Tuesday, March 31, 2009

kingdom of the glamorously violent skull

2008, directed by Steven Spielberg

What an almost lovely film this was. Making a sequel "fresh" is a challenge that few films are ever up to. And the history of this particular franchise can easily be described as a cautionary tale. The second sequel should appear in dictionaries under the heading "mailing it in", and the first sequel was simply one of the worst films of all time, so unworthy of the original that hate was the only sane response.
But this new sequel almost pulled off the improbable, being worthy of an amazing original. It never found its feet, but it's the only one of the three which came close.
In the end, the film was killed by the plague of violence that has Hollywood twisting and degrading our collective soul, when it could be a force of the most wondrous good.
It's not realistic violence, a la SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, which is poisoning our soul.
Nor is it even gratuitous violence, a la slasher films.
No, it is the most insidious form of cinematic violence: glamorous violence.
A glamorously violent film will batter you over the head with the message "Violence is fun! You should want to be just like these people, who LOVE violence! Don't you want to be that sexy and happy? They may even pretend to not like violence, but look at them having fun! Killing can be giggle-worthy! Being attacked with murderous intent is just so silly! HahaHAAAAA, he just kicked that guy in the face!!"
Am i just reaching a level of evolvement and sensitivity which is placing me too far outside the realm of the tastes of the "common man"? No, i think that's too convenient an explanation.
When movies have built-in violence (or sex) based on some formula that the marketing boys came up with (i'm not being sexist, i'm just hoping that girls wouldn't be as idiotic), then we're stepping into an area where capitalism is compromising our very soul.
I hope that you personally never have to experience the unglamorousness of real violence. I hope that an egregious physical attack is never visited upon you, and that you live your life without maiming or murdering.
But maybe that's a big part of the problem. We in the West have had such a comfortable existence that for most of us, brutal violence is only an abstract idea, so we can take in glamorized versions of it, and our spirits don't scream "NO, something is very wrong here."
Anyway, Cate Blanchett is a pretty amazing actor, and it was almost a good movie.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

up for air

My offline exile is ended. I sit in my new Brooklyn home, typing on my new refurbished Dell laptop (my first laptop of any variety).
The walls here are yellow, as is my new bedsheet (my friend Ann tore the last one, bless her).
The past month has been one of unhappiness, fear, and anger. At the center of it, i have tried my best to manifest love. It can be hard to remember that seeds of love sown in the midst of turmoil will often bloom, but in ways never experienced firsthand.
My new home is peaceful. On the first floor of a three-story Bed-Sty apartment house, i share a bathroom, foyer, and kitchen with two couples in two other bedrooms. Stanley and Robert are charming. I've yet to meet the other two. My room is the smallest, and the only one with a door to the backyard.
Any reader who has followed me for the past year has noticed my articles trending toward the universal. This is in no small part because of my ambitions in public speaking. As a result, i more and more find overly autobiographical articles almost tedious. Don't be concerned that i'll abandon personal revelation as a key element of my style. No no, i'll still give "way too much information" for you prudes and wowsers. Just don't look for as many "today i..." pieces.
Anyway, settle in for a long story of crises in Crown Heights.
It started a few weeks ago when i discovered that my debit card was missing. My first thought was that it had slipped out somewhere. But no, i discovered that unauthorized purchases had been made. They were for "tweener" gamechat sites, and the e-mail address for the purchases belonged to my twelve year-old housemate, Melissa. I confronted her, and she denied any knowledge. I love Melissa, and we've always had a nice connection. She's shared her poetry with me, and had a little crush too. In the games i played with her and her little brother, she got to be a child for a little longer. I feel as protective of her as i've ever felt of anyone. The evidence was compelling, however, that she was either lying or covering for someone. I had a period of anguish, knowing that if i told her Mom, Melissa would receive a beating. Shelly's corporal punishments made me sad, but Melissa's silence left me little choice. I told what i knew, and a beating ensued. The tiny possibility that Melissa was telling the truth is a hard pill i'll have to live with. Shelly told me that her fiance Corey had lost a credit card, which was curious, as my fraudulent debit purchases had been made in conjunction with a credit card. Shelly said that Melissa had a history of lying, and shared her anguished belief that she had become sexually active.
I went to PA to do some Dr. Seuss storytelling at my Mom's elementary school. When i related what had been happening, Mom responded with a sustained outpouring of fear over my position, as an adult male in a house with an adolescent girl who had a history of lying, and a reason to now be angry at me.
Understand, i had had one foot out the door almost as soon as i'd moved in. Not for any big reason, but for many little ones (it's revealing that i never threw out my moving boxes). I had been leisurely searching for a new place for months, although i had postponed my search when the bleak financial winter had depleted my bank account. Telling Mom of my financial state, she hurriedly assured me that she would loan me anything i needed. Although the severity of her fear seemed out of balance, her concerns weren't without merit. She was so distraught that she asked me whether i had "touched" this girl. There are moments in life that test your patience and love, and i'm proud that i didn't get angry or offended. Mom's had a rough few years, dealing with the rejection and guilt she feels because my brothers maintain little contact with her. A part of me was even the tiniest bit proud of her, that she could ask me that question.
Still, it was one of those moments of sadness when you realize that someone you've loved your whole life doesn't "get" you, or at least not all of you. That's not about Amerijudeochristian ethics. It's about honesty.
I accepted her offer of a loan, and there will always be a part of me that wonders whether i didn't take advantage of the situation just a little bit, as i had wanted to move all along. I returned home to Brooklyn, and discovered that my room had been very obviously entered in my absence. There were even cookie crumbs everywhere. My computer was stone dead. I opened the tower and fiddled with the connections, and by chance i flipped a switch where the power cord inputs, a switch i later learned adjusts the computer to the volts or amps needed in Europe. The computer turned on. But it immediately began flashing disabled firewall notices, and that a "rasman.dll" file had been deleted. After a few hours, the computer was frozen, but good. I may never know whether it was killed accidentally or intentionally. I have some doubts that Melissa was savvy enough to know the Europe switch, but if she had exposed the computer to a virus, that switch would have been a way for her to cover her tracks. Curiously, Shelly's computer also died, in not quite the same manner...unless someone flipped the Europe switch on that one too.
A thought that nags at me is the possibility that Corey masterminded all this. I have to be careful not to allow that line of thought simply because i don't wish Melissa to be guilty, but Corey may have had unspoken issues with me. Perhaps Melissa told him that Shelly had once asked me if i wanted to have a child with her, and that didn't sit well with him. At the end, Shelly revealed that Corey didn't want me to have their new phone number. And he does have extensive computer knowledge.
I don't know...
Anyway, when you're in a semi-urgent need to move (Mom said she wouldn't sleep until i was out), it is NOT the ideal time to be computerless. I thought about getting a replacement, but it made more packing sense to do so after the move. Plus there was the spectre of more vandalism. Plus Shelly said our internet was down indefinitely. So i began twice-daily trips to the Eastern Parkway Library, to wait in the queue for sometimes over an hour, and get my thirty minutes online. Once or twice a week, i visited friends to get some computer time too. Needless to say, writing and job procurement became non-issues.
Even though i had had one foot out the door, i was very sad at the thought of leaving the kids. Tarlik, the three year-old, is so impressionable and needful. I know i was giving him a kind of love and caring he may never experience again.
But that's not the saddest part.
I had to leave my kitty.
Little Tooter, who had bonded with me more than anyone there.
Little Tooter, who had been the most loving part of my life for nine months.
Little Tooter, who was just four weeks old when i moved in.
Two or three times on the first day in my new home, i thought i saw movement out of the corner of my eye, and looked up, thinking it was her.
During this whole period of unhappiness, there was anger too. Shelly began getting evasive and angry, as though i were somehow to blame. When i tried to explain my mother's concerns, and why i had to leave, she yelled at me and refused to let me speak.
Fear and anger all round.
It is some consolation that Shelly thawed on the day i left, and told me what a good housemate i had been. The truth is that i don't brag, so she only knew a part of all that i had done for her and her kids.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"The Shack"

-by Wm. Paul Young
This book is a bit of a sensation in the world of letters. As they say, it's moving a lot of popcorn. No, that's not it...well anyway, people are reading the heck out of this thing.
And for a while, that knowledge was a source of no small agony for me.
The book was loaned to me by my brother-in-law, Steve. Due to our religious differences, and ascertaining that it was a spiritual book, i approached it with a certain amount of wariness. I determined to read it all though, in part because i very much hoped that Steve would read an entire book of my recommending, in turn.
The foreword was charming, and gave me cause for hope.
And then the first five or six chapters were possibly the most excruciating reading experience of my life. I truly wondered whether Mr. Young weren't some fifteen year-old. The event that sets the story in motion is an affirmation of the irrational child predator panic that grips our country. How many of you personally know a child who was abducted or hurt or killed by a stranger? I'm not seeing raised hands. Our societal taboos against hurting children are SO strong that prisoners, people supposedly at the bottom of the ethical food chain, reserve special punishment for anyone who hurts a child.
The writing was so achingly bad i'm not at all sure how i kept on. I had the passing thought that Steve loaned me the book to motivate my own writing career, implanting the idea in my head that if this moron got published, then i would almost have to try like hell to AVOID being published myself.
And then, a teeny miracle happened.
The book became an intelligent meditation on the nature of godliness.
Young writes about how "good" and "evil" are illusions, a point i've been making for years. My favorite line is about relationships, and how "love" is just the skin of knowing. He showed enough intelligence that i began to ponder the sincerity of his methodology. It seemed inexplicable that he would trot out the christian paradigm of father/son/holy ghost, as his intelligence seemed to run deeper and more all-encompassing. Put another way, i couldn't figure out why he would be content to automatically alienate all those billions of people with non-christian sensibilities. The best answer i can come up with (and it's actually a plausible one) is that he made a "deal with the devil". If this book had removed all reference to any specific religion, there's a fair chance that it would have been read only by academics. So congratulations, Mr. Young, that movie deal is on the way, and more importantly, a lot of people are being exposed to your more unconventional ideas.
As for my brother-in-law Steve, i offer my thanks, and an apology for the somewhat uncharitable thoughts that may have been lurking in my psyche, during those early unbearable chapters.