arrived that I’d already found other ways to occupy myself. I was sick all day Saturday and gave myself permission to watch a little TV – but as soon as I turned it on, there was nothing I was interested in watching. I realized I’d rather spend my time reading a book.

I took a break from Anna Karennina in favor of something a little fluffier, although dark: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. It was like indulging in a Jolly Rancher after eating a steady diet of veggies for a while: something that had once seemed like a chore now felt like an indulgence, and I wasn’t missing the boob tube.

I also found other ways of occupying myself: brunching with friends, organizing pictures for my grandmother, and doing an Improv Everywhere stunt with Brandon that involved going pants-less on the subway. There are worse ways to spend a weekend – and far less memorable ones.

With that said, enjoy the fruits of my TV Turnoff Week labor – full of fun, and lots of regrettable pictures.

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TV Turnoff Week – Day 1

I have a feeling I’m going to be blogging more this week than normal. Why? Because I’m Bored. As. Hell.

I knew off the bat that I’d have trouble turning the TV off for (a mere) 7 days, but rounding down on night 1, I’m already out of things to do. My idea to combine TV Turnoff Week with “Let’s Read Some Classics” has backfired, and my brain is fried, filled with (ugh) complex thoughts. It needs some Shark Tank to defuse it.

Although, I have to say, tonight has taught me a few things:

  • I’m much more productive when I’m restricted from TV.
  • I eat less when I’m not watching TV.
  • More chores get done when I’m not watching TV.
  • I am really sad without my TV.

I’m going to insinuate here that TV is apparently a bit of an addiction for me, since not only have I thought about it constantly since coming home, I’ve spoken with our dog Alice about it.

“Alice, I know what you’re thinking,” I said. She cocked her head. “But we agreed: absolutely no TV.” She cocked her head the other direction. “No TV and no pizza.”

This was simply my way of torturing her, as she loves pizza. We wonder why she has anxiety issues.

What have I done with the last 4 hours?

  • Ate dinner, slowly and deliberately.
  • Attempted to learn and record a song on both guitar and piano. Verdict: Fail.
  • Had a (large) glass of wine.
  • Taken a bath.
  • Read 75 pages of Anna Karenina. Hi, that sucker is 800 freaking pages. I’m going to throw myself a Russian tea party when it’s complete. (Although I have to admit, I’m really loving it. Brandon called it “800 pages, but a quick 800 pages,” and although that sounded completely ludicrous at the time, he was right.)
  • Checked Facebook and email five times.
  • Uploaded my picture onto a makeover site and made myself look like the Dragon lady from Game of Thrones (see below). I am actually considering going blonde, but I’m certain this specific look would be ill-advised.

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I need to find something to keep myself occupied tomorrow night, or I may break. Wish me luck. Of all the things I’ve done on this godforsaken list, is TV going to be the one to sink me?!

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Classic Recap, Part I

As part of my venture to improve myself and experience new things before turning 30, I’ve been embarking on a journey to read more “books that mean something.” I interpret this as classics, books that involve learning something, and nonfiction. I realize that’s fairly broad, but I’m not a huge reader normally, and my repertoire normally stops at standard chick lit.

So with that said, I’ve taken advantage of the holiday break to read a few books. One was Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, which I won’t recap here because although it’s a step up from chick lit, it’s not exactly classic literature. But as I read more that fit my self-made mold, I’ll give you my own layman’s Cliff’s Notes on this blog so you can follow along.

 

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Lady in provincial 19th-century France marries kind of a moron, who is devoted to her. She spends the book gallivanting around, flirting her way into loans in her husband’s name, sleeping with other men, pawning her daughter off on various servants, and, ultimately (spoiler alert) finding her demise in the most predictably dramatic way. She is the definition of “bored housewife syndrome,” forever entrapped in a world of her own fantasy and depression. Flaubert comically and satirically captures his feelings of the middle class and its women who, frankly, need to get lives.

Summary: Ho be bored. Get a life, ho.

 

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

Brandon recommended this short (120 page) book to me because it seemed “up my alley.” What he meant by that, I’m unsure, because it’s insanely weird and seems to lack a plot. Nutshell, there’s a lot of people for and against Jesus, someone attempts to blind himself and can’t make it happen, another guy succeeds at blinding himself, there’s a fair bit of historical racism, there’s a 15-year-old slut who seems to have no adult guidance, any woman in the book seems hellbent on aggressively seducing highly unattractive and uninterested men, and there are quite a few scenes involving an ape costume. Unclear on the conclusions and on the relevance of the ape costume.

Summary: Call me controversial, but don’t read books by people suffering from Lupus, unless you’re also interested in a total mind fuck.

 

More to come.