When AIDS was running rampant through the gay male population during the 1980s, the sentiment of the general public and government officials was largely one of "blame the victim" when it came to providing help or attention to those stricken. "Why spend tax-payers dollars to help individuals who brought the disease on themselves?"; "They deserve what they got"; and "It's God's divine retribution for their immorality" were some of the common, uncaring responses. Thirty years later I find myself thinking of those homophobic responses when reading about CTE, the degenerative neurological condition some players in the NFL have developed after years of sustaining concussions during games. Because the affliction affects the world of football, which is arguably the national religion of the US, this condition has generated considerable attention - and compassion. In contrast to the contempt gay men with AIDS encountered, few with CTE are pilloried for "getting what they deserve". And, of course, no one would think of pointing fingers at the parents of players who enthusiastically supported their sons' activities since childhood. I'm not suggesting these players should be shunned or not treated, it's just sobering to witness the contrast in the responses - pariahs vs. fallen heroes.
It turns out that one of my favorite songs of 2015, Demi Lovato's Cool For the Summer, had a bi-curious/lesbian theme that I was oblivious to. I discovered this upon reading Entertainment Weekly's end-of-year review, months after the song was released (the magazine chose it as one of the top 10 singles of the year). I thought it was just a song about generic, promiscuous boy-girl sex. One lyric, "Don't be scared 'cause I'm your body type", puzzled me because of its awkward phrasing. My interpretation was completely different from what was intended. It turns out that Lovato was alluding to same-sex attraction when she sang "I'm your body type", but I thought she was simply referring to the type of body that a boy gets the hots over. After learning of the song's intended message, lyrics such as "I'm a little curious, too" and "got a taste for the cherry" took on new meaning. I've never thought of myself as being "out of touch" but that's the phrase that immediately came to mind when I discovered the song's true message. No matter, I still love the song. (And it's so much better than I Kissed A Girl.)
They say three times is a charm and, happily, that was the case with NBC's ambitious undertaking of producing Broadway musicals on live TV each year at the beginning of December. After striking out with the The Sound of Music Live! in 2013 and then Peter Pan Live! in 2014, 2015's The Wiz Live! was a triumph. (If a gay man doesn't gush about a musical, does it even exist?) A vibrant and colorful production, the sets, actors, costumes, musical numbers and choreography were all top notch. I never made it through more than the first 30 minutes of SOM or PP, but I've watched The Wiz three times (the same number of times I saw the theatrical version of Into the Woods at the beginning of the year).
The Wiz Live! had a supporting cast of well-known names, including Stephanie Mills, Ne-Yo, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Common, David Alan Grier and Elijah Kelley. (My favorite was Ne-Yo as the Tin Man.) Besides being a pleasure to watch, another difference this production had from its two predecessors was the casting of an unknown in the lead. While the star power may have been the primary draw, Shanice Williams as Dorothy brought fresh energy, and even an occasional outburst of diva attitude. (What a pity that her character was trying to get to ... Omaha!)
For me the musical's highlight was the middle portion when Dorothy and her buddies entered Emerald City and had their first encounter with the Wiz (played by Queen Latifah). They first pass through a club in Emerald City that had a gay vibe. Then there were the back-to-back numbers, the heart-tugging ballad What Would I Do If I Could Feel? sung by Ne-Yo's Tin Man and then a dance number Ne-Yo wrote for this TV production, We Got It.
And here are some more favorite moments from the telecast ...