Where are you? What do you want? What sort of world do you live in, and what sort of world do you want to live in? And what are you going to do about it? These are huge questions. There might not even be answers for them, like, there isn’t one answer that makes sense to everyone; one answer to all of these impossible questions which we can all agree on. It would be nuts to expect everyone to have the same answers. But for me, and millions of other human beings all over the world, these questions are most articulately explored through the work of the American artist Sharon Stone.

She’s probably best known for showing her vagina in the movie Basic Instinct. She’s offered various versions of how this legendary star turn came to be (she knew they were filming her genitals, she didn’t know, she knew but pretended not to know, she didn’t know but pretended not to be surprised when she saw the final film, etc.). Regardless of which version of the story you choose to believe, the fact remains that nobody had ever actually shown their genitals on a film screen before. Sharon Stone is a trailblazer, a pioneer, almost a sort of proto-feminist icon. She’s kind of one thing and then also not at all that thing. She is very smart and astute and also full of baloney. And it’s okay to be both.
In 1995, at a press conference for a breast cancer awareness benefit, she claimed to have cured herself of cancer, foregoing traditional medical techniques in favor of “a lot of positive thinking and a lot of holistic healing”, and most importantly, giving up coffee. In her brilliant yet impromptu speech, she claims that this process of self-regeneration took several months, and then in the next sentence notes that after giving up coffee, she was “tested negative” for cancer only ten days, later. So this forces a difficult question: is she totally full of shit or is she magic?
More recently, in 2008 she lost a plum job as the spokeslady of Dior cosmetics, after a comment she made on the red carpet at Cannes that year. She didn’t say absolutely, mind you, but posited the theory that perhaps the 2008 Chinese earthquake which killed 68,000 people was karma for China’s treatment of Tibetans and her good friend the Dalai Lama. It upset everybody, and she refused to apologize, not realizing that more than half of the victims of the Earthquake were in fact Tibetans. Again: does she know? Does it matter if she knows?
“Being a movie star” as she once said, “is a lot like being an alcoholic. The only way to survive it is one day at a time.” Not only is she comparing excessive privilege, wealth and status to a crippling and often isolating disease, she’s seems to be drawing a parallel between alcoholism and celebrity; they are blights, endemic to Western culture, to be survived by any means necessary.
You can’t tell if Sharon Stone is joking or not. And she can’t tell either. She is not like pop stars or other movie stars, she’s not waiting to see which goes better and then take her cues off the audience. Sharon Stone is actually doing both at the same time.
There’s a certain sensibility in contemporary art which I feel makes it somehow feel more modern, more appropriate, more responsive to the times in which we live. A certain quality in an artwork, a political outlook which I recognize as being more nuanced, radical and somehow more correct in response to the current era. This quality is a barely perceptible ambivalence. Ambivalence towards concepts such as decorum, narrative, consciousness, beauty, truth, language, identity, time, space, and reality itself. You name it. Ambivalence doesn’t mean indecision. It means that one could make any number of multiple decisions easily and with equal enthusiasm, although the decisions themselves may be diametrically opposed. Ambivalence means that you can hold two conflicting ideas in your head and not have your mind ripped in half by the cognitive dissonance, the way a normal person would. Ambivalence is some kind of birth defect, it’s bearers do not seem to mind believing two opposing truths at once. It is a kind of bliss unknown to mortals, it is signals the emotional bearing of the godhead. And Sharon Stone has it and it’s why I love her.


Sometimes, lying in that in-between space in the dead of night, where tired becomes numb and sleep scatters further away the faster she chases, even Kirstie Alley asks herself how Veronica’s Closet stayed on the air for three years. The answer, of course, is Kathy Najimy.

But hadn’t Kathy Najimy done enough? Though there isn’t an Oscar (even a Golden Globe) among them, Kathy Najimy’s IMDb page reads like a list of reasons why, for better or worse, the ’90s was the ’90s: Veronica’s Closet, Hope Floats, The Bride of Chucky. Jeffrey, It’s Pat: The Movie, Hocus Pocus, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, thirteen years as the voice of Peggy on King of the Hill and finally – arguably Najimy’s greatest achievement (America’s?) – Sister Mary Patrick in Sister Act.

Yes, by the time Just Shoot Me put on a fat-suit and started waddling around NBC as Veronica’s Closet in 1997, whether they knew it or not, Americans had already come to depend on Kathy Najimy to shield us from lukewarm material, Sandra Bullock’s highlights or a comeback as ill-conceived and uninvited as Kirstie Alley’s.

So because we do not award a Purple Heart for such unflappable bravery in the face of Kirstie Alley, it is only fitting that we define Kathy Najimy’s greatness by material Kathy Najimy created herself. Specifically, just over six minutes in the middle of the 1991 taping of her two-woman stage show with Mo Gaffney, “Parallel Lives.”


It takes place about an hour into the performance. Gaffney and Najimy are a pair of boozy, bawdy bluehairs from the Upper East Side, trying to order sandwiches in a vegetarian cafe. Gaffney exits. We are only sort of disappointed to see her go. Left alone on the stage, Najimy begins a familiar story: an elderly woman visits her nephew and his male companion. Sassy jokes. Snaps on the punchlines. An eye for antiques. We see exactly where this is going. But how original was anything by 1991? What was left to be done that Americans hadn’t already seen in a Madonna video or an episode of Jenny Jones?

Though she is futzing with her mink shawl and holding tightly to her character’s facial tics, something in her physicality begins to shift to stillness. Something in her voice shifts from caricature to something else. Something in Kathy Najimy draws the entire house close into her wide, misty eyes. We’re listening closer than we thought would be asked of us this evening, having already settled into an hour of sketch comedy and tampon jokes.

This comedy just became a drama. Is she setting us up for a laugh? But Najimy’s performance only seems to be getting stranger, retreating further with every line from simply telling us a story, a story we swore we had already heard. She is no longer walking us through an anecdote in the past tense, but experiencing something in the present. She goes from relaying the dialogue from her nephew Michael to channeling him, giving him a voice, pausing after his lines for a response.

“So what you are telling me then, Michael, is that you are a homosexual?”

“Yes, I am. Please, Aunt Maddie. Please don’t hate me.”

“Hate you? I’d never ever hate you. Michael, I love you.”

The transcript on its own might have been cut from a made-for-television movie from the same year.

And still, it all manages to feel like a surprise. Oh, this is not a familiar story to her. Oh, she understands how hard this is for him to say. Oh she is not setting us up for a joke. This is not a comedy anymore, but something else. And so, in a theater in San Francisco, as the AIDS crisis has reached full-tilt madness, two years before Congress passes a bill prohibiting gays and lesbians from serving in the military, five years before Congress passes a bill defining marriage as between a man and a woman, Kathy Najimy looks directly into our eyes and says, “Alright, honey. This is my new dream for you: you met someone you love. You are happy.” And whether the ’90s were ready to admit it or not, they could never pretend to be the same. Something in the air had shifted; from the way things had been to the way things ought to be.

Shame on you, Kirstie Alley. May you gain it all back.