Thursday, July 28, 2011

When Did We All Become Such Drama Queens?

Not long ago, gay men had cornered the market on drama. In 2009, shrill denouncements of President Obama's inaction on gay marriage filled my Facebook newsfeed day after day as my gay and lesbian friends voiced their outrage, declaring that the onetime candidate they had so devoutly supported had become Public Enemy No. 1. (Don't get me wrong: Pressure on an issue is important, but vilifying the only president to ever say anything positive about gay marriage because he's not doing what you want when you want is another.)

Still, for a group of people raised on Joan Crawford movies and even Boy George songs, such highs and lows are understandable, if a little tiresome.

So what's everyone else's excuse?

Every time I turn around, someone is up in arms about something. "How dare they!" has become the go-to reaction to everything from Obama's attempts to raise the debt ceiling (I'm looking at you, John Boehner) to the resolution (or lack thereof) of the first season of AMC's The Killing. It's as if everything in the world were about you and your needs only.

I'm the first to admit (well, maybe the second) that I've been guilty of this in my own life. I now see that the "How dare you!" reflex was a constant in most of my previous relationships, and characterized the beginning of this one. But since my boyfriend plainly stated that he would not stand for it, I knew I had to make a change if I wanted this one to last. I did some hard work, and we've been together for more than three years. Now, whenever he does something differently than I would, I take a deep breath and say to myself, Will saying 'How dare you!' help this situation, or will it only make me feel better in the moment? The answer is almost always in favor of the latter.

Gay men have left an extraordinary mark on our culture. Fashion, music, theater and design are just a few of the incredible contributions we have made. But this knee-jerk leap to "How dare you!" might be our most unappealing legacy. Can we take it back?

Be sure to check out Mark Harris' wise take (not posted online, as far as I can tell) on fans' up-in-arms reactions to TV show twists in the recent Entertainment Weekly; the book The Velvet Rage, an invaluable assessment of the sources and solutions to gay male rage; and Jon Stewart's montage of Fox News' most recent lockstep display of victimhood.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Get Over It, Habibi, and Other News of the Mensch

With apologies to my Arizonan dad, are we so angry and sweepingly dismissive of an entire culture that we can't handle having a weather phenonmenon referred to by an Arabic term? If so, let's denounce "algebra," "zero," pajamas" and "khakis."

You can read more outraged Arizonans' complaints here and here about local use of the term "haboob" to describe the recent dust storms plaguing Phoenix.

• Clearly, we could use a few more where he came from: Business ethicist Zygmunt Nagorski dies.

• And a migraine sufferer opines on Michele Bachmann's treatment: We should know how she handles her headaches, as that will reveal much about the woman (with a passing acknowledgment that Bachmann's conservative Christian base would not approve of her taking anti-depressants).

• President Bush raised the debt ceiling many many times, to no fanfare, as you can see in this CBS News report from 2008. Republicans' current objections are little more than disingenuous Obama-sniping.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Importance of Being Wrong

Being wrong doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. That's one of the takeaways from this thoughtful TED Talk from Kathryn Schulz, who's been examining our culture's obsession with being right, and why it's just not right. Any mensch knows that, or at least knows it intellectually and is trying to be OK with it in the real world.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Could Dan Savage (of All People) Save Marriage in America?

Judging by the news — every month brings yet another report of a high-profile man cheating on his wife in some form from mild (Anthony Weiner) to extreme (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods) — America has a problem with men and monogamy.

I grew up with very traditional notions of marriage — one man, one woman, forever — and I've clung to that imagined ideal since (maybe because my parents' marriage didn't go so well, but that's another story). After coming out as gay, I transferred all my expectations to same-sex coupling, even though gay men have found many ways to have committed, long-term, loving relationships that don't necessarily hew to traditional monogamy. As I've gotten older, I've mellowed in many of my "musts" and "shoulds" and I've come to realize that life is more nuanced than we sometimes allow it to be. Part of what prompted me to start this blog is my desire for honesty; I think that people are better off when they stop kidding themselves and those around them and just be honest about what they want and what they need and communicate about it to make it work.

Monogamy or, more to the point, non-monogamy, is a complicated topic. Personally, I'm unresolved on it. Which is why I wrote this article for the current issue of The Advocate, in which I interviewed Dan Savage and many couples, gay and straight, who have been influenced by his views — he coined the phrase monogamish to describe couples who are committed but allow some degree of outside interaction — to explore these issues. Coincidentally, The New York Times Magazine also did a great, rather similar cover story on this two weeks ago. Great minds, I guess?


Being a mensch means being honest with yourself and those around you. Maybe this is one way for people to do that.

Read my story about straight couples who are following the new gay model:
http://www.advocate.com/Print_Issue/Features/Monogamish/

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cut the Bull$%&, News Organizations! Not All "News" is Worthy

When I was the News & Notes editor at Entertainment Weekly, we ran Monitor, an account of each week's births, deaths, lawsuits and such, among people in show business (the magazine still runs it). With just two pages devoted to it, we regularly made subjective decisions about which items would go in and which would not. And we always avoided celebrity stalkers. Plenty of news organizations report these, but we made a choice not to, figuring that half of what a stalker wants is recognition or notoriety, so why reward them with it?

This is one small example of the kinds of choices reporters and editors make every day. But as 24-hour news has taken over TV and the Internet, fewer and fewer of these kinds of decisions are even considered. And American culture is suffering because of it.

Take the "birther" controversy (please!). If more journalists were taking responsibility for reporting news that's worthwhile, I believe that President Obama would not have felt compelled to make the absurd move of distributing his long-form birth certificate, as he did this morning. Sure, Fox News Channel would still be pushing the story, because it suits that network's (not-so-veiled) agenda. As for other, supposedly objective news operations, they ought to follow Fox News Channel's lead and more thoughtfully assess whether a particular story serves their agenda — an agenda that ought to be primarily about informing the American populace of news that is worthy of consideration, rather than, say, propaganda clearly borne of lies that distracts us from what really matters.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Is 'Slacktivism' Too Harsh a Charge?

When many of my Facebook friends changed their profile photos to animated characters to "protest child abuse," I openly mocked it. How can a picture of a Powerpuff Girl possibly help change anything?

But maybe I was wrong. When I sat down with Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes for this cover story of The Advocate (that's Hughes on the left, with his partner, Sean Eldridge), I asked him about so-called "slacktivism," a term of derision for a generation of people who think they're being activists when they're really making pointless, passive gestures toward activism.

Hughes has a different perspective.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Trump: The Candidate We Deserve?

I once lamented that every era gets the Sex and the City it deserves — assuming that eras now last three or four years (hey, things move quickly now, and until that time no more so than between 2004, when the HBO show ended, and 2008, when the movie came around). The praise-worthy TV series, which showed true emotional insight and sophisticated humor, spawned a movie that was basically two-and-a-half-hours of label lust and conspicuous consumption. In other words, it was just about right for pre-recession America. Too bad the movie came out just as things in this country were headed for ruin.

Speaking of headed for ruin, Donald Trump is supposedly running for president. So, if we deserved Sarah Palin in 2008, is this how low we've sunk now? From a lying, know-nothing candidate for vice president who used that platform to turn her life into a reality show and make millions from speaking gigs, we now have a smug reality show host who's been lying about his millions for years. Not only has Trump been shown time and again to exaggerate his business successes (he has filed for corporate bankruptcy four times in the past 20 years), the basis of his platform for president has been the bogus "birther" controversy, which even wingnut Michelle Bachmann has evidently disavowed.

I have no real problem with Trump as an entertainer. I don't personally find him very entertaining. But a presidential candidate?! And if this is all just a publicity stunt for his TV show, I suppose it won't be the first time someone has abused the political process for his (or her) personal gain. But doesn't America deserve better?

Read Timothy Egan's on-the-money New York Times Op-Ed about Trump, Charlie Sheen and Silvio Berlusconi.

UPDATE: Jerry Seinfeld has "respectfully" backed out of a commitment to perform for the Eric Trump Foundation, benefiting St. Jude's Children's Hospital, citing Eric's father Donald's pushing of the birther issue. The elder Trump's response is, as usual, not respectful. He uses it as an opportunity to slam Seinfeld, saying that he went on the comedian's TV show The Marriage Ref despite the fact that the show was "absolutely terrible."
In other words, by not handling this gracefully Trump is once again showing himself to NOT be a mensch.
Read the CNN story here.

How I Got My Groove Back — and Launched This Blog

Call me behind the times, but I'd never seriously considered cultivating my brand.

That is, until I went freelance, in December 2008. Of course, by "went freelance," I mean I was fired. But I landed on my feet. I started writing for the New York Times and doing celebrity Q&A's for Time magazine. I became a contributing editor at The Advocate and got a teaching gig at UCLA Extension. Suddenly, instead of being "an editor at Entertainment Weekly," I became "Ari Karpel, who writes for the New York Times" and "Ari Karpel, who writes for Cosmopolitan" (don't judge -- a boy's got to pay his rent!). Though the publication names would shift, there was one constant: Ari Karpel. It became clear that I was trading on my name, my reputation. It helped tremendously that I had cobranded with publications that lent me credibility, but it was time to think about what I lent them.

That's about the time I reconnected with Rick Tetzeli, who'd laid me off from EW. He's now executive editor of Fast Company. He hired me to co-write (with him) the magazine's feature story on Morgan Spurlock's new meta-documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, about product placement and marketing in entertainment....

Read more in the FastCompany.com story I wrote that details exploring my brand, prompted by Morgan Spurlock and his new movie (out today) The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

And here's the feature on Spurlock that explores the bounds of integrity and marketing (it looks even better in the actual magazine — plus, in the print version, they name me The Greatest Writer Ever!), which I cowrote with Rick Tetzeli.

(That's me and my friends Tamara Krinsky and Bradley Jacobs, above, at the Sundance Film Festival premiere of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, in January. I'm the one in the middle. Photo courtesy of Jacobs. Pom Wonderful courtesy of — duh — Pom Wonderful.)

Reading List: Is Lying More Common Than Ever?

In his new book, Tangled Webs, James B. Stewart wisely examines the surge in perjury cases within the realms of business, media and politics. He uses Barry Bonds, Scooter Libby and Martha Stewart as case studies of our culture's increasingly lax relationship with the truth.

Listen to NPR's Morning Edition interview with Stewart.

A Mensch No More? Greg Mortenson in Hot Water

60 Minutes alerted the world to Jon Krakauer's account of the ugly (alleged) truth about Greg Mortenson's bestselling book Three Cups of Tea. You can read Krakauer's piece, Three Cups of Deceit, here.

But no response to this has captured the ambivalence about these revelations better than Nicholas Kristof's New York Times Op-Ed.

What will our culture do with a person who has done good things but has perhaps gone about it in a way that's unsavory, unduly exaggerates his good work and rewards him unreasonably?

How Long Can 'The Good Wife' Stay Good?

Every couple years, a TV series explores the idea of what it means to be a good person. The main characters on Friday Night Lights embody solid American values of honesty, family and, rather literally, taking one for the team. And yet it has never devolved into a simplistic, syrupy, Touched By an Angel-style morality play.

But no show I can think of has toyed with the idea that life is a series of moral choices so deliberately — and so tortuously — as CBS' The Good Wife. Alicia Florrik (Julianna Margulies) is, literally, the good wife, who publicly stood by her politician husband Peter (Chris Noth) when it was revealed he cheated on her. Week after week the central conflict uncovers another fulcrum of morality. Some episodes skirt by it, as in last week's convoluted, how-to-deal-with-a-lying-dictator, one-off. But whether it's an ethical violation of Alicia's relationship with her husband for gain at work or the perpetual lying and slithering a lawyer must do to get the best deal for his client, The Good Wife pokes at the morality of work vs. the morality of home — a mutual exclusivity that Alicia doesn't buy into, but those around her do.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

And Now for Someone Completely Different: Phyllis Diller

Do you really have to go through a midlife crisis, a tragedy or a near-death experience to realize what's "important" in life? In my experience interviewing celebrities, it's dramatic life events that spark the discovery of religion (see previous post about Mike Tyson) or awaken a sense of perspective. And the ones who talk the most about being a good person are usually the ones who never used to be.

But I don't think that's the case with Phyllis Diller. At 93, the ground-breaking comic is still kicking. She's got some strong opinions and a valuable, simple point of view. When I asked how she'd like to be remembered, she said, "For being funny." And then she revised her answer. "Well, I should say being kind. I am a kind person. I'm kind to everybody. I treat everybody the same and I'm proud of that. In fact, that's my religion."

In Hollywood, that's a rarity. It was a joy to sit down with Diller for Out magazine. You can read the story here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To Hell and Back: The Wisdom of Mike Tyson

When I went to Mike Tyson's Las Vegas home in February to interview the former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world for Time magazine, I was surprised to encounter an intensely shy, soft-spoken man who craved the embrace of his wife, Kiki. She repeatedly came over between questions to wipe the rapidly accumulating sweat from Tyson's head. (You can watch the edited video of my interview after the jump, or read more of what he said here.)

I was even more taken aback by some of the things Tyson had to say. Alternately eloquent and almost incomprehensible, there was a soulful wisdom to Tyson's self-reflections. At times he even sounded like Oprah talking about The Secret. But I got the sense that the man seated before me, once dubbed "The Baddest Man on the Planet," has seriously contemplated his life, and is now deliberately being a good person. And yet, at any moment he might fall back to the other side.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hair Panic in Houston!


Not since Hairspray has a town been so up-in-arms over one student's unruly hair. This time, the source of the brouhaha is...a four-year-old boy!

Young Taylor Pugh (left) was kicked out of his pre-K class for having hair that was deemed too long. He was actually suspended for refusing to cut his hair. According to the Houston Chronicle, Taylor's father Delton Pugh believes, "[The school district appears] more concerned about his hair than his education. I don't think it's right to hold a child down and force him to do something ... when it's not hurting him or affecting his education."

I appreciate and respect the importance of a school's code of conduct, but there must be a more humane way to consider an individual's self-expression, particularly when it is not intended to hurt anyone. I mean, look at that photo - he's a cute kid who likes having long hair. AND his parents say they were planning to let it grow a little longer and then donate it to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients.

Is this the kind of lesson we want to teach children? The only commenter so far on the Chronicle story says this: "If they refuse to cut his hair then they can home school him. It's either follow the rules and regulations or hit the road, period. Besides, who gives a 4yr old choices like that?"

Really? Those are the choices? In fact, a good parent allows a four-year-old to make plenty of choices, within reason. That's how kids learn.