Greg Stacy’s FAT LOT OF GOOD

December 29, 2006

My last film column for OC WEEKLY

Filed under: News and politics,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 2:11 am

Due to the Village Voice chain deciding to stop employing freelancers, I will no longer be covering film for OC Weekly. You can read my last Special Screenings column, featuring some of my musings on getting fired from the gig I’d had for almost 12 years, by clicking here.

The story of my getting axed has also been picked up by Mediabistro.

And it’s on LA Observed.

If you can offer an ongoing, paying writing gig, of any sort, send me a line at gregstacy at earthlink dot net. I will be ridiculously happy to hear from you.

December 19, 2006

What Would Jesus Watch?: Forgive them, father . . . they know not what they do

Filed under: Movies,News and politics,OC Weekly,Uncategorized,Weird — gregstacy @ 12:34 pm

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, May 13, 2004)

The Christian Film & Television Commission recently completed a five-year study concluding that moviegoers increasingly prefer films with conservative themes. I contacted the organization seeking more info and was e-mailed a document that listed the average yearly grosses of films in the following categories: Pro-Capitalist, Patriotic/Pro-American, Very Strong Morality, Anti-Capitalist, Politically Correct, Anti-Patriotic/Anti-American, Socialist, Communist, Very Strong Atheism, Very Strong Feminism, and Very Strong Homosexuality. The document was troublingly short on specifics: while we were told that socialist films enjoyed an average gross of $44.2 million in 2003, there were no examples given of what these surprisingly successful socialist films were. Seeking further enlightenment, I called Dr. Ted Baehr, the chairman of the organization as well as the publisher of the conservative magazine Movieguide.

 

OC Weekly: I found a few Christian newspapers and websites that ran articles about your study, but I was wondering if it’s been picked up by the more mainstream media.

Ted Baehr: That’s a good question. I know Fox News did a story about it. But I’m really not the person to ask about that. I’m working on a book right now, and my attention is focused on that in addition to dealing with interviews like this as they come up. I’ve been rather busy with that, you know, so [laughs] I talk to you and then I forget about you.

I see. Well, your study is rather short on specifics. You report on the average yearly grosses of what you call “Politically Correct” movies, etc., but you don’t give any examples.

It sounds like you’re not looking at our complete study. We looked at every film we could find that came out during this period, exhaustive analysis looking at everything from soup to nuts. After we’re done here, I’ll put you through to Tom. He can provide you with the more detailed report.

I’d be very interested to see that, but in the meantime, I do have some more general questions about this report. For instance, what is this genre of “Politically Correct” movies? Could you give me some titles?

I think everyone knows what politically correct means. Humanist, Marxist, Socialist . . . films that run contrary to common sense. I could turn on my computer and look up specific titles for you, but there’s no point. You can look up all of this information yourself in the report.

I’ll do that. I noticed in the abbreviated report you sent that the average yearly grosses of “Socialist” movies have apparently been increasing every year, from $6.7 million in 1999 to a whopping $44.2 million in 2003. You say audiences prefer movies with conservative themes, but it sounds like these socialist films are becoming more popular all the time.

Well, I noticed that development in the study, too, but obviously these things do shift over time. There are aberrations, but from our more detailed analysis, the long-term trends are quite clear. Charting these things isn’t rocket science . . . although I am a former rocket scientist. American audiences are becoming fed up with this secular, feminist, Marxist, politically correct entertainment.

What do you say to the success of raunchy comedies like the American Pie or Scary Movie franchises, or violent horror films like Freddy vs. Jason? Those are hardly traditional family films.

Those films you mentioned might make more than $100 million, but you won’t find them in the top 10 or the top 15 films of the past five years. You really need to look at the full study, and all of this will become clear.

Okay. Well, you said you could put me through to somebody named Tom, and he could hook me up with the full report?

That’s right.

Okay, thanks.

Have a great day. Bye-bye. [Baehr hangs up.]

Uh . . . hello? . . . Dr. Baehr?

 

I called back a few minutes later, and this time, I was put through to Tom. He said he’d e-mail me the full study. As of this writing, I’ve yet to receive it.

November 25, 2006

Interview With the Hermaphrodite: The many faces of Lynn Harris

Filed under: cover stories,Interviews,News and politics,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 8:50 am

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, October 7, 1999)

As you talk to Lynn Edward Harris, he changes. When you first meet, Harris is a soft-spoken gentleman in his late ’40s. He is elfin and elegant, with the frail, pale handsomeness of some tennis-playing dandy out of a Fitzgerald novel. Then, as Harris is speaking, his metamorphosis begins. He’ll be discussing a painful subject—and there are so many painful subjects—and as he does so, he will raise a delicate hand to his chin and look at you with the tragic eyes of a spinster aunt. At such moments, he is not simply an effeminate man; it is as if he has somehow actually transformed into a dear, middle-aged lady before your eyes.

As your conversation progresses, Harris becomes many people. One moment, he looks like a shy 14-year-old boy dressed in Daddy’s clothes, but then he’ll remember somebody who wronged him 15 years ago, and boom, he has become an uncomfortably intense, wiry tough guy who could probably kick your ass. Later, when he’s finally calmed-down, he’ll tell you about his wild and decadent days in the Los Angeles of the ’70s, and his petite features will crinkle into a weary Keith Richards leer.

The most amazing moments come when Harris tells you about the ’60s, back when he was a mixed-up teen with big hair, a padded bra, and a face pleasant enough to look upon that it won him the crown of Costa Mesa Junior Miss in 1968. As he talks about his youth, the years melt away, and for an instant, he somehow becomes that lost girl again.

Harris has been many people in his lifetime, but none of them seems to have been very happy.

Harris is a man. Sort of. He is also a woman. Sort of. He is both, although it could be argued that he is neither, or that he is a third sex. Harris is a hermaphrodite, or intersex, possessing both a vagina and a penis that is, he says, about 2 inches long when erect. He has female chromosomes with male genetic patterning, male hair patterns and skeletal structure, and no breasts. He urinates from beneath the base of his penis. He has some mixed ovarian and testicular tissue. His voice is an eerie, androgynous purr. If you met him on the street and he told you he was a man, you’d believe it without question. If he told you he was a woman, you’d probably believe that, too.

A QUESTION OF THINGIES

For centuries, the western world had no “girls,” as such. From Plato’s day to the Renaissance, anatomists believed that there was just one gender—male—and “females” were simply males with inverted penises. Nowadays, we believe in the concepts of “girl” and “boy,” but what makes a boy a boy and a girl a girl? It’s a complicated question, but modern science has a simple answer.

You see, it’s all a question of thingies. When a baby is born, its thingie must be longer than an inch to be considered a penis and shorter than 3/8 inch to be considered a clitoris. A boy must have two healthy testicles and a urethral opening at the tip of his thingie, while a girl must have a pair of ovaries in her tummy and a urethral opening at the base of her thingie.

But what happens if a child is born with an unusual thingie—a thingie, for instance, that’s longer than 3/8 inch but shorter than a full inch, or a thingie with one opening on the tip and another at the base? What then? Well, that kid is in trouble. In almost all cases, pediatric urologists will assign the child a gender, and then they’ll get busy with their scalpels. If the thingie is boy-sized but the urethral opening is located down at the base, doctors will re-route the opening so that it reaches the thingie’s tip. If an ambiguous thingie is on the short side, doctors will usually assign the child a female gender, snip away any excess tissue, and prescribe estrogen at puberty. Sometimes, they’ll even construct a vagina for the child using a piece of its bowel tissue—a vagina the child will unfortunately never have feeling in.

Physicians will usually consult with a child’s parents about all of this, but it’s not unheard of for doctors to proceed without informing the parents about their child’s condition or to actually go ahead with these procedures over the parents’ objections. Apparently, anything is better than letting a child face the horrors of growing up with an ambiguous thingie.

Sadly, the evidence strongly suggests that all the tinkering these doctors do with the privates of newborn hermaphrodites does far more harm than good. Although doctors do everything they can to keep young intersexes from finding out the truth about their bodies, as they grow up, these children can’t help but realize there’s something unusual going on. Many “girls” will find themselves growing into enormously tall lesbians with linebacker shoulders and voices deeper than their dads’, while “boys” will wonder why they’re so short and their butts and boobs are so big. These hapless children will often be subjected to mysterious injections and surgical treatments, treatments that will render them sterile and incapable of ever having an orgasm. For many hermaphrodites who’ve been surgically “corrected,” sex is actually painful.

The doctors who perform these procedures are following a theory—dreamed up in the ’50s by John Hopkins University sexologist John Money—that babies are born psychosexually neutral and that if a doctor sculpts a child’s ambiguous genitalia within a few months of birth, normal psychosexual development should follow. Money’s theory soon became medical gospel, and little hermaphrodites have been paying for it ever since.

But while Money was scribbling in his notebooks, John Hopkins urologist Hugh H. Young was also doing some interesting work just across the quad. Between 1930 and 1960, Young conducted extensive case studies of unaltered hermaphrodites who grew up to be far happier and healthier than those unlucky children who fell into the latex-gloved mitts of the medical establishment. “Emma,” for instance, was an unaltered and very naughty intersex who had both a functioning vagina and a “penis-sized” thingie and was fully capable of having heterosexual sex with both men and women. She lived as a traditional homemaker with a husband, a well-vacuumed carpet, and an oven full of warm TV dinners, although Emma apparently didn’t fancy marital relations with her husband much (she referred to her vagina as her “meal ticket”) and often had extramarital frolics with girlfriends. Whatever you might say about Emma’s unorthodox lifestyle, she certainly sounds like she had a lot more fun than her surgically altered sister/brothers.

So, in the face of Young’s studies, why did Money’s theory catch on? Some critics suggest that it was a result of the era in which Money worked; the ’50s were a conservative, repressive time when gender roles were at their most rigid, a time that was notoriously tough on those who wouldn’t—or couldn’t—fit in. It was also an era when antibiotics still worked, when doctors were constantly devising new vaccines and surgeries, and it probably looked like illness itself might be eradicated by the year 2000. Hermaphroditism was an “illness,” and a brave new generation of doctors set out to “cure” it. Sadly, the cures they devised were actually a step back from the prescriptions doled out by the doctors of medieval Europe, who sent their hermaphrodite patients off to have sex with virgin corpses. Like modern cures for the intersexed, the necrophilia method was both ineffective and unutterably foul, but at least in ye olden days, patients got away without having their genitals mutilated.

Historically speaking, hermaphrodites have had it rough. While there have been hermaphroditic gods in the religions of India, Egypt, Mexico and other cultures (even some translations of Genesis describe God as being “of both sexes”), people have been far more comfortable with mythical hermaphrodites than they’ve been with flesh-and-blood ones. In Greek and Roman times, a hermaphrodite birth was considered a bad omen, and they were usually drowned. In the Talmud, they got the worst of both worlds. Like the fellows, they weren’t allowed to shave or be alone with women; like the girls, they couldn’t serve as priests or inherit their father’s estates, and they had to stay isolated from men while they were menstruating. In medieval Europe, hermaphrodites were required to decide on a gender and stick with it, with dire consequences if they strayed outside their chosen role; in the 17th century, one Scottish hermaphrodite who lived as a woman was buried alive after impregnating a local lass.

In the early decades of this century, hermaphrodites (or “half-and-halfs,” as they were commonly known) were displayed in freak shows across America, forced to strip in dark, stinky rooms and display their genitals for gawking hillbillies. Mondu, a “half-and-half” who toured Europe and the United States in the 1920s, used to pass around a pamphlet that declared him to be “brother and sister in one body, the ninth wonder of the world. . . . There is real drama and a touch of genuine comedy in this mysterious process of evolution which forces a girl to shoulder the responsibilities of a man without having been prepared by a masculine training and a boy’s background.”

THE MODERN MONDU?

If anybody could sympathize with Mondu’s dilemma, it would be Lynn Harris.

As hermaphrodites go, Harris has been fortunate. He still has the genitals he was born with, reached adulthood without being drowned or buried alive, and was never forced to have sex with a virgin corpse. But Harris has been fortunate only when you compare him to other hermaphrodites; compared to you or me, his life has been full of Dickensian drama and comedy of the blackest sort.

The first time I visited Harris at his smallish, artfully furnished West Hollywood apartment, our interview turned into one of the longest, most fascinating conversations I’ve ever had. We started talking sometime in mid-afternoon, and the next thing I knew, it was pushing midnight. He let me flip through his scrapbook, which is full of pictures of Harris as a little girl, as a zaftig teenage beauty queen, as an anxious-looking young man with a wispy beard. One particularly memorable set of photos had a twentysomething Harris as a glamorous, Bowie-esque androgyne, fully made-up and shaving his face. He showed me his female birth certificate, along with the male birth certificate he was issued in adulthood, and a stack of articles about his case from publications ranging from the most scholarly medical texts to such tabloids as The Globe. We never even stopped to eat, and by the end, we could hardly hear each other over our growling stomachs.

As he was showing me out, Harris handed me a copy of an enormous yellowing bundle of paper; it was his autobiography, I, the Hermaphrodite (or More Lives Than One). He told me he had been shopping it around to publishers for years, but so far, he’d had no serious offers. Given the fantastic tales he’d been spinning all night, I couldn’t imagine how any publisher would pass on Harris’ story. Christ, his life should have been a best-seller, a miniseries, a major motion picture. But once I began to read the book, it didn’t take long to figure out why no mainstream press had picked it up. Written in a style equal parts William Burroughs, Jackie Collins and Ed Wood (“There was little to say to the young man who inadvertently had managed to provide me with a few minutes of carnal delight but which fell short of any consummate gratification”), I, the Hermaphrodite is a book of wonderful, transcendent strangeness. It is also so exhaustingly lurid that reading a single page can leave you feeling like you’ve just attended a noisy, all-night orgy. In the course of the book, Harris has dalliances with an award-winning playwright, a married minister (and the minister’s church organist), a top studio set designer, a “Marine-on-leave porno star,” a variety of television and film personalities, a Lebanese smuggler, and many, many more. While I can’t help but wonder if more than a bit of artistic license was involved in the book’s creation, I’ve learned that where Harris is concerned, the more impossible something sounds, the more likely it is to be true.

What follows is the most accurate portrait I can offer of a unique individual who wears many faces and never stands still.

A LIFE IN PINK (AND BLUE)

When Lynn Harris was born in an Orange hospital in 1950, he was pronounced female by a doctor who he now says must have been “half-blind.” As he grew, Harris was neither an extreme tomboy nor a girly girl; he and his younger sisters played with dolls, with Harris invariably taking on the daddy role. He climbed trees and loved to play games, although he disliked the “rough sports.” He took an interest in woodcarving, as well as ballet. The only thing about him that was obviously unusual was his intelligence; by age 3, he could recite Shakespeare.

But early on, Harris knew there was something strange about his body. One day, when he was about 5 years old, he lifted up his dress and tried to ask his mother about the strange thing that was growing between his legs.

“Put your dress down,” she hissed, “and don’t look at it!”

In many ways, that moment set the tone for Harris’ future relationship with his mother. Today he describes her as a “very moralistic Roman Catholic,” and when he speaks of her, you can hear a lifetime of hurt and frustration in his voice. Harris grew up dreading his mother’s harsh words and worshiping his glamorous, remote, character-actor father. Harris’ parents separated when he was still a child, and Harris stayed in Costa Mesa while his father worked in Hollywood, coming down for all-too-infrequent visits. The arrangement left Harris in the hands of his mother, who steadfastly refused to accept his claims that there was anything strange about his body. In a strange way, this was a fortunate turn of events for Harris; had his mother taken him seriously, he probably would have ended up being surgically “corrected.” As it happened, Harris pleaded for years until his mother finally took him to an endocrinologist when he was about 11. The doctor performed a brief exam on a fully clothed Harris. Without seeing Harris’ budding penis, the doctor agreed with Harris’ mother: further diagnostic tests were unnecessary, and treatment was not indicated; the child was clearly a girl. It was another lucky break, although it sure didn’t seem that way to Harris at the time.

“You see,” Harris’ mother gloated. “I told you it was all in your head! Now stop all these wild imaginings!”

But as his teens progressed, it became increasingly difficult for Harris to believe that his problems were simply wild imaginings. He began to grow facial hair, and his voice dropped until it was lower than that of the boys in his class at Newport Harbor High School. His breasts and hips stubbornly refused to blossom, and he had no real periods; every few years, he found a bit of blood in his panties, but that was it. Perhaps most troubling of all was the question of Harris’ vagina; he couldn’t find one, not even when he looked with a mirror.

Desperately seeking an identity, the young Harris threw himself into acting, where he could hide behind costumes, makeup and characters. He performed in a batch of school plays, usually playing parts—a butch female Army colonel, for instance—with a prophetically androgynous twist. In just a few years, he won 14 acting trophies. He worked hard at being a great actress, almost as hard as he worked at being the proper, pretty young lady his mother wanted him to be. Harris subjected himself to a drag-queen-like daily regimen of two hours of makeup, shaving and padding; he waxed himself so often and bathed in so many toxic depilatories that he now says it’s a wonder he has any skin left. To keep his body hidden in gym class, he changed clothes in bathroom stalls and always took care to shower alone.

Harris began to enter local beauty pageants, despite his mother’s warnings that the judges would never pick a padded girl. Much to his mother’s amazement, he took home several trophies. Harris was the first Costa Mesa Junior Miss in 1968. He still has a picture of himself in a gown and tiara—looking a bit like a young Shelley Winters—standing alongside A.L. Pinkley, then-mayor of Costa Mesa. Along with the crown, Harris was awarded a college scholarship, something he’s still proud of.

“I’m proud of all the things I did as girl,” he says. “I earned that crown!”

Harris approached femininity with a jock’s determination, and he now attributes his aggressive, competitive edge to the male hormones that were coursing through him. “I was determined to be the best female of any female I knew, and I went over the top,” he says.

But no matter how much he fought it, Harris couldn’t deny what was happening to his body. Every day, when he looked in the mirror, the face that looked back at him looked less and less female. On the street, people sometimes stopped him to ask if he was a man in drag.

Harris’ sex was ambiguous, but he had drives as strong as any girl—or boy—his age. He yearned for romance but was frightened by the prospect of sharing his unorthodox anatomy with a lover. Nonetheless, at 18, Harris lost his virginity in the time-honored tradition of teenage girls across America:with his knees up in the front seat of his date’s car. The venue, however, was the only thing traditional about the evening; Harris’ date was a divorced older man who blindly struggled to penetrate him for two hours, at one point grunting, “Do you even have a vagina?”

Finally, he found one; a tiny thing, with a hymen so tough that Harris now feels it should have been slit surgically. The deflowering hurt like hell, but at least Harris knew he actually had a vagina. In more ways than one, he had at last, he says, “become a woman.”

With the ’60s swinging all around him, Harris left home at 19 and moved back to Hollywood to seek his fortune as an actress. The outline for Harris’ book describes these days as [ahem] “a cyclone of discotheques, movie premieres, and swingers’ parties offering recreational sex with men AND women.”

He began appearing in LA theater productions, supporting himself with beauty retail and other work. Finally free to see his own doctors and learn what was really going on with his body, he began taking estrogen in an attempt to regulate his menstrual cycle and increase his bustline. In 1972, still in his early ’20s, he began experiencing hot flashes, fluctuations in blood-sugar levels, rapid weight gain and other symptoms of menopause, symptoms that weren’t alleviated until one of his doctors suggested “reverse therapy”: a course of male hormones. Desperate for answers, in 1973, Harris checked himself into La Mirada Community Hospital for three days of tests and exploratory surgery. The doctors there eventually diagnosed him with what they called “a hermaphroditic situation”:Stein-Leventhal Syndrome, a congenital condition that affects one in every 10,000 births. They warned him that his body would continue to “masculinize” over time, adding that there was little he could do to stop it.

Harris reacted to the news by running out and buying higher heels and putting bigger pads in his bras. He’d always lived as a woman, and he didn’t want to be anything else. Seeking images of “masculine” women, he would look up pictures of the brilliant but famously non-photogenic Gertrude Stein in the encyclopedia, anxiously wondering if eventually, he would look as nasty as she did. Many women fear the loss of their looks with age; poor Harris also had to fear the loss of his very gender.

When he tried to talk about his situation with his family, his parents predictably went into full, furious denial.

“Nothing’s wrong with you,” Harris’ father roared. “If you let on to your boyfriends that you’re some kind of freak, you’ll queer your marriage chances forever!”

Touchingly, one of Harris’ sisters worried that she might “catch” his condition and grow a penis, too.

THE CURTAIN FALLS

By Harris’ account, as the ’70s wore on, he appeared in a string of Z-grade movies (mainly horror films with such titles as Meat Eater and Mother’s Day, all of which have proved remarkably difficult or impossible to track down), became an international call girl, and ended up in hot water with the Vegas mob, among many other spicy if incredible-sounding misadventures. He also continued working in live theater, but his increasingly masculine-looking body made leading-lady roles hard to come by, and by his late ’20s, he was already playing middle-aged mothers. He was growing disenchanted with acting, realizing for the first time, what a crutch it had always been. He had been pretending to be a woman for years, and it wasn’t working anymore. Despondent and lost, he turned to a “spiritual counselor” for advice.

“You’ve always been so unhappy as a woman,” the counselor said. “How much worse off could you be living as a man?”

Feeling he had nothing left to lose, Harris took the advice, and almost overnight—”cold turkey,” he says—he gave up the womanhood he’d been fighting so long and hard to hold onto. He let his beard grow in, bought a male wardrobe, and changed his middle name from Elizabeth to Edward. (He didn’t change his first name, feeling that since the feminine form of Lynn usually ends with an “e,” his name was already masculine enough.) He embraced his new role so thoroughly that he even decided to have his name and gender changed on his birth certificate. The Los Angeles Superior Court agreed with his request, but the bureaucrats in Sacramento balked because Harris’ petition was not accompanied by the customary affidavit from a doctor stating that Harris had undergone sex-reassignment surgery. Harris complained and was issued a new birth certificate that stated his middle name as Edward but still gave his gender as female, a development that Harris says drove him to “suicidal feelings.” He persevered and eventually received a new Certificate of Live Birth for Lynn Edward Harris, male. Harris believes that his case set a precedent for the first legal sex change without surgery.

That was 20 years ago. Since then, Harris has worked a variety of jobs (until recently, he was working as a film-production bookkeeper, although as I was writing this story, he was laid off) while devoting most of his energy to representing the hermaphrodite community. He has appeared frequently on television and radio, as well as in magazines, newspapers and books, and he has become a prominent speaker and essayist on intersex issues. He says he does it partly to educate people about intersexes and partly as a response to all the years of denial and repression he endured.

Although he has reached something of an understanding with his father, Harris and his mother didn’t speak for 10 years; it’s only now that they are making the first steps toward understanding.

BOTH SIDES NOW

One of the wackier Greek myths involves a Theban named Teiresias. During his youth, Teiresias came upon two snakes coupling, and, perhaps repulsed by the sight of all that wiggly snake love, decided to separate them. Separating a pair of snakes mid-screw sounds like a dumb move under any circumstances, but Teiresias was especially foolhardy, as the ancient Greeks believed that snakes were creatures with strange, magical powers. As soon as he brought his staff down upon the female of the pair, Teiresias found himself transformed into a woman.

He spent a few years that way, until one day when he was out for a stroll, and he came upon the same snakes again. This time, he struck out at the male (apparently he still hadn’t gotten over his issues with snakes having sex) and promptly found himself changed back into a man.

Not long after, Zeus and his wife, Hera, were debating whether men or women enjoy sex more. Zeus felt sex was better for women, while Hera believed men got more out of it. They called on Teiresias, since he was the only person who could answer the question from firsthand knowledge. Teiresias responded that women experienced 10 times more pleasure than men, a reply that so infuriated Hera that she blinded him on the spot.

Like Teiresias, Harris has looked at gender from both sides. And like Teiresias, he has come away from the experience with attitudes that are bound to cause controversy.

“Women today are getting greedy,” Harris says. “They bitch and moan about maternity leave, and then they bitch and moan if somebody doesn’t open the doors for them.”

Harris is quick to admit that some of his anger with women is based on envy. “Look, I never asked to be a man, and I do miss the accouterments of womanhood. . . . But these girls today, sometimes I feel like telling them to just shut up and realize how good they’ve got it.”

In his book, Harris describes himself as bisexual, but today, he seems to have little sexual interest in women. “Women are decorative, like pretty statues. I like to look at them, but psychologically, mentally, there’s nothing there I’m attracted to.”

Harris lives as a man and has relationships with men, but he takes pains to point out that he doesn’t consider himself gay.

“I do not understand the gay lifestyle,” Harris says. “Most of it seems so warped and distasteful. Those terrible parades and the bathhouses and things like that . . . These gays are beset by vice addictions and social disease, and that all has nothing to do with me. I’m much more mainstream. Besides, I’m still involved with the same gender I’ve always been involved with, so how could I be gay?”

After years alone, Harris is now seeking someone to share his life with. In recent months, he has placed some personal ads, but so far, the response has been disappointing. “These men see an ad for a hermaphrodite, and they expect some beautiful woman with a penis. They see me, and I’m like a little boy with the wrong equipment. I spoil their fantasy.”

Harris’ androgynous build sometimes causes him problems in public, too. Although he had hoped that the days of being approached by strangers and asked if he was in drag would have ended when he began living as a man, this has not been the case.

“I still get that stuff sometimes, and people can be really rude about it. A few weeks ago, I was at an antiques show, and a black man came up and asked if I was a man or a woman. I was furious. I mean, can you imagine the nerve?”

I ask Harris what he told the man.

“I called him a coon, and I turned and walked away.”

THE FACES BEHIND THE FACES

As all of this may indicate, Harris is a moody and sometimes fierce personality. I learned how fierce when I took a few days to respond to one of his e-mails and Harris furiously called the Weekly’s editor, insisting that I was a charlatan who’d run off with the manuscript of I, The Hermaphrodite, that I was going to take it to a publisher and use it to make my fortune. Needless to say, I returned the book in a hurry.

Despite his flaws, I can’t help but admire Lynn Harris. He has lived too many hard lifetimes in his 49 years, and yet, of the countless faces he has worn, the two that come through most clearly today are the lost, approval-seeking teenager and the gentle, middle-aged dandy. Through all the anger and the hurt, both of these faces keep peeking through, and when they do, they are beautiful.

Gene Scott: God’s Angriest Man

Filed under: cover stories,News and politics,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 8:46 am

(OC WEEKLY cover story, reprinted on the occasion of Gene Scott’s death, February 24, 2005)

One night a few months ago, I was flipping the TV dial when I came across an unforgettable scene unfolding in the sprawling back yard of a Pasadena mansion. Three flawless, buxom young lovelies were doing some very professional-looking bumping and grinding to the accompaniment of the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight” while a well-groomed old man watched impassively from a chair. There was a phone number at the bottom of the screen, and every now and then, an announcer’s voice drifted in, urging me to call. The camera stayed locked on the women for several long, head-spinning minutes, and the more I watched, the more disconcerted I became.

 

What the hell was this?

 

Finally, the song ended and the show cut away to a studio, where the old man was sitting in extreme closeup before an out-of-focus, pale-blue backdrop. “Now that you’ve seen what I got waitin’ for me at home,” he said, sparking up a fat stogy with a pistol-shaped lighter, “you should all be extra nice to me for comin’ down here to talk to ya.”

 

I finally recognized the old man, sort of. He’s Dr. Gene Scott, the TV preacher who owns that red neon sign in downtown L.A. that says JESUS SAVES in letters so big you could probably read it from outer space. For as long as I can remember, he’s been on TV, seemingly 24 hours a day, talking about Jesus in a surly Southern drawl while wearing two pairs of glasses at once and various eye-catching hats–a sombrero, for instance, or a collegiate mortarboard, or a king’s crown. The few times I had actually tried to listen to what he had to say, I’d quickly gotten bored and given up. I certainly wasn’t bored now. Instead of offering an explanation for what a squad of dirty-dancing bimbos was doing in the middle of a religious broadcast, the uncharacteristically hatless Scott plunged right into berating his flock for not sending enough cash. Soon he was so furious that he couldn’t continue, and, with a mighty puff on his cigar, he vanished in a cloud of smoke.

 

We were then treated to footage of Scott’s girlies riding some beautiful, high-class show horses around a track at a place an onscreen caption identified as the Silver Oaks Ranch. This was just too much, so I called the show’s 800 number and demanded to know what was going on. The operator just laughed good-naturedly, like I was a child asking why the sky is blue. “Dr. Scott owns a lot of beautiful horses,” he told me, “so why shouldn’t he have some beautiful ladies around to ride them?”

 

I got very little out of him (he even dodged my question of what happened to Scott’s trademark hats). But before I hung up, the operator offered me some advice: “Just keep watching the show, and sooner or later, everything will become clear.”

 

I followed his suggestion, but what I saw in the following weeks only raised new questions. The bimbo boogie sessions turned out to be a regular feature; night after night, I’d tune in just in time to catch a few minutes of his women jiggling themselves sore to tunes like “Addicted to Love,” “Raspberry Beret” and, perhaps most memorably, a Dixieland version of “When the Saints Go Marching in.” The good doc also escorted his lady friends to the Kentucky Derby and the International Stamp Collectors’ expo, took endless bike rides with them, and, on at least one occasion, snuggled up in bed with them while he went through his mail on the air. There’s none of that humble-barefoot-shepherd malarkey for Scott; this is one preacher man who likes livin’ large. The amazing thing was that, for all the quality time he spent with such lovely ladies, he still seemed to be in a perpetually rotten mood.

 

The show freely mixed Scott’s live performances with taped bits 5 or 10 (or more) years old, and it became apparent that, over the decades, the man has changed his look more often (and more drastically) than David Bowie. On one viewing, he was clean-cut, wearing the dark, conservative business suit of an insurance salesman; the next time, he sported the look of a decadent ’70s rock star, with long blond hair, a floppy hat and a yellowish fur coat; other times, he’d wear a leather jacket and dark glasses or a tuxedo and a pith helmet. In the early days, he often paused midsermon to look at his studio audience and ask, “I’m not boring you, am I?” as if he actually cared. Today’s Scott, by contrast, often barks, “Am I borin’ ya?”–his tone making it clear that if anybody said yes, he would kick their ass. He was a moody, often fire-breathing tyrant on the air, taking a near-fiendish delight in abusing his cringing staff for even the smallest slip-up. Once, a cameraman accidentally jiggled the camera while Scott was giving us a tour of some of his fascinating oil paintings, and Scott became furious. “Don’t move the camera until I TELL you to!” he barked. “I’m the director here. I’ll show you what I WANT to show you, and then you can play with the camera all you want!”

 

The doctor went no easier on his flock. Once, when they weren’t ponying up the dough to his satisfaction, Scott referred to them as “dumb, Christian quote-unquote assholes!” Another time, he warned them that unless they shaped up quick, God “might let you live this next year without Him so you can see the difference.”

 

I couldn’t imagine why people followed the man. His sermons were certainly far from compelling. He could, and often did, spend hours explaining how the King James Bible botched the translation of a particular word from the original Hebrew. He was also big on the sort of dodgy mystical material you used to see a lot on In Search Of, often reading aloud from highly questionable volumes on the legendary lost continent of Atlantis or expounding at length on his pet theory that angels built the pyramid at Giza (Jeez-uh, as he pronounced it). When he was in one of his rare jocular moods, he treated his followers to readings from joke books. Mostly, however, he just roared at people to send him money. And they did.

 

If I could have dismissed Scott as a charlatan, the whole thing might have ended there. But the man spoke of the Resurrection with such passion and at such length, day after day, that it seemed impossible for the whole thing to be just an act. Occasionally, the doctor would address some of the mysteries that plagued me: one time, he read a note from a viewer asking why he always had pretty women around him. His answer: “To keep the ugly ones off me.” But it didn’t take long for me to realize that watching the show most definitely would not answer all of my questions.

 

Eugene Scott was born Aug. 14, 1929, in Buhl, Idaho, to W.T. and Inez Leona Graves Scott, a traveling preacher and his teenage bride. In many ways, it was a childhood straight out of a Southern gothic novel. When Gene was still a child, his mother gave birth to premature twins, one of whom died within hours. A month later, Gene began to suffer from strange convulsions in the middle of the night, and his mother had a vision: she saw a stairway roll down from heaven and come right down beside her bed; then two angels descended and stopped in front of Gene. “Oh no, Lord,” Leona cried out. “You can’t take Gene.” The angels heard her and picked up the remaining twin instead. Gene survived the night, but his brother didn’t. The incident convinced Scott’s parents that their son was bound for glory.

 

Soon after, the family moved to Gridley, California, where Gene’s father agreed to head a church whose previous pastor had crucified himself on a tree. Young Gene was well-liked in town, and he excelled in school; in the seventh grade, he brought home a straight-A report card with a note from his teacher that read, “Do you know you have a genius for a son?” He played on his high school basketball team, although he took some guff from his dad’s congregation for showing his legs in public.

 

When he came of age, he enrolled in the philosophy of education doctorate program at Stanford University, still somehow finding time in his hectic collegiate schedule to wed his high school sweetheart, Betty Ann Frazer, and work alongside his father at the Assemblies of God church on weekends. Soon, however, the pervasive secular skepticism of his Stanford peers rubbed off on him, and he suffered a paralyzing spiritual crisis, although he re-discovered his faith before graduation. For his dissertation, he summed up his life’s goal with a quote from the American Christian philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr: to “descend from the anthill of scholastic hairsplitting to help the world of men regulate its common life and discipline, its ambitions and ideals.”

 

After earning his doctorate in 1957, Scott taught at a Bible college in the Midwest and helped Oral Roberts establish a university in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although Scott speaks with a certain grudging admiration for Roberts today (“I believe that Oral believes he saw a 900-foot-tall Jesus . . .”), the tension that eventually caused them to part ways is also clear (“. . . I guess it takes 900 feet to convince him”). On his TV show, Scott often tells the story of the days he spent golfing with Roberts. Roberts was a sore winner, and every time he trounced young Scott on the green, he walked away, leaving the golf bags behind for Scott to carry. Finally, the day came when Scott won. He still cherishes the memory of strolling off and leaving his golf bag for a chastened Roberts.

 

Post-Roberts, Scott rose steadily through the ranks of the fundamentalist Christian Assemblies of God movement, resigning as a member in good standing in 1970 to found his own Oroville ministry with his father. In the early ’70s, he was asked to take over the 45-year-old Faith Center Church in Glendale, a position that came with four broadcast stations and a $3.5 million debt. Scott agreed to sign on as pastor, provided the church leaders resigned and he got complete control. He never seriously imagined the church would go for it, but they did. Scott went on the air in 1975, and although his show was a hit virtually from the start, his early years of broadcasting were personally trying. His 23-year marriage, perhaps unsurprisingly, crumbled almost immediately after he became a star (he calls his ex-wife “the Devil’s Sister” and adds that if he goes to heaven and she’s there, he’ll move to another planet). In the ’80s, Scott was hit by two financial disasters. His 1983 refusal to turn over his financial records for an FCC investigation cost the church three broadcast stations; four years later, the church lost a $6.5 million deposit when Scott tried to renege on a deal to buy a historic Los Angeles church.

 

These blows could have destroyed Scott, but they only strengthened his resolve. After he lost the broadcast stations, he kept his show on the air by buying time on national TV and cable outlets. He also devised an ingenious system to keep the government out of his financial affairs by demanding that his followers “give without strings”–i.e., donate their cash without having any idea what it’s going to be spent on. “The spirit of life goes to work for you . . . only if you give materially to me,” Scott says. “You should give to me if I wanted to go out and buy a rock band or the Mustang Ranch.”

 

He has survived his trials and prospered beyond belief. Today his program is available, by radio or television, all over the world, 24 hours a day. He lives in a mansion, consorts with beautiful women and owns classics of impressionist art. (He hangs his own paintings beside them, feeling that their beauty upgrades him; he claimed he keeps the women around for the same reason.) He races horses, hunts, smokes and swears a blue streak, and his followers love him for it. He’s even taken a dazzling bride 20 years his junior (and damn pretty on horseback), Christine F. Shaw. Many famous people have sung his praises, from Tom Bradley to Buffy Saint Marie. Years ago, he achieved the ultimate pop-culture milestone when he was parodied (by Robin Williams, no less) on Saturday Night Live.

 

Perhaps most intriguingly, he was even the subject of a documentary by Werner Herzog, the mad-genius director most famous in this country for his epic tale of obsession, Fitzcarraldo. When I discovered that the film existed, I had to see it. But the tale of the months that I spent looking for a copy could easily make another article. Suffice it to say that, in the end, I tracked down God’s Angry Man at a wonderful place in L.A. called Mondo Video A-Go-Go. The fellow behind the counter explained that Scott was so incensed by the film that he threatened to sue, and it was pulled from circulation. The tape I got at Mondo was actually a grainy video of the film being projected on a screen. The sound was terrible, but because this was one of the few surviving copies, how could I complain? According to the guy at Mondo, the person in the tape who’s watching the film being projected is none other than Dr. Scott himself. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I like to pretend it is.

 

ME WATCHING DR. SCOTT WATCHING GOD’S ANGRY MAN

 

The film begins with Scott midtantrum, screaming himself purple at an unlucky studio engineer: “Give me the volume! When I yell, I wanna be heard! ‘Cause I only yell when there’s an occasion for yelling! [He turns, speaking to us.] God’s honor is at stake every night. This is not a show; it’s a feast! A feast of the faithing experience.”

 

Later, we catch up with him in the back of a moving limo; he’s beardless, blond and dressed like an undertaker. He reminds me of Dennis Hopper. He seems almost like a different man from the grizzled prophet I see on TV every night, but his eyes have the same chilly blue glow. He offers a few choice words for nosy reporters like me. “I kid the media,” he says, “and say they worship the Great God Two-Sides, because if they went down on the beach to report on the sun comin’ up, they’d add a line that there are some on the beach that say the sun didn’t come up. . . . I have a conviction: if you know your subject, you cannot avoid coming to a conclusion.”

 

As he speaks, I realize that despite the reams of material I’ve gathered on the man, I’m still nowhere near coming to a conclusion about him. Is he a fake? Is he a true believer? After all this time, how can I still not know? While I’m puzzling over that one, we’re treated to a brief interview with Scott’s parents (two sweet old folks who clearly think the world of their son) and a television segment where Scott counts the pledges as they roll in. It comes to a quarter of a million dollars in 16 minutes, a total Scott is content with. For now.

 

At this point, I’m pretty convinced he’s a shyster, but the next segment finds him matter-of-factly outlining his schedule: three to 10 hours of live television daily, two separate two-hour services on Sunday, board meetings, conventions, pastoring another church in northern California, visiting sick church members, writing and publishing religious texts, leading tours of the Holy Land, visiting an orphanage he supports, and more. It’s a dizzying lineup, far more than any man could do purely to keep up appearances. I’m as confused as ever.

 

Then the film strikes an unexpectedly poignant note. Scott sits silently in his study for a long while, his face unreadable. “Let me tell ya what makes me happy,” he begins. “Get me on a jet, [and fly me] 8,000 miles to a city where nobody knows me. I’d like to . . . just not have some life-or-death struggle.”

 

For the first time in all the time I’ve been studying him, Scott looks lost. “I am too good to be really bad and too bad to be really good,” he says. “I don’t enjoy being the good guy, ’cause I’d rather do some hellish things. . . . My dream is to go somewhere where I can lay on the beach and read books and do my thing. . . . I dream of [going] to Australia and getting a college-professor job where nobody knows me, teach about Plato and go out back and hunt rocks. Now, that probably exaggerates it, but that’s what I’d like, just to get away from this mess.”

 

The film really comes to life in its final minutes, beginning with a scene taken from Scott’s show. He is in closeup, his face a mask. “I will not be defeated tonight,” he whispers. “Five phones are available, and one person has the key.”

 

There’s a nearly 30-second pause–it feels longer–until at last Scott speaks. “Not one more word tonight,” he vows, “till that thousand comes in.”

 

Then there are two minutes of some of the most agonizing silence I’ve ever experienced. At first, Scott just sits there, his eyes boring a hole into the viewer. After a long while, he oh-so-casually shuffles some note cards, but the tension is building by the second. Eventually, we cut to a big-haired operator in the studio, who is weeping beside her silent telephone. After a moment, the operator next to her begins to cry as well. They’re tears of fear; the women know what’s about to happen. Scott looks like he’s going to explode at any second. Finally, he does.

 

“Do you understand that GOD’s work hangs on 600 MISERABLE dollars?!” he roars. “And you SIT there, GLUED to your chair! How long must I teach you the principles of spiritual warfare?! Thirty thousand means nothing now; GOD is being held up to an open shame! . . . It has NOTHING to do with money . . . [and then aside] at this point.”

 

He savors each word like William Shatner playing King Lear. “People who [sings] ‘I Surrender All’ will let GOD, for an HOUR, hang over PEANUTS!”

 

Overcome with disgust, he can scarcely continue. “The network oughta be SHUT DOWN,” he spits, “as Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, if God can’t find four people. What IS Christianity?! Games?! Gimmicks?! Words?! Massage?! [I must have rewound the tape five times for that one.] Or life and death?!”

 

Finally, his rage is so over-the-top that even he can barely keep a straight face. “Husbands and wives, if I was married to either one of you I’d get up and kick both of you. If you got somebody sleepin’, go jump in the middle of their gut. This is WAR. God’s honor is at stake!”

 

The money comes in at last, even more than Scott asked for, but by now, it’s too late to please God’s Angry Man. “We’re well over,” Scott screams, “after I YELLED at you. Why didn’t you do it ’cause you love GOD?”

 

With a growl, he throws a wad of paper at the camera and storms off, whether to go fume in his dressing room or laugh himself sore, I honestly can’t guess.

 

The next scene features Scott in his study, quietly and candidly discussing his utter lack of privacy. He says that for security reasons, he’s never, ever alone, and the only thing he owns that nobody else has access to is a zippered black bag he carries with him at all times. “I hope somebody thinks $10 million in gold bars is there, for the simple dignity that there is something I don’t have to go naked about,” he says. “Maybe there’s dirty socks [in there]. I hope when I die . . . the government bureaucrats salivate themselves sick getting into this bag. [It] may be my memoirs. My simple dignity of privacy is restricted to that bag. That’s all I got.”

 

Forget the government bureaucrats; I’m salivating over that damn bag. What treasures does it contain? Perhaps the key to the man’s whole life–his Rosebud–is in there! My mind is reeling with the possibilities when I suddenly realize that Scott has just answered one of the interviewer’s questions with a line I have to scribble down: “No man should be boss who wants to be a boss. He’ll abuse his authority.” The astonishing thing is that he sounds like he means it. Is this the same Gene Scott who shrieks at his staff every night on the air?

 

At the scene’s end, Scott talks about the pains of the life he’s created for himself driving him to tears on a weekly basis. The interviewer suggests that Scott must be a lonely man, which Scott almost simultaneously affirms and denies: “Oh yeah, sure. Who could I have as a friend? Every friend is a potential enemy until this job is finished . . . I guess I’m lonesome sometimes, but I’m more of a loner than lonesome. I don’t have any close friends, no. Yeah, I’m lonesome.”

 

There’s a long pause as Scott looks off camera at the interviewer. The shot holds for just a bit too long, and Scott starts to break into a sly grin. The shot holds, and the grin gets wider.

 

The film concludes with a bizarre scene from the era of Scott’s FCC troubles, the time of the FCC monkey band. In those days, when Scott was feeling particularly hassled by the government, he’d holler, “Bring me that monkey band!” and one of his helpers would hurriedly wind up a gang of piano-playing, cymbal-crashing toy monkeys, a bizarre toy-shop caricature of our government at work. The concerto usually ended with Scott taking up a bat and whacking the gears out of one of the band members. The scene is almost frighteningly odd, but Scott’s delight is infectious.

 

“You hit ’em on the head, and all they do is squawk!” he cries. “Look at ’em! There’s your bureaucrats! Wouldn’t you like to grow up and be a bureaucrat, if you’re a kid watchin’ this?! That’s our government for you! Haw haw haw!”

 

THE BLOB

 

Shortly after I saw God’s Angry Man, Scott’s nightly shows took an ugly turn. I watched for weeks, but I never managed to figure out exactly what happened; apparently, Scott discovered that one of the women in his employ had been saying unflattering things about him on the telephone. It never got any clearer than that, but for the next few weeks, Scott raged endlessly, hideously, against this woman in particular (“She was like a blob, expecting me to stuff food into her opening. Well, I don’t touch an opening like that!”) and all women in general (“God is the ultimate chauvinist . . . I’ve never met a woman who didn’t need a man to lead her around”). The incident brought out the beast in him, and soon Scott was enacting his own words about bosses who want to be bosses. “Hell, this ain’t a democracy” became his new favorite phrase. He began to spend his Sunday sermons screaming at his congregation that he is literally a chosen one, selected by God before he was born to lead a select handful of followers, a “master race” in the fight against the forces of Satan. These followers absolutely will not ever talk back to the boss.

 

“I don’t care what I do,” he told them more than once. “If you think it’s wrong, I don’t wanna hear about it. I do what I do because God wills it, and if you don’t like it, you can get the funk out.”

 

His flock sat silently through every rant, only piping up when he barked a question at them: “Am I boring you?” Of course, there could be only one answer.

 

SIT UP STRAIGHT AND NARROW

 

At 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning, I was outside the imposing University Cathedral in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. After repeated, unsuccessful calls to arrange an interview with Scott, I had given up and made a reservation to attend one of his services. I was greeted (intercepted, really) at the door by a doughy, smiling fellow who checked my name on the reservation list and then proceeded to brief me on the rules for the two-hour service: absolutely no talking, no wiggling in my seat, no getting up to go the bathroom. “We wouldn’t want to get Dr. Scott mad, now would we?” he said with a laugh.

 

I’m a shaggy creature, clearly out of my element, and I could tell my appearance made the man nervous. As he escorted me to my seat, I noted with a chuckle that I was in the next-to-last row, far away from the cameras.

 

The cathedral interior is a gorgeous, brassy, kitschy mess, a mix of the UA theater the place once was and the pulpit to the world it is now. They’ve hardly tried to hide the past; the drop curtain still says THE PICTURE’S THE THING and UA in giant, ornate letters. The crowd was an odd mix of blue and white collars, with a couple of girls floating around dressed like they were at a Cramps show.

 

It was well past the scheduled starting time when the curtain went up; but when it did, there was Scott on a stool, sharing the stage with a few musicians and a sports-bar-style big-screen TV. The crowd applauded thunderously for what must have been a full minute until Scott finally snapped at them to stop it already. The band immediately struck up and performed a few numbers, although I was disappointed that they didn’t do “Kill a Pissant for Jesus,” a song Scott’s been known to call for on occasion. The musical interlude gave me a chance to inspect the enormous mural behind Scott. At first, I took it to be a religious scene of some kind, but it turned out to be a ’30s-style painting of a bunch of cowpokes heading for the last roundup.

 

After the third song, Scott came forward to speak. He wasn’t far in, though, when he broke off to look ominously in my direction.

 

“I’m about to embarrass somebody in a minute, if they don’t sit up.”

 

There was dead silence all around me. I was slouching in my seat a little, but I was 25 rows back and in the dark. Could he possibly mean me?

 

“You sit up now, or I’ll putcha in a wheelchair. I’m serious. I’d make no exceptions if my own mother was sitting here.”

 

Everyone around me was now sitting up so straight I could practically hear their spines cracking. I briefly considered slouching over even further (getting thrown bodily out of the cathedral sure would have made a dramatic closing for this story, wouldn’t it?), but I decided to play along. I sat up, and Scott launched into a bitter rant against reporters. I’m sure he wasn’t talking about me, but it was one hell of a spooky coincidence.

 

From there, Scott mounted a fresh attack on the mysterious woman who had wronged him, pledging that, in the future, he would be more intolerant of dissent and more generally unlovable than ever. The crowd laughed and applauded wildly at that one, and while they were still recovering, Scott announced that it was “offering time.” The words left me momentarily dumbfounded, until a bunch of men bearing red cloth sacks came bounding down the aisles and all of the churchgoers gave them cash. When the men got to me, I waved them away, and I could immediately sense waves of hostility emanating from the churchgoers around me. I stopped myself from slouching guiltily down in my seat just in the nick of time.

 

When Scott preaches at the cathedral, he works before a large, white board, writing in red and blue and green and black pens. He never erases; he simply writes over old words with darker pens. By morning’s end, they make some interesting, Kandinsky-like patterns (for a time, the ever-entrepreneurial Scott sold the boards when he was done with them). The one drawback to the system is that, after a while, the messages are virtually indecipherable; detail upon detail piles up until it becomes such a jumble that your brain starts to hurt. Eventually, my eyes glazed over, and with the scant reasoning power I had left, I started trying to organize this article in my mind. It seemed impossible; I’d gathered enough material for a book about Scott, and more details kept coming in, but I still had no clue about what makes him tick.

 

When I came out of my reverie, Scott was winding up a speech: “God doesn’t like failure, and mankind, as it stands, is God’s great failure. . . . I want the world to know its hate is returned.”

 

HEAVEN CAN WAIT

 

When the service was over, I went upstairs and looked at Scott’s world-renowned collection of Bibles. Some were on metal pages; some had pages as big as a car door. There were a few of Scott’s books for sale, most of them transcripts from his TV sermons. His flock was all around me, looking at the merchandise with wide eyes. What did they see there? What was in it for them?

 

I didn’t care anymore. I went downstairs and stepped outside. It had rained the day before, and all of a sudden, L.A. was beautiful. It felt good to get away from that dark room and free from God’s Angry Man. I crossed the street to my car and drove through crowded downtown streets, glad as I rarely am to be alive in my own godless world.

Not Another Xmas Movie: An incomplete Jews/pagan/rest of us viewer’s guide

Filed under: Humor,Movies,News and politics,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 6:00 am

(Originally published in OC WEEKLY, December 22, 2005)

Thanks to his rants about the so-called “War on Christmas,” Bill O’Reilly’s recently enjoyed more attention than he’s seen since his falafel fetish became front-page news. In the World According to Bill, the phrase “happy holidays” is part of a “secular progressive agenda” that includes “legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will (and) gay marriage.” If only! Actually, the reason people say “happy holidays” in December is because there’s more than one holiday this month. (Seriously; look it up, Bill.) Below you’ll find recommendations for holiday fare for those of us who don’t worship Santa.

HANUKKAH
The Hebrew Hammer Jonathan Kesselman’s “Jewsploitation” comedy epic stars Adam Goldberg as a Shaft-like, Certified (and circumsized) Dick who goes up against Damian Claus (Andy Dick), Santa’s evil son who is bent on eradicating Hanukkah and forcing the world to celebrate only Christmas. Hmm. Maybe we should sic the Hebrew Hammer on O’Reilly.

Eight Crazy Nights The critics despised Adam Sandler’s gross-out, animated Hanukkah comedy, and rightly so. But still, this thing is so magically, tragically wrong that you haven’t lived a full life unless you’ve seen it once. A reviewer on Eye.net summed it up beautifully: “You couldn’t make a worse Hanukkah movie if the Pope starred in it.”

Chanuka at Bubbe’s One for the young’uns, this 2000 video features a cast of puppets and follows a sweet Jewish grandmother (or Bubbe) as she explains the holiday to her visiting grandchildren. The whole thing is so adorable that goyim will wish they could be Jewish just to have a Jewish grandma of their own.

WINTER SOLSTICE
The Wicker Man (NOTE: This article was published well before the release of the 2006 remake) Pagans are, as you might imagine, a bit touchy about being constantly depicted as murderous weirdos in the media, and they’re bitterly divided about this 1973 horror movie. On the one hand, the filmmakers clearly did their homework, and the film is very informative about pagan beliefs. On the other hand, the film gets a lot of the details wrong and pagans are depicted once again as murderous weirdos. Still, screen this thing for your Solstice get-together, and I can guarantee your holiday celebrations will be a hell of a lot more fun than O’Reilly’s.

EID-UL-FITR
The Message Moustapha Akkad’s 1976 biopic chronicles the life of Muhammed, but gets around the Muslim tradition of never showing Muhammed’s face by having Muhammed’s uncle (Anthony Quinn) constantly address the camera as if it is Muhammed, occasionally nodding in response to the unheard but presumably sage observations of the Prophet. Celebrate the end of Ramadan’s fast with this well-intentioned but utterly peculiar epic.

KWANZAA
Harambee The late Howard Rollins stars in this one-hour, made-for-TV comic drama about a family in a Brooklyn housing project celebrating their first Kwanzaa. Apparently this earnest but sweet little movie has screened at so many Kwanzaa events that anybody who would want to see it probably already has, and a few times too often. Still, it’s pretty much either this or Rugrats Kwanzaa.

FESTIVUS
Seinfeld, season 9: “The Strike” Learn about Festivus from the holiday’s scrappy founder, Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) and witness his hapless son George (Jason Alexander) being subjected to such traditions as the Airing of Grievances—in which family members share their mutual hostilities—and the humiliating Feats of Strength, in which George is forced to wrestle his father to the ground. Some of you have probably been celebrating Festivus all your lives—you just thought it was Christmas.

November 23, 2006

Hooray for Hellmouths

Filed under: Humor,LA Weekly,News and politics,TV,Weird — gregstacy @ 9:34 am

(Originally printed in LA WEEKLY, July 31, 2003)

In the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, several characters, suffering from insomnia as they prepare for an apocalyptic battle, huddle around a table late one night to blow off steam with a Dungeons and Dragons–style role-playing game. Giles, the group’s 40-something father figure, can’t help but feel ambivalent: “I used to be a respected Watcher,” he grumbles, referring to his glory days as mentor to the series’ titular super-heroine. “Now I’m a wounded dwarf with the mystical strength of a doily.”

I understand how he felt. While I dabbled with D&D as a kid, I long ago put away such childish things and evolved into a grown-up with an actual life. Or so I thought until a few months back, when I discovered the Sunnydale Sock Puppet Theater (www.hellmouth.us), an online community of people who keep daily journals as characters from Buffy, Buffy’s spinoff series Angel and (to a lesser extent) the unrelated Aaron Spelling series Charmed. There are journals for every Buffy character ever, the heroes and villains, the living, dead and undead. There are even journals for inanimate objects, so you can check in with Buffy’s surprisingly talkative stuffed pig or hear how Spike’s jacket resents being stashed in a closet.

Of course, my first instinct was to run screaming. But as Buffy’s lackluster concluding TV season dragged on, I found myself increasingly drawn to the Socks, who sometimes sounded more like the Buffy characters I’d grown to love than their TV equivalents did. The Socks devised interesting storylines that took place between each week’s TV episodes, and during rerun weeks they cut loose and sent their characters on all-new adventures. When Buffy ended as a series, it stung a lot less than it could have because I knew I could go online the next morning and read what Buffy’s gang was planning for the rest of the week. (As it turned out, they celebrated their victory over the First Evil with a trip to Disneyland.) The people behind the Socks were clearly having a ball, and despite my being a grown-up with an actual life, I wanted in.

Getting in proved surprisingly difficult, as almost every Buffy character was already taken, but eventually I was allowed to take on Buffy’s rarely seen deadbeat dad, Hank Summers. It was a surreal experience, stepping into the mind of an embittered 50-year-old divorcé; it gave me disturbing insight into the reality of having pissed-off teenagers and reaffirmed my intention to never, ever breed. In Sockdom it’s not unusual for one person to play several characters (Buffy herself is handled by the same Ohio girl who writes Spike), but just fitting Hank in my head was more than enough for me.

Although a largely female, Caucasian phenomenon, the Socks range from late teens to their 40s, with Christians, Wiccans and atheists somehow all getting along just fine. There is some occasional infighting, and recently a few disruptive Socks were exiled to their own group, the Sunnydale Mittens, but overall the Socks are sweet, helpful people who don’t take their peculiar hobby too seriously. What strife there is comes mostly from without, from people who just don’t get it. It’s all too common for Socks to get hassled by lunatic fans who think Buffy’s a real person, and one of the Charmed girls was approached online by a kid seeking protection from the demons he sincerely believed were after him. There are rabid Spike fangirls who insist Spike’s diary is being written by James Marsters, who plays him on TV, no matter how much they are told otherwise. Even Hank’s had his kooks, one of whom furiously accused me of conning her when she finally figured out that Hank’s diary — about a guy with a vampire-slaying daughter named Buffy was actually based on a TV show. If I’ve ever felt crazy for Socking, a few of my readers have put my craziness comfortably into perspective.

Some might say the Socks simply have too much time on their hands, but tell that to Tracy, a Wisconsinite who handles two Buffy characters while going to school full-time (premed) and working part-time. Socking is a waste of time, but no more so than sports or collecting stamps or anything else people do to amuse themselves on this fast march to the grave. Strong friendships form as Socks meet online to hatch storylines, gossip or offer cheer on dark days, coming together to blow off steam as we prepare for our own battles in the real world.

 

Addendum, 2006: Sadly, the Sunnydale Socks fell apart not long after this article was published, amidst much internal strife. It just proves something R. Crumb once said: “The next step after shared ideas is warring factions.”

October 27, 2006

Bush, Burns or Burns: An OC Weekly SAT test

Filed under: Humor,News and politics,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 2:39 am

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, Thursday, January 26, 2006)

How good are you at identifying your power-mad, sociopathic, repressed, catchphrase-spawning, lipless Republican laugh riots? In the following quiz, you’ll be presented with quotes from George W. Bush, M*A*S*H’s Frank Burns and The Simpsons’ Montgomery Burns. (Hint: the cartoon is the smart one.)

(1) Whoa, slow down there, maestro. There’s a New Mexico?

(2) So, what state is Wales in?

(3) If you’re like me, you won’t remember everything you did here. That can be a good thing.

(4) I don’t think you appreciate the true nature of our situation, um, gravity-wise speaking.

(5) I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to witness my hanging.

(6) The only ship worth a damn is friendship.

(7) You can fool some of the people all of the time, and those are the ones you have to concentrate on.

(8) I think you will all agree that by trying to introduce more discipline, more order, I have hopefully made this a more enjoyable war for all of us.

(9) I want you to know the office is always bigger than the person.

(10) It is pointless to make the rich pay their fair share of taxes because the really rich people figure out how to dodge taxes anyway.

(11) The future? We’ll all be dead!

(12) What good is money if it can’t inspire terror in your fellow man?

(13) I’ve always felt people volunteer better by force.

(14) Mankind has always dreamed of destroying the sun.

(15) For every fatal shooting, there were roughly three nonfatal shootings . . . and folks, this is unacceptable in America!

(16) Some people have too much freedom.

(17) The watchdog of public safety . . . is there any lower form of life?

(18) I can only speak to myself.

(19) There are no friends in wartime.

(20) I am a pit bull on the pantleg of opportunity.

(21) We need an energy bill that encourages consumption!

(22) Intelligence is something I try to avoid.

(23) These are open forums—you’re able to come and listen to what I have to say.

(24) If you can take advantage of a situation in some way, it’s your duty as an American to do it.

(25) See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.

(26) We will export death and violence to the four corners of the earth.

(27) The thought of commendation never entered my mind [regarding] this terrible but human mistake made by a few of our own brutal but well-meaning fighting men.

(28) In a changing world, we want more people to have control over your own life.

(29) Oppression and harassment are a small price to pay to live in the land of the free.

(30) I hope you leave here and walk out and say, “What did he say?”

Answers: (1) MB (2) GWB, in conversation with Welsh singer Charlotte Church (3) GWB (4) FB (5) GWB, at the unveiling of his portrait (6) MB (7) GWB (8) FB (9) GWB (10) GWB (11) GWB (12) MB (13) FB (14) MB (15) GWB (16) GWB (17) MB (18) GWB (19) FB (20) GWB (21) GWB (22) FB (23) GWB (24) MB (25) GWB (26) GWB (27) FB (28) GWB (29) MB (30) GWB

Bush or Burns?: The lipless wonder vs. ol’ ferret face

Filed under: Humor,News and politics,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 2:27 am

(Originally published in OC Weekly, Thursday, October 28, 2004)

George  W. Bush and Major Frank Burns from TV’s M*A*S*H: one is a classic comic character, a lipless, posturing, cowardly twerp with a tendency for hilariously garbled speeches about God and country . . . and the other is a character on an old sitcom. Can you tell them apart? Take the following Bush or Burns quote quiz and see.

1) “Unless we follow our leaders blindly, there is no possible way we can remain free.” 2) “Y’know, a dictatorship would be a lot easier.” 3) “[Our enemies] have run their own countries into the toilet while half the people [there] haven’t seen a bathroom. And believe you me, they want one. If they can’t get them by subversion, they’ll get them by war.” 4) “There ought to be limits to freedom.” 5) “There’ll always be another war.” 6) “I love the outdoors. Any time I’m not indoors, that’s where you’ll find me.” 7) “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” 8.) “They misunderestimated me.” 9) “Absitively.” 10) “You’re the kind of guy I like to have in a foxhole with me.” 11) “I’m one of those that feel that marriage is the headstone of American life.” 12) “Without discipline, the Army would just be a bunch of guys wearing the same color clothing.” 13) “I’ve been to war. I’ve raised twins. If I had a choice, I’d rather go to war.” 14) “If those killers, those criminals believe that their bloody criminal acts will shake even one hair off the body of our nation and its unity, then they are deceiving themselves.” 15) “I think we agree: the past is over.” 16) “Leadership is a lonely business. Your Napoleons, your Kaisers, your Attilas the Hun, were alone [. . .] as I have been this week.” 17) “I have never cared, and at this point I don’t care twice as much as I never cared before.” 18) “Far be it from me to try to put words in God’s mouth.” 19) “Marriage is probably the chief cause of divorce.” 20) “I was a lucky man when she said, yes, I agree to marry you. I love her dearly . . . Just like I love my brother.” 21) “What about the thousands of wonderful men who are fighting this war without any of the credit or the glory that always goes to those lucky few who just happen to get shot?” 22) “We’re making the right decisions to bring the solution to an end.” 23) “I think war is a dangerous place.” 24) “It was one of those days that, more than most, reminds us that war, no matter how much we may enjoy it, is no strawberry festival.” 25) “Each of us is responsible for loving our neighbor just like we’d like to be loved ourself.” 26) “I happen to believe in the sanctity of marriage, no matter how ugly or disgusting it gets.” 27) “We’re fighting an enemy that knows no rules of law, that will wear civilian uniforms.” 28) “It’s nice to be nice . . . to the nice.” 29) “Funny thing, war: never have so many suffered so much so so few could be so happy.” 30) “Free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat.” 31) “What would have happened in 1776 if our brave Minutemen soldiers on their way to Lexington and Concord had to worry about toilet paper?” 32) “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.” 33) “It’s burned into their brains. Kill Americans, kill, kill. They don’t respect human life the way we do. I’d like to take him out and shoot him.” 34) “I don’t chew my cabbage twice.” 35) “I promise you I will listen to what has been said here, even though I wasn’t here.”

 

ANSWERS: 1) Burns 2) Bush 3) Burns 4) Bush 5) Burns 6) Burns 7) Bush 8.) Bush 9) Burns 10) Bush 11) Burns 12) Burns 13) Bush [NOTE: This was a trick question; Burns never raised twins, but W. never went to war.] 14) Bush 15) Bush 16) Burns 17) Burns 18) Bush 19) Burns 20) Bush 21) Burns 22) Bush 23) Bush 24) Burns 25) Bush 26) Burns 27) Bush 28) Burns 29) Burns 30) Bush 31) Burns 32) Bush 33) Burns 34) Burns 35) Bush

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