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September 24, 2007

Some Films That Evoke Intense Emotion – and Why?

I am a film buff, teach film classes, use film in my classes, and am one of those who believes that film is one of the best points of departure for discussion available. So, I offer this list of “films that evoke intense emotion” to you, and encourage you to watch some of them if you are interested in stories with moral lessons. Oh, and I also encourage you to contribute to it. I love it when you take the time to teach me!!! Did I just say "love?"

Every time I watch the film Crash and witness the little Mexican girl shot while attempting to save her father, thus becoming an innocent victim of racism and a symbol of how our children get caught up in the societal pollution we have left for them to breathe, I cry, or attempt to fight back the tears, and then ultimately cry anyway!

Every time I see the classic sports film Brian’s Song, and watch Chicago Bears running back Gail Sayers tell a throng of people how much he loved his best friend and fellow running back Brian Piccolo, who is slowly dying of cancer at a very young age, I cry, or fight the tears!

Every time I see Aunt Sarah in the film Rosewood fall to her knees after being shot, I cry, or have to dig deep to fight back the tears. Then I break down even more when Sylvester, her son, discovers his mother has been shot because she dared to speak the truth about the race of the actual perpetrator of the crime that ultimately contributed to the decimation of that black township of Florida in 1923.

Every time I watch the film Geronimo and witness the epitome of American hypocrisy framed in a way that is inescapable or undeniably poignant I am conflicted about articulating various group’s struggles when, in America, it all takes a back seat to the travesties levied upon Native Americans (the First Americans). The pain of recognizing the magnitude of the losses for the United States indigenous people makes me cry! I can’t win the battle of the tears over this one.

Every time I watch Jody Foster in the Accused, getting raped on a pin ball machine, as a group of young men cheer the rapists on, I imagine that it isn’t Jody, but instead my daughter, or any woman that I love, and I get angry and confused that others didn’t or don’t give the same consideration. In the moment of watching it though I cry, or fight back the tears.

Every time I see Forrest Gump get on the bus (in the film of the same name) and get denied seats by other children who really don’t know why they are even denying him a seat, it really chokes me up. I don’t really know if I cry for Forrest Gump being treated that way, or for the misguided perspectives and possibly dysfunctional role models of the kids treating him that way!

Every time I watch Boys Don’t Cry and witness Teena Brandon (Hilary Swank) getting raped and beaten by two young hoodlums, who befriended her when they thought she was a boy, I feel intense anguish that we haven’t done a better job of teaching our kids about respect for diversity and basic human life. I then cry, intensely!

Every time I watch the film Losing Isaiah and witness little Isaiah hysterically crying himself to sleep in the back of a car as a sheriff takes him away from his White social worker mother to go live with his Black recovering crack abusive mother as the result of a judge’s decision that black kids are better suited to live with black families because of America’s racism, I cry or fight back the tears.

Every time I watch Shindler’s List and Oskar Shindler starts to talk about how much he regrets having not done more to save the lives of even more Jews from the extermination camps, I cry, or fight back the tears trying to convince myself that this is just a movie. Then my logic kicks in and I realize that it is a movie, but based on a true story. I then sob, uncontrollably.

Every time I watch Jeff Bridges as the president of the United States demand that Congress appoint Joan Allen’s character as the first woman vice-president in the film The Contender with the words “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” I cry or fight back the tears. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an endless amount of government officials with that type of vision about fresh voices and breaking old traditions.

Every time I watch a love story about two people that obviously truly loved one another but couldn’t consummate their passion for one another openly and honestly for fear of being ostracized, marginalized, or murdered, accentuated further by one of the lover’s fully realizing his loss by fervently embracing his murdered lover’s shirt, I recall how fortunate we are to live in a time that gay men can have a love story like Brokeback Mountain that unfortunately must chronicle an aspect of their struggles to love one another, and I sigh deeply, cry for the human condition framed by the loss of a vibrant man to a hate crime, and then just cry because not enough of us do that for one another.

Every time I think about watching the film Hotel Rwanda (which I have owned for two years, but not even opened) I decide not to watch it, because I don’t want to cry, or have to fight back the tears.

What are some of the films that you watch that bring you to tears, and why?

I wonder if other men cry as much as I do over films. What do you think?

Is crying a gendered emotion? What is it about crying that makes so many of us feel “less than” when we do it, as opposed to the emotion that is situated on the other extreme, laughter?

September 16, 2007

More Than a Feeling?

Some of you may know that I am currently in a doctoral program at UVM. I am thoroughly enjoying myself being a student once again, even though it is a bit odd being a professor at the same time. What I most enjoy about being a student again is the conversation that ensues with well considered colleagues after we have all read the same articles from our widely divergent perspectives. This week’s readings are largely on socio-economic class (capitalism, for those of you that are daring enough to say the word), with a focus on it as one of many social constructions. While pondering the merits of the reality of capitalism as a non-natural way of life, my thoughts gravitated towards other un-natural ways of living that we have been socialized to engage in certain ways, like not recognizing social constructions themselves as constructions. Marriage was the most obvious one that came to mind. It is obvious because so many of us have been associated with marriage on an intimate level. Either we are the product of marriage, are or have been in one ourselves, or have been socialized to see our ultimate worth in life somehow linked to marriage, the penultimate posture for procreation. But we don’t necessarily logically engage it as a social construct, as something we have been primed and prepared to experience since birth. Maybe it is because we don’t even know what a social construct is. Concisely speaking, a social construct is something created by society that we respond to, or conform to, often without thinking about it. While many social constructs are problematic for an array of reasons (homophobia, racism, sexism, etc. get a lot more visibility than other social constructs), marriage escapes this scrutiny. Well, while I was thinking of marriage as a social construct, I somehow floated to thoughts of one of the strong underpinnings of marriage, love! Is love a social construction? Well, is it?

Before you dismiss this question and say to yourself, “society didn’t teach me how to feel about someone,” be careful. Think about the way you feel/felt about someone very different from you at first, and the way you feel/felt about that person after you spent time with her/him. People’s reactions to your spending time with that person influenced your relationship with that person, either in a good way or a bad way. Similar images or stories (many garnered from film, novels, are watching other people live) that reflected some aspect of your loved one's reality led you to be more/less curious or concerned about knowing her/him. So, before you dismiss love as a social construct you must ask yourself if the love you feel for this person/possession unaffected by society’s spin on it? If not, then what are some of the factors that affect the way we love? What are some of the ways love is spun that makes it more attractive to us? Is it possible that our entire notion of love is, while not a consistently framed/media driven concept that we have completely and fully digested, never the less is a concept that is difficult for us to separate from its marketing in our society?

Do you love him because he is himself, or because he is the ideal of what society has encouraged you to love? Are the things you love about her important to you because society has manipulated you into seeing those things as significant as opposed to them being significant for some other reasons? While I know that socialization can be attributed to almost anything for good and bad reasons, does that negate the problematic issues that might accompany love as a social construct? Is the concept of love more than a feeling? In the final analysis, what's love got to do with it?

September 13, 2007

Makes me wanna holler, throw up both my hands!! - Part II

Sometimes certain conversations should be elevated or highlighted because of the significance that they may bring to those engaged in the discussion, be they active or passive participants. Many of you who read the blog “Make me wanna holler…” don’t necessarily comment publicly, but privately are having conversations amongst your friends, or within your own minds, agreeing or disagreeing. So, this is for those of you who have been following the last blog posting and perhaps could benefit from having more of a take on the subject. (The length of this blog is not for the feint at heart!)

When last we looked EDR suggested that it might be advantageous to “examine the offenders and their backgrounds” in a situation where youth crash an inner city dance, indiscriminately shooting up the attendees. I agree with this sound advice! What might there be in their backgrounds that explains their anger or angry reaction?

EDR also ask some poignant questions, like “Were they taught (brainwashed) to resent and hate by their parents and/or peers? Were they themselves targets of violence…? Is it a reach to say that in America, because of our inadequate educational systems that don’t “truly” teach our students to appreciate difference, or at least respect that difference, we may be teaching hate or at least further promoting intolerance?

EDR also stated “I do believe that some individuals have the inner strength and inborn qualities to overcome their environmental factors and achieve great things while others seem helplessly impaired.” What might be some of the “inborn qualities” that assist some in overcoming environmental factors? Why do others seem “helplessly impaired?

Our buddy Card Buddy says that no one is “more responsible for what those people did than they are.” On a first take, it is hard to not agree with his assertion, but upon a closer look would that assertion still be applicable? Those of you that might agree that the broken promises and manipulative moves by the government are what placed the Native Americans on reservations and contributed to their huge substance abuse problem within this country might find it difficult to agree with Card Buddy. If a government systematically bastardizes the social and economic reality of any group of its people, are they not responsible for at least some aspect of that groups subsequent actions? If that is the case, then what type of a reaction to Jim Crow laws and the need for a Civil Rights Act amongst black folk could be predicted? Is it too far a reach to say that black people may hate black people because they have been taught to hate black people more than black people have been taught to love black people? Who would argue that overweight people struggle to love themselves in a country that doesn’t make an effort to teach them to love themselves? Are gay people taught to love themselves in our beloved America? I would argue with Card Buddy, as others have (EDR on a subtle level, and AMW and Steve on a more overt level) that there may be others who are as responsible, if not more responsible than the misguided, dare I say, criminal youth who committed the heinous acts at that park.

Card Buddy also asserted that “One's own choices play a larger role in one's own life than anything else.” While I agree with this wholeheartedly, it is an oversimplified argument deeply seated in a privileged perspective. In the film Sophie’s Choice, Sophie is forced to choose the lesser of two evils (which of her children will she save). While her choice did “play a larger role” in her life, there were extenuating circumstances that mitigated her actions (choices). The easiest thing to do is second guess Sophie’s choice of her son over her daughter. The fact that Sophie was situated to even make such a choice is the epitome of absurdity. The fact that these young men don’t fathom other choices available to them isn’t only their fault, is it? Card Buddy, my buddy, you didn’t even answer my question. I asked whether socio-economic class may have been a factor in the decision of the young men to invade the dance with malice aforethought. I still hold the position that upper middle class males would not have indiscriminately crashed a park dance just because they were denied admission. First, they probably wouldn’t have been denied entrance to a dance because their social status would have made them more attractive to the party planners. Also, they probably would have had more options within their neighborhood(s), in terms of things to do any given evening.

Card Buddy, when you say that you “believe some of us have an overwhelming sense of entitlement combined with no social or personal conscience” are you still speaking of the youth, or people who are incapable of seeing society’s impact on members of the underclass? People who are incapable of seeing their “overwhelming sense of entitlement” often get married and yet don’t think gays and lesbians should have that right, or don’t hesitate to start a war but wouldn’t start that same war if their children were destined to be on the front of that war. Am I missing something here?

Your own words summarize this type of person’s attitude “The person feels they are owed and everyone else be damned.” What is it that heterosexuals are owed in terms of marriage that allows them to adopt the attitude of “everyone else be damned?”

Card Buddy, were you serious when you said that “Perhaps the youths in your story were born with less capacity for empathy than most of us. If you combine that with poor parenting and an environment that celebrates violence, perhaps you have a recipe for the disaster you describe.” First, it would be too much of a coincidence that everyone of the youth who crashed and wrought havoc at that dance was “born with less capacity for empathy than most of us.” Some may be, but not the whole crew. So, what does it say about the typical American’s ability to empathize when they rush to judgment about the violent behavior of our youth without considering the role we play in it as adults both in and out of our homes? Are we “born with less capacity” when we do this?

I can appreciate AMW’s terror of realizing that gunshots make some people have to transition from “anticipation of pleasure to strategy for survival.” I also like the fact that AMW associated herself with Card Buddy as a “law and order liberal,” wanting “people to take responsibility for their actions and to act in a civilized way--to value human life and to contain their own rage and frustration in such a way that others don't have to be victimized—expect[ing] reasonable laws to be followed and unreasonable ones to be fought and changed--to feel safe—and be safe for others--to attend a dance and not get shot at.

AMW says that “All of the psychological and sociological aspects of what may have motivated the violence (poor or absent parenting, chronic exposure to violence, influence of drugs, anger and frustration at an unfair, classist and racist system, etc) do need to be considered.” AMW further asks “to what extent is the individual responsible for what he/she does--How do we hold the individual accountable while noting that the society which creates the context for the event, [perhaps] needs to change?” Does the society actually need to change, or is AMW, JW, EDR and Steve all under the influence of drugs themselves in even thinking such a thing?

AMW asked a wonderful question when asking of the shooters, “What were you thinking?" What might their answers have been to this question?

I don’t agree with SB in his assertion that “we aren't born unique, but blank, with the ability to create our uniqueness.” The “tabula rasa” phenomenon of a blank slate reality doesn’t work for me when you consider that our slate is being imprinted upon while our reality is still embryonic. So, it is possible that we are being imprinted with hate and hate vernacular while in the womb. It is also possible that we are learning problematic privileges that will serve to make us as irrational about our privilege as youth that commit black on black crime. In both cases, neither person(s) has fully unpacked their baggage.

SB said that people who believe “we are all able to choose our path with ease, as if it's merely a matter of snapping our fingers and saying, "I know longer want to be a 'crack whore' 'gang banger,' or 'abuser and victimizer,'" border on naivety. SB admonishingly encourages us to consider that “Babies don't burst onto the scene and think, "I wanna rob and shoot people, I wanna die young, I wanna suppress and oppress others." SB says "The environment they're trapped in molds that meanness, and breaking the mold isn't as easy as saying, "enough is enough." Not only are years of conditioning difficult to overcome, but there's also the matter of the controls put in place by those who helped create such a chaotic and corrupt system, from which they benefit by not truly attempting to fix it.”" Wow! Does SB actually have something here, or does his voice represent the many so-called liberals whining because they don’t like the hand they've been dealt; or liberals who have bought into the political correctness of so-called underrepresented and minority people and feel as if they can change the world?

Perhaps SB’s greatest assertion was that “America's youth wouldn't snuff out life so casually if they had not been raised in a system that treated them as if they were expendable and inconsequential.” In other words, if you are devalued is it easy to value others, or more consistent to give what you get? If you have thoughts on this, in support or against of any takes framed here, please join the conversation.

J.W.

P.S. Am I the only one who noticed how difficult it was for both AMW and SB to move away from the Ways of Seeing Sexuality blog. Help me give them some closure on the subject, or point them both to the same room to indulge the conversation.

AMW said “I realized that what I was feeling was relief about the fact that this blog was not about sex…There is tension in talking - and writing publicly about sex, way more so, I think, than writing about race and even class.” Is this true for others?

It feels somehow more personal to put my views about sex out there than my views on race or class. Or else it is simply a matter of being more comfortable with those other aspects of my identity vs. my sexuality.” Why do we struggle with talking about sex?

SB says that “The only reason there is such anxiety, shame and hesitation to discuss sex openly is because we allow there to be. If we choose, conversations about sexuality could be constructed and communicated the same as discussions about dieting, [and] dodge ball.” I personally find conversations about sexuality easier than discussing dieting and dodge ball, but then that is just me!


September 6, 2007

Makes me wanna holler -- throw up both my hands!!!

I was standing at the back of the dimly lit dance. I must have been 15 years young at the time. I lacked a great deal of experience partying up to that point in my life, so I was wired and ready to “party.” Something told me I was going to have a night I would never forget. I have never forgotten that night. I guess “something” was right on a night so wrong!

Peering through the blurred maze of people amidst the shadowy dance hall I noticed there was a flashing light suddenly flickering by the door on the far side of the room. I suddenly realized that flickering light was a series of gunshots erupting. Quickly looking across the room, trying to take in the reaction to the gunshots at the same time trying to decide if I should run for a door, or lay flat on the floor, I noticed across the room a guy in a corner loading a shotgun. Of course, that really got my attention, almost to the point of me freaking out, but I kept my cool in check long enough to realize I needed to get far away from him before he successfully loaded and engaged his weapon. As I scanned the room for an exit far away from him I saw the first shooting victim I would encounter that night. I only saw a glimpse of him because I was stepping around and over people like I was playing bumper hopscotch, only with much more at stake. You couldn’t avoid body contact and stepping on people because they were either falling or diving to the floor. Most others were running, but in the dark you were either hearing the thuds or thudding into someone yourself. And then there were the screams of anguish by the many people who ran to the doors only to find many of them chained. That night, over 10 people were shot. Fortunately I don’t recall anyone dying that night, though it was still one of those Blair Witch moments, only before Blair Witch was ever conceived, and very, very real!

This was not inner city L.A., but the recreation park at Ladera Heights. Ladera Heights is a neighborhood that was definitely upscale in its day, not necessarily at the level of Beverly Hills, though some of its residents/nearby residents definitely could have lived in Beverly Hills if they had chosen (Tina and Ike Turner, Ray Charles). So how odd is it that this type of violence could occur in such an upper middle class environment? Not that violence doesn’t erupt in all communities. Of course it does! But would you be surprised to discover that the entire incident evolved around a denial of entrance to the dance to a group of young men from outside the community. Also, it was allegedly over a leather coat that was demanded by one of the pseudo gangsters from a not so innocent bystander. The details being whatever they are, I’m curious as to your take on the fact that one group’s inability to pay, or desire not to pay, and desire over a coat that wouldn’t have been desired if it could have been easily afforded by both combatants, were the criteria for the outsiders taking defiant, violent action and “turning the party out.”

Would a very wealthy group of students resort to violence over the admission price to a dance and attempt to end it? Why-Why not? Would a middle class group of students resort to violence in the same situation? Why-Why not? So, why would the underclass youth be resorting to such actions?

Oh, and for the record, this incident happened in a predominantly black neighborhood. It was overwhelmingly attended by black folk. So, before you logically gravitate towards thoughts on black on black crime (often considered internalized racism/self hatred), recognize that the motivating factor might have been classism or the inner workings-consequences of capitalism. If not that, what? Lastly, are people born with their morality in place, or are those values learned within a society that celebrates individual prosperity and looks away from social poverty. As Marvin Gaye once swooned “What’s Goin On?”

September 2, 2007

What Is Really Going On Here?

I’m going to start this blog with the questions I normally end a posting with. Of you readers out there who read the last posting: “Ways of Seeing Sensuality” how many of you had any conversation about the posting? What were the conversations about? Were you surprised that something somewhat sensual was presented for public discourse? Is there anyone out there who believes that universities have a moral responsibility to teach/not teach so-called real world topics? How about regional newspapers? Is the Press Republican serving its constituency well by enabling conversations like those I attempt to create?

Okay, so I have posted about 20 + blogs up to this point with various reactions from the community. Some of you love me, some are intrigued by me, some can’t believe that the Press Republican would actually give me a blog on their website (neither can I), and some probably wish people like me (did someone say “you people” or “those people”) would just go away. I can respect all of those thoughts. I can understand the love because I create conversations from which we can all potentially grow. I can understand the intrigue people have with me because we live in a world where people are fixated on their realities and unfortunately all too often, their realities alone. So when I advocate social justice in a conversation with a fraternity brother of mine or students in my classes about their use of the term “fag” they are intrigued, often convincing themselves that I must be gay, bisexual, or on “the down low” because why else would I speak so passionately on behalf of gay rights. The answer to that question is not an altruistic one. I won’t pretend that is the case. I am an advocate for social justice because I have truly figured out that I can’t logically or intelligently complain about any type of oppression visited upon me or my family if I continue to be complicit in the oppression of others. Do You Feel Me? I also am intelligent enough to know general rights from wrongs. Lastly, I understand the disdain or down right hate towards me. I represent change to many, a threat to individual and/or group privileges. Who wants to lose what they have (earned or not)?

Interestingly enough, when our conversations are centered on race, people weigh-in because racial discussions have been taking place for a long time. While everyone isn’t comfortable joining the conversation, more are than were a decade or two ago. We seldom if ever talk about socio-economic class at any length in America’s public discourses, and when we do it has about as much depth as an infant’s bathwater. Conversations about ability are awkward for most of us, but only because we don’t know the language. Since the disabled community is one that we could join at any moment, most of us lean forward when the conversation begins, the exception being individuals who are clueless about the fragility of their ability, as evidenced by people who cavalierly use the word “retard.”

Conversations about gender are intriguingly similar to those about ability. Most of us have a healthy respect for someone of the other gender (mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, girlfriends, wives) that has us at least receptive to the fact that we may be sexist and could benefit from changing some of our ways. But the conversations that I have posted about sexual orientation, belief systems, and sensuality appear to have possibly rocked some of you to your foundation while making others uncomfortable with such overt dialogue. If you ever want to revisit the topics, look through the archives and focus on the number of comments made on certain topics. Men seldom weigh in, even less if the topic is sexual orientation (Running for Attention). No one wants to talk politics or religion on any grand scale (Politics and Religion: The Luck of the Draw).

When I post a thought or two about romance, sex, love, and marriage, something that most humans experience and enjoy, people are surprised and concerned that they are even privy to such a conversation. WHY WOULD THAT BE? As I said earlier, people’s reactions are quite unique. While the responses were actually high in number, many people commented privately to me, or on the street, that they wanted to join the conversation, but it was so hot, or profound, that they chose to sit this one out. One woman said I should be concerned that people might see me as a pervert or over sexualized. One woman thought I shouldn’t have said I enjoyed my students paper’s with a Smirnoff and Coltrane playing because it might give some people the impression I was using the papers as an aphrodisiac for taking matters into my own hands. [The papers, along with the Smirnoff and Coltrane were aphrodisiacs the same way any of the films I mentioned could/would be, or a sexy romance novel. Also, why the assumption I had to be enjoying this stimuli alone?] Someone please tell me, what is the real problem here?

There is even an adequately witty fellow from Holmby Hills, California that continues to project the way he handles his business onto me, and isn’t smart enough to realize that until he specifically addresses the subject at hand, his ad hominem statements toward me will leave him in perpetual anonymity, even beyond his inability to put forward an authentic identity in his signature instead of a trite reference to a card character, without the preposition. My bottom line is this: if someone in my reading audience is not mature enough to situate one posting of mine within the context of all the postings I have put out there, then they have the problem, not I. One solitary posting I have submitted should not define me. As well, no one comment will unsettle me. So, stay tuned for the next 20 + postings. I’m just warming up!!!