Marc Maron’s Node

Marc Maron’s IFC show “Maron” depicts a character poised between two distinct groups: those swimming successfully in the mainstream, such as his famous podcast guests, and the oddball folks who wander in and out of his life. The latter category includes a neighbor who shows up at his door holding a car tire declaring he’s stopped using money. Henceforth he will only obtain goods by barter. Marc appears as the strangely compassionate, fragile asshole who navigates both realities.

I wonder if these colliding worlds represent aspects of Maron’s identity. Looked at in the context of the series as a whole, they could point to the stakes of him picking up booze: two doors.

My favorite episode, The Node, occurs in the middle of the 3rd season. Frustrated by his unreliable internet connection, Marc engages in a series of surreal interactions with his cable company. First we meet the customer service rep, an inmate putting on an Indian accent. Nonsensical and hilarious, this struck me as possibly commenting on absurdly intertwining messed up systems — corporate and social, as well as personal.

Next, a disconcertingly affectionate in-person service guy takes a meaningless stab at fixing the problem. After him, a second repair guy  shows up on Marc’s doorstep. While removing his company shirt in exchange for the oddball neighbor’s tire the second dude explains why it is not within the power of lowly repair people to address the connectivity issue that center around “the node.” During this exchange, Marc’s bipolar father pulls up in his mammoth RV, mutters suicidal threats, then runs down the street.

More breakdowns ensue. We see Marc at the intersection of his fucked up family and our fucked up late stage capitalist society. Corporations lack accountability as they widen the social divide between the exploited and the entitled. Choosing to live boils down to tolerating endless unsolvable problems in an increasingly polarized indifferent world.

One of his podcast subjects cracks some light on his cable issue; the company provides elite customers with a contact number for something called “Tier 4 assistance,” a resource the guest does not share. Marc kvetches and, in his way, flows with the unrelenting distress. Then, in the middle of the night, the phone rings.

We see a polished, middle-aged man sitting at a pristine glass desk in a completely white room. A pure white, old-style landline is the sole object on an immaculate desktop. The vibe is surreal. This guy — dressed crisply, almost angelically, in a white 3-piece suit, white shirt and shoes — comes across as a vintage-stylish Hollywood incarnation of a mystical presence.

Marc (in darkness) picks up the phone: Hello?
Mystical, polished dude: Hey, man. How’s it going?

Who’s this?
Oh, come on, Marc. You know who this is. This is Tier 4.
Hey. Do you need my 10-digit repair number?
Why do you give it out if you never need it?
Well — to give people something to hold on to. Hope.
Yeah, I’m not feeling that.
Things aren’t always what they seem, Marc. Sometimes what’s going on is deeper and more impactful. The real truth is underneath.
Okay. I get that. But I still need the internet.
Well, everyone needs the internet. But that doesn’t mean that what you’re feeling right now is about the internet, because it’s not. It’s about a deep-rooted need for justice, and fear of not being in control.
Yeah. I understand that. It’s about something deeper.
You need to stop yelling at your girlfriends. You need to make up with your father. And you need to stop watching porn. You don’t watch a lot but you watch enough.
I don’t watch anything that weird.
A couple of weeks ago it got a little weird.
Yeah, but you know, when you get into the Baltic stuff you really don’t know what’s gonna happen. . . . . All right, so what’s your point? You want me to engage in my life and — and be a better person?
Yeah. Be a stand-up guy.
Okay. Done.
Okay. I just split the node.
You can just do it from there?
Yeah. I’m the node splitter.

Marc hangs up and talks a little to his father about hope.


Allen v. Farrow

HBO’s Allen v. Farrow documentary begins with footage of Woody accepting an honorary Oscar smack dab in the middle of the #metoo Hollywood era. We hear his daughter, Dylan Farrow, describe what she felt watching her abuser celebrated by a cultural elite that has supposedly awakened to the horrors of powerful men in the arts exploiting vulnerable women.
The series portrays Mr. Allen as a manipulative predator who expertly crafts vile narratives that weaponize our society’s profound misogyny. Assuming an earnest demeanor, Allen takes control of the media to deliver a one-two punch that invalidates his daughter’s trauma while painting Mia as a vengeful, deluded harpy.
We learn about Woody’s well-documented penchant for dating high school girls, including Christine Engelhardt (just after Sleeper), Stacey Nelkin (during Annie Hall), and his step-daughter, Soon Yi Previn. His 8-year affair with a 16 year-old Engelhardt began in Allen’s early forties; both she and Stacey claim to have inspired the Mariel Hemingway character in “Manhattan.” Oh, yeah: Hemingway also describes Woody’s attempts to seduce her after the movie wrapped; she was 17, and her parents urged her to cash in on the Parisian invite.
These days I find myself wondering if humanity’s greatest frailty lies in our unwillingness to call out cruelty. While I understand the importance of redemption and reconciliation, a key condition for making such repairs is the ability for perpetrators to honestly own their transgressions — and for witnesses to stop making excuses for charming bullies.
I find myself magnetized by accounts of celebrated bad behavior — including Mia/Woody, the royal family, assorted Supreme Court justices — because they illustrate how abuse amplifies to an agonizing pitch when survivors lack clear support from family, community, the criminal justice system and society as a whole.
I await a moment, perhaps it will feel like a tremendous sigh, that clearly expresses collective will to let go of excuses and lies. Social spin will slow. There will be a stillness.
We will feel a hum of empathy, respect, and dedication to dismantling systemic distortion and lies that tolerate, enable, perpetuate and support the worst among us.

Thoughts + prayers, my ass

Does anyone else think that the hypocrisy surrounding suicidal depression mirrors that of the thoughts and prayers reaction to shooting incidents? Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Brody Stevens . . . followed by the urging to “Be sure and get the support you need.”

The reality is that there aren’t supports in place to help this obviously significant population. Many people “on the spectrum” can be challenging to love and help. And all the well-meaning urging to those people to help themselves by getting support is not answering the heart of this epidemic of despair.

I guess I feel about this issue the same way that politically active folk feel about those who don’t have the skills/energy to do the calling, writing protesting that is, to them, the obvious course of action in the multiplicity of crises we face.

Everyone is so keen to demonstrate right and wrong, distinguish the redeemable from the heartless. And yet the less obvious work of figuring out how to be present for the marginalized is reduced to a regretful tweet.

NancyA processes the Kavanaugh debacle

These hearings are feeling urgently personal for so many of us, regardless of our personal experience with sexual assault. We’ve all been in situations where someone in a group had slightly outsized influence. We hear a story being told that contradicts our direct experience. Social power dynamics have a tendency to twist the truth. 

Some people have a gift for putting forth a version of events that plays to their advantage; others fail to garner support in the face of bullying and lies. Furthermore, bullies who cannot tolerate looking at their own ugly behaviors can cultivate the ability to project that ugliness onto their victims. Strident reactive posturing replaces reality. Deluxe gaslighting, I call it. It’s all subjective, man. 

Strange as it may seem, part of me feels compassion for Judge Kavanaugh. His most exalted moment of professional triumph has collided with (what one hopes are) the worst actions from his past. Is it far-fetched to wonder if he has engaged in that most human of endeavors: trying to forget his lowest moments? How would anyone fare if comparably exposed? As a rule, people suck at regarding their deepest flaws. National exposure does not create a hospitable environment for detached self-inquiry.

This is what I think: Blasey Ford’s testimony was credible and Kavanaugh’s was not. This does not mean the assault has been proven without a shadow of doubt.

Senators from both parties chose a version of events that supported the narrative of their side of the aisle. For Democrats, this meant outing Kavanaugh as a perpetrator. Republicans banded together in the name of salvaging the judge’s reputation.

The ranting nominee asserted that he was the victim of unfair partisan attacks. The alleged survivor of sexual assault responded to questions with meticulous precision in an almost girlish tone.

Blasey Ford spoke like a professional anchored firmly in her wheelhouse. She described scientific studies on how trauma affects memory to account for the fragmentary recall. Senators characterized her testimony was “pleasing.” I’m guess this meant grounded, logical, openly vulnerable and respectful of the interview process. 

After hearing contrasting accounts from Ford and Kavanaugh, the body politic was treated to Republican pols expressing sympathy for Blasey Ford while dismissing her capacity to parse reality.

She’s just so darn pleasing. I don’t want to attack her outright. That would be unkind. So instead I’ll imply that she mistakenly identified Brett Kavanaugh despite her best intentions. She must have been so rattled by some other mysterious man that she’s incapable of recalling the facts. Also, the poor innocent doesn’t realize that she’s being used by the Democrats. She’s so well-spoken and polite. Poor gal is just too addled to distinguish between fact and fiction, between exercising civic responsibility and being used as a pawn by those nasty Democrats.

As I continue to struggle to come to terms with what these events have brought up for me personally and politically, and as an exercise in reflection, I wrote the following statement in the voice of Judge Kavanaugh.

Nancy’s fantasy version of Kavanaugh’s personal statement:

I was brought up in the toxic bro culture of a prestigious Catholic high school in the Eighties. My friends and I often bonded by binge drinking. It was also clear from the way that we discussed our female peers that we lacked a common sense understanding of how to treat women with respect . Widely popular movies from that time minimized, even endorsed, these behaviors. It was not unusual for sexual assault to be portrayed as humorous.

Evidence that includes comments in my high school yearbook, the nickname of my college fraternity, accounts of my behavior from people in my dorm points to my having been a blackout drunk.

Since that time cultural mores have shifted. Binge drinking is seen as dangerous. “Locker room talk” is seen as code for rationalizing disrespectful behavior toward women. Parents teach their children to refrain from behaviors that could result in endangering women, and that if they witness an assault it is their responsibility to intervene. Educational environments express zero tolerance for the “boys will be boys/ it’s a man’s world” ethos of the 80s.

I can say in all honesty that I have never regarded myself as someone who consciously disrespected women. Also, I honestly do not recall the events described by Dr. Ford. As a man of the law, a judge and a human being I must now ask myself if I have made every effort to determine the truth of these startling allegations.

While I am not a psychologist by profession, I am aware that memories can alter to protect us from being flooded by shame. It is possible that during my days of heavy drinking I engaged in reprehensible behavior that I am no longer able to recall. Furthermore, binge drinking may be interfering with  my ability to recall. It is my responsibility to face up to the awful possibility that I perpetrated this offense. This is why I am urging all of my friends from that time, including Mark Judge, to come forth with any knowledge of the alleged event.

It has been said that within crisis lies opportunity. Under these highly fraught circumstances I have the unique opportunity to gain a better understanding of events that may have taken place 36 years ago. I can not allow rationalization, obfuscation and partisan fatigue muddy the investigational waters. In the midst of profound strain of such an endeavor, it is incumbent upon me to be a stand for character over privilege.

I stand at a crossroads. Do I act from a sense of entitlement, obstruct and discourage this inquiry? Or do I support a thorough investigation without heed for the outcome that could dismantle my personal and professional worlds?