Month: January 2015

“Whiplash’ Lives Up to Its Name & May Be the Best Film of 2014


At times, Whiplash moves at breakneck speeds, and carefully directed sequences feel dangerous and out-of-control for the characters, and take-your-breath away gripping for us viewers. For all its tense scenes of violence and abuse (verbal, physical, and psychological), and all its themes of punishment, betrayal, and retribution, this is not ‘Taken 4: The Stolen Drumsticks.” For unlike those movies, this film is at times subtle, manipulative, clever, forceful, explicit, and most of all, smart. It doesn’t kick in the door every shot, but it is boiling over with violence. Sometimes the tense action is a slow beat of a drumstick on a drum. Everything is portentous and filled with meaning, and wrought with tension. Perhaps what makes this film so special is that it is ostensibly a small and intimate story, but the screen is full and bursting with two epically outsized characters, vying for greatness, power, respect, and undoubtedly, love and validation. At first glance, one has all the power and talent, while the other has everything to learn and soak up from this ‘maestro.’ It doesn’t take long for the audience to realize the relationship is far more complex than that, and that both characters need the other. As is often the case in such stories, the student must overthrow the master, and usurp his place. Despite this familiar trope, Whiplash finds new and creative ways to tell such a story, and the gratifying part is anxiously witnessing how we get there. This is a small film, writ large, with a taut narrative, that dances across the screen like one of the complex jazz standards the orchestra plays in the movie. The film feels like a song we all know, but still capable of surprising us with each new turn and chord progression. It sings like a tight jazz tune, with its alternating time signatures and juxtaposion of scenes of various lengths and tempos. Even the text and the acting sings, simmering gently at times, as slack and deliberate as spoken word under an old jazz favorite, and steadily crescendoing into the bombastic wails of a bebop improvisation — reckless and dangerously out of control, yet virtuosic and unable to look away from. Whiplash is a melody so engrossing, and so expertly woven together, that the brilliance of its many moving parts seamlessly coalesces into a tightly conceived and harmonious film that captures our imaginations, electrifies the mind, and sets fire to the heart. Like all great songs, this film will stay with you for a while. It may not only be the best film of 2014, but an instant classic, worthy of many future viewings. In the paragraphs below, I’ll briefly reveal what makes this film great, but only abstractly describe the film’s features, without giving away any spoilers.

Perhaps the feature most overlooked in this film — yet most effective — is its unassuming simplicity and austere design concept. The film was made on a modest budget of $3,3 million, and that was even higher than I would have guessed. I suppose the NYC shooting costs may have bloated the budget, even if there are very few shots of NYC exteriors. At first blush, it feels like such a stripped down world. There’s nothing ornate or embellished here, and we rarely see anything outside of brief glimpses of Teller’s worn and lightly decorated dorm room, some shots on stage at Carnegie Hall, a dingy movie theatre, a brightly fluorescent-lit pizza joint, a smallish moderately lit dining room, with an extended family tightly packed around, and most frequently, the stark and dimly lit band room at Shaffer Conservatory of Music in Manhattan. I should note that each of these locations are small interiors to begin with, but then director Damien Chazelle shoots them in ways that make them seem even more claustrophobic. We never get wide shots that reveal the full dimensions of these rooms, and parts of the spaces are bathed in shadow. All of the movie’s locations are sparsely decorated, painted in muted colors, and feel tight, confining, and oppressive. Even the grand Carnegie Hall is shot in a way that you only see a smallish stage, and the footlights obscure a darkened audience, out of focus, and only vaguely one or two rows deep. In these small spaces, the characters are rendered big, and jostle for space in this world. In regards to the vastness of New York City, we get none of that. There are hardly any shots of the city.  In addition to the economy of scenery and setting, the script is quite lean, with a scarcity of characters. Never has New York City seemed so empty. There are few exterior shots with throngs of pedestrians, and the classes are only as big as a jazz orchestra would be — certainly no more than 20 students. As far as speaking roles, and semi-fleshed out characters, there is our two leads, and then quite a drop off, to the girlfriend and the father, who have roughly the same sized roles. Although there are the couple other drummers Andrew competes with, they have very few lines. The vast majority of the dialogue is shared by the two leads, and then the jazz music score provides the third most important voice in the movie. The lack of characters is deliberate, and clearly puts more focus on the antagonistic relationship of these two men. It feels epic, like when two of the ancient Gods would fight in the myths, while the lowly and powerless humans could do nothing but look on helplessly. The final design choice worth mentioning is the costumes. The cast is costumed in very forgettable drab clothes, with lots of black, white, and grey. Fletcher wears tight black t-shirts, a tweet jacket, and a stylish hat you might expect a jazz musician to wear. The effect is simple, yet stylish and appropriate. For this film, the canvas is dark, small, and virtually anonymous. This necessarily puts the spotlight on its two main characters, and sets the stage for a battle, much the way a boxing ring is stretched canvas, rope, and not much else. Such choices suggest that the protagonist, young Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) feels isolated, caged, and restless…ready to break free and prove he is one of the ‘great ones.’ He begins with the belief he has something special, and once he is singled out by Fletcher, he begins to truly believe in his talent. In this bare and drab world of the film, it is only Andrew’s playing that is rich, ornate, and full of color. This simple and restrained design choice was really effective, and focuses our attention on our two main leads.

Since the film takes place at a music school, you would expect there to be a lot of music in the film. There is. The film has incidental music that underscores the film; Teller’s character is seen a few times listening to his hero, Buddy Rich; the two young lovers are seen on their first date, and Teller easily identifies the music playing in the background at the pizza place. Most significantly, the band is seen rehearsing music several times in the band room, and then onstage at two different competitions. The music is nearly all jazz, and mostly uptempo and considerably hard to play. However, it is not hard to draw the conclusion that jazz music is a metaphor in the film, for the relationship between Teller and his combative and abusive teacher, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). To understand the complex and often dichotomous nature of jazz (and by extension, the Fletcher-Andrew relationship), it’s important to understand jazz is made. Jazz is necessarily a fiercely competitive art form, while also conversely being shared and collaborative. Jazz musicians often compete against each other in solo stretches, and set the time and style individually. Yet, there are also ‘sound-offs’ of sorts, where instruments will wail and do battle against one another, and musicians have territorial grudge matches. However, much of this is done in good fun, and as a means to challenge and improve each other. Jazz is perhaps even more dependent on collaborative, and players must be generous with each other to create seamless melodies and richly layered songs. They have a shorthand with each other, and that is what allows them to improvise so freely, while surprisingly being all on the same page. Although jazz is mostly improvised, it still may have a clear goal and follow a general road map. Older and more experienced jazz musicians know all the tricks to create new and inventive music, while manipulating the score and making deliberate choices with an endgame in mind, much the same way a chess player makes a move — keeping in mind several moves ahead. What’s more, the music also alternates between a slow tempo and fast, and often has dynamic crescendoes and dramatic climaxes. The improvisational, reckless, bombastic, manipulative, clever traits that can be found in jazz music are exactly the words one could describe the relationship between Teller and Fletcher. Fletcher may improvise the manipulative chess moves he makes, but he has been doing this a long time, and knows the board well. He has an endgame in mind, and tightly controls the tempo. That is, until Andrew takes hold of the reins, and the proverbial bandleader duties are shared, and fought over. Like the tumultuous power and tempo of a jazz standard, the teacher-student relationship is volatile, while also undeniably rich, complex, unhealthy, and at times, brilliant. One can see that these two could either kill one another, or make sweet music together, as good as anyone out there today, Music is the lifeblood of this movie, and perfectly underscores the main conflict and tension between our leads.

The script and the acting might as well be discussed together, since they are inextricably linked. For all intents and purposes, the entire film was the brainchild of writer and director, Damien Chazelle. In high school, Chazelle was in a “very competitive” jazz band and drew on the experience of “just dread” that he felt in those years.[ He based the JK Simmons character on his former band instructor but “pushed it further” adding in bits of Buddy Rich, as well as other notorious band leaders.

Originally conceived in the form of an 85-page screenplay, Chazelle’s Whiplash came to prominence after being featured in the 2012 Black List that includes the top motion picture screenplays not yet produced. Right of Way Films and Blumhouse Productions teamed up to produce, and in order to secure financing for the feature, helped Chazelle turn 15 pages of his original screenplay into a short film starring Johnny Simmons in the role of the drummer and J. K. Simmons (no relation) in the role of the teacher. The 18-minute short film went on to much acclaim after screening at the Sundance Film Festivall, which ultimately attracted investors to sign on and produce the complete version of the script. The feature-length film was financed for $3.3 million by Bold Films.

At its core, Whiplash is the story of 19 year old drummer Miles Teller, who is in his first year of college at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory of Music in Manhattan, the best music school in the country. Early in the movie, he begins dating Nicole, a college student working at a cinema frequented by Andrew and his father. He aspires to become one of the drummer “greats”, like Buddy Rich. With many of his classmates knowing that an infamous Shaffer conductor Terence Fletcher is looking for a new drum alternate, Neiman successfully auditions for Fletcher in a surprise in-class band session. While Fletcher at first seems courteous and nice to Andrew, it becomes clear that Fletcher is a master at manipulating emotions, as when he abuses and harasses several of the band’s players. While practicing the Hank Levy song “Whiplash”, Fletcher makes Andrew the target of his abuse and throws a chair at him for not following the tempo. He slaps and berates him in front of the class, who silently watch. The movie follows this abusive relationship throughout, showing Fletcher use effective manipulative tactics, such as friendliness, trust, divulgence, praise, personal information used as a weapon, bribery, pitting students against each other, shame, scolding, withholding love and praise, the threat of physical violence and actual physical violence, verbal abuse, removing rewards, temptation, and likely, many more. One might conclude that Fletcher seems to see greatness in the boy, and perhaps is trying to break him down, only to build him back up stronger. At the same time, there’s indications that he is also jealous of the boy’s talent, and seeks to embarrass and humble Andrew. Actor Miles Teller’s journey throughout the movie is the most profound, starting out as a young and naive kid with dreams of greatness, to a more confident and ambitious musician, to a reckless and arrogant player, and on to something even greater by the end of the film. We see his confidence is often quite wrapped up in the opinions of others, particularly Fletcher. By the end of the movie, the viewer should be satisfied with how far the character has come, and where he ends up. In an interesting twist, just when we begin to think of Fletcher in a new and gentler way, he exposes his old self, and without revealing the clever turn of events that follows, Fletcher takes the plot in a new and interesting direction. The dialogue is sparse throughout, like much of the film, but very effective. The back and forth between the two leads becomes more complex as the film develops, and as the character of Teller becomes more self-aware, bold, and savvy, he risks standing up to his tormentor. As the film’s protagonist and antagonist vie for power, and battle each other verbally, and at times, physically, we are drawn further and further into the action, aware that this toxic relationship must end, but not knowing how. The script is smart enough to keep us guessing, and there are twists and turns, and satisfying reveals throughout. Teller and Fletcher’s relationship is complex, to put it mildly, as it superficially looks hateful and antagonistic, but not with time, we recognize it is actually deeper than that, and likely fueled by a desire to be validated and loved, jealousy, respect, an obvious father-son game of approval, a master-virtuoso dynamic, and undoubtedly many more. These two characters clearly need each other (even if they aren’t always consciously aware of that fact), all while being painfully aware of a mutual repulsion and violent antagonism. In the end, Chazelle provides yet another twist to this relationship, and I was very satisfied where each character ended up, and how they felt about each other. The ending is deeply satisfying, while still being about unresolved and unspecific about what comes next. This slightly open-ended conclusion was perfect though, and left you wanting more — in all the good ways. The character arcs of these two were ambitious, but brought the roles to new and interesting places. The script of this film was lean, economical, and contained powerfully charged dialogue. The screenplay was plotted cleverly,, alternating the size of scenes and providing an almost musical tempo, and essentially providing a road map for where the film had to go, at what speed, what volume, and what pitch and tone. This was an excellent, unobtrusive, unassuming, and reliably successful screenplay for a film of this scope.

There is no need to go into explicit detail about the acting in this film. It speaks for itself, and must be experienced first hand. Miles Teller is simmering in his performance as Andrew. At first, he seems quiet, shy, and naive, yet also determined, confident, and ambitious. Over the course of the film, he finds his voice, and becomes quite animated, volatile, arrogant, shattered/ broken, and finally, rejuvenated and effortlessly confident, while perhaps learning some humility. Teller plays him with such grace and honesty, and you can tell that this kid believes deep down that he may have greatness inside, and he slowly gets more and more ambitious, as he will do anything to prove it. He literally drums his hands bloody, in powerfully symbolic moments, as the dull set and the skins of his drums get covered in red blood. This color is one of the first instances of color, and is a striking image of how far he will go to prove he’s the best. He also sheds tears, or should I say a single tear. This occurs as Fletcher is screaming at him, and slapping him mercilessly. Fletcher shames and embarrases Andrew, but mockingly saying, “Oh, my God! Are you one of those single-tear people?” When he is forced to play an impossibly fast piece, as well as other moments of intense playing, Andrew soaks his clothes and sweat drips from every pore. The filmmaker shows close up shots of sweat dripping off his ears. We are quite consciously shown Andrew’s blood, sweat, and tears, and acutely aware of how far he is willing to go. I won’t go into details on the climax of the film, but I will say something quite shocking happens to Andrew, and what he is willing to do in the midst of catastrophe for the sake of performing and proving his greatness on drums is actually quite disturbing. From then on, there is no turning back, and that moment changes the direction of the film, and chooses the path it must invariably go down. Teller shows a man devoted, and disillusioned by his teacher. But what makes this performance even more impressive, is that Teller did it all while drumming in various songs, and in the end, performing an impressive extended solo. The songs are complex, and the role made harder, by moments when Fletcher makes him do it over and over, and the actor impressively makes subtle adjustments. I’m no musician, but he looked and sounded like the part, and appeared effortless and comfortable behind the drum kit. To my untrained ears, his playing sounded great.

Just the other evening, actor J.K. Simmons picked up his first Golden Globe for his portrayal of Fletcher, and it was well deserved. This inspired performance is one for the ages, and he transforms himself into a raging tyrant and sadistic brute. Hardly an inspiring teacher like Robin Williams in Dead Poet Society, Fletcher is more in the spirit of R. Lee Ermey’s savage portrayal of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket. You get the feeling that if they didn’t respect his talent (or fear his fierce reputation), one of his students might kill Fletcher in a fit of rage, just as Pvt. Leonard ‘Gomer Pyle’ Lawrence so famously did when he shot and killed Sergeant Harman in Full Metal Jacket. Or perhaps all the battered and abused students would team up and murder him as a pack, a la Lord of the Flies. In a tense and interesting scene some time after the events of the first 2/3 of the film, Fletcher and Andrew sit drinking at a bar, and Fletcher makes it clear that he does not regret a single thing he did in the classroom, and does not care what people think, because he is motivated by something greater. A purpose, if you will. He has an unwavering devotion to the idea of finding the next Charlie Parker. Or Buddy Rich. For him, that requires pushing students beyond the limit. He is convinced that the great ones will emerge, even through the roughest of circumstances. He goes on to say, that musicians must not be softened by praise, saying, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.” Fletcher delivers such an intense performance, one is almost shaken from one’s chair in fear he’ll call on you. This performance will be remembered, and in a just world, also rewarded. But this time, by the Academy

I need hardly mention the immense contributions made by director, Damien Chazelle. It is his story, and without him, none of this happens. There is no need to elaborate any further on what a good job the director did. The proof is in every word I wrote above, from the design to the editing to the pacing to the acting, and every other impressive aspect of the film. I enjoyed his work, and look forward to seeing future films by this director. Whiplash is an inspired script, and a beautifully acted, directed, and designed film. It is a tightly wound story, with plenty of clever twists and turns, and a satisfying ending. I can’t recommend this film highly enough. Enjoy. 

Uncovering History’s Inconvenient Truths: Separating Art from the Artists


Not long ago, I responded to a friend’s recent posting of an article detailing how the actor Gary Sinise was openly supporting a group committed to curing sinners of their homosexuality. The article can be read here: As one might expect, my liberal friend had many messages of support and outrage at such casual bigotry, seemingly in the face of science and common sense. People expressed disappointment and betrayal at being ‘duped’ into liking Sinise’s work, and enjoying his long and impressive career. Finally, they nearly all affirmed that they would no longer support the actor, and would actively boycott his work. This cultural shaming is quite common in the media and entertainment field, and certainly thrives in the world of politics as well. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this response, and I have taken similar actions on many occasions. However, tonight I decided to pose a moral dilemma, and questioned the wisdom of silence and solidarity against supporting an artist versus engaging them further, and/or simply separating the art from the artist, and selfishly enjoying the product, even while at odds with the maker. I was surely being provocative, but by no means a troll. After all, I seek discourse and reason, not discord and treason! I began by relaying my own personal connection to Gary Sinise, whom I have never met, but have several close connections to. Sinise graduated from the theatre program where I did my graduate work and earned my MFA in Directing, as did many of the other co-founders of Chicago’s famous Steppenwolf Theatre, which Gary helped found. When I directed in Chicago, I worked with many of his famous colleagues — many of whom are also renowned actors of stage and screen. Where most of them are predictably liberal, I often heard them speak of how conservative Sinise was and a what a devout and committed Catholic he was. At least one of them — an actor you would all know — is openly gay and married to his partner of many years, and arguably stood the most to lose from Sinise’s hateful views. And yet, to hear him and the others speak, although they don’t share his unenlightened beliefs on homosexuality and marriage equality, they are loyal friends and love him regardless. Can we, his fans, do the same, and somehow manage to separate the art from the artist? History is replete with flawed icons and troubling heroes. How do we reconcile ourselves with the beautiful art of Wagner, Hemingway, Eliot, Woody Allen, and countless other objectionable artists, who reportedly hold/ held hateful, sexist, anti-semitic, or racist beliefs? Or sexual predators such as Roman Polanski? The troubling thing about learning the values and belief of our most celebrated and respected artists, is deciding whether it’s morally reprehensible to support them, even after learning of their hateful transgressions. Do we do ourselves a disservice by lumping all offenders in together, and dispelling them all from our lives? While we must be consistent and honor our values and beliefs, while simultaneously undermining the hatred and intolerance of others, perhaps there is wriggle room when we consider historical context and take all factors into consideration. There seems to be something tangible in the different approaches and strategies we take to handle a piece of hateful and intolerant work. After all it’s a slippery slope of approval, having to vet our tastes, for fear the sins of the father aren;t delivered upon the son. If others saw me as hijacking the post or pushing an agenda, that was not my intent. As always, I came seeking knowledge and fellowship, and for me, that often means good natured debate and exploring the boundaries of any given situation. Whether it is possible or right to separate the art from the artist, and enjoy guilt free, is an age old question within the art world. At the very least, I thought I might challenge people to reconsider their inflexible stances, if not because I disagreed with them, but because it is intellectually honest and discerning to consider all sides of an argument. Whatever glaring faults I may possess, I have an aptitude for asking the right questions and breaking down people’s enmity and resolve. I am unwavering in my belief that the truth and solution are invariably closer to the middle, than either extreme side. Although I most closely identify as liberal, I am a moderate and independent at heart. I always seek to assert myself into conflict, and find ways to argue for both sides. Some see this as two-faced or disloyal, but I see it as the greatest act of love a person could do. Why go out of your way to burn a bridge, when you can help to rebuild it? I wish I could more closely live by my own words, but at least I think I can say I learn from my mistakes, and always seek reconciliation and peace. However, such feats of derring are incapable of being faked, manipulated, or pulled off without a few basic–yet integral–concepts: trust, love, humility, courage, acceptance, respect, good faith, a willingness to compromise, and a commitment to peace over unconditional comfort and sacrifice.

I say all this because when we confront the reality that our heroes and icons are somehow frauds who deceived us with beauty and virtue, and all that art holds dear, while harboring hateful and vindictive thoughts and beliefs. And sometimes, even actions done in the name of oppression, disgust, contempt, pity, or any other number of motivating factors. If the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and somewhere in the mix we both have valid points, the easier it is to find a common ground. Admittedly, there should be no tolerance for violence, hatred, willful ignorance, or bigotry, but we must still be willing to sit at the same bargaining table, and take steps to resolve animosity and enmity. You both know you are right, and have the full weight of….the Bible? Socail justice? Liberty? The Constitution? The fill-in-the-blank.. If nothing else, open and honest engagement with an enemy or objectionable piece of art is a learning experience, and goes a long way towards earning respect, seeing a situation from another’s perspective, and learning about prohibitive obstacles to another person’s understanding — geographical location, access to schools, history of domestic violence, incidents of rape or incest, educational attainment, physical and mental disabilities, crippling poverty, strong handed religious exposure and enforced obedience, and many other factors. We are both nature and nurture, and invariably products of our time and place. We are not raised in a vacuum or arid dessert, but in the richly embroidered world of some kind of family unit, perhaps a spiritual community, a cultural one, ethnic identity, and increasingly larger concentric circles of membership and identity. It is with these eyes that we must necessarily see, and we are as we so often were raised and reared. The world is full of a wide range of circumstances, entitlement, access to wealth and resources, and inherited physical and intellectual limitations. At the same time, we are all human beings of worth, intrinsically endowed with inalienable rights as human beings, including an innate dignity and special value, That means that we are all valuable and indispensable souls, with our own unique strengths and shortcomings, and most importantly, worthy of respect and the greatest gift of all – one;s undivided attention. Each of us has something to say or to add, and it is high time the responsibility fell on us to search for those qualities in others that we recognize in ourselves. The burden of proof should no longer fall on our foes and enemies to prove their worth and goodness. Nothing will ever get solved in this world if we continue to shift blame, point fingers, and go into each dispute with the foregone conclusion that our adversaries are morally corrupt, savages, incapable of feeling, humorless, devoid of mercy and sympathy, and generally the monsters we make them out to be. Love is the elixir of all hate, misunderstanding, and strife, and it all starts from the accepted truth that none of us are better than anyone else, and that we are all capable of loving and being loved. Regardless of whether you are a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology or a simple and unassuming impoverished tenant farmer from Jackson, Mississippi, you are equals in the eyes of the law — perhaps both secularly, and for some, spiritually.

When we approach a work of art — the careful and passionate expression of one’s closest thoughts and feelings — we cannot ever fully understand what the artist intended, but because it’s subjective, it hardly matters. It’s not just beauty that’s in the eye of the beholder, but the intrinsic value of art, which means something different to all of us. If and when we find out that an artist;s actions or beliefs are deeply at odds with our own value system, it is completely understandable to reject the artists work — all future endeavors, as well as past favorites. And perhaps that is where it becomes the most complicated. If art is subjective, the experience is transcendental and deeply personal, and in many ways, a confidential conversation between a fan and the work/ artist. When tragedy strikes, we are shaken to the core, and all our accepted truths are thrown into disarray, and we must somehow struggle to condemn those that we once loved, and disavow ourselves from work that inspired, entertained, or perhaps only distracted us from our otherwise meaningless lives. I am not suggesting consumers and fans go on supporting a celebrity with despicable views, but only that we take time to process our true feelings, and what it means to abandon something or someone we once loved so dearly. Grief and despair come in many shapes, and we do ourselves no favors when we impulsively reject people and groups, without at least first learning what they are all about. It’s far easier to say goodbye to a truly hopeless cause, than to burn a bridge where you could have built one, and missed a genuine opportunity to educate and enlighten a soul just as worthy as yours, but perhaps not quite so fortunate and privileged. Not only do we owe it to each other to treat one another with respect and the assumption that they are good and valuable, our very livelihood as a species depends upon it. Since the Industrial Revolution began, our brains and our value systems have dramatically changed and evolved, and we generally place higher premiums on things like education, personal betterment, social justice, a commitment to less violence and an end to war, egalitarian principles of love and respect, a less punitive and more reformative criminal justice system, laws that promote freedom of speech, personal liberty, and other freedoms believed to be innate to humanity, and an unmistakable attraction to science and the virtues of an enlightened mind. 

And yet, somedays it seems like we have so far to go. We are confronted with artists and leaders we followed and were moved by, suddenly revealing their toxic belief in suppression of civil liberties and a denial and invalidation of another group’s right to exist. In all cases, is it best to disinvest from the situation, and publicly shun them for their actions, or is it ever acceptable to continue to engage the artist, or take steps to enlighten their stunted world views?

I simply raised the question out of intellectual curiosity, and perhaps to play devil’s advocate and generate discussion. I personally find it difficult and dishonest to consume the art of an artist who loudly espouses bigotry and hate, and who does not share your fundamental values of love and inclusion. Sinise is wrong, and deserves censure, as do all contemporary offenders. On the other hand, I suppose I would be less rigid in holding our dead and predictably less evolved artists to quite the same rigid standards. That’s not to excuse away deplorable acts like the Inquisition or the Holocaust, but to perhaps take context into consideration. If nothing else, there would hardly be anything left to read, admire on a wall, or listen to if we held past masters to the same inflexible criteria and divorced the work from its historical context. There is plenty of incontrovertible and demonstrable truth that the Industrial Revolution accelerated the efficacy of the human mind, which led to innovation in all the areas that contribute to greater equality and commingling of races and cultures. After millennia of much of the same barbarism and the rise and fall of countless Imperial empires, the last two hundred years of so have seen remarkable innovation and an evolution of thought.

It would be unfair to boycott Shakespeare because he may or may not have been anti-semitic. We must not read him with rose colored glasses, but always with a keen eye focused on context and intent. It may change the way we feel about certain passages, but it should never deprive us of drinking from the cultural well of those who shaped our very humanity. Even the most highly evolved and progressive figure from history was invariably a product of his or her time, and would likely fail miserably at any modern American dinner party. In such cases, we may not agree with the vitriol, actions, or objectionable beliefs of the artists we are exposed to, but still recognize that they were giants in their fields, and made invaluable contributions to Western culture. Indeed, one ignores such legendary icons at one’s own peril. In such cases, we have just as much to learn from those whose rhetoric we despise than those who only echo and reaffirm our own sentiments. When it comes to boycotting art, perhaps time and perspective are the only way to neutralize toxic hate and prejudice, and allow us to even consider historical context and biographical restraints when assessing the intrinsic worth of a piece. No matter how horrifying it is to learn of unconscionable acts of slaughter, slavery, and social injustice, it is somehow more palatable than being subjected to hate speech and bigotry today. The severity of condoning present transgressions is that their affect is compounded by the fact that we share oxygen with those being persecuted, and the bigoted words and deeds of contemporaries have immediate and far reaching consequences for tomorrow and for future generations.

In short, we cannot change the past, but we can shape the future by manipulating events of the present. It is our social duty to censure, scorn, and condemn hate speech in contemporary artists, businessmen, politicians, or anyone else who shares a public spotlight and has any modicum of influence. It is our civic responsibility to hold these men and women accountable, and never surrender love and inclusion for messages of hate and oppression. Yet still, we must not fall victim to the same sorts of knee-jerk reactions of those we oppose. We must handle each case judiciously, and carefully make informed decisions about intrinsic worth, contribution, and whether it promotes and upholds our most basic values. And if not, we should always consider its historical relevancy, and place it in its proper historical context, while deeply considering its influence on our shared cultural history — for good and for bad. Just because a work is objectionable, does not mean it is devoid of merit, and unworthy of consideration. On the contrary, the true scholar…social activist….loving human being…must consider all sides of an artifact and never forget that every piece of history can tell us something about where we are and where we’re heading.

who we are today. Keep an open mind. You’ll need it.

The Economy of Despair & Stewardship of the Soul


It’s occasionally frustrating to accept how out-of-step one person may be with the rest of the world, and how divergent their values and broad interests can be from the society they emerged from and were presumably shaped by. It is in lonely and isolating moments like this when I surrender myself to hopelessness and despair. In these times, I cannot help but be gripped by negativity and anguish during those moments we all have of uncertainty and self-doubt. Although infrequent, I find myself most often vulnerable when I seek validation and affirmation from my peers. The mind can be a lonely place, and inevitably ends up being a sounding board for various sundry complaints and criticisms  — both real and imagined, and both at the micro level (you) and the macro level (the greater society). In times of reflection and clarity, I find it useful to write and record my various griefs and grievances with our troubling world, and the various factions that inhabit it. It’s probably worth noting that although many of the questions ostensibly appear to be bitingly acrid and shockingly negative, they are in fact indicative of a deeply seated optimism and hope for the human race. Although obviously bitter and hopeless at first blush, perhaps it may help to keep in mind that I wouldn’t express such concerns so passionately, had I no faith they may some day be remedied. These items are by no means a complete or comprehensive list, but a sample of themes and obstacles I see as standing in the way of a peaceful, fair, and equitable world. Many betray my own distrust and disillusionment with the zeitgeist of our age, and all its many incarnations.
Is it possible to deplore the shifting values of your own generation, while not being labeled a lunatic or cultural heretic?

Can we move forward and inch towards egalitarianism, while abandoning common sense and that which makes us uniquely human?

Is it blasphemy simply to question the role of technology in our lives and suggest safeguards?

How does one embrace the inevitable zeitgeist, look to a more equitable future, and retain the curiosity, scholarship, and rigorous aestheticism of the past?

How does one make peace with diverse interests and curiosities in an increasingly specialized society of parochial common interest groups and homogenized learning environments?

How do we continue to work towards a democratic society that educates everyone equally, while not diluting the content, rigor, or meritocracy of scholarship and those who work tirelessly to excel, both for the virtue of acquiring knowledge and the urge to succeed?

How does a society effectively become smaller and more connected, while inversely becoming more hostile,  ignorant and disdainful of each other’s cultures?

How does a society assimilate new cultures without stripping color and cultural heritage, and neutralizing everyone into a dull, homogenous pablum?

How can a single adult navigate a world built for families and breeding, without fear of reprisal and scorn?

How is it more acceptable to allow a mind to wither and atrophy, than for a body to age and betray the inevitable ravages of time and neglect?

How can a society become ostensibly so self-obsessed and motivated by praise and attention, without losing its ability to empathize and protect our weakest members?

If time travel were possible, could a man ever find solace in the erudition and aesthetics of the past, while being forced to endure their primitive beliefs about faith, science and racial hierarchy?

How can one so repelled by the virtues and priorities of many of their contemporaries ever hope to enjoy any sort of life in the public sphere?

Can those afflicted by varying degrees of mental illness and depression ever find empathy and support in a nation terrified of ‘crazy and dangerous individuals’ intent on hurting and killing innocents unpredictably? Will those afraid of unprovoked and random attacks ever be convinced that only an infinitesimally small number of mentally ill are ever violent, and that they have a much higher and probable chance of developing mental illness in their own lifetimes than they do of being hurt by someone else who suffers from it?

Can an increasingly compartmentalized and loyal public ever embrace cultural pluralism and the virtues of curiosity and diverse interests?

Will we as a society learn to be less polarizing, and appreciate seemingly conflicting styles, pastimes, passions, and interests, recognizing that two superficially opposite things need not be mutually exclusive and consumed ‘either-or?’

Will we ever stop leaning towards extremism and absolute fidelity to a position, at the expense of compromise, good will, generosity, respect, and good sense?

Can art and sport ever peacefully coexist and ultimately attract devotees who enjoy both endeavors?

Is there a useful and valuable place for faith and religion in an increasingly secular, scientific, and faithless world? Can science and religious belief belong in the same universe, and not seek to disprove the other, but have ‘faith’ that there is something uniquely human and valuable in both systems of thought?

Invariably, there are innumerable other questions I grapple with, and things that challenge how I avoid/confront/attack the world in which I live. At this point in my life, I have received all the formal education I’m going to get, and for the first time since I first began school, I am adrift without the structure of education. I have three formal degrees, including a Master of Fine Arts, and several certifications. Until now, I have ostensibly been in school or teaching school for nearly 25 years, Learning and academics have fundamentally been apart of the fabric of my life for as long as I can remember. I have always thirsted for both knowledge and structure, and school always provided me with that. I have also spent over thirty years working as an amateur, collegiate, and professional actor, director, designer, and crew member in the theatre, and boast a resume of well over a hundred and fifty plays, musicals, and other live performances. My career was my life for much of my adult life. When I was performing on stage, I was learning how to in class. For various reasons, I no longer actively work in the theatre or are enrolled in any school or classes. My life has lost much of what defined me up until now, and much of my life is occupied by attending to my physical and mental good health and learning coping mechanisms to pursue other interests, diversify my loyalties and pastimes, and find new and productive ways to thrive in the relatively unstructured culture outside academia. I will not lie and try and convince you that I haven’t faced serious challenges over the last three years. I have. I suffer from debilitating depression, mania, and crippling anxiety, and am acutely sensitive to stress and other taxing realities of life. I continue to teach because it gives me great pleasure to educate others, but many of the more social aspects of my life have changed or been eliminated entirely. Although I’m convinced nobody reads my blog, I continue to write, as a way to reconcile myself with my demons, hopes, and desires, as well as challenge myself stylistically, intellectually, and artistically. With few opportunities to engage in the deep and rigorous intellectual debates and challenges to my thinking I once was exposed to in the classroom — and woefully took for granted — writing allows me to play the dialectical, and explore an idea, concept, or feeling with some degree of rigor and regularity. I have a complicated history with social media, and a few isolated instances of frequent and erratic posting, writing provocatively on other’s walls, and generally abusing the accepted standards and rules of the medium. Although not a regular or frequent occurrence, these isolated incidents have been problematic and hazardous to many a personal and professional relationship. I have since mended many fences, but I must be vigilante, and realize I have many of the same temptations a recovering alcoholic has towards drink. The chemistry of my brain demands constant intellectual stimulation and craves nourishing art, politics, sport, and other distractions to feel occupied. Only at the age of 35 was I finally diagnosed with severe ADHD and an overactive mind. Social media is a dangerous elixir, and there are endless conversations to engage in, and things to learn. Nowadays, with a safe and reasonable use of social media, no classrooms to deliberate in, and a an unfortunate absence of friends in my immediate vicinity, I must find healthier outlets to my intellect and imagination. In many ways, writing has become an acceptable substitute for the intrinsically more public and social art form of live theatre. I no longer crave the instant gratification I once did, nor feel as satisfied in the entertainment field. Some would suggest I have become more morose and withdrawn, and while that may be true, I have also become more reflective, accountable, and healthy in my approach to the world. As the list above demonstrates, I have daily frustrations with much of the state of the world, and my perception that much of our cultural and technological progress often comes at the expense of other things. I worry about the world, yet still engage it, in my own modest way, and believe it or not, have proud hopes for its future. But first, we must wrestle with just some of the many concerns I expressed above. I often wish I could find employment in a think tank, where I would be spoiled by constant stimulation and debate, while also serving a more practical and applicable function. My sensitivity often leads me to want to save the world from itself, and all its sundry ills. My epistemological, sociological, metaphysical, and ontological observations and thinking prompts are far fancier than my solutions and answers. My remedy and absolution of guilt stands at the center of most organized religions, and is nothing more than love, empathy, abstaining from judgement, communication, common sense, and faith in the intentions and good faith of others. I say that these are the backbones of many world religions, but the application and follow-thru has historically been fatally flawed, misguided, and corrupted by the acts and motives of humankind. Nevertheless, they are words and ideals to live up to, and with considerably more vigilance and commitment, we might be able right half this world’s wrongs. If we could only see ourselves in our foe, we may make more concerted efforts at peace and reconciliation, rather than empty promises and posturing.

I realize that I see the world in simplified terms, and perhaps have no business interjecting my thoughts. At the same time, I also know that somehow my mother raised me in such a way that despite my many given flaws, I have a unique capacity for empathy, forgiveness, and resolution through open and honest communication. I have damaged many relationships over the years, and some irreparably, but I never stop trying to repair past wrongs and look to within myself for lessons learned and chances for self-improvement. As such, I have a considerable number of friends and family, each from very different national, cultural, educational, vocational, and religious backgrounds. What they all have in common is me. Because for one reason or another, I have a sizable capacity to accept and tolerate a wide spectrum of beliefs and cultural value systems. I have always traveled widely, sampled foods enthusiastically, and greedily embraced new and foreign cultures. But that hasn’t always meant leaving the country. America is packed full of its own multicultural challenges, and these days, there are plenty of chances for cross-pollinating with ‘them’ and the ‘other’ than ever before. Sometimes without scarcely leaving your own hometown. Yet still, we are rigidly guarded in our beliefs and interests, and myopic in our stilted view of the world, and what it takes to peaceably coexist and even work in collaboration, towards one common goal. For some reason, although I have very firm beliefs and values about certain inherent rights and civil liberties, I make an effort to understand the motives and animus that fuels another person. I practice concerted empathy and do my very best to see the other person’s side. That may be surprising to some, given my aggressive debates on social media, and seemingly steadfast opinions on how things ought to be. And I still feel that way. Love, freedom, unconditional acceptance, and empathy are my guiding principles, and must underly every choice we make as a society. However, I recognize that as humans, we all more or less share the same feelings, wants, and needs. Sometimes educational inequities have stood in the way. For some, poverty and abuse were mitigating factors. Others are simply willfully ignorant and combative, but even for them, I try and hope that clarity and egalitarianism will one day knock on their door. However noxious their beliefs and ignorance may be, I’ll never accept that most humans are beyond saving. Having said that, I am also a realist, and at least superficially, a cynic and pessimist. Yet still, my eternal and deeply buried optimism will not allow me to deny someone redemption, the right to change, and opportunities for personal enrichment. I’d rather be called naive and unreasonable, than to stridently and emphatically deny someone their capacity for change and progressive socio-evolution. As I said before, though we may all talk a big game (myself included!) about acceptance, love, and a deniability of prejudice and bigotry, in practice, most of us fall far short of our stated goals and beliefs. In fact, most of us are intractably territorial, selfish, suspicious, and unyielding in our relations with others. Or rather, those who look and feel different than us, and who we presume holds none of our cherished morals and values. Therefore, most attempts at peace and reconciliation are ceremonial, at best, and neither party is a trustworthy negotiator. How could they be? When we bring all our grudges, prejudices, and inability to humanize those who sit across from us at the bargaining table, we betray ourselves as actors not in good faith, and essentially only present to uphold certain beliefs and ensure they lose no ground to their enemy. There is rarely an atmosphere if trust, respect, compromise, humility, or accountability for one’s own actions and culpability.

I am by no means a saint, or some charismatic figure of peace and social justice. I’m just a simple man who was raised a certain way, with perhaps a unique perspective, and the sincere desire to negotiate peace and understanding between all the valued and polarized groups in my life, and in the world around us. Although I fail quite often, I always attempt to see both sides, and find strengths and weaknesses in each tenable side. As a theatre artist, educator, and writer, I always strive to seek compromise and find common ground amongst cultures, and value the building of bridges, rather than burning them. That being said, many of my best laid plans and good intentions were thwarted by my own troubled mind, insecurities, stubbornness, and sometimes combative nature. More often than not, my abject failures have been impulsive and irrational outbursts of hurt and anger, and seldom ever premeditated. Invariably, time and distance provides me with empathy, understanding, and a renewed desire to make peace and find helpful solutions moving forward. If only I could always be successful in my application of collaboration and compromise, and if only our world’s most intractable and disingenuous community leaders, clergy, politicians, corporations, scientists, and other players could show an honest commitment to peace and negotiation. Perhaps we’d finally be able to live in a world where everyone can feel safe, supported, respected, and accepted. I firmly belief that once those needs are met, the rest more easily falls into place.

My philosophy and world outlook aren’t complex, but nevertheless, ask a lot of people. Such stark nakedness and vulnerability might frighten most people, and the trust and faith it takes to surrender beliefs and assets for the sake of compromise may just be too much to ask. And yet, I firmly believe that there is no other viable way. The cost of Peace is embracing humility, adopting respect, parting with those things that most likely divide you, and ultimately, committing to finding a way to put faith in your foes, and turning them into partners. It takes good faith and steel resolve. Only then can we ever hope to learn that we share infinitely more in common with out enemies, than the vexing thorns which have for too long kept us apart.

The Aging Athlete & The Plight of the Elderly


Whether or not you are a sports fan, I’m sure we can all recognize that there exists a heartbreaking end date, which all professional athletes are hurdling towards, and is perhaps unfairly abbreviated, in contrast to the average lifespan of an adult. It is a date etched into the minds, and perhaps more suggestively, into the bodies of those who earn their living in pro sports. Anyone who is familiar with professional athletics knows that there is a relatively tight window of time with which an athlete is in their prime fit condition, and able to compete at the high level demanded by their respective fields. The athlete on the verge of retirement must contemplate a life after sports and the uncertain abyss of a life devoid of what they had prior to worked their entire lives towards. There are economic factors to consider, health concerns, and feelings of grief at how much they truly stand to lose. In much the same way, the elderly face their own troubling retirements and increasing physical impairments, as well as the existential grief which often accompanies end of life and depleted purpose. Like their civilian counterparts, aging athletes must also grapple with an often abrupt and unceremonious end to their careers, and surprisingly many of the same challenges found in the elder population. Although it may seem unusual to draw comparisons between a vitally young athlete and a senior citizen, surprisingly, both face similar voids of despair, deteriorating health, uncertainty, and the perception that neither is wanted or useful anymore. Indeed, in many ways, the end of a vibrant and celebrated sports career must seem like the end of one’s life, and for some, it is. For the rest, it’s at least symbolically so.

Watching Peyton Manning struggle last night, and indeed, over the last couple years has been rough. The last half of this season, Manning simply did not look like himself — his throwing was erratic, and he was undoubtedly not the Peyton we all knew. Like Tom Brady, Manning has never been particularly mobile in and out of the pocket, but has arguably been the best drop back, in the pocket passer the game has ever known. Many would argue that Manning is the best quarterback of all time. Had he simply retired from Indianapolis after his potentially career ending neck surgery, Manning would have still been a legend. Peyton holds many substantial records, including most season MVPs and most career touchdowns. And yet, despite having been to three Super Bowls, Manning has only hoisted the Lombardi Trophy once, in his win against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Despite having less impressive statistical numbers, Manning’s friend and on-field rival, Tom Brady, has been to the Super Bowl five times, and won three rings. No matter how many stats Manning compiles, there is no getting around the fact that one Super Bowl win is relatively unimpressive, and not commensurate with a player of his caliber. Even his less talented brother Eli has won two Super Bowls! (and both at the expense of Peyton’s nemesis Brady, no less!)

I say all this because it sets the stage for a man so driven by his love of the game AND ensuring his legacy in the history books, that he pushes himself immeasurably — perhaps beyond his remaining natural abilities and limitations. Defying the odds, Manning came back from neck surgery, and was summarily released by the Colts (in favor of a hot, new number one drafter QB in Andrew Luck), and was consequently signed by John Elway and the Denver Broncos. Despite much skepticism, Peyton proved critics and naysayers wrong, and had an impressive first season in Denver, making it to the playoffs, and losing to eventual Super Bowl champs, the Baltimore Ravens. The next season was unprecedented: Peyton broke Brady’s record for most touchdown passes in a season with 51 on a 25 yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas, he finished the regular season with 55 touchdown passes, in addition to throwing for a league record 5,477 yards. His 450 completions is tied for second most all time. The Broncos scored an NFL record 606 points, becoming the first team to ever to eclipse 600 points in a season. They had more 50 point games in a season than any other team in NFL history, with three. Four Broncos receivers recorded at least 10 touchdowns, an NFL record and Manning set the record for most 4+ touchdown passing games in a season, with nine. His 115.1 passer rating ranks fifth all time and he joins Tom Brady to be the only two QB’s to have a passer rating of 110.0 or higher in more than one season. The Broncos went on to win their Divisional Round playoff game against the San Diego Chargers by a score of 24-17. In a satisfying victory, the Manning beat arch-rival Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game by a score of 26-16, advancing them to the Super Bowl, against the formidable defensive-led team, the Seattle Seahawks. Despite dominating the whole season, the Broncos lost to the Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII with a shameful score of 43-8. Perhaps for the first time in his sixteen year career, Peyton Manning looked old, diminished, and helpless. And yet, it also brought back the whispers that had plagued his entire career — that he was an unparalleled regular season quarterback, but couldn’t win when it mattered, and had a long history of being knocked out of the playoffs often and early. Conversely, Tom Brady is renowned for winning in big games, and currently holds the record for most playoff touchdown passes, most playoff yardage, most playoff wins by a quarterback (19), and most playoff games started (27). Tellingly, Peyton Manning holds the record for most playoff losses with 13. His second Super Bowl loss was undoubtedly harder though, after being dismantled and pummeled by a merciless defense. Peyton looked washed-up, and stood in stark contrast to the handsome, young Seahawks QB, Russel Wilson, who managed to make Peyton look even more obsolete, with the remarkable use of his legs and speed. Manning never looked so much like a dinosaur.

Perhaps I’m being unnecessarily harsh on Manning, but I will point out that Peyton is just two short months older than I am, and although my allegiance has always been to Tom Brady, I respect and revere Manning, and perhaps even regard his own struggles with age and diminishing strength with my own fears and anxieties of age. He is my peer, after all, and his necessary fall from favor and triumph is perhaps a metaphor for my own life. Regardless of however else little we have in common, Peyton and I are Bicentennial babies, and generationally linked. If I don’t share the particulars of his collapse, I symbolically recognize a changing of the guard, where aging icons like Brady and Manning are replaced by the next generation of superstars, like Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Very soon, I won’t even recognize the old NFL, and we may have a position filled with uber-athletes, taller than 6′-5”, heavier than 250, and yet, as devastating rushing and evading tackles as they are dropping back and delivering bullets downfield. This new breed of quarterback is exciting to watch, and certainly good for ratings, but it begs the question: what kind of longevity can a running QB who gets tackled frequently have? Are we drafting franchise athletes who will have even shorter NFL careers than they already have? Will we ever have passers who reach their late 30s and early 40s, and can still lead teams to the Super Bowl?

Yesterday, Peyton Manning got knocked out of the Divisional Round Playoffs by Andrew Luck and the Colts. It’s hard to deny the symbolism of his losing to a man named ‘Luck’ who no one thought could win that game, and what’s more, being the young QB that replaced him in Indy. This was a sort of symbolic changing of the guard. Much like Wilson had looked like the new face of NFL football in the prior Super Bowl, Luck actually looked like…well…Peyton. Only younger. Stronger. More focused. Meanwhile, Manning decidedly did not look like Manning. He was sacked twice, threw for a measly 26/46 completions, a modest 211 yards, and one single touchdown. All night long, Peyton threw erratic and misplaced balls, and looked like he was hopelessly pushing, as he sent long and inaccurate bombs downfield, invariably out of reach of their targets. In short, Peyton looked much like he has the last half of the season, as he battled injuries and raised more than a few questions about his arm strength and diminishing throwing capacity. It surely was no coincidence that the Broncos were running the game over twice as much as they had been at the start of the season. For one reason or another, the Broncos woes all started somewhere around the time they lost a costly game at Foxborough, to Tom Brady and the Patriots. That game would come back to bite them, as they remained behind New England the rest of the season, and due to that loss, were denied home field advantage throughout. As ‘Luck’ would have it, Denver was unburdened by the true sting of that injury, as the Colts denied them a chilly trip to Gillette next week. Peyton might have missed his last chance to meet his old friend and rival, Tom Brady, and once again try to avenge a bitter regular season loss, as they had in last season’s AFC Championship game. In fact, if you would believe skeptics and naysayers today, you could easily be convinced that Peyton Manning has played his last game of professional football. Perhaps an ignominious last game, but perhaps more merciful than another bright light humiliation in the Big Game. Can Peyton handle much more of that kind of scrutiny and speculation? Manning clearly is tough and resilient, and seemingly immune to criticism after so many high profile losses, but that was when he was a powerful and efficient passing machine. He had the advantage of youth, cockiness, confidence, indisputable athletic prowess, and the support of fans. “This” Peyton Manning got loudly booed last night on more than one occasion. While you can’t pin your worth on the whims of fans or prognosticators, there is something to be said for observable data, and based on what we’ve seen of late, Peyton Manning is compromised as a passer, and may only deteriorate more rapidly next season, and after a long and challenging off-season of camps and training. What’s more, it is likely that the Broncos will lose at least a few key players to free agency, not to mention the greatest blow — the likelihood that Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase moves into a Head Coaching job elsewhere. That would require Manning to become comfortable with a whole new OC and learn an entirely new system. Taking all these challenging factors, it doesn’t seem reasonable to conclude that  Peyton Manning may simply opt to retire, rather than confront this slew of troubles.

And yet….

There is a precedent in sports of athletes who stubbornly refused to accept their limitations, and perhaps stayed beyond their welcome. There have been numerous retirements rescinded, and players re-entering the sport, switching teams, signing compromised contracts, switching sports, or playing in the minor leagues, in an attempt to stage a come-back. Who can forget the end-of-career exploits of Brett Favre, Michael Jordan, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Muhammad Ali, Willie Mays, and Gordie Howe, to name a few. Some believe it’s time for current NBA stars like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett to retire. In the case of Kobe, it’s hard to deny that even though he sometimes looks like the best part of that team, he also is what’s holding them back, and not allowing them to redefine themselves as a new Laker organization — post Bryant. But like Peyton Manning, Kobe is a fierce competitor, and in many ways, their respective sport is all their lives. Tom Brady has admitted as much. Sure, he has a model wife and beautiful children, but make no mistake: Tom Brady breathes football and winning ball games. How do you replace that after you retire? What will ever be as fulfilling to these guys as winning hard-fought ball games was? Just last season, Peyton broke numerous records, had arguably his best NFL season under center, and took his team to the Super Bowl. Does that sound like the last gasps of air from a dying animal unwilling to lay down and die? Hardly. As Kobe knows especially, and Peyton knows just once, the ultimate ring and trophy — what it’s all about — is too tempting and addictive to walk away from. Despite being on a hopelessly awful Lakers team, Kobe once hoisted trophies — many — and in his mind, so can once again. Since 2007, Peyton has been chasing that ever elusive second ring, and has been denied twice since then. Tom Brady is blessed to have won his three rings in just four short years, but perhaps that’s also a curse, as it’s been ten years since his last win, and he’s also been denied twice since then. (by the same team no less!) What’s remarkable about the Kobe’s, the Brady’s, the Derek Jeter’s, and the Peyton’s, is that they’ve all tasted a slice of that pie — multiple times, for most — and yet, even as their bodies deteriorate and their skills diminish, they crave that cake even greater, and will do whatever it takes to attain it. It should not be lost on us that Peyton Manning’s own boss, John Elway, lost three Super Bowls before the age of 35, and through sheer force of will, managed to win his last two while approaching 40 years old! You can’t ignore the fact that that’s likely on Peyton’s mind, as he mulls his own retirement and ultimate legacy. It’s often harder to walk away when you’ve come so close just a season before. Like gambling addicts, they are undoubtedly intoxicated by the winning, and find it nearly impossible to walk away, once you’ve been up. Owning a string of Papa Johns or used car dealerships is impressive by most standards, but hoisting multiple Lombardi Trophies is something else entirely. Whatever choice Peyton Manning makes in the coming weeks, you can be assured that it’s a tough one. Whatever embarrassment or uncertainty Peyton may face in returning for another season sure to be fraught with uncertainties, perhaps there is nothing more frightening or intimidating as facing a life after football. Where once you led a charmed life and were a King among men, you most certainly face a humbling future. In some ways, it’s harder to be a has-been, than a never-was. Peyton faces the abyss today, and must certainly contemplate his future, and all its sobering monotonies.

Unlike the law, science, politics, craftsmanship, the arts, and nearly every other vocation on earth, professional athletics necessarily has a finite date of efficacy, beyond which, the average human body cannot be expected to stay competitive and execute the high demands the sport asks of them. And yet, the minds of professional athletes are undeniably sharpest and keenly wise about their sport in those golden waning years — unquestionably surpassing the skill sets and knowledge base of their younger competitors. So then, how profoundly unjust it must feel to have an unparalleled body of knowledge about your sport, and an increasingly weakened and ineffective physical body, unable to execute the acuity of the mind, but not for want of trying. With such an infuriating dichotomy of mind and body, one could conclude that the aging athlete is more acutely familiar with the plight of an elderly person than anyone else. It’s clear to see the parallels, when you consider that both older athletes and the elderly experience heightened feelings of trauma and grief, depression, feelings of hopelessness, despair, feelings of uselessness, isolation from friends, family, and fans, loss of esteem, accelerated deterioration of the physical body, forgetfulness and cognitive degradation, concerns about shrinking economic resources, challenges of retirement, and even struggles with end of life issues!

To understand the mindset of an athlete, you must first consider the ubiquity of sports in our lives — for good and for bad. Regardless of nation or ethnic origin, we humans are practically weaned on sports, and for every athlete that competes, there are thousands who do not play, but are enthusiastic fans. Unlike other professions, sports are with us from an early age, and are arguably more ubiquitous than any other pastime-turned-job, being required in school curriculums, played in organized clubs intramurally and through organized academic organizations, and informally played in the schoolyard, on courts, and on fields across the world. In short, we are surrounded by sports from the womb to the tomb, and it is an inescapable part of our everyday lives. Just as an actor who goes on to become a star in Hollywood once acted with amateurs in community theatre, the professional athlete also likely got his or her start playing organized sports with other children, for the purpose of discipline, distraction, exercise, or what have you. Somewhere along the line, they developed an aptitude for their pursuit, and undoubtedly began to stand out on the field. From there, one can only assume coaches, parents, and teachers helped cultivated their love and skills, and ultimately stepped up their involvement and level of commitment. Personally, I was never really any good at sports, and in fact, I often felt persecuted by gym class and organized team sports. I was the kid who naturally found my way into theatre, where I too excelled, and spent just as many hours honing my craft, as athletes spend in the gym and on the court or field. Although I used to hold most sports in contempt, my opinion changed over time, and I grew to love attending any sporting event live — whether amateur or pro, and became quite an enthusiastic fan of football and basketball. The NFL is one of my greatest passions, and as I stated earlier, I am a devoted New England Patriots fan. But as a kid growing up, I felt pressured to play sports, and then consequently punished for not being any good at them. Although I am now quite an ardent sports fan (as well as theatre, film, tv, and other artistic expressions!), I do acknowledged that our society places too much emphasis on sports and are too quick to praise the athlete over the scholar or artist. I personally believe in a world where the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and I don’t have to choose between liking sport or liking art. Or science, or what have you. Funding for the arts is imperative, and should always be on equal footing and valued as much as sports funding and support. Our society needs to find a better balance, as the ancient Greeks and Romans once had. The citizens of Athens were equally comfortable attending a Bacchanalian Play Festival as they were the Olympic Games. They prized both endeavors of the arts and mind and recognized the value of the physical specimen and games of sport and competition. Both belong in equal measures within our society.

As our society now operates though, it is clear to see how sports become integral to a child’s development — either in support of, or against. Invariably, thess young athletes spend their childhoods playing sports, and so by the time they get to the professional or Olympic level, they have logged years of passionate play behind them. Perhaps it is fitting then, that their careers are cut shorter than their peers, since they began much earlier in life, and inevitably took at least some of their careless childhood’s away, while others were still busy being kids. Those salad days were more than just play however, and coaches of youth no better than anyone that those early years are impressionable, and the best time to instruct and instill lifelong strategies and work ethics. Without a doubt, by the time the social worker and the pro athlete graduate college, the latter has unquestionably logged hundreds, if not thousands of hours into their sport, and is perhaps more ready for their debut than their hopeful counterpart. Writer Malcolm Gladwell posits that one thing that most highly successful people have in common is at least 10,000 practice hours attained in whatever their given field. One can imagine how many lessons and training and practice it must take to take a child from age six and unskilled, to first violin of the New York Philharmonic. Or dominant and legendary shooting guard/ small forward of the Chicago Bulls. It’s not hard to accept Michael Jordan spending hours a day perfecting his jump shot at the local rim. Perhaps you have to be a fan of sports to appreciate how much they are as much an artistic expression as they are about physical strength and endurance. You need only look at Michael Jordan’s masterful ball play and delicate finesse to see that transcendent sporting events are about expression and creating something beautiful far more often than a primitive instinct to pummel and compete. Since most professional athletes essentially started their careers around ages 8-10, but the time they arrive at a franchise, they have spent over a decade training to be the best in their fields. And regardless of how poorly a professional athlete may play or underperform, they beat out thousands of others to get those jobs, and should be considered the finest in their respective sports. Yet still, once drafted, most will not last past year three, and only a finite measured few will make it past five, even less for a decade, and only an infinitesimal fraction will have the stamina, endurance, strength, willpower, and talent to last nearly two decades. These athletes must necessarily be considered elite outliers, and understandably, the greatest of their generation, if not of all time.

Despite the accolades, the money, the respect, and the personal satisfaction one gets from achieving a high rate of success in their vocation over a sustained period of time, athletes also must face the scrutiny their inevitable aging brings. There are generally agreed upon windows of opportunities for an athlete, and outside of that time frame, they are either considered to young and inexperienced or too old and unreliable. For each sport, there is an age range most of the elite last men standing traditionally retire, and are heavily lobbied to do so, for the good of the team, the integrity of the sport, salary cap considerations, or other factors. Perhaps only in Hollywood and the media is our society more obsessed with youth, and putting such a high premium on being young and beautiful. Many in Hollywood bemoan the lack of roles for men and women over the age of 40 or 50, but consider for a moment that there have only been a few dozen NFL players in the history of the league who have played past 40, and none who made it to 50. (George Blanda retired just shy of his 49th birthday). It’s also important to note that longevity is often entirely determined by position, making skilled speed positions like running backs the first casualties of age (typically 30 is considered the end of the road), whereas quarterbacks and kickers tend to be the oldest members of any roster. (Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is the oldest active player, at 42, and shows no signs of age).

If golf can be considered a top American sport, then far and away, it has the oldest average players. A golfer is often not even considered in his prime until he is at least 30, and it’s not uncommon to see men and women in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s on a PGA tour. The most obvious reasons for such longevity, are the fact that it’s necessarily always played in warm and temperate weather, it is not a contact sport, and injuries are generally self-inflicted from bad swings and back ailments, the range of motion is not prohibitive for most moderately healthy adults, and finally, it is actually good exercise and has potentially healthy benefits for stress, high blood pressure, and other similar afflictions. It also seems to be a sport of finesse and experiential knowledge, where golfers tend to improve with age (to a point). Finally, golf is seen as game enthusiastically played by the retired, and therefore, most friendly to older players.

Of the four major American sports, hockey undoubtedly has the oldest active rosters, with many players playing into their 40s, and some, like Gordie Howe, playing into their 50s. Considering how physically demanding of a sport hockey is, it’s hard to understand how repeated shoves into glass walls and falls on cold, hard ice could be preservative of an athlete’s career, but apparently it is. I also have to give a nod to the toughness and grittiness of most hockey players. I don’t doubt they play through excruciating pain sometimes. (not to mention the endless fist fights!) Perhaps on par with hockey’s elevated median age of its players is the game of baseball. Like golf, baseball is “ideally” a non-contact sport, and most injuries are self-sustained. Although speed is important for base running, and perhaps chasing down balls in the outfield, those skilled players on the infield are far more concerned with skill and precision than being the fastest player on the field. Obviously, arm strength weakens over time, but the distances are far shorter than in football, for example, and more manageable to maintain. That being said, baseball has the most grueling schedule, and players may not be getting as physically pummeled as their NFL counterparts, but they are forced to battle high rates of fatigue, muscle soreness, and the dangers of repetitive motion. Baseball is definitely about endurance and stamina over long periods of time (even the games are long!), but they somehow manage to preserve elite players at higher numbers than in other sports. It is not uncommon to find players in their 40s, especially at certain skilled positions. The oldest players on a baseball team tend to be the catchers, pitchers, and designated hitters.

Of all the major sports, perhaps none is a young man’s game more than the game of basketball. Arguably, only soccer rivals basketball in this regard, and understandably so, since both share similarities in offensive and defensive strategies and methods of play. As much as basketball is about finesse and the technical mastery of repeated attempts at delivering a ball into a finite hoop, it is also about endurance. Like soccer, basketball is about fast breaks and running up and down a court repeatedly, for over an hour. This exhausting sustained effort, paired with a punishing schedule of multiple games per week for months on end, makes for high burnout and frequent injuries. Although not ostensibly a contact sport, it is often quite physically punishing, and especially for those in the “paint,” a constant barrage of assault and contact with opponents. The sheer sustained and unyielding trips down the court understandably tax players, and is not ideal conditions for older players. When players age, they tend to “lose a step” and the game they played as a young player necessarily changes, or becomes untenable. Older players often shift to more defensive modes, and no longer retain the speed to drive to the basket, or attack a defense as they did in their youth. Most players have a u-shaped curve in the NBA. The get better as they reach their 25th birthday, then peak around 25-26, and after that they slowly decline as they approach 30 and after 32 they rapidly decline. Given this trend, most players in the NBA are in their early to mid-20s, with some playing into their 30s. Although there are notable examples of players playing into their late 30s and early 40s (Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, etc.), most are mere shadows of their former selves. Perhaps more important than the points they contribute, is their veteran leadership and ability to inspire and mentor younger players. That being said, most basketball players can expect that over the age of 32, they will see a rapid decline in production, and only the elite make it that long anyway. The average length of an NBA player’s career is about six years.

Inarguably, the sport with the greatest turnover, lowest number of years played, and highest season and career-ending injuries is the National Football League. Whereas the other sports have incidental to no physical contact, the very nature of football is full contact engagement and shutting down an offenses attacks at the end zone. Although there is skill and finesse involved with the game, it is as much about pure and unbridled physical domination over an opponent. For every play of speed and agility, there is a defensive play of aggression to stop and punish such moments of skillful artistry. There is no player immune from attack, and the quarterback routinely gets sacked, hurried, or hit after release, and expected to get up and do it again, about 40 more times. The offensive line is attacked and manhandled by the defensive line, as they try and force their way to the passer. The running backs and receivers (tight ends and wideouts) are expected to catch and/or carry the ball, but are nearly always roughly tackled by the D-line or members of the secondary. Even the punt and kick returner are expected to be clobbered, and though less frequently, the kickers sustain hits themselves. As much as football is about agility, speed, artistry, grace, and finesse, it is also equally about physical domination, endurance, playing through injury, intimidation, and freakish feats of strength. Football is a wonderfully complex game of strategy and skill, but it would be irresponsible to think of it as anything less than brute force and iron willpower. The NFL is a punishing place, and as the last few years have attested, a place where injury is not only common, but expected. Sadly, many of these injuries may lead to longer chronic pain, illness, and even death. The NFL has made great strides to combat its dangers, but there is absolutely no way to completely mitigate injury and pain. It is a fundamentally dangerous sport, and many of its detractors would say, lethal to your health. Even barbaric and unacceptable in a civil society. And yet, the NFL has never known such unprecedented popularity. Some consider football no more ethically acceptable than the gladiatorial fights held in the ancient Roman forum, and gladly cheered on by Rome’s bloodthirsty citizenry. Scholars argue that the idea of  these ancient “bread and circuses” were no more than a narcotic for the masses throughout history, and a way to inflict punishment, without getting our hands dirty. Perhaps football is a barbaric act of aggression, and merely a visceral release for the harms and injustices we bury inside. Whatever it may be, it is unquestionably the most polarizing of sports, and enjoys perhaps as much — if not more — direct animosity as it does popularity.

It’s interesting to note that where most professions place a high premium on the wealth of knowledge and expertise achieved with experience in any given field, sports places much more emphasis on youthful vitality, innate ability, strength, agility, speed, and all the other trappings of youth. Only when athletes are still miraculously competing at a high level even after they’re reached the ‘twilight of their careers,’ are they typically praised for their experience and wisdom, and generally considered formidable for having withstood so many years in an unforgiving line of work. Whereas in most professions, adults are expected to refine their skills over time and improve with age, professional sports offers few analogues. It is a foregone conclusion that politicians and legislators grow into elder statesmen, aged and emboldened with years of experience. Some might accuse them of being unyielding, entrenched, and incapable of the creativity and vitality of youth, and the progressive enthusiasm it injects into politics, but few would choose green rookies over the steady hand of experience. With a few notable exceptions, professional sports proves time and again that it is obsessed with the “next big thing,” and nine times out of ten will choose a high draft pick over a seasoned, albeit less formidable veteran. John Elway knows a thing or two about second and third chances, and winning in your declining years, and that no doubt played a factor in his decision to hire Peyton Manning — fresh off a season ending neck injury that most assumed would end his career. Peyton has brought the wild success, not seen since Elway himself was under center in Denver, but still fell short of bringing the Lombardi back home to Mile High. If Peyton retires this year, was it all for nothing? Empty handed and down one Hall of Fame quarterback. Elway invested in age, experience, and all the baggage that comes with it, and only time will tell if his decision was wise. Most athletes wouldn’t get such a generous second chance. Peyton Manning is not “most athletes.”

So what kind of decision is Peyton, and unquestionably many other athletes facing now, as their careers draw to an end? And how does it in any way compare to the challenges and struggles of the elderly?

As the aged all over the world contemplate their golden years, they must certainly deal with the inevitable challenges that face them today, and since time immemorial. Perhaps the most vexing issue in any senior citizen’s life is the management of their own health. By the very nature of their being old, the elderly are often plagued by a series of diseases and ailments commonly found in those of advanced years. The human body is degenerative, and at a certain age, our systems begin to fail and our immunity is compromised, leading to various infections, chronic pain, and unavoidable sickness. The elderly are the most frequent visitors of hospitals, and in-patient and out-patient care. Due to age, many older patients will experience osteoarthritis, joint pain, diabetes, dementia/ Alzheimers, Parkinson’s disease, strokes, poor vision, hearing impairment, balance and equilibrium problems, poor cardiovascular health and disease, poor kidney function, cancers, low bone marrow, gastrointestinal conditions, urinary disorders, fatigue, general reconditioning, forgetfulness, medication side effects, diminished appetite, weight loss, and falls, to name only some. What’s perhaps most frustrating is that numerous conditions often afflict a patient at the same time, and life becomes overwhelming at times, as seniors must try and manage multiple conditions. That often results in a copious amounts of pills to manage, and doctor’s appointments to schedule and attend. Given the fact that many elders live on their own, they are subsequently overwhelmed by managing their health, while maintaining their home, arranging for transportation, paying their bills, and generally trying to look after themselves. All while faced with impaired mobility and failing memory. Even when the mind is sound, the body invariably fails, and the sad reality is that it is a law of diminishing returns. There are choices and treatments to mitigate poor health, but we all must die, and unavoidably, our body is at the mercy of nature and time.

Although I have not said anything new or surprising, it cannot help to give one pause about their own mortality and future health. I think most of us live our lives purposefully avoiding the inevitability of our own deaths and the challenges we all will face when we’re old. Perhaps it’s life-affirming to remind ourselves, and prepare as best we can. Although we can no longer avoid the destiny of nature and our genetic inheritance, we can take positive steps to improving our current health, and our very futures. For many elders, they must live with the mistakes of their youth, and the choices they made as adults. Years of unhealthy eating, sedentary lifestyles, smoking, drug abuse, and other preventable and avoidable vices inevitably catch up with us, and the old and infirm are well too aware of those consequences.

The athlete must also live with the scars of a life lived of strenuous, and often hazardous exercise and exertion, and the ravages of repeated abuse. Although athletes are ostensibly in better shape than the average public, they often punish their bodies with injuries and prolonged behavior that is detrimental to their longterm health. Such injuries include illegal steroid use, legal substances to build muscle mass, crash diets, repeated muscle strain, broken, dislocated, fractured, and sprained limbs, multiple head injuries (including concussions and other brain trauma), various and sundry cuts, scrapes, abrasions, and puncture wounds, cardiac arrest and other convulsions and heart-stress, repeated hits to the torso and body proper, broken teeth and orthodontic trauma, pneumonia, exposure, and other numerous injuries. This is not to mention the long lasting effects of compromised mental health and depression. Athletes at the pro level are subjected to anxiety-inducing scrutiny, personality tests, psychological evaluations, prolonged and sustained stress, the constant threat of being cut, traded, or demoted, the anxiety of failure and pressures of being in the public spotlight, and the very real mentally corrosive realization that one’s capabilities are slipping and that time is deleterious to the athlete. As much as genes play a role in determining who will be plagued by the most serious of post-athletic career ailments, it is inescapable that decades of willful or naive abuse will catch up to every athlete. And the reality: it will happen sooner than later, and the very fact that they played competitive athletics for so long will only accelerate their physical health and well-being. That means that society’s most fit and healthy specimens in their prime are disproportionally more likely to develop health problems after retirement. What’s more: ex-athletes have a higher mortality rate than their contemporaries in the civilian world and are twice as likely to die before the age of 50. Many former athletes let themselves go after they retire, and particularly NFL players suffer high rates of obesity and stroke. There are obviously notable exceptions, and many examples of former athletes living long and rewarding lives, but statistically, the average athlete is more likely to be troubled by lingering pain, disease, and ailments, some of which may contribute to death rates exceeding actuarial expectations.

With the almost certainty of facing a post-play life of compromised health, and the prospect of having to manage their ailments so carefully, it seems reasonable to make the connection between the challenges of elder healthcare, and that of the ex-athlete. Granted, the ex-player has presumably more resources at his or her disposal, including managers and agents, but the parallel still works. It reasonable to assume that the memory and lucidity of the average player is also significantly more stable and reliable than that of the seniors. That kind of autonomy sets these two groups apart considerably. That being said, it is still remarkable to draw the analogy, since both groups are often afflicted by many of the same conditions (osteoarthritis, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, etc.). What’s more, the athlete faces a relatively rapid onset of health problems after retirement, as does the elder, not many years after they retire from their jobs. Both are suddenly faced with depleted senses of purpose, more free time, less structured schedules, less discipline, relatively more sedentary lifestyles, and the reality of depleted energy and the slow onset of age and costly life choices. The striking difference is that the athlete is often facing these same struggles more than 20 years earlier than their peers. The two groups have more medically in common than one might think.

Another interesting parallel to make between the two groups is the dramatic changes in personal fortunes and economic stability that both ex-athletes and retired senior citizens encounter. Although it is obvious the average pro-athlete makes far more money over their lifetime than the average senior from the private sector, the fate of their fortunes are more aligned than one might guess. Whenever someone retires — whether at 40 or at 65, they each have some serious things to consider about investments, managing their money, living within their means, and making sure their amassed income and annuities are sufficiently spread out over time and their expected lives. Regarless of whether someone made a million dollars a year, or forty thousand, the reality is that from that moment on, they are expectedly making significantly less than they once were, and that lifestyle changes must be considered. Retirement may seem like a windfall for some, a much deserved rest for the rest of us, or increasingly so, a terrifying reality for many. When we work, we at least can take comfort in being compensated regularly for our labor, but for those who retire, there is less certainty about how long that money will last, and how to best manage it. Even though most professional athletes go on to work second, third, or multiple jobs after their sports careers are over, they still face their own brand of insecurity. For however many years, they have lived in prosperity, and probably even above their means. Much like many of us, in our own small ways. Yet, once that paycheck is reduced or no longer coming, the pro athlete is no different in his or her concerns about their economic futures. And as it turns out, this fear is well founded. Athletes may boast eye-popping sports abilities, but when it comes to money, their reliably unreliable at managing their bank accounts. 78% of former NFL players are broke or financially stressed after retirement, and 60% of former NBA players go broke five years after retiring, according to Sports Illustrated. Broke athletes are practically an epidemic. Although their fortunes are vastly different, both the athlete and the senior citizen are consistently challenged by economic woes and trying to support themselves after retirement.

But perhaps the most tragic fatality is that of the athlete’s mind, suddenly cast aside and plagued by self-doubt, ennui, and despair. Depression is common in both the former athlete community and among seniors. The thrill and temptation of triumph, fame, and glory come at a price, and nobody knows that better than an athlete at the end of their career, and seemingly at the end of their life. The elderly are shamefully neglected, taken for granted, and left to fend for themselves in an increasingly confusing and complicated world. There are devastatingly high rates of suicide, loneliness, isolation and despair for those over the age of 70. For those athletes just reaching mid-life, but unceremoniously separated from what had been their whole lives for decades, retirement must seem like an end, and a disappointingly anti-climactic way to finish their lives. For both, the world may seem grim, and at times, it may feel like they’re simply waiting for death. Many members of both groups often share a diminished view of life, and struggle with ways to find purpose and happiness.

And yet, there is hope beyond the inevitable. Peyton Manning is undoubtedly mulling over whether it’s his time to retire, and ultimately let go of his dream of another meaningful championship. He is surely facing an abyss of uncertainty and probable disappointment. And yet, he carries with him the knowledge of all he accomplished, and the legacy he will inevitably leave behind. Just as those of us working stiffs can always find comfort in the belief that we’ve lived lives of purpose, raised families, made our mark, and worked hard for all we’ve earned. There is something undeniably rewarding and sustaining in past accomplishments, even in the midst of failure and regret. However affirming it may be to live fondly with our memories, neither the athlete nor the elder can hope of facing life’s inevitable end of life challenges without a renewed purpose in life. History has proven that those whose lives were solely their jobs, statistically died shortly after retirement, unable to redefine themselves and find purpose for carrying on. Whether it’s coaching football or twirling pizzas, Peyton Manning must find what makes him happy, discover what else he’s good at, and dive headlong into a new chapter in his life. Similarly, the 70 year old retired school teacher must also explore her options, and grasp onto to something new to be passionate about. For many, it’s grandchildren and investing in future generations. For others, it’s finding ways to constantly challenge one’s mind, and reinvent themselves as someone who lived to tell about it. For all of us, we must find happiness wherever we can, and live life as though each day were our last.

How ‘Transparent’ Helped Evolve My Views on the Trans Community


I belief we are in a Renaissance in scripted television, and are blessed with a wealth of high quality, expertly written, designed and directed tv shows. Some of my favorites are provocative, clever, artful, daring, and fearless. But of all the shows I am hopelessly devoted to, there is perhaps no program as brave and important as ‘Transparent.’

In over 30 years in theatre, I have worked with many in the LGBT community, and two actors I worked with as a young man went on to identify as Trans, and underwent gender reassignment surgery. Despite my self-avowed progressive liberalism and devotion to civil rights and unconditional acceptance and tolerance, I found myself confused and skeptical of the Trans community. In theory, I supported the community, but found myself unable to wrap my head around the idea of gender identity and sexual assignment being legitimately different entities, and how someone could be trapped or victimized by their own bodies. I had long accepted that being gay was not necessarily a choice, but genetically predisposed. How could I not apply this same belief to those of the Trans community?

Through the brilliance of the writing and the humanity of Jeffrey Tambor’s rightfully awarded performance, I have come to understand the pain and psychology behind such an often traumatic, but infinitely liberating experience of becoming the person you always knew you were. As a liberal committed to social justice, I believed I was accepting and tolerant of even the most marginalized and disenfranchised. And yet, even I had blinders on, and needed something I could relate to, and be educated by. ‘Transparent’ is not just any other show, but a groundbreaking introduction to a community long maligned, misunderstood, and forced into the fringes of our society. It is a gift to all of us, and an invitation to love characters that may be different superficially, but alike in all the ways that matter. The desire to be accepted and allowed to be themselves — as they identify, not what we assign them — is the animus that drives us all. What’s more watchable than that?

We live in a dynamically diverse society, and are separated by religious beliefs, lack of beliefs, politics, class, socio-economics, race, culture, and a wealth of other factors that seek to divide us, and demonize those unlike us. And yet, if we allowed ourselves, we would realize that we share so much more in common as humans than what keeps us apart. Perhaps if we all were more accepting of the differences that divide us, we would allow each other to live self-actualized lives of purpose, with the freedom to fulfill our unique individual potentials, and live as we wish, without fear of censure or persecution. We would ultimately be responsible to ourselves, and living our lives as we wish, and letting others live theirs. I believe that the majority of hatred, malice, and violence in this world derives from ignorance, intolerance, envy, resentment, and a distrust of those different from us. Murders have been committed almost exclusively as a result of these primitive motives. Wars have been waged. Cultures massacred through genocide. Minorities persecuted. Lifestyle choices and orientations battered and tormented. We live in a chaotic world where we are barraged with noise and conflicting beliefs, tactics, and choices, but in reality, there are really only two choices — love or hate. One implies acceptance, empathy, and effort. The other is divisive, judgmental, intolerant, and violent. The choice is ours.

‘Transparent’ is an appropriate title. It obviously plays with the root word, ‘trans,’ but it also suggests a human heart long bound by prejudice, convention, and hostility, but an aching desire to be seen. In fact, they not only want to be seen for who they really are, but they crave truth and desire to rid themselves of the lies and the shrud of secrecy. In truth, their souls can only be cleansed and complete when they are transparent to themselves and others. A clean and transparent plate glass window is a gateway after all, with a view to something beautiful and inviting. Maura Pfefferman simply wants to be seen for who she uniquely is, and at the same time, how much alike and relatable she is to the rest of us. Just as a transparent picture window allows for a view beyond, it also has the ability to reflect our reflections back at us.

‘Transparent’ allowed me to see Maura Pfefferman for who she was, why she felt so strongly about the gender she knew herself to be, and why I should care. I saw myself in her humanity, and allowed myself to evolve my conflicted feelings about a community deserving of our love. Granted, I had a far shorter path to go than many of the skeptics and hostile groups and individuals still out there. However, it is worth noting that the LGBT community has made remarkable and rapid progress towards gay marriage and tolerance over the last 20 years. We still have a considerable way to go, but the peaceful battle to win over public opinion has shifted dramatically. It’s likely the Trans community will be the last to be granted widespread acceptance, but it’s shows like this that start the conversation.

“Transparent’ is one of many great shows on television today, but perhaps it is the most profoundly important. It is a timely step towards a truly egalitarian society, where we choose love, and we are each allowed to be exactly who we wish and know ourselves to be. Bravo!