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Netflix doc puts us on the horns of a ‘Dilemma’

‘Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse’ — Sophocles



The Social Dilemma review, gay news, Washington Blade
Skyler Gisondo in a scene from ‘The Social Dilemma.’ (Photo courtesy Netflix)

What, exactly, is a “dilemma?”

According to Webster, it’s “a usually undesirable or unpleasant choice,” or “a situation involving such a choice.”

It might seem odd to begin a film review with a dictionary entry, but a clear understanding of the word itself might just be an essential factor in getting to the heart of “The Social Dilemma,” Netflix’s buzzy new exploration of our culture’s complex relationship with social media—and the unforeseen effects of that relationship that have snowballed into a crisis unlike any we have ever faced before.

Part documentary, part sci-fi-tinged dramatization, it’s a movie that plays like a presentation. Carefully assembled from on-camera interviews, whirlwind clips of news and other media, soothingly animated interstitial sequences, and “re-enactments” of a hypothetical scenario in which a typical American family is torn apart by its own phone addiction, some of it works better than others (the so-called “dramatic” sequences are frankly a bit embarrassing, like an “Afterschool Special” merged with a bad dystopian tech thriller).

Even so, it’s efficiently designed to lead you to a conclusion—namely, that the once-seemingly beneficent technological advancement known as social media has become a juggernaut that is fast destroying the very foundations of our civilization.

To get you there, it first explains how it all happened, as told by an array of tech insiders, all prominent former and current execs from the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, and the other giant companies that dominate our screens for more time every day than we like to admit.

The tale they weave is ominous; young geniuses, driven (mostly) by idealistic naiveté, built and shaped an industry in which a world-changing service was provided free of charge and monetized by charging advertisers for access to potential customers, only to powerlessly watch as the genie they let out of the bottle slowly revealed an increasingly terrifying dark side.

“There’s a problem happening in the tech industry, and it doesn’t have a name,” says Tristan Harris, former design ethicist for Google and now co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, who serves as the movie’s central voice. That may be true, but he does provide one for the behemoth that has made the problem possible: Surveillance Capitalism.

This distinctly euphemistic term was already coined to describe the financial engine which drives social media. In a nutshell, by charging advertisers for access to its billions of users, a platform can turn a profit while providing “free” access to its services. As another of the film’s prominent experts (computer scientist and “founding father of virtual reality Jaron Lanier) points out, however, “If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.”

He goes even further, saying it is the “change in your own perception and behavior” that’s the product—and that reveals the nature of the real problem being presented to us here.

The algorithms designed to shape our online experiences show us what we want to see, but they also leave us susceptible to manipulation by anyone who wants to use them to target us; aggressive ads are easy enough to ignore, when we are aware, but what about the influence exerted by bad actors who utilize these platforms to spread misinformation and propaganda? The 2016 election should surely have been enough to open the eyes of almost anyone not already wise to that danger.

Being aware, however, is not enough to eliminate this complex phenomenon. It’s not even enough to make us immune to it. After showing us how it all works, “The Social Dilemma” goes on to convince us, in no uncertain terms, that the subtle prompts from our phones and other devices – each consciously designed to achieve maximum dopamine-dumping efficiency in conditioning you to respond reflexively to their influence—reshape our behavior by rewiring our unconscious impulses. This is, of course, one of the same mechanisms which make drug addiction so hard to break, a parallel the movie explores.

It also helps to shed light on the uncomfortable reality to which the movie inevitably brings us—a world in which personal and political polarization, driven by “fake news,” social bubbles, conspiracy theories, ideological extremism, propaganda and worse have left us no concept of “truth” upon which we can all agree.

It’s a scary place, to be sure, in which the youngest generations, who have been raised with a constant flow of input from screens, suffer alarmingly high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide, and Tristan Harris, along with the other industry alarm-sounders enlisted to participate, wants us to be scared. All of us.

For that reason, “The Social Dilemma” walks a fine line. It eschews any discussion that might be seen as partisan, presenting real-world examples from both the left and right of the political spectrum and taking pains to avoid pointing fingers at any particular side—though a stress on the threat of authoritarian abuse of social media platforms and the inclusion of several key conspiracy theories as examples (“Pizzagate,” anyone?) tend to tip us off as to which way the movie’s sentiments lie.

Whiffs of impartiality notwithstanding, the film’s intention is to draw the maximum number of viewers—after all, what good is a warning if only a small fraction of the people who need to hear it are willing to listen?

That may also be the reason why it contains very little direct reference to the LGBTQ+ community, but make no mistake, the call to action being sounded here is going out to everyone. The dire consequences faced should we ignore this exponentially growing threat will be more dire still for those in any disenfranchised or at-risk communities, and only the most naïve could believe that doesn’t include us.

As depressing as all this might seem, “The Social Dilemma” eventually leaves us with a surprising amount of hope. There are things we can do, it tells us, to counteract the control of Artificial Intelligence has over our lives, and reminds us, frequently, of the vast benefits that social media bestows.

Most reassuringly, perhaps, it shows us that there are voices within the industry—not just low-level observers, but individuals who move in the highest levels—calling for change; it is their commitment to spreading the message that ultimately keeps this smart but unsophisticated little movie from becoming just another doom-and-gloom propaganda video to be watched on the internet.

That’s good, because the purpose of the presentation is not just to help us understand the problem; it’s to help us understand the choice with which we are faced if we are going to solve it. Pandora’s Box cannot be closed, so we are left with only two courses of action—to ignore the pestilence it has released in the unlikely hope that we can adapt to it and survive, or to rise above our ever-magnifying differences and work together to bring it to heel.

Neither option is very pleasant, but one is definitely bleaker than the other—and we’ve been told from the beginning that this is a dilemma.

It’s right there, in the title.

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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects Belinda’s evolving life



Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

HOLLYWOOD – On December 16th, 7pm, the city of West Hollywood transforms into a piece of “Heaven on Earth.” An angelic supernatural deity from the sky won’t be delivering this gift, but rather an angel from iconic pop paradise.

That night, Belinda Carlisle makes a grand entrance and gives an eager audience the presence of a queen of pop, the most recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her group, The Go-Gos.

It will be on that night that Belinda Carlisle hosts THE party event of the season with co-host, drag superstar, Trixie Mattel. One sings, one throws comedic shade, and a packed room at the Abbey will be losing their collective minds.  Not that the party itself isn’t all the reason you would need to get it on your calendar, the evening benefits a fantastic charity, The Animal People Alliance (APA), that intertwines the love for animals with the salve to human suffering.

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

APA’s charter reads: “To provide high quality and compassionate care, of the highest standards, to neglected street animals in India and Thailand. We train and employ vulnerable people from the community, and pay living wages that help them improve their standard of living.”   The organization, by employing people who would otherwise be stateless and/or in poverty, has treated over 16000 street animals since 2014. Their programs for animals include rabies vaccinations, sterilizations and other emergency health aid.

Belinda sat down with me this week on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO to talk about her life, her amazing career, her party and the strength she has achieved in standing up to both inner and outer demons.

She survives. She fearlessly opens herself up, and if anyone scrutinizes her past… she will lead the way.  She happily tells of being a member of the most successful all-women pop bands in history.  They sang and wrote their own songs, they played their own instruments. They did it on their terms. No men were needed or required. She candidly shares about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. 

Belinda shows profound compassion for those struggling with addiction and darkness, “Addiction is a sickness…it is a disease of perception, you can’t see your effect on other people… It is a trap you feel you can’t get out of. Every addict has a heart and a humanity that is obscured by addiction. It is a horrible, horrible thing for anyone to go through. It is hard to remember that there is a heart under all that, there is something divine under all that darkness.”

Her interest focuses more on what came after she embarked on recovery  “My life is much more exciting since sobriety, even more exciting than the hey day with the Go-Gos. For anyone out there who is worried about aging, or life being over at a certain point—it’s not. Life is just the most amazing miracle and privilege.”

Her significance for the LGBTQ community, impacts many of the most vulnerable.  She is the mom of a gay man, activist and writer, James Duke Mason. His birth made her examine the trajectory of fame, drugs, and rock & roll in which she was on, careening threateningly close to disaster and death.

She had settled comfortably into maternal nurturement when Duke came out to her at the age of 14. Belinda had been impressed with Duke’s ability to explain the situation to her. She found out that he had been online with PFLAG for weeks learning about how to present his news to her, information to give and educated about key talking points. 

Appreciating their real life help of a young person in need, Belinda vehemently supported PFLAG, the Trevor Project and others ever since. “I am so glad I have a gay son, I can’t even tell you,” she says.

Artistically, she also continues to thrive.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted the Go-Gos this year.  It was an honor 15 years in the making.  It should have been an obvious choice to put them there.

As the first all-female group making it big, they sang, wrote every note and played every instruments. The Go-Go’s, a 2020 American/Irish/Canadian documentary film directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, cast attention on the Hall of Fame oversight, and essentially made the case for how special the group actually was.

Belinda also recently released a new single Get Together a cover of the 1967 Youngbloods hit. The Youngbloods sang it at Woodstock in 1969 to make a statement about the divisions of the Viet Nam era in America.

Belinda sings it now, her voice pure, mature and as an anthem making a plea, if not a motherly order, to reconsider the divisions we are experiencing today.  She says, “We live in this age of outrage.  This song is ‘ok people, CHILL OUT’. All this divisiveness is not going to get us anywhere. It’s timely.”

Beyond Get Together, Belinda works on more new music including singles and a new album.  She continues to produce with the top song creators of the industry including award winning song writer Diane Warren and Go-Gos dates at the end of the year.

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects the channeling of Belinda’s evolving life.  When she lived in France, she released a French collection.

As she delved into spirituality and the culture of Thailand, she released the powerful Wilder Shores, which blended a spiritual mantra into pop hooks. “Chanting is a science, it has a super power. It is not airy fairy,” she states.

The fact is, Belinda Carlisle continues arriving and thrilling.  She does not need to prove herself to anyone.  She has defined the next thirty years of her life as philanthropy.  

“I just wing it as I go along. I learned what it is like to work from the heart. Work in a way where you don’t care about any kind of outcome. That is how I am working now. I am just having fun, and doing just what I want. I am really lucky that way,” she declares.

Her party on December 16th at the Abbey appears right on track to bear that out.

Love, humanity, care of animals and a major splash of fabulousness enveloping an enthused audience.

In other words, pure Belinda.


Listen to the full interview:


Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are



Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first Trans Chorus, embracing all members of the trans, non-binary and intersex communities) for a special live performance of “Damn It Feels Good To Be Me” – celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are. What a special moment. In conjunction with the partnership a donation has been made by Andy to the TCLA.

A note from TCLA: “The Chorus really enjoyed the song and especially performing it with Andy around the piano. It was upbeat and expressed how important it is to live your life and your authenticity and to feel good about who you are. That is the thrust of our Chorus philosophy of moving from victim to victorious.”

Connect with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles:

Andy Grammer – Damn It Feels Good To Be Me (featuring Trans Chorus of Los Angeles)

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level



Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.



Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.


Listen to the show here:

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