For the Love of Leo

Being Oscar weekend, it’s not surprising that Oscar related stories are dominating Google Trends. We have made our way through awards season and this is the big event! This past week, every news outlet was abuzz with stories on the nominees. Without a doubt, the standout nominee for the 2016 Oscars is Leonardo Dicaprio. Leo has had an illustrious career, ranging from humble beginnings on Growing Pains up to the unadulterated brutality within the Revenant, which he is nominated for this year. I am a lifelong Leo fan. I have seen all of his movies and I can honestly say, he rarely missteps in his choice of roles. He is a one of a kind gift to cinema, with his devotion to his characters and movie star good looks. After Titanic, he could have easily played the pretty boy role for the rest of his career, but he went off in a different direction and explored his craft with a wide variety of characters. In preparation for his big night ahead, I’ve ranked every Leo role, from the very beginning. Let’s step into our time machine and remember the incredible acting evolution that led Leo to (probably!) win his first Oscar today:

27. Total Eclipse

You probably haven’t heard of this movie. You aren’t missing much. Leo plays 19th century poet Arthur Rimbaud, who embarks on a passionate relationship with a fellow poet, Paul Verlaine. Leo is the only good thing about the movie, which is largely bogged down by a clunky script. But, if you are craving more Titanic era Leo, it might be worth a watch.

26. Critters 3

Leo?! In a Critters movie?! Yes, even Leonardo Dicaprio had to start somewhere. He didn’t always have the ability to cherry pick all of his roles. These movies haven’t aged well, but Critters 3 does provide a wonderful opportunity to see Leo in his pre-Titanic days. Skip watching the entire movie and just look up Leo clips online, to experience the throwback glory.

Campy Leo.

Campy Leo.

25. Celebrity

People get so caught up in Leo’s work with Martin Scorsese that they forget he has also worked with other legendary directors. This forgotten movie paired him up with Woody Allen. Post Titanic, being a part of an ensemble cast in a movie that covers celebrity culture probably mirrored Leo’s real life ascension into the spotlight, which is kind of cool. But, at the end of the day, this film is pretty forgettable.

24. The Man in the Iron Mask

A lot of people hate this movie, but I can see why Leo chose to take on a role like this, post Titanic. He was determined to prove that he wasn’t merely a pretty boy. Taking on the dual role of Louis XIV and his brother was quite a challenge! With a strong supporting cast (Jeremy Irons, John Malcovich, and others), and a plot that’s centered on royal betrayal and intrigue, The Man in the Iron Mask is worth a watch.

23. Don’s Plum

Many people consider this to be Leo’s worst high profile movie. His face was prominently attached to it, and it fell flat. But, I have an appreciation for it because it united Leonardo Dicaprio and Tobey Maguire on screen. Since Leo and Tobey are real life BFFs to this day, I’m a softie for the sentimental aspect of this movie. Leo and Tobey went on to have a golden era as members of the “Pussy Posse,” where they gallivanted around town bro’ing out and picking up chicks. Tobey has since gone on to get married and leave the playboy lifestyle behind. As seen in the media, Leo has not. But, if you want to revisit their glory days, check out this movie.

A bromance for the ages.

A bromance for the ages.

22. Body of Lies

Leo and Russell Crowe was an interesting matchup that I didn’t see coming. They star together in this overly dramatized spy thriller. Though it’s fun to watch Leo take down terrorists, this movie is never quite believable. It’s a conventional espionage thriller, and as a viewer, you would expect much more from Dicaprio and Crowe. It’s definitely not Leo’s worst movie, but it’s far from his best.

21. The Beach

Widely remembered as one of Leo’s only missteps in his career, many people are quick to dismiss the Beach as a movie that tries to do too much. This was Leo’s first movie after Titanic. People had out of this world expectations! I put it up higher on this list because people need to respect this movie for what it does well. Leo plays a young American backpacker who travels to Thailand with adventure on the brain, but he gets into far more trouble than he expected. This role foreshadowed where Leo’s career would go in the future, showcasing his affinity for playing emotionally tortured characters. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Most importantly, with his shirt off for a large portion of the film, Leo is total eye candy. Revisit it today and give it a fair shot.

Leo on the Beach.

Leo on the Beach.

20. Marvin’s Room

With such a great cast (Leonardo Dicaprio, Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton) you think you would hear more about this movie. But, it’s often forgotten about when people discuss Leo’s work. Covering a relatable theme of strained family dynamics, this movie packs an emotional punch. Streep, Dicaprio, and Keaton deliver. It came out the same year as the far more flashy “Romeo + Juliet,” so my guess it that is just got covered up by the press for that. With 3 incredible actors serving all the feels and more, it is definitely worth your time.

19. This Boy’s Life

Grab the tissues, because Leo will break your heart with this movie. In the film, Ellen Barkin matches up with Robert De Deniro. Now, Barkin’s son Leo has a new father figure, but he proves to have far less of a positive impact than anticipated. This film shines a light on the issue of domestic abuse within families, sharing an important social message. Leo fully commits himself to the role, going toe to toe with Robert Deniro, which is not an easy feat! This movie truly shows how incredible Leo’s talent was, and how far his career would go.

18. Growing Pains

I know, it’s not a movie. But, any reflection on Leo’s career deserves a mention of Growing Pains, the adorable TV sitcom on which Leo made his big debut in the public eye. Playing homeless teenager Luke Brower, Leo first captured my heart. And I have never let go. Though his recent movies have shown his dramatic intensity, this role showcased why he is also the epitome of a charmer. If Leo wants to teach me important life lessons, I will listen!

17. The Basketball Diaries

As mentioned previously, Leo has made a name for himself by playing emotionally tortured souls. But this is one of his first roles that proved how far down the rabbit hole he could go, in terms of psychological distress. I absolutely adore his portrayal of Jim Carroll, a once promising basketball star who succumbs to drug addiction. Leo was still a rookie when he took on this project, but it is widely considered to be one of the standout movies of his career.

16. Revolutionary Road

Kate and Leo! Kate and Leo! We want more Kate and Leo! Fans finally got their on screen reunion of Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio in this stunning period piece about a 1950s couple struggling to make their relationship work. Myself and many others have hoped that Kate and Leo would just “get together already” and be a couple in real life. Though that has never happened (*tear), this movie gave us an inside peek at what their married life could have been like, warts and all. Any time that Leo and Kate are together, I can’t control my happiness. Seeing the two of them united on screen again was pure magic. Kate Winslet won the Golden Globe for her role and the movie won over many hearts in America.

Golden Couple.

Golden couple.

15. Blood Diamond

This movie got mixed reviews when it came out. Critics of the movie said that it failed when it came to storytelling, even though Leonardo Dicaprio was in fine form. I beg to differ. Though Blood Diamond is a fictional story, it is based on important real life facts, among them being the extreme way in which the diamonds in our jewelry stores are acquired. Leo, accompanied by a stellar Djimon Hounsou, does an incredible job bringing this story to life. Watching the film, I became invested in how much one rare diamond could change lives. In the process, I gained a whole new perspective on the world. If you haven’t caught this movie, I highly suggest you seek it out.

14. J. Edgar

Leo has a way with biopics. Throughout his career, he has proven that he has an incredible ability in honoring real life people with sizzling commitment on screen. This movie is sometimes overlooked. It’s not as flashy as some of Leo’s other roles. But, I think it’s one that should be remembered. The story of J. Edgar is fascinating on its own. Head of the FBI for 50 years, J. Edgar Hoover was one of the most powerful men in America, going to extreme lengths to keep his country safe. Fiery and bold, J. Edgar was the perfect role for Leo to put his stamp on. In particular, the chemistry between Leo and Armie Hammer, who plays J. Edgar’s secret lover, was quite moving for me to watch. On this particular movie, I stand firmly against the critical response. It deserves far more credit.

13. The Aviator

Another year, another biopic. This one, unlike J. Edgar, was very well received. As mentioned previously, Leo has made a name for himself by playing off kilter human beings. The more messed up, the better. The role of Howard Hughes would become one of his best and most lauded performances. Hughes was immensely successful in many arenas, romancing Hollywood leading ladies, producing big budget movies, and revolutionizing the aviation industry. But, beneath the surface, he suffered from crippling depression and several different phobias. Directed by Martin Scorsese, Leo took this role and ran with it, showcasing a level of depth to his acting that had previously been unseen. Since then, he has played other eccentric billionaires driven mad. But this was the first time he truly lost it, and I loved every minute of it.

12. Inception

Whenever a Leo movie launches a million memes, you know the cultural impact has been great. Armed with a tremendous cast and an exquisite vision by Christopher Nolan, Inception has left an indelible mark on cinema. The grounding concept, that we can get lost in our dreams and lose track of reality, though extreme, is something that many of us of can sink our teeth into. The entire movie was a mind fuck of extreme proportions, and it would not have achieved such great success without the emotional power of Leo at its core. One of my favorite aspects of this movie is that it proves Leo can excel in an ensemble cast; he doesn’t have to stand alone. And that is the sign of a phenomenal actor.

One of many incredible Inception memes from the Internet.

One of many incredible Inception memes on the Internet.

11. Django Unchained

This is a true Quentin Tarantino film. Violent and over the top, Django profiles life in the south two years before the Civil War. Tarantino created an incredible film that brings the South to life, not shying away from brutality. Leo, playing flamboyant slave owner Calvin Candie, takes a different approach in this movie, playing a true supporting role. By no means is he the star, but he steals every scene that he is in. It’s been made clear time and time again that Leo can carry a movie on his back. But with an incredible cast led by Jamie Foxx, he didn’t have to do double time here. His performance, though short and sweet, is SO impactful. And more humorous than his usual fare. I will pay good money to watch Leo camp it up.

10. Shutter Island

Digesting this list, there is a common trend of Leo playing tortured souls. Arguably, Shutter Island gave Leo the biggest platform to showcase his penchant for psychological madness. Playing US Marshall Teddy Daniels, Leo ventures to an insane asylum to track down an escaped murderess. Though he enters the asylum with his sanity in tact, he leaves a broken man. Watching his character unravel throughout the film is a harrowing experience. When Leo goes crazy, I can’t help but lose my mind right alongside him. Though this film wasn’t universally praised when it came out, I still think it’s one of Leo’s best roles.

9. The Wolf of Wall Street

I had the pleasure of watching The Wolf of Wall Street alongside my grandmother. I would not suggest that anyone do the same. Jordan Belfort made a huge fortune by defrauding wealthy investors. As he accumulated his wealth, he took on a ludicrous lifestyle defined by an excess of sex, drugs, and thrills. When Leo stepped into Belfort’s shoes, he utilized his affinity for playing charmers, but amplified his persona ten fold. Once again directed by his old pal Martin Scorsese, Leo brings Belfort to life, in all of his disgusting glory. With Leo in the role, Belfort becomes somewhat of a greek tragedy. In this movie, Leo elevates the material and gives a greater depth to the frat boy lifestyle. Though it was mortifying to experience that hedonistic journey alongside my grandmother, I can respect Leo for his honest portrayal.

8. The Great Gatsby

First off, The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books, if not my favorite book. The themes that it covers are so relatable that now, decades after it was written, the book still resonates with readers. Baz Luhrmann had a great story to work with, and he made a very wise decision in casting Leo for the role of Jay Gatsby. Playing yet another eccentric billionaire, Leo makes you invest your love in Gatsby. Through his piercing blue eyes and seductive stare, Leo brings Gatsby to life and elevates the original source material. Close to 20 years after playing Jack Dawson, Leo proved that he could still play the pretty boy, but he could take it to the next level.

7. Gangs of New York

Marking the first time that Leo worked with Martin Scorsese, Gangs of New York depicts a revenge story in 1860s New York. Acting alongside legendary actor Daniel Day Lewis is never an easy task. But, Leo rose to the occasion, and provided a terrific foe for Lewis’ “Bill The Butcher.” Emotions run high in this film, which depicts messages about immigrants that can still be relevant in present day. Leo went toe to toe with one of Hollywood’s most awarded stars, and picked up invaluable tips on what it means to be a true “character actor.” Since then, Leo has only gotten better.

6. The Departed

I love this movie for so many reasons. Featuring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and many other talented actors, Leonardo Dicaprio is the icing on the cake in this ensemble. It would be easy to get lost in such an impressive cast, but Leo shines. He loses himself in the role of South Boston cop Billy Costigan, showcasing a brutal honesty in his performance that shakes me to my core every time I watch it. Once again, this character is quite tortured, but in a different understated way. Unlike some of Leo’s flashier roles, you feel like you could really meet Costigan on the street, and you can relate to his internal struggle concerning his work. This movie is universally lauded, and rightfully so. It stands the test of time as one of Leo’s best.

5. Romeo + Juliet

Marking the first time Leo worked with Baz Luhrmann, Romeo + Juliet is a little bit of a guilty pleasure for me. Being a Shakespeare fan, I get excited any time a movie adaptation is announced. Coming out right before Titanic mania, this movie put Leo on the map, and established him as a hearthrob worthy of attention. His chemistry with Claire Danes is so on point, you can feel the sexual tension through the screen. I first saw this movie when I was 8, and therefore couldn’t relate to many of the deeper themes. But, watching it as an adult, I have a whole new appreciation for Leo’s scintilating performance. Taking on a role that has been played a million times before, Leo brought an approachability and sensuality to Romeo that is very special. Whenever this comes on TV, I always stop to watch and enjoy the magic.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 5.23.51 PM

The perfect Romeo.

4. Catch Me If You Can

I ADORE this movie. Once again proving that he can work for directors other than Scorsese, Leo teamed up with Steven Spielberg for this charismatic tour de force. Leo’s portrayal of infamous con man Frank Abagnale Jr. is so spot on, you forget that you are watching a movie. It feels like a documentary. Paired up with Tom Hanks, an incredible actor in his own right, Leo shines throughout the entire movie, growing up before our eyes on screen. In particular, Leo’s relationship with his on screen dad Christopher Walken is one of my favorite father son dynamics in cinema. As he has done many times in his career, Leo draws sympathy from the audience for his performance, even though his character is severely flawed. You shouldn’t feel sympathy for the con man, but you do. And that is because Leo gives him so much heart.

3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Leo will (hopefully!) win his first Oscar tonight. But, many people believe that he should have won an Oscar for this role, which came together at the very beginning of his career. Portraying a mentally impaired boy with a knack for trouble, Dicaprio establishes himself as a young actor who is worthy of immense respect. In this movie, he goes toe to toe with Johnny Depp, who went on to become a highly accomplished actor. But, Leo steals the show. A certain sensitivity is necessary when portraying the mentally disabled. Leo approaches this role with so much respect and genuine personality that you can’t help but become invested in his character. This movie was a true sign of the greatness that was to come in Leo’s career.

2. The Revenant

For the highly talked about “bear scene” alone, this movie is worth the cost of admission. But, it’s so much more than that. Taking on the role of fearless 1800s wilderness adventurer Hugh Glass, Leo redefines what it means to be a character actor. Far from the pretty boy roles that he’s had in the past, Leo’s turn as Glass is a cinematic tour de force. For a large portion of the movie, Leo’s character is unable to talk, something that many actors would be terrified to take on. But Leo accepts the unique challenge with gusto, driving the majority of the movie with only body language. In the process, Leo proves that he doesn’t need to rely on a script to give a powerful performance, ascending into a new stratosphere of acting talent. I knew this movie was a Western. I knew it would be long. I knew it would be a journey. Backed by remarkable cinematography and direction by Alejandro Innaritu, this movie is a rare gem of emotional and technical achievement. I fully committed to Leo’s journey, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you haven’t witnessed the cinematic majesty of the Revenant, I highly recommend that you seek it out.

1. Titanic

I knew who Leo was prior to Titanic. I watched him on Growing Pains and I enjoyed Romeo + Juliet in the theater. But, there is a reason why so many industry professionals separate Leo’s career into pre Titanic and post Titanic sections. Leo existed before Titanic, but he never would have become the monumental pop culture icon that he is today without Titanic. Titanic is my favorite movie of all time. Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, there are multiple continuation errors throughout (I learned that through my special edition DVD). But all flaws aside, it is a cinematic treasure, and it changed the way that movies are made. With Titanic, James Cameron busted the movie making industry wide open, with state of the art special effects and a love story for the ages. And he enlisted the perfect leading man in Leonardo Dicaprio. This is the role that put Leo on the map. This role made you want to care about Leonardo Dicaprio. And I hope that Leo will reference this iconic role when he gives his long deserved Oscar speech tonight.

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My heart will go on.

Confessions of a Crime Show Addict

“9 weeks ago, no one in this room had heard of Den Strang. Now, I am figuratively, and literally, in Hollywood!” Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a special panel led by Dean Strang, the lead defense attorney for the infamous Steven Avery case depicted in the viral Netflix series, Making a Murderer. Dean had many wonderful sound bites during this panel, but this quote in particular sums up why the interest in true crime stories has recently exploded in our country. I don’t need to explain why MaM is trendy. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen how the case has been prominently displayed across a variety of media channels, online and offline, from billboards to social media campaigns. During its debut month of December, stories about Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey dominated Google Trends. This case has grabbed America by the heartstrings and people are fired up! More than that, in relation to Dean’s quote, shows like MaM have turned real life attorneys and their clients into larger than life celebrities. This transformation, and elevation of real life people into the Hollywood spotlight, is a big reason why true crime stories have taken off in the last decade.

It goes without saying: crime has always been around. It has been a source of public interest for generations, dating way back to Jack the Ripper. There has always been interest in murderous people and why they do the things they do. Recently, the FX show “American Horror Story Hotel” capitalized on this interest by making all of its characters develop a taste for killing. In particular, the central character, the Countess, is a vampiric murderess who has made a name for herself by profiting off of the collection of unfortunate souls she’s killed over the centuries. Expertly played by Lady Gaga, the Countess was often applauded for her over the top nature, routinely killing when and who she wanted without many consequences. Watching her character unravel on the show, she was almost lauded for her criminal tendencies, because they made her more alluring and powerful. Within our society, I disagree with glamorizing criminals who have committed crimes with no remorse. I’ve heard it said before and I agree with the statement that the focus should be on the victims, not on the corrupt killers who ended their lives. That being said, I think it is important to tell the story behind high profile crimes. There is value in discussing these cases and exposing the flaws in our legal system and human behavior. But, I don’t necessarily believe that the criminals themselves should be catapulted to celebrity status.

Lady Gaga slaying as the Countess on American Horror Story.

Lady Gaga slaying as the Countess on American Horror Story.

In America, we are obsessed with celebrities. Working at E, I have newfound understanding of just how consumed we are by celebrity culture. If you can turn someone into a celebrity, there is incredible potential for profit, publicity, and business, in general. For this reason, it’s not surprising that celebrity driven magazines like People constantly report on true crime cases. In an effort to monetize these cases, magazines like People write stories that give readers a reason to care, and therefore a reason to get invested in their business. Stories like these propel the news industry and I’m within the target audience. Being a lifelong true crime story fan, these stories are like candy to me; I can’t get enough.

Standard crime cover by People Magazine.

Standard crime cover by People Magazine.

There is a proud legion of true crime fans in America; I’m not alone. When MaM came out, I finally felt like I could come out from under the curtain, and shout “See guys! I’m not that weird! You’re into it too, right?” So, what made this case different? Coming from an online marketing background, I truly believe that the magic of Steven Avery’s case, and its grip on America, is due to the content platform on which it was shared. Similar to the way that the OJ Simpson trial revolutionized how we view crime scenes in real time in the 90s (giving birth to reality TV, essentially), MaM revolutionized the platform by providing an immersive experience for the country to get hooked to, all in one sitting. As a country, we are lazy. With the rise of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, binge watching an entire TV show in one sitting is practically a badge of honor. The makers of MaM capitalized on this, to make the biggest impact possible. It’s been incredibly interesting to watch it all unfold. I’m proud to say that I was ahead of the curve!

We are a nation of ID addicts.

We are a nation of ID addicts.

Apart from MaM, the Investigation Discovery channel is my go to source for all things crime. Cops debuted in 1989, breaking the true crime genre right open. The OJ Simpson trial completely redefined the way news outlets cover crime stories. Shortly thereafter, ID premiered in 1989, providing a 24 hour network for the crime stories that America now craved. A built in fan base for MaM has been around for a long time. ID fans are passionately committed to its content. As ID so sweetly puts it within their marketing campaigns, we are “ID Addicts.” Checking out a nationwide graph of viewers recently, I can confirm that ID fans are present in every segment of the country, a feat that not all networks can attest to. If you became addicted to MaM, I highly suggest that you check out the programming on ID. Covering a wide variety of topics and cases, ID shows range from straight forward news reporting (Dateline) to highly dramatized borderline soap opera storytelling (Deadly Women). Whether campy or reserved, all of ID’s shows ground themselves in something that really happened; there are no fictional tales. With a journalism background and a big interest in the headlines of today and yesterday, ID is perfect for me. On a more lighthearted note, sometimes the dramatic reenactments on ID are so over the top, they illicit laughter. Though they’re a crime channel, they don’t take themselves too seriously. And I like that.

There is an ID show for every mood. When you want tongue in cheek, you should check out Deadly Women, which showcases famous murderesses throughout history. With horrible acting and overly dramatic narration, it sucks you in real quick. In a similar format, if you like your crime show in a sassy package, check out “Snapped” on Oxygen, which also covers famous female murderesses. If you want to get a less feminine view on things, check out Homicide Hunter on ID. Lieutenant Joe Kenda, with far less dramatic reenactments, guides you through the most memorable cases that he covered with the Colorado Springs PD. With a manly disposition and husky voice, Kenda has a way of making you believe every word he says, making his show mesmerizing. If you want straight forward reporting in a buttoned up fashion, check out Dateline. Dateline is widely known for being THE source for true crime reporting, and with good reason. Though they can sometimes sensationalize their stories, the reporting at the center of each episode is done with great emotional consideration to the subjects involved, earning them a lot of respect in my book.

A wonderfully campy promo for Deadly Women on ID.

A wonderfully campy promo for Deadly Women on ID.

I love all of the shows on ID. Depending on my mood, I can always find something that will tweak my interest. Much like fans of MaM have professed their views online, while watching ID, I often shout my opinions at the TV, like when I’m angry that a family didn’t receive the verdict they deserved. In contrast, when I’ve invested an hour of my life in a program and the victim receives proper justice, I sometimes cry as I watch the family members embrace in the courtroom. These shows get you emotionally invested and make you look at the world in a different way. They make you check your privilege, count your blessings, and realize that no matter how bad your day was, there is someone out there who just lost a daughter, a husband, a father. These shows provide important life perspective.

Apart from ID, if you are looking for Netflix material that is similar to MaM, I highly recommend Dear Zachary. This Netflix documentary will punch you in the feels and make you want to scream. It will bring you to your knees and make you want to stop believing in the criminal justice system, on a greater level than you experienced with MaM. I guarantee it. I highly encourage you to take an afternoon to learn about the unbelievable and heartbreaking story of the Bagby family. You won’t regret it. Additionally, though I’m far from the only one obsessed with this, my current crime tv favorite is American Crime Story: People v. OJ Simpson on FX. There are countless articles out there that detail the significance of this show, and the incredible talent of the cast. At its helm, Ryan Murphy has created a remarkable retelling of the crime story that changed the way news works, period. I was only 4 at the time the OJ trial happened, but I’ve researched it plenty since. If you’re like me, and you didn’t truly experience the madness in real time, I highly suggest that you let Ryan Murphy take you through the motions. Even if you did experience OJ fever in all of its glory in the 90s, Murphy’s visually stunning retelling of the story is worth your attention. You really feel like you are there, in real time, experiencing everything that the news outlets covered. Though some parts of the show have been sensationalized (all of the bits with the Kardashian kids seem overdone), the show is still very much grounded in the truth. Once you’re hooked, check out E!Online’s regular reporting on the show to properly gauge fact v. fiction!

In the panel last night, Dean Strang addressed the reality perspective directly, urging the audience to never forget the connection between reality TV crime and real life crime. It is important to remember that though you can enjoy the action from the comfort of your couch, there is a real victim that lost his or her life, and there is a real family out there who is still suffering. It’s not fake. When I’m watching these shows, I always try to keep that in mind, so I don’t get too carried away with the drama. Recently, I came home and checked the guide on ID, to see what was on. I remember thinking “Oh that Dateline, I’ve seen that one. But, it’s a really good one, so I guess I’ll watch it again!” Afterwards, I felt kind of awful, in thinking that someone’s murder trial could be “good” or “juicy.” I suppose it’s the car crash mentality, where something is so bad, but so intriguing; you can’t help but get transfixed on the scene. This is where I sometimes feel guilt in my addiction to these shows. But, at the end of the day, it’s not my fault. These shows are hardwired to capture the attention of people like me. The people behind ID and other true crime shows know what emotional buttons to push to hook an audience. Though I enjoy true crime stories, I don’t want to be looked down upon for my interest. I am drawn to these shows for more personal reasons, beyond the superficial shock value.

Talking to my friends who are also into true crime stories, everyone has a different reason why they are drawn to the drama. Many people want to escape away from the drama of their own lives. Watching someone else go through something worse, one’s situation doesn’t seem as bad. This same ideology can be applied to tabloid magazines, which display over the top celebrity drama. Some people believe that enjoying true crime stories and tabloids is kind of selfish; you’re experiencing a positive boost at someone else’s expense. But, I beg to differ. I think it’s acceptable to find joy in escapism. In a world where people often talk shit about other people to make themselves feel better, I would rather take the passive approach, by reading tabloids and watching these shows. It’s as simple as that. There are other people who watch true crime shows because they are fascinated by the psychology behind it all. We want to know why criminals make the decisions that land them behind bars. Watching these shows, you can’t help but be astounded by the psychological backgrounds of criminals, and why they decided to make the choices they did. Did a rough childhood lead them down the wrong path? Or was it a bad boyfriend/girlfriend? Did they join a cult? All of the background circumstances and events that can lead to crime are incredibly fascinating.

As you can probably tell, I am a member of both of these camps. I am drawn to true crime stories because I want to escape from the drama of my own life. But, I also like to think that this escapism, at least on my part, comes from a more respectable place. Throughout the course of my life, my family and I have been put through the wringer. We have experienced things that I wouldn’t wish on anyone else. Not appropriate to go into detail here, but my experiences with my family define the phrase “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” I have experienced up close and personal how much people can change and go down the wrong path. I know what it means to be truly “wronged.” With that, I find myself drawn to the people on these true crime shows. A common joke that I get from people is that they should be worried about their safety with me, since I watch these shows. As my boyfriend so lovingly puts it, my “murder porn” obsession gives him ample reason not to piss me off. But, (surprise!) I’m not watching these shows to pick up tips. I watch these shows because I feel a strong connection to the characters, due to my own experiences in life. I don’t just sympathize with the people on these shows; I often empathize with them too. Betrayal, a common precursor to crime, is a common theme on many of these shows. Unfortunately, it’s been a common theme in my life too. Because of that, I feel almost an obligation to hear these people’s stories and show the characters my support, even if they’ll never know that I care.

Often times, when I’m watching ID, I wish I could do more to help the families who have lost a loved one. I wish I could have a greater impact, beyond just watching the show. In the panel last night, Dean Strang addressed this when asked “Do you think that this show will change the way the criminal justice system works?” Earlier in the night, Dean had praised the MaM filmmakers and proclaimed that “a thoughtful true crime series is absolutely worth doing.” In regards to the the MaM case, people have taken their passion so far as to create a petition to get Steven Avery released, which the President of the United States had to address personally. Dean referenced all of this and urged the room, largely lawyers, to apply the things that they learned from the Avery case in their own work and help other people in need.

For the general public, we often feel that we can only do so much. But Dean insisted that getting viewers to question and critique the legal system after watching MaM was a tremendous accomplishment by the filmmakers. Though the public outcry surrounding Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey will most likely not get them out of prison, it does start a significant conversation about the legal system and the manner in which cases like these are handled. As stated previously, Dean encouraged all of the lawyers in that room last night to take what they had learned from the Avery case and apply it in their work with their own clients. Though we as a general public can only do so much, MaM and other crime shows are benefiting the world by exposing important facts about the criminal justice system and inspiring lawyers to do their jobs that much better. There is increased awareness and I truly believe that the right people will run with that knowledge and do something positive with it. Since I started watching more of these crime shows, I have become more in tune with injustice in our society. Now, I speak up more often when I see injustice at play. On a practical note, thanks to these shows, I also know warning signs for when things could go awry in my relationships. For these reasons, I believe that my enhanced perspective from crime shows has been very beneficial.

One of the last statements that Dean made last night implied an important message that can be beneficial for everyone, not just lawyers. Speaking to the crowd, Dean proclaimed that if you ever wake up in the morning a cynic, with no faith in the work you’re doing, you need to stop. You’re done. Someone else deserves the chance to be in your shoes with the opportunity at your feet. Though Dean was directly addressing a group of lawyers with that statement, I believe that this message can apply to everyone in all walks of life. If you ever wake up in the morning and you have no faith in what you’re doing, there really isn’t a reason to work. You MUST believe in the work that you’re doing to do your job well, no matter what your profession is.

Dean Strang is many things. He is incredibly intelligent, witty, sarcastic, and in the eyes of many women after MaM, a “total dreamboat.” When asked about that final characteristic during the panel, Dean wittily replied “If I am your definition of a sex symbol, you need to get out more.” My favorite Dean Strang attribute is his humble attitude. Even with his immense success, Strang carries himself with a quiet confidence, when it would be so easy to be arrogant. I find that incredibly appealing. I’m not going to try to proclaim that you should watch crime shows to watch lawyers be humble, because I know, in large part, they are not known for that quality. But, I would say that you should watch these crime shows to pay respect to the people that defend the underdogs and comfort families who have been through unspeakable tragedy. There are people out there who wake up every day with faith in their client and an honorable belief that though a horrible crime has occurred, justice can be served. Lieutenant Joe Kenda from the ID channel prides himself on giving “a voice to the victim.” Since victims of crime are too often undeserving of their deaths, that is a voice that I am willing to invest my time in.

Strang Love.

Strang Love.

 

 

An Ode to the Starman

Much to my delight, the number one story in Google Trends as I left the office today was related to one of my pop culture heroes: David Bowie. The specific story that captured the attention of America today was about a tribute performance that Lorde did for Bowie at the 2016 Brit Awards. Recently, I was disappointed by Lady Gaga’s Bowie tribute performance at the Grammys. I love Lady Gaga and I love David Bowie. I was convinced that her performance would be heaven on earth, but for me, it was drastically overdone and miscalculated. I applaud her creative energy, but it was so off base.

First off, she tried to cram so many of his songs into one 7 minute piece, making the performance incredibly manic and disjointed. I couldn’t get into any singular part of the performance because as soon as I hooked onto a song, it was transitioning into something else. In my opinion, David Bowie isn’t really a “Greatest Hits” kind of guy. Yes, he was a musical icon, who has many well known songs. But most of those songs have a crescendo like quality. You have to listen to the full song to get the desired effect. For this reason, the brief nature in which Gaga covered his songs was completely unappealing, and borderline disrespectful to his greatness. Additionally, though I loved the kimono nod to Ziggy Stardust at the start, the white jumpsuit (and the dancing that went along with it) that she wore for the majority of the performance was more reminiscent of Elvis or even Elton John, but not David Bowie, which is incredibly disappointing, because he had SO many iconic looks!

Bowie had a way of commanding the stage with a small collection of powerful movements. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Gaga’s frenetic performance. Even Nile Rodgers in a cameo appearance couldn’t save it for me. I believe that Gaga loves Bowie. Having tracked her career from the very beginning, I can see the clear influence that he had on her work. It’s hard to think of any of my favorite artists who weren’t touched by his powerful influence. Gaga did everything she could to prove this devotion, right down to getting a tattoo of Bowie’s face on her rib cage 24 hours before the show. Alas, to me, it all seemed very gimmicky. I wanted something that honored Bowie’s incredible career in a more understated respectful way. Rather than blaze through 10 songs in 7 minutes, I wanted someone to really nail 1 or 2 songs in their full glory, so all of the powerful meaning would be kept in tact. I got this dream tribute in the BRITS performance, in which Lorde, dressed in an outfit perfectly reminiscent of Bowie’s Thin White Duke character, put her personal touch on “Life on Mars” while backed by members of Bowie’s longtime touring band. This BRITS performance was understated brilliance, and it put Bowie front and center with a stunning photo montage throughout. I highly suggest that you watch it here. Being a huge Bowie fan, I couldn’t help but cry at my desk at work while watching it, unable to accept the fact that this man who made such a BIG impact on my life is gone.

I had been waiting for an excuse to write a long form essay about my love of David Bowie for quite some time. Now, with the perfect SEO backing, I can put my long overdue love note on this blog!

To understand my love for David Bowie, we have to go back to the beginning. Growing up, I was incredibly awkward. Pudgy from a young age with a weird name to boot, I have always stuck out from the crowd. When I was a young child, this didn’t bother me much. I was too focused on Nickelodeon and N*sync to care about what other people thought of me. But, when I reached my middle school years, I became quite insecure. I had an older sister in high school who was blossoming before my eyes, with her physical looks and scholarly pursuits. A tri varsity athlete, homecoming court winner, and ASB president, Jess was everything I wanted to be, and more. And yet, there I was with my overweight body and Bucky the Beaver teeth. I didn’t know how to embrace my imperfections.

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Bucky the Beaver, circa 2001.

Lucky for me, around this time, a savior came to me in the form of a CD I spotted one day at Wherehouse Music (RIP). I was drawn to this CD because of the intriguing scene on its cover. There was a man standing confidently on his doorstep. Everything around him is dark, but he and his clothing light up the picture. For me, this CD stood out from the stacks of other albums because it was so simple, yet so intriguing. Little did I know that the music inside the CD was anything but simple. This CD was “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” by David Bowie. My interest had been peaked enough that I decided to take home the album. It was on sale. Reflecting back on this experience, I miss browsing CDs in physical stores. In the digital age, it’s harder to have a personal experience sifting through albums like I had that day. And boy, the discovery of that CD had a bigger influence on my life than I ever could have expected.

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The album that would change my life.

After listening to Ziggy and the Spiders for an afternoon, my mind was blown wide open to a whole new world of music. Starting from a very young age, I learned the beauty of classic rock from my mother, listening to the Stones and the Beatles in the car on the way to school. I’ve always felt like an old soul, and my musical education helped me tap into that. But, Ziggy and the Spiders were SO different. In particular, the first time I heard the guitar riff at the end of “Moonage Daydream,” my jaw dropped to the floor. Right around this time, the Internet was becoming a thing, so I looked up photos of the band online. I saw WILD outfits. I was mesmerized by Ziggy’s androgynous appearance. Before this point, I didn’t really know what androgyny was. I knew that David Bowie had to be Ziggy, and therefore Ziggy was a man. But, I still had the thought: is this supposed to be a man or a woman? The mysterious allure of it all was so interesting to explore. In the years afterwards, I would continue my interest in societal norms and what makes us uniquely men and women. I got an emphasis in gender studies in college, in part so I could dive deeper into the seed that David Bowie had initially planted in my brain. But, that first album was only the beginning of what Bowie would do for my life.

Much to my delight, after thoroughly wearing out the Ziggy Stardust album, I discovered that there were SO many more David Bowie eras to explore and enjoy. I worked my way through his incredible catalogue of music, jumping back to the folk rock of “Space Oddity,” then forward to the Thin White Duke and “Heroes,” then jammed my way to the “Let’s Dance” era. Every period of music he brought something different to the table. He was constantly changing and evolving. In particular, his song “Changes” would have a tremendous effect on my self esteem. When I first heard the lyrics “turn and face the strange…don’t make them grow up and out of it,” I truly felt like Bowie had written this FOR me. It’s okay to be different, and just because I’m different, doesn’t mean that I have to change to be like everyone else. At the time, I desperately needed this message and he delivered. In his music and his ever changing style, I found who I really am.

When Bowie popped up in one of my favorite movies, Zoolander, I didn’t fully recognize him until his name came on the screen, for I associated him first with so many other iconic looks. The ultimate shapeshifter, Bowie had a fabulous way of flipping the page before his fans got too comfortable. In his eyes, to be comfortable was a bad thing. To embrace your true potential, you have to be willing to go outside your comfort zone. One of my favorite David Bowie quotes that I constantly apply to my own life exemplifies this idea perfectly: “If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

Following my Bowie musical education, I had a newfound confidence and I viewed the world through an entirely different lens. By the grace of God, heading into high school, I lost a lot of baby weight, which naturally made me feel more self assured. But beyond that, I was ch ch ch changing in other ways, thanks to Bowie. Previously, I had never done anything interesting with my hair, not even layers. I was too afraid of what might happen if other people didn’t like it. Post Bowie, I got my first real hair cut, then my first highlights, then my first full dye job, and I became hooked to the cycle of reinvention. I am now known as a chameleon, like he was. In present day, friends often tell me that they can’t spot me at events because I have a different hair color or cut than mere weeks before. I am widely known for my restless attitude with my look and my bold style choices. During high school, I would lovingly refer to the female student population as “the ponytail wearers association of America.” But, my senior year, I went rogue and chopped off all of my hair into a pixie. I have maintained a short haircut ever since. A very important lesson that I learned from Mr. Bowie is that you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. Going against the norm can be more fulfilling.

Doing my best Bowie.

Doing my best Bowie.

I have loved dressing up my entire life, even in my pre-Bowie days. But, after my Bowie education, playing dress up entered a whole new arena for me. Throughout my Ziggy internet research, I saw the incredible ways that Bowie would do his own makeup, and I wanted to emulate those techniques for my own unique look. As stated previously, Bowie wasn’t afraid to be androgynous. I have embraced that concept as well. Though I have tried them a few times, “sexy” Halloween costumes aren’t my thing. My focus every Halloween is stepping into the shoes of a character I really love; whether that’s a man or a woman is irrelevant.

This past year, I decided that I wanted to be Beetlejuice for Halloween. When I asked the salesperson at the store “where is the traditional Beetlejuice costume?” she pointed me to the “sexy” girl version with a skirt. I’m sorry, but if I am going to be Beetlejuice, I am going to BE Beetlejuice, and I will not take the second rate female knock off instead just because my gender says I should. I went all out with my zombie makeup and male attire that day and it was an immense success. My coworkers loved it and many people applauded me for my ability to see outside of the usual roles that women are delegated to play at Halloween: sexy nurse, sexy cop, sexy (insert here) etc. I can wholeheartedly thank Bowie for teaching me how to “turn and face the strange.” I plan to embrace this same androgynous attitude at Halloween this year with my most standout look to date. This look concerns another favorite male movie figure of mine and it actually has a lot of similarities to Bowie’s style from the iconic “Let’s Dance” music video. Mr. Bowie always seems to have an influence on me, even when I don’t realize it at first.

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Fuck gender norms. I’m going to be Beetlejuice!

Prior to his passing, if I ever felt insecure about going big with a costume of some kind or a new project, I would often think “What would Bowie do?” or WWBD for short. Now that he has left this earth, this thought has become far more powerful. Like countless other people, I was astounded by the incredible work that Bowie did in the last few years of his life. Refusing to accept his cancer diagnosis as a death sentence, Bowie let his musical energy drive his world instead. He embraced every day as a gift and insisted on pursuing all of the plans he had previously made, and then some! This final surge of creativity brought us the highly lauded Blackstar album and Lazarus the musical. Only Bowie could be given a terminal cancer diagnosis and turn it on its head into a mesmerizing tour de force. While perfectly healthy, many people cannot accomplish anything close to the artistry that he produced during in his darkest hour. He didn’t let the cancer win. He ended his life on his terms and managed to make every minute count, setting the ultimate example that all of us should hope to follow.

Through his actions in the last few months of his life, David Bowie made it clear why he is SO deserving of the title of pop culture icon. Without his musical influence, so many current artists would not have a framework to work off of. Though I have largely covered his musical work in this essay, he was also a highly talented actor. If you’re looking for a Bowie film education, I highly suggest seeking out “The Hunger” and the cinematic classic “The Man Who Fell To Earth.” In the latter, he plays an alien who lands on earth to find water for his ailing planet, but struggles to thrive in a world so different from his own. Watching it, you really begin to wonder where the line of cinema and reality is drawn; he is THAT good.

Bowie made it okay to be different, okay to go outside of the norm, okay to blaze a new path. His innovation and creativity truly knew no bounds. Though his physical body is gone, his spirit lives on in such a powerful way, in the art that he so strongly believed in. Bowie never stopped moving, never stopped creating, never stopped evolving, because he knew that our time on earth is limited. In his honor, I strive to pursue my creative passions with 100% enthusiasm. With his example in mind, I will never be afraid to stand out from the crowd because my unique characteristics are a gift, not a fault. Thank you Mr. Bowie for teaching me how to embrace life with open arms. When I look up at the stars, I think of you, and smile knowing that the man who fell to earth has finally made it home.

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The Starman.

The Donald

Since this is my first post, let me start off by explaining the beauty of Google Trends. In my day to day work, I check Google Trends obsessively, to stay on top of which stories are striking a chord with America. Google Trends is a fabulous tool that breaks down the top stories in a variety of categories, including business, entertainment, health, science/tech, and sports. Google Trends arranges its stories based off of search interest and how many news articles are being written on the topic. As you tune into my blog, you will see me referencing Google Trends frequently. If you haven’t tested it out yourself, try it here!

Today, my favorite trending story of the day happened to also be the most dominant story of the day in Google Trends, on both the general channel and the entertainment channel. The winning story of the day circled around a magnificent Donald Trump Game of Thrones mashup that Huw Parkinson made for the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s Politics Show called Insiders. I highly suggest that you take 2:40 out of your day and watch it in all its glory here.

I have a love hate relationship with the Donald. On the one hand,  I hate so many things that he represents. Greed, patriarchy, and misogynistic behavior are the top three items that come to mind, though there are many other traits of his that put a pit in my stomach. A proud feminist, I firmly believe that men like Donald Trump, fueled by a selfish need for dominance, are largely to blame for why women can’t be treated as seriously as we should be. Trump is most comfortable when he has all of the power, as seen in the submissive relationships that he’s had with all of his wives, especially his current wife Melania. Yes, you can point out Ivanka, his daughter, and say that the Donald has given her power within his business affairs. You could even point out Omarosa Manigault, a past Apprentice contestant, who has publicly praised Trump for his generosity towards her and supported his bid for the presidency, as seen in this interview. But, all arguments that I have heard that defend Trump can’t seem to explain away his self centered close minded perspective on the world. And that is the biggest issue that I have with him.

So that summarizes what I don’t like about the Donald. Now that I revisit that love hate relationship thing, I wouldn’t say that I love anything about him. But, I can respect certain things about him, primarily his strong business sense. Over the holidays, my family and I watched a CNN documentary about Donald Trump’s life. I was mesmerized at the sheer amount of projects that he has tried to put his name on. When it comes to ambition, the Donald never stops, and I think that there is something to be respected there. Watching that documentary, I learned that Donald Trump got into the real estate business through his father Fred Trump, who was a real estate icon in his own right. Throughout his entire life, the Donald has known how to utilize his resources efficiently to get to the next rung of success, and I can find inspiration in that. Does he take that too far sometimes? Yes, as stated above, I think he’s incredibly greedy. But, the root principle of maximizing what you have to enhance your next phase of life is valuable.

Being a pop culture fan, the thing that I appreciate most about the Donald is his “I don’t give a fuck what you think about me” attitude. The man has balls and isn’t afraid to be the brunt of everyone’s joke, especially if it gets him publicity. Throughout his time in the public eye, the Donald has made countless appearances that have left a comical imprint on popular culture. From his ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to his memorable work alongside SNL great Darrell Hammond, Donald Trump has provided the American public with countless laughs, most of the time at his expense. But, he doesn’t care, as long as he is getting his name out there. Though he isn’t a politician, he understands the political nature of our society, and how to grab everyone’s attention. His comprehension of the American political system can be seen in this Oprah clip from 1988, where he first hints that he could consider running for President some day. At the time, I’m sure no one took him seriously. But, that clip foreshadowed what would actually happen 25 years later.

As seen throughout his entire circus of a campaign, the Donald LOVES shock value. Discussing his campaign with a friend recently, we concluded that if elected, he probably wouldn’t follow through with many of the wild things he’s suggested. His out there declarations could just be a part of a bigger plan to drive attention away from the other candidates. And so far, his plan seems to be working. Comparing him and Jeb Bush, Bush is the frightened mouse and Trump is the mighty lion. There is a reason why Trump is still in the race and Bush recently dropped out. But, is Donald Trump taking it too far?

Many believe that Donald Trump is a monster. When a presidential nominee promotes fascist ideologies and suggests that we build a wall to keep immigrants out of our country, people get fired up, in a bad way. I myself have been appalled by many of the plans that Donald Trump has suggested. But his shock value hamster wheel keeps on spinning, as he clutches on to the specific populations within our country that can resonate with his message. Often times, I have to remind myself that I grew up in liberal southern California. Whether I am approaching issues of race, sexual identity, or some other controversial topic, I have to remind myself that I grew up in a very open minded accepting environment. Many other people aren’t as fortunate. When I look at Trump supporters, I see people with completely different values from my own. But, they are still people, and I think Donald Trump is giving them a voice.

Additionally, Donald Trump is indirectly benefiting from the tension within the Democratic party. I know many people who aren’t content with Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton becoming President. That indecision sends an indirect benefit to Trump’s campaign, creating more potential voters that could vote for him, by default. Donald Trump has proven that he knows how to work the political machine, and I think many people don’t realize how dangerously close he is getting to the presidency. Though he started this race as a joke, the reality tv candidate has now truly become a reality TV politician for America, as stated in this well written NY Times article. We have gone so far down the rabbit hole with his campaign, we can’t just turn it off, like we would do when he became too over the top on the Apprentice. And that my friends, is kind of scary.

I don’t know what the next year will bring. There is still a long road to go within this presidential race, but I can say that though I’ve seen plenty of Trump’s opponents drop out, no one has said that Trump is slowing down. It’s a crazy world that we live in where a reality TV star can actually manipulate the system and have a shot at becoming President. But, I also live in the state where Arnold Schwarzenegger was once Governor. Many people have seen similarities between the two men and their respective campaigns, as highlighted in this CNBC article. So, I can see how Trump’s end goal isn’t impossible. Pop culture has fueled Donald Trump’s career. With his countless TV appearances and commercials, Trump weaseled his way into the center of American entertainment for decades, and now he is using that to his advantage. Only time will tell if he can run with that influence all the way to the White House. In the meantime, I hope the next year brings us many more humorous mashups and opportunities to poke fun at the man with the indomitable ego.