Mother of all bombshell TV
by Victoria A. Brownworth
If you're reading this column, we have not yet been blown off the planet. But that Doomsday Clock is ticking. There's Trump, there's Putin, there's gay men being rounded up and killed in Chechnya. Caitlyn Jenner is back on TV's front-burner. Zeke Smith got outed as a trans man on Survivor. Bravo's Imposters had an interracial lesbian FBI sex scene for the ages. Scandal gave us "what-ifs." The Catch gave us sexy, shirtless, abs-olutely fabulous gay FBI boy toys. The Americans reminded us Russia has been playing chicken with us for years. And the MOAB was dropped. It's hard to tell the sublime from the ridiculous without a scorecard.
In a week when Scandal was interrupted in real "art imitates life" time with the bombing of Syria, Trump recited how he told China's President Xi he'd just dropped 59 Tomahawks over "the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you've ever seen" to a gleeful Maria Bartoromo, but got the country he bombed wrong and had to be corrected twice, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Hitler never used chemical weapons in his "Holocaust centers," GOP flunky Jeffrey Lord told CNN that Trump was the "MLK of healthcare" while Don Lemon's head exploded on live TV, and Trump dropped "the mother of all bombs" while we watched a different apocalyptic TV show. What could possibly be next? Never ask that question. Especially not now.
There we were on Good Friday morning, trying to put ourselves into a state of grace in this least grace-inducing period of time (we still don't understand why Spicer wasn't fired, but then three-quarters of our family is Jewish, so we must be biased). Flipping through the various morning news programs as we regularly do was likely a bad move given, well, everything. But we wouldn't have heard this exchange if we hadn't.
On Fox and Friends, Geraldo Rivera (we're old enough to remember when he was an award-winning investigative journalist uncovering human rights abuses, so that dates us) was glorifying war. Rivera asserted of the percussive bomb, the largest ever deployed since the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, "This is what freedom looks like." Whoa.
The U.S. Air Force dropped the 21,500 GBU-43/B Massive Ordinance Air Blast Bomb, commonly referred to as "the mother of all bombs" and the largest non-nuclear weapon in the military arsenal, on April 13. It was the first time the device had been used. It was dropped in Afghanistan and allegedly killed 36 ISIS fighters, at a cost of $500,000 per head.
Rivera's ill-conceived comment followed the segment's opening: a clip of MOAB being dropped set to Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," because freedom has a country/western score, apparently. Rivera concluded with, "One of my favorite things in the 16 years I've been here at Fox News is watching bombs drop on bad guys."
Meanwhile, we think freedom looks like reporting on human rights abuses, and in the news you're not seeing, we have yet to hear one word on mainstream media about gay men being dragged off the streets of Chechnya, tortured and held in what have been termed by Amnesty International "concentration camps." GLAAD executive director Sarah Kate Ellis has been pushing for MSM coverage.
When NBC's veteran reporter Andrea Mitchell called out some questions of Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov during his April 13 meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Tillerson just smirked as Lavrov chided Mitchell, saying, "Who was bringing you up? Who was giving you your manners?" The misogyny is thick.
Mitchell, 70, is NBC's Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent and host of MSNBC's daily news program Andrea Mitchell Reports. In March 2016, during a press conference between former President Obama and Cuba's Raul Castro, Mitchell asked a question that Castro ignored. Obama told Castro that Mitchell was one of America's most esteemed journalists and he couldn't just ignore her. Tillerson apparently never saw that press conference.
The only good news we've had in recent days is that Bill O'Reilly is on his way out at Fox, courtesy of the women of America who led a huge boycott and phone and email attack on his sponsors. Within a week of The New York Times expos of his sexual predation on female staffers and the detail that Fox had paid out $13 million to settle lawsuits from the various women, O'Reilly was taking a sudden April vacation mid-week. Because who does that other than Trump? Former Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino was in O'Reilly's place on April 13, in what can only be interpreted as a mea culpa by Fox.
Meanwhile, Fox alum Megyn Kelly, who just joined NBC, is rumored to have an interview with Putin. Let's hope if true, it's less nauseatingly obsequious than Bartoromo's appallingly craven exchange with Trump.
One of our queer-friendly social media besties, James K. Holder II, has just launched a web TV news-you're-not-seeing series. Not On My Watch TV gives us the POV of a black millennial unpacking the politics of the day, and that is one a hella unpacking. In the midst of a white nationalist resurgence, we need non-white perspective more than ever. We urge you to tune in.
Speaking of palace intrigue, for its 100th episode, Scandal did a "what if" scenario. What if Olivia (Kerry Washington) had refused to go along with the rigging of Defiance County and Fitz (Tony Goldwyn) had never been president? She and Fitz married. Cyrus (Jeff Perry) dumped James (Dan Bucatinsky) for a marriage of convenience with the newly divorced Mellie (Bellamy Young), who he ran for president.
It was an interesting exercise, in no small part for watching Cyrus, whose ambition to be president has been hampered by his gayness, willing to repress his sexuality yet again to be First Gentleman. Because that position of power is everything to him.
In the real universe of Scandal, Cyrus may yet get that chance, as we now know who shot Frankie Vargas and put Cyrus in jail. When Cyrus gets out, he really is the president-elect. So who knows where Shonda Rhimes will take us next? It's far less intrigue, though, than the revelation that half of Trump's former and possibly current staff have colluded with Russia.
Which is also why watching The Americans, Designated Survivor, Homeland, Madame Secretary and 24: Legacy has never been more like watching the History channel and less like pure over-the-top fiction. These shows satisfyingly validating of our current reality.
She is Cait
Speaking of over-the-top, Caitlyn Jenner is back. Not that she ever really left, but the controversial reality TV star is doing a reprise of her 2015 coming out interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer. The special edition of 20/20 airs April 21 in advance of Jenner's memoir The Secrets of My Life, ghostwritten by Pulitzer Prize-winning Vanity Fair editor Buzz Bissinger. The book will be released April 25 by Grand Central Publishing.
America's lesbian sweetheart, Ellen DeGeneres, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Obama last year, gets slammed in Jenner's memoir. According to an excerpt in US Weekly on April 14, Jenner holds DeGeneres wholly responsible for "alienating her from the LGBTQ community."
Apparently Jenner never listened to anything she's said on her E! show I Am Cait, nor to her comments to various news media in support of first Ted Cruz and then Trump, both of whom are virulently anti-LGBT and have done serious damage to trans rights. Nevertheless, it's all the lesbian's fault. Jenner asserts that in her 2015 interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, when she told a stunned audience that she was against same-sex marriage and that she was "a traditionalist" who believed "marriage was between a man and a woman," Ellen manipulated her. Ellen, who has been married to wife and Scandal co-star Portia de Rossi for a decade, later told Howard Stern in an appearance on his show that Jenner's comments were "confusing," echoing what many in the LGBT community felt, which we wrote here at the time.
Jenner's memoir asserts, "This discussion further alienated me from members of the LGBTQ community. Ellen's appearance on The Howard Stern Show, where in my mind she even more emphatically took what I said out of context, made it go viral." Actually, it was Jenner saying it herself on Ellen's TV show, broadcast to millions, that made it go viral. It's difficult to imagine how Ellen, who was clearly gobsmacked in the initial interview, made Jenner's own words "go viral" by repeating the exchange on a radio show.
Jenner now claims to have evolved on the issue, allegedly saying in her memoir, "I am for it. I did not initially understand why marriage was so important, influenced no doubt by my own personal experience. Now I do, and it's a wonderful thing to see."
Oy. With so many fabulous trans activists out there who have dedicated themselves to witnessing for the trans community, broadening acceptance and saving trans lives – Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Jazz Jennings chief among them – why are we devoting so much air time (and money, lots and lots of money) to Jenner, whose self-declared GOP politics are antithetical to LGBTQ rights as well as women's rights? Jenner is beloved by the right because she says what they think about LGBT people. Jenner's 2015 interview with Sawyer was poignant and moving. We'll watch the 2017 reprise, but this attack on Ellen is not endearing.
Like many viewers, we were appalled by the outing of trans man Zeke Smith on CBS' Survivor by a gay male contestant, Jeff Varner, on the April 12 episode. Varner declared Smith was a trans man as evidence of Smith's duplicity as a contestant. "Why haven't you told anyone you're transgender?"
In a long and revelatory essay in The Hollywood Reporter, Smith addressed what happened on Survivor. He opens his narrative saying quite clearly that he didn't want to be outed. "I'm not wild about you knowing that I'm trans. An odd sentiment, I realize, for someone who signed up for two seasons of the CBS reality giant Survivor."
Odd maybe, but we know some trans persons want to "pass" and live their lives out of the political limelight, and if you aren't someone supporting anti-trans policies, then no one has any business outing you. Survivor host Jeff Probst spoke exclusively with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric April 14 about his reaction. "Everybody there had to replay in their head what they had just heard. I was the same way. I think Zeke was the same way," Probst said. "It was a moment of 'This just happened. I did hear what I think I just heard.'"
But don't we have to ask this question of Probst: Why did you air the outing, then? It's not like Survivor airs live before a live audience. These events happened months ago. There was plenty of time to make a decision about where to go with this, and what Probst and CBS and even Smith decided was to go with the outing.
Smith says something quite poignant in his essay in THR: "Many gay people consider coming out a moment of liberation, because sharing their sexual orientation with the world causes them to be seen more authentically. Often, the opposite is true for trans people. When we share our gender history, many see us less authentically – doubting, probing or denying our identities." Sad, but as several of our close trans friends have explained to us, very true.
GLAAD released a statement about the incident noting the organization's Trans Media Program had "worked with Zeke Smith and CBS for several months to ensure that when the episode aired, Zeke would have the opportunity to speak for himself about his experience."
It still leaves us queasy. There are perils involved in LGBTQ people engaging in reality TV, and many of us have seen the up and down sides of these experiences. Smith remains enamored of Survivor, and we can only imagine that it was a great experience on other levels for him. But we are left feeling queasy about the whole experience.
Finally, the new shows we recommend for this week to get your mind off the drama of daily living are Harlots, streaming on Hulu; HBO's The Leftovers, which is returning for a third season, as is Better Call Saul. Genius, a new scripted series about Einstein on, of all networks, Nat Geo, looks fabulous. And Veep is back, just in time, because we need a president who knows what they're doing.
So for reality TV stars in the White House and beyond, the calm of a solid fictional drama, and much needed hilarity of a presidential sitcom, you really must stay tuned.