Thank You, Mike Thomas –and, Once Again, Godspeed Jan Hooks

Howdy, Fickle Readers!

Unfortunately (or, as Little Fickle would say, unfortunarily), I don’t have time to give this piece the thorough analysis it deserves. But I did want to let everyone who’s been following my modest Jan Hooks coverage know that Mike Thomas, the journalist who published a biography of Phil Hartman in 2014, has just published a lovely retrospective article in Grantland on Hooks’s life and death. In the piece, he fully discloses the details of Hooks’s struggles with anxiety, isolation, and illness, as well as her rocky relationship with her own fame and talent. It’s an eye-opening piece. In this day and age, when fame is one of the be-all, end-all life goals for many, when someone invented not only the selfie but the selfie stick (hopefully someday God will forgive us for that monstrosity), Hooks seemed to be searching for a middle ground–one that would let her be herself and pursue her creative interests without having to get entangled with the demanding, draining constraints that showbiz puts on its actors. I’m not sure that she ever found it, but she did seem to find some peace being able to control the work that she took on and (maybe) being able to be herself when no one was all that interested in her quirky take on life.

I don’t know. I’m trying to glean a positive spin on her largely sad ending. Thomas works very hard to show that Hooks lived and died on her own terms. Many in modern Western society might deem those terms tragic–an early death in a remote location, far from the eyes of critics and fans alike–but Thomas insists that she made all her own decisions, and one of those decisions was that the limelight wasn’t for her. One wonders if the reason why she disliked the entertainment world so much was because there was no place for an original voice like hers.

I hope that Thomas or others will continue the discussion on Hooks. I hope this article means that there may be a new biography coming out. Hooks deserves her own space, despite the fact that she decided to abandon the very thing that placed her in the public eye. In an age when Julia Roberts is the gold standard for the ambitious actress, it behooves us to examine what fame means to women who are not the ideal and, moreover, don’t want to be.

Call for Submissions: New Orleans Review’s Shakespeare Issue

Hey, all you Fickle Readers Who Are Also Writers! Do you like Shakespeare? Of course you do! Right now, I’m here to interrupt my regularly scheduled navel-gazing to tell you about the New Orleans Review and its special Shakespeare issue to be released in 2016, just in time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. (Yes, it’s sort of a macabre thing to celebrate, but whatever.) Here’s what they’re looking for:

We welcome submissions that riff on, respond to, reimagine, or recast any of Shakespeare’s works. Submissions may be in any genre, including short fiction, poetry, image/text pieces, creative nonfiction, and scholarship.

Deadline is December 31, 2015, so that should give everyone plenty of time to brush up their Shakespeare-based projects or start new ones.

Am I going to submit to this? You bet your booty I am! I’ve been re-re-re-inspired. Deadlines and submission calls do that to a person. It’s easy to want to fulfill someone else’s desire.

Good Reading Break: Arthur Chu on Gun Violence

Hey, Fickle Readers! I know I’ve been away for a long time, and I have much to discuss. However, when I read this piece by Arthur Chu on Salon.com, I just had to take a moment to re-broadcast it. Chu does a fabulous job of arguing that mass shootings in the U.S. are fueled by a toxic sense of entitlement and a need for attention similar to the way Internet trolls bully people online. Not only does he back up this position with lots and lots of excellent articles and research, he weaves in a historical perspective on what you might call extreme trolling–acts of public violence that are meant to garner publicity for the criminal.

I feel like this article is tremendously important. It looks at the issues surrounding gun violence in a different way and doesn’t beg out of the discussion with the usual cop-out “the guy snapped” explanation.

I’m sending you a whole bottle of virtual tequila, Mr. Chu! This essay is excellent, excellent stuff. Well done!

A Little More Jan Hooks

Every time Jan Hooks re-enters the pop culture blood stream, I get a tremendous spike in my readership. Last Saturday, it happened again. SNL reran an episode that included a tribute to Hooks, the “Love Is a Dream” sketch, now a bona fide tear-jerker since both Hooks and Phil Hartman are gone. Apparently, people are still searching for information on what happened to her last October. (There’s still no new information, by the way. Only Wikipedia citing a single Daily Mail article, which cited the head of her building’s co-op as their big source on Hooks’s cause of death.) I, too, wish we knew more, but I also wish we had more of her and her work. She was so very, very funny. And she disappeared from the public eye far too soon.

But we’ve been all been saying the same thing for several months now, so here’s something I never saw until Salon mentioned it in a recent interview with Nora Dunn:  a clip of Dunn and Hooks as the Sweeney Sisters, opening the Emmys in 1988. The video quality is pretty bad, but the show Dunn and Hooks put on is a little snippet of lunatic brilliance. Possibly the best part happens when the Sweeneys leave the stage and start accosting all the celebrities in the audience. (Think famous actors like being messed with when they’re the ones watching something onstage? Think again.)

Enjoy the clip, everyone! And be sure to check out this exhaustive essay on Hooks’s career from blogger Little Kicks Dance, who pulls together an amazing amount of material on Hooks’s life and personality as well. My hat’s off to you, Little Kicks Dance. A big, giant virtual bottle of tequila for you in honor of collecting, like, ten times the amount of quality material than the Daily Mail’s “let’s interview the head of her co-op” reporting staff did!

The Blind Can See, and Other Miracles

Health shall live free, and sickness freely die.

 

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

–You-know-who

Wow, what a difference a couple of days makes. Since my life is a perpetual chemistry experiment, I figured out that a lot of my anxiety was coming from a new pill that I’m now coming off of. And then, just in time for me to start feeling like the world isn’t such a terrifying place, we get news that bad writing doesn’t mean everyone will lose their health insurance AND people who don’t think any two consenting adults should have the right to get married can suck it up or move to Russia. (Yes, all you liberals out there, the world is such a crazy place, we can now tell right-wing ideologues that Russia is the place for them.)

Even Mighty Tiny Bill is celebrating.

“Scalia, thou’rt a villain. And a beef-witted, barren-spirited villain at that.”

 I personally would like to hold on to this feeling of amazement and wonder at the world for as long as it lasts. So here’s yet another antidote to sliding back into Internet Outrage too quickly (or wallowing too deeply in Internet Schadenfreude): the podcast Invisibilia aired an episode that explores how blind people can learn to see through–get ready, Fickle Readers–echolocation. I swear this is completely true. I listened to the program on my way back and forth from one of my many doctor’s appointments, part of the medical structure keeping me alive, moving forward, and sane, and I kid you not, I started thinking differently about my whole life. An absolute Must Listen To for anyone who feels like the world is entirely populated by stop signs, roadblocks, and sadistic, greedy monsters.

Thanks, Alix and Lulu, for your wonderful insight into what humans can be, instead of all the things they can’t.

And thanks to the God of Stories for making this week one for the record books.

The Duggar Clan and the Difference Between Nice and Good [UPDATED]

But he drew me close

And he swallowed me down,

Down a dark, slimy path

Where lie secrets I never want to know.

–Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods

Allow me to digress, Fickle Readers, from my usual panoply of zany Shakespeare banter and bitter rantings about illness and the writing life. Stories like this one, about how Josh Duggar sexually molested five girls, four of whom were his sisters, tend to spring up in my backwater domain (all too often these days). Such stories fester in my mind, maybe because I have this overwhelming urge to rewrite them, or at least make sure they end the way I want them to.

The Duggar clan have long been on my radar of People to Investigate and Be Horrified at. You may know the Duggars best as the stars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, although there were many one-off specials about the family in their somewhat less-plentiful incarnations. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the parents of the household, are part of the Quiverfull movement, a fundamentalist Christian sect that believes in having as many babies as possible for the glory of God and also in imposing their religious practices on everyone within reach. The Quiverfull people are isolationist and homeschool their kids, but apparently not so isolationist that they can’t try to influence American politics. Jim Bob was an Arkansas congressman from 1999 to 2002, and until yesterday Josh Duggar–the oldest of the Duggar children–was a member of the Family Research Council, a prominent lobbying organization that works against rights for gay and transgendered people and often claims that LGBT people are child molesters.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

But I’m not here to discuss how vile the whole situation is, or how revolting it is that people who claim to love children allowed their fourteen-year-old son to live with the four daughters he violated (and there were only five daughters, between twelve and eight years old, at the time this happened) after they sent their son for a three-month stay with a family friend who rehabs houses. (According to the police report, Jim Bob claimed that this was “Christian counseling.”)

Instead, I’d like to talk about the term “nice.”

It seems to me that we need to redefine the word nice to reflect what the word really describes. Most of the time, being nice is equated with being good. It is not. Nice is a way of behaving, a way of appearing, a way of putting the people you meet at ease with you and with their environment. Nice is a mask you wear in public. It’s a way of smiling and dressing, wearing your hair, explaining the mundane details of your life.

None of these things has any bearing on the private morality or behavior of nice people. Case in point: the Duggars. Even in the early TLC specials, which my husband and I watched like rubberneckers on a highway, I was incensed at how these so-called loving parents treated their daughters like slaves. One or two of these tiny girls would be tasked with cooking for the entire household, while the older ones cared for the babies their mother produced every six months. The girls’ chores were cooking, cleaning, washing the clothes, while the boys of the household did one-off tasks, like taking out the trash. And the bright, shining star of the brood was the oldest son, Josh, who narrated the details of his family’s wonderful life with a self-satisfied smirk.

So these parents who push their daughters like workhorses while their sons have real childhoods get money, houses, TV appearances, while other large families around the country struggle to make ends meet. Why? Because the Duggars are Nice. I even had a family friend, whom I love dearly and respect, rave to me about how nice and down-to-earth Michelle Duggar was. But does Nice entitle this family to all the care, attention, and the support they’ve gotten over the years? Should they be praised for being Nice?

I think we all know the answer to that. The Duggars may be nice, but they’re neither good nor righteous nor godly. The revelation that Josh Duggar had been molesting girls came in 2002, right at the end of Jim Bob’s term as congressman. He waited a year to tell his church, and the church members waited several months more to report it to the police. Apparently, they knew just the right policeman to report this information to–one that let Josh off with a “stern talking to”–because no charges were filed then, and now that same police officer is serving 56 years in prison for child pornography. The investigation that produced the police report now circulating on the internet only occurred because an anonymous whistle-blower emailed Oprah about the situation in 2006, right before the Duggars were going to appear on her show. The year 2006 was also when the Duggars moved into their giant house built for them by TLC. Recently, when the Washington Post sent a FOIA request to get the police report published first by InTouch, they received a notice that one of the victims had requested that the report be destroyed–on the same day the Post sent their request.

Notice a pattern here? The Duggars may be Nice, but they’re not about morality or Christian love. They’re all about power.

Nice is a functional behavior in society, but don’t be fooled. Nice is never a synonym for good.

UPDATE: Wouldn’t you know Stephen Sondheim got to the moral of my post before I did? Alert readers on Facebook noticed the resemblance between my last line and some lyrics from Into the Woods:

And though scary is exciting,

Nice is different from good.

The speaker is Little Red Riding Hood, describing her dark epiphany in “I Know Things Now.” I could point out the similar conclusions Red Riding Hood draws about being careful around Nice people, or the association of predatory urges with a “nice” facade. But I think I’ll let you Fickle Readers out there make your own judgments.

One thing I will say: I never thought the Duggars were particularly exciting, but they were scary to me. Maybe that’s why I tuned in to their shows. (Thankfully, however, it looks like I won’t be tempted to tune in anymore.)