Friday, October 30, 2020

Love to watch you go?

I know when terrible public figures die, some people will say mean things and other people will give quotes about refusing to celebrate anyone's death... you know how it goes.

I have been thinking about one death recently that I didn't celebrate, but for which I did feel relief.

It was Dennis Richardson. 

Shocking, I know.

He was a member of my church, though in a different city so I had no personal knowledge of him. He had a beautiful family. I am no fan of people getting cancer. But still, I was relieved that he died.

He was elected at a time when Republicans nationally were targeting Secretary of State elections. They were being prioritized over governors then.

It was smart. People pay less attention to the down ballot. It's not as flashy, but if you want to influence elections, it is a great position to be in. I'm guessing it was inspired by part of the Voting Rights Act being struck down in 2013, but maybe the same people pushing that case were pushing the elections. I'm sure some of the reduced voting hours, eliminated ballot boxes, and voter purges are related.

Even before that, think about Katherine Harris running Florida's election while running W's campaign there. You know, people said it was a Democrat who designed the infamous butterfly ballot, and that is technically true. Theresa LePore registered as a Democrat in 1996 to help win an election, and then switched to Independent a few years after confusing many elderly Jewish people into voting for Holocaust denier Pat Buchanan.

(I do hope some of this is a reminder to pay attention to the down ballot, and also at least some attention to what is happening in other states.)

I know that Richardson promised to be non-partisan, but I had concerns. They became worse when he wanted to start redistricting before the census. I know some people like to complain about how their counties are underrepresented, but that's because of people. If Umatilla County has about 80,000 people and Multnomah County has closer to 800,000, that is more votes. That is fair. Trying to change that would be more unfair. 

It would also be hard to sabotage, but I think Richardson was going to give it a shot, so yes, I was relieved when he died.

I have been thinking about this for two reasons. 

Most recently, I keep getting phone messages encouraging me to vote for Kim Thatcher so she can continue Dennis Richardson's legacy. This makes her the only state candidate I actively hate. No thank you.

But also, as Mitch McConnell's body shows early signs of decay, and Trump apparently overcame Coronavirus via great medical care that included steroids (like he needs that in his system), and Republicans keep showing their determination to hold super-spreader events - including for the incompetent justice they shoved through, but forget relief packages! - I would not mourn their deaths. 

I might not feel much relief, either, because there has already been so much harm done. 

However, I know considerably more harm has been felt by other people, and if anyone dies and the death is celebrated by people have lost ground and suffered and lost relatives to disease that they could not get high-quality medical care for, or who can't find their children to be reunited with them, or who have lost businesses because more relief went to those who are more powerful and better-resourced and can apply faster, I will not shame their celebrations. They can have fireworks and socially distanced parades, and I will wish them joy.

But I will still be stuck regretting that it didn't happen sooner, before so much harm was done.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Director Spotlight: AVA DUVERNAY

Had already seen: Selma (2014), A Wrinkle In Time (2018), two episodes of Queen Sugar

Watched for this: 13th (documentary) (2016), When They See Us (2019), I Will Follow (2010), Middle of Nowhere (2012),My Mic Sounds Nice (TV short documentary) (2010), The Door (short) (2013), Jay Z: Family Feud ft. Beyoncé (video short) (2017)

Have not seen: Saturday Night Life (short) (2006), This Is The Life (documentary) (2008), Compton In C Minor (short) (2009), TV One Night Only: Live From The Essence Music Festival (TV movie documentary) (2010), Essence Presents: Faith in 2010 (TV short) (2010), Scandal (1 episode) (2013), For Justice (TV movie) (2015), August 28th (documentary short) (2016), Nine for IX: Venus Vs (TV documentary series, 1 episode) (2013) 

I find it interesting that so many of her early efforts are music-related. I have only been able to find My Mic Sounds Nice to watch, but I would be interested in the others.

Otherwise I think the main thing I come away with from watching more DuVernay is a sense of vision. I know that she uses good actors and designers and that is a help, but I also see a great sense of imagination and an openness to inspiration.

I am actually at kind of a weird place for writing about her. For past viewing, I have written about A Wrinkle in Time and six(!) posts about Selma. (And so much about Queen Sugar, but that is less her directing and more producing.) I just finished When They See Us, and I think I am going to have a lot to say about that as I process it.

Instead I will focus on two in the middle that are not well known, but the library had them: I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere

I Will Follow has some music focus too, as the main character reflects on her recently deceased aunt - a legendary session drummer - schooling her on the music of U2. Mainly it is about moving on, as after about a year caring for her dying aunt, it is time to clean and finish and theoretically but maybe not possibly return to her old life. 

Middle of Nowhere also has a woman who has put her life on hold for someone else, working night shifts and giving up weekends for long bus rides to visit her jailed husband. 

I am in the middle of so much transition - then when I watched the movies, but still now - that they resonated with me. So many of my choices have been made for other people. Without even being wrong choices, they have still left me in a hard place, with a lot of unknowns.

Both movies end up in the air. The protagonists have gained some understanding or reconciliation, but there are still many things unresolved and messy relationships all over the place. There are people who know what they want and can't seem to get it, and people just stuck, even though it seems like it should be easier.

The most interesting relationships for me were in I Will Follow. There was an aunt and niece, but that aunt was also a mother to a frustrated daughter, who resented her cousin being the caregiver, but who would also not have done well as the caregiver, especially given her anger at her mother's decision to end treatment for her cancer, and go out peacefully. 

That resentment is worse because of its base in a previous rocky relationship, where the aunt and niece could get along and share interests in a way that the mother and daughter could not. It is poked at when the daughter sees that envied cousin bonding with her son. Aunts again.

Clearly everyone needed to accept and embrace people as themselves, but that is more easily said than done. There are lots of different ways of being selfish and jealous and hurt, and it seems like they found all of them. 

Also, perhaps we cannot relate to our parents like everyone else. It may not be fair, and it may not be terrible, but there are pressures there that are hard to ignore. Maybe "embracing" is still the answer.

Related posts:

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2018/07/a-wrinkle-in-storytelling.html

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2015/02/selma-emotional-impact.html 

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2015/02/selma-choices.html 

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2015/02/selma-academy-fails.html 

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2015/02/selma-and-lbj.html 

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2015/02/selma-not-even-past.html

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2015/02/selma-lessons-for-now.html

 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Garden update - watching a garden die

 Yes, I did review an album by that name in February; this garden wasn't even planted yet.

http://sporkful.blogspot.com/2020/02/album-review-watching-garden-die-by.html


I took this picture because things are starting to die.

I have been getting a lot of compliments on the sunflowers, but now they are all drooping. A few got so top-heavy they collapsed. 

The pumpkins have not gotten as much attention because the leaves hide them pretty well, especially when they are green. I have about ten that are orange now, though there is no angle from which you can see them all. 

Also, the powdery mildew - which is plentiful in our region and adores squash leaves - has spread a lot. I was going to do some cleanup this week, but temperatures are supposed to be low enough for a frost, at least for Sunday night, and that will make things much easier.

I was also worried about cleanup for the sunflowers, because I want the seeds to finish forming. It looks like detaching the head is an option. I am a bit nervous about it, but I may at least try it on the already fallen ones.

I took the picture as a reminder that a natural life progression includes a period of decline. It is not the most attractive stage. If I want my garden to be a showcase, that is a problem, but if I want it to be something living and growing and embracing life and nature, sometimes it will get messy.

I am eternally grateful there is no HOA here.

I am posting the picture today because today was full of problems, including continuing issues. It's frustrating, and I am not the person I want to be on those days, except in that I continue to get through them. But the messiness is valid and natural. I grow from the bad times, probably more than from the good times.

That one lone flower seed to sprout has really taken off though. That's all one multi-branching plant.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Director Spotlight: JULIE DASH

Had already seen: two episodes of Queen Sugar,

Watched for this: Daughters of the Dust (1991), The Rosa Parks Story (2002),  "Give Me One Reason" (Tracy Chapman video short, 1996), Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground - Sax Cantor Riff (1997), Illusions (short) (1982), Incognito (1999), Love Song (2000), Funny Valentines (1999)

Have not seen: Working Models of Success (1973), Four Women (Short) (1975), Diary of an African Nun (Short) (1977), Praise House (1991), Women: Stories of Passion - Season 2, episode 5 "Grip Till It Hurts" (1997), Brothers of the Borderland (short) (2004), Standing at the Scratch Line (short) (2016), Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl (2017)

It is for Julie Dash that I am most glad that I expanded my watch list. 

Initially I only intended to watch Daughters of the Dust and The Rosa Parks Story. I wrote about Daughters of the Dust being gratuitously beautiful, and there were many ways in which it kept coming back to me. It is a classic for a reason.

I did not like The Rosa Parks Story

There is an episode of black~ish where the Johnsons go to the movies on Christmas. They were going to watch a new action picture that sounded a lot like Captain Marvel, but conscience struck Dre and he made them go see a movie based on Rosa Parks. Everyone keeps trying to sneak out because they are so bored by this ridiculously slow and overacted but still not fun movie. 

I could not help but wonder if they had The Rosa Parks Story in mind. 

Even finding it boring and disagreeing with how they portrayed Parks (as a very shy and reluctant activist; maybe I'm wrong), I could still appreciate some nice touches to how the scenes were set and the aesthetics of the picture. 

Julie Dash has better movies. And worse ones, though not many.

I was only able to watch the three made-for-television movies because of a Youtube channel, Reelblack:

https://www.youtube.com/user/reelblack 

(If Reelblack can locate and post the movies and shorts I haven't seen, I will watch them all, even though my watching is technically over.)

I thought Incognito got pretty contrived at the climax, but that was based on a book that has a lot of fans, and probably needed to be that way. I had a hard time sticking with Funny Valentines, but a lot of reviewers loved it. Tastes differ, that's okay. I am still really glad that the movies were there, and that I had the chance to see them.

I liked Love Song a lot. That is largely for the music and the hard to resist charms of Christian Kane. In addition, as Camille (played by Monica) goes to reconcile with Billy (Christian Kane's character), there is this excellently shot sequence of her walking to him, picking her way through the normal garage detritus. She is wearing flowing pink crepe-y pants and a really cute pair of ball heeled shoes. It is not your most practical outfit for navigating a greasy garage, but visually it works so well. I have to love the artistry there.

What really sold me on Julie Dash was her use of different kinds of lighting for different projects.

Daughters of the Dust has a lot of light saturation, with powerful sunlight striking characters dressed in white on sand. It is a memorable look on its own, but the other two projects show the range.

"Give Me One Reason", a music video for Tracy Chapman, is set in a club. That is frequently a dark environment, and this seems like one, especially with the royal blue backdrop. And yet, with the use of focused overhead lighting (I assume), there is also a radiance throughout the set. 

Where I really started to appreciate it was on Illusions, a short film from 1982. 

Lonette McKee plays a light-skinned Black woman passing for white and working in the studio system. That is one illusion, but Hollywood is full of them, including having Black singers providing the voices of leading ladies. 

(So, in Singing in the Rain terms, Lana is not really singing, but her understudy looks nothing like Debbie Reynolds.) 

The plot and dialogue is solid anyway, but I was first impressed with how much it looked like it really could have been filmed during World War II. Accurately, those movies did not give any definition to Black features, which you see with a few performers, including the actual singing voice, Esther, played by Rosanne Katon. 

When McKee's character has an extended and important dialogue with Esther, the film used doesn't change, but Dash doesn't leave Esther to be nullified by the darkness either. She shoots them outdoors, with Katon in bright sunlight and McKee partially shaded. Both actresses are seen distinctly, it doesn't change the accuracy of the period representation, and it also works as a metaphor for the openness with which each character can engage with her race and identity.

With John Singleton we talked about how to engage with different levels of quality in terms of scripts and what the studio wants; most directors are probably going to have to work with a few clinkers, just to keep working. 

As wonderful as it is to watch a movie where all of the different parts are working together, sometimes you learn more from the movies that don't work as well. 

I have learned that Julie Dash really knows how to make movies. She films well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Listening to Black women: pre-requisites

Okay... two more posts, even though yesterday I said it would only take one.

Here's why: with everything I have written about Black women not getting recompensed for their work, and being expected to give free emotional labor, and frequently getting abused, I do not want to add to that. 

What I was going to post today was a starter kit, with a selection of various smart and wonderful Black women, where readers could choose a few and start reading their work and getting a feeling for them. I am still going to do that, but I worry about directing someone exhausting toward people I care about, who are often far too close to exhausted already.

Today's post is going to be about sending you in with the ability to not be a problem. There is no offense intended if you do not think you would be a problem. The people who want to be problems are way ahead of me, but well-intentioned people can really not live up to their intentions.

First, check your ego.

You may have expected me to say "Check your privilege", but if we are doing this right your privilege will get checked. More than once.

We have talked many times about how the racism is structural, so it creeps in without being noticed. Even knowing that on one level, it can still be appalling and hurtful and uncomfortable to find it inside you, and realistically there is going to be some.

Remember those ladies I wrote about yesterday, trying to add diversity and then so angry and offended when they were questioned on something? That they even had the idea to add diversity by inviting in a Black woman was a sign that they were trying. Their reaction was probably a sign that they didn't think it through. They weren't prepared.

It might sound logical that you prepare by self-examination and rooting it out, but you probably can't do that enough. The better preparation is being prepared to sit with the discomfort. When someone says something that seems to imply you are racist, pause and absorb it. Sit with it for a minute, and see what you can learn from it.

This is the same response for if they call you racist outright, but it is often not that. Maybe they rebut a point that you make, or they mention privilege, or it is something really mild, but that defensiveness rises. Stop. Breathe. Listen and learn.

That silently listening is a great response, because I can't tell you how many times I have seen people replying with their agreement to show they are good too, or trying to correct a blanket statement (Excuse me, but not all white women!). That is also in service of your ego, and it doesn't help anyone. It places the burden of your self-esteem on someone who is already too busy. 

Sometimes the request for ego service is an expression of dismay at how awful things are, and how deeply it hurts you. If your pain is at racism because it exists, but not because you are oppressed under it, it should not take a lot of thought to see how throwing that on someone under the oppression is not appropriate. 

And it does hurt. I am appalled and angry and grieving all the time. It is still not the job of non-white people to comfort me.

In the same vein, if you have a question about something, try a few Google searches. Don't add to the work. If someone is asking a question, but not to you specifically, and you don't know the answer, it is not helpful to reply that you don't know.

I say this coming from that place. Eight years ago I had great intentions and I knew some things, but there was still so much I didn't know and understand. I probably did ask unnecessary things, and I know I made stupid flippant comments at least twice. I did learn, and I found a lot of grace. I have even made some friendships. I would still rather not have made the stumbles that I did, and I did them in a much less traumatic time. So, take heed.

If you want to do any good in the world, it will almost certainly require checking your ego anyway.

For more on letting things wash over you:

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2020/06/through-overwhelm.html

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Listening to Black women 101

One frustrating thing this year is how many more people are saying to listen to Black women, then don't really do it, or get mad when Black women don't say what they want to hear. 

I hope the long lead-in to why we listen laid groundwork. I am glad that we had the movie break; that post about Deja getting fridged is relevant.

First, let's build some vocabulary. There is a name for the intersection of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and misogyny; that word is misogynoir. It was coined by Moya Bailey as she encountered the concept while looking at the treatment of women in hip-hop. That is only one venue where misogynoir happens.

Now, I think a good step going forward is to build on this article and deal with some common stereotypes. My notes are not a substitute for reading the article.

https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/08/4-tired-tropes-misogynoir/ 

Obviously one of the big themes in racism is failure to see a person as a unique individual, instead assuming various traits. Kesiena Boom focuses on four tropes, but they are not mutually exclusive. One woman may be perceived in different ways by different people, or at different times.

1. The Sassy Black Woman

Boom has been on the receiving end of this minimization, and that sucks. What it makes me think of most is how often Black women get mocked for something, and then it gets appropriated and is cool once white people use it, but in kind of an ironic way. I would say a good example is Kayla Newman coming up with "on fleek" and not getting credit, but after that happened initially, people did work to give her credit. Newman is growing her brand. 

If the trend is to not credit Black women, we are not doomed to repeat that. It has nonetheless been a huge problem to get Black women credited and paid.

Likewise, people are getting better about crediting Tarana Burke for #metoo, and that kind of leads us to...

2. The Hypersexual Jezebel

Boom gives a few examples of being sexualized by strange men herself. They are disturbing, but there is a good chance that other women of other races have had similar experiences. There are different backgrounds to the sexualization of Asian, Latina, and Native American women, and also some men are so creepy that they can always find a reason to sexualize you. 

However, I remember via online discussions among women about the first time being catcalled or groped, and noticing early on that Black women seemed to have it start younger (by about four years) and often be more invasive, like getting escalating to groping sooner instead of remaining verbal. 

Some of that may be lingering effects of the mindset of slavery, where Black people were viewed as property that could be owned. It is probably also a factor that Black people are not allowed the same length of childhood. At 32, Ryan Lochte could be described as a stupid kid when was arrested, but at 18 Michael Brown was a demon and a monster, and at 17 Kalief Browder could be locked up for 3 years awaiting trial because of a backpack that was not found on him (and may never have existed, based on very sketchy witnesses). Okay, the time in jail did age him, I guess; it did something. 

There is a lot that is gross about this trope, but the irony that kills me is that it was used to justify rape of Black women, while at the same time Black men were portrayed as the sexual predators going after white women. It may be the most hypocritical stereotype. 

Fun fact: One part of Rosa Parks' early activism was interviewing rape victims.

3. The Angry Black Woman

I have witnessed this in an online group run by some very nice white women. They invited a Black woman to also be an admin, because "diversity" and "other viewpoints". The first time she pointed out something was racist, they felt so persecuted and attacked. It never occurred to them that she had a point, or even that she could have been wrong but with no bad intentions; she was an enemy, out to get them, and they were very hurt.

I left the group, but from what I remember, they are nice ladies, for the most part; they just can't deal with the way they have internalized structural racism. As much as the "nice" sounds sarcastic, it isn't if you think about niceness referring to things being calm and untroubled on the surface. That's just no way to bring about any valuable change. That kind of niceness won't do if you want equality.

I mention it because it is really easy to do without intending to. You have to actively root that racism out. 

Also, a fun part of this one is that The Angry Black Women relates directly to...

4. The Strong Black Woman

It sounds complimentary, right? She is strong; she can handle thing! And she is so nurturing too, caring about issues and guiding us, and dispensing wisdom for us.

So this is where it is really easy to exploit Black women, because they know so much and they are so strong that they don't really need support or reimbursement or credit. That is why it is so easy to suddenly view them as angry if they express any displeasure or ask for reimbursement or don't want to listen to your problems or do anything that isn't self-effacing. How dare they?

But also when they try to revel in their glory, they are reduced back to sassy.

And it's a rotten thing to put on anyone, but it's been going on for a while. Zora Neale Hurston called Black women "the mules of the world" in Their Eyes Were Watching God. That was 1937. 

And all of the tropes suck. It sucks to not have your full humanity recognized. 

Let's fix this. Now.

I think I can complete this in one more post.

Side note:

If you are wondering if there is correlation with the Nina Simone song, "Four Women"... yes, though I am not sure if it was intentional. 

Roughly, Sweet Thing could be the Hypersexual Jezebel, Peaches could be the Angry Black Woman, and Aunt Sarah could be the Strong Black Woman. 

Saffronia is not represented here, and perhaps would not be, because the mixed race product of rape would be uncomfortable to deal with; these tropes are supposed to allow for easy definition, without complexity. And yet, Saffronia exists because it was so easy to say they were all Jezebels, but only Sweet Thing got paid for it.

There is no Sassy Black Woman in the song, but TV tropes dates that to the '70s, and the song is from 1966.

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SassyBlackWoman

Monday, October 19, 2020

Why we should listen to Black women

I know I have been taking a long time to get to the point with this. 

Part of that is this is not my specialty. For the people who read my work, I am relatively well-informed. In this space, my explaining makes sense, but there is a much larger space available. 

Because of that, this post will link to other sources, and then in a subsequent post we will link to even more.

Wednesday I mentioned that one aspect of privilege was not having to notice various forms of oppression, because they are not directed at you. I closed with the question, "How much do you get to ignore if you are on the receiving end of combined white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and misogyny?"

The answer is not much. That in the simplest sense is why we need to listen to Black women. They learn a great deal while on the receiving end of abuse.

Here is our first article:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/10/13/black-fake-twitter-accounts-for-trump/ 

It is from October 13th, just 6 days ago, about Twitter accounts that claim to be Black people, encouraging other Black people to vote for Trump. You will also find fake accounts encouraging Black people not to vote at all, and then some real people who have been influenced by them. 

The purpose of them may very well be to suppress the Black vote, though there are plenty of other attempts to do that via voter intimidation and voter roll purges and reduction of polling places and ballot boxes in Black areas. What I really notice is that a lot of white people love retweeting these, because it helps them feel like their support for Trump is not racist. 

I mention it for this post because this is an old tactic, but it is a tactic that has been used by Russia, it influenced the last election and is being used again for this election - I hope not successfully - and if we had listened to Black women - especially Shafiqah Hudson and I'Nasah Crocket - in 2014, it might not have worked then.

This is the second link, and this is one that should really be read:

https://slate.com/technology/2019/04/black-feminists-alt-right-twitter-gamergate.html

There is a lot of good information here, but I want to point out two things:

1. In June 2014 you had #endfathersday, then in August GamerGate, and then as the 2016 election got closer there was the election interference. The circle of people affected keeps growing. It is still very much targeted at people marginalized by gender or race, OR BOTH, but the people impacted will continue spreading. 

2. People find an astonishing variety of ways and methods to not credit the people doing the work. Whether that is referring to specific individuals generically as Black women, or skipping entire parts of the story, there is this continued refusal to talk to the experts, and therefore a continued failure to improve things.

The article has a reference to Black women being the canary in the coal mine. The canaries are important, but they pay with their lives. 

Black women are targeted with abuse. Sometimes it is intentional, where internet trolls test things out on Black women first, because they know they will face fewer obstacles that way. That is more obviously cynical and evil

It works because too often the people who are supposed to be good won't listen and won't take it seriously. We won't be the obstacles, and so the deliberate harm is not stopped; it flourishes. 

So perhaps in feminist circles Black and Latina women report abuse by one gender studies professor, but it gets shushed and ignored until his abuse spreads so far (and to white victims) that it can't be ignored. And we get Russian election interference, and continue to get bad health and environmental outcomes, and journalism that misses really important points. There are so many things that we get wrong simply by not listening.

"Good" people have to do better. Tomorrow I hope to give some ideas for that.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Deja was fridged

I mentioned that when John Singleton directed really stupid films (which he made fun) they had other writers. Allow me to specify that those movies are Rosewood, Four Brothers, Abduction, and - to a lesser extent - 2 Fast 2 Furious, because that one did what it was supposed to do. I can't argue with that.

I'm also not going to pick on Abduction too much. Once someone decides that they want to do a mashup of The Face on the Milk Carton and The Bourne Identity and cast Taylor Lautner in it, then you just have to be glad that Singleton was the director, because it probably could have been much worse.

However, there was something I noticed about the other two. 

Rosewood - Based on a true story of the massacre of Black people and the burning of their homes. Throws in a bunch of dumb testosterone and focuses on the white characters. Written by Gregory Poirier, a white guy, born in Hawaii. He also wrote the National Treasure sequel.

Four Brothers - Loosely inspired by The Sons of Katie Elder, and written by two white English guys, who made two of the brothers white and two Black but wanted to show that race didn't matter, except that it does, and two English guys are not likely to know how that would play out. They also worked on the G.I. Joe movie.

There was definitely the potential for a better and more honest telling of the story of what happened in Rosewood, Florida in January 1923.

Not having seen the original Sons of Katie Elder - also based on a true story - I don't know what the story potential is there. 

However, I feel confident that there were things missed because the people writing had things they assumed they knew well enough, but did not. 

(See, this is where what seems to be about movies is relating more to the posts from earlier in the week, on privilege and such.)

Now we are going to talk about a flaw in John Singleton's work, even though I like him a lot and think he was a good director.

While there were a lot of things that struck me about Higher Learning, what most made me want to listen to the director commentary was for Deja, played by Tyra Banks.

She is an achiever, running track, seeing to her own grades while also helping Malik with his school work, and making him attend the peace festival building toward greater racial understanding, where she is shot, the only person besides the shooter to die, even though there were certainly plenty of other people to shoot.

Then, at the memorial, the white woman who organized the event is sad, blaming herself, and Malik comforts her. 

That just seemed so emblematic of so much today, and I needed to know if he knew it.

One really interesting thing about that was that if Kristy Swanson could have opened herself up more emotionally, Singleton would have had Malik hug Kristen. Since the actress could not, the character just got a pat. 

The thing is, Malik said he lost his girlfriend. She's the only casualty that wasn't self-inflicted. This seems like a situation where Kristen should be offering comfort to Malik. She is too caught up in herself.

That felt real, but why did it have to be the Black woman who died? Why was she the expendable one?

There is a lot in that, but this was something that was in the commentary. Singleton thought about what would affect him the most, and it would be losing his girlfriend, who at the time was Tyra Banks.

The term "fridging" comes from comic books, specifically from when Green Lantern Kyle Rayner (there have been a lot of Green Lanterns) found his girlfriend had been murdered and stuffed in the fridge. That is one event, but it was part of a larger pattern of women getting raped, murdered, and de-powered to serve as plot devices to move forward the male heroes' revenge or fall or character development.

https://www.lby3.com/wir/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Refrigerators

The term came from comics, but the concept can be applied to a lot of media.

There are some things that Singleton got very right. When Malik's dorm roommate gets offended that Malik is moving out after the first gun incident with Remy, saying "I'm not like them!", his anger and focus on self rather than empathy for Malik's feelings is very real. The portrayal of the cops - even really nice-seeming ones - automatically treating the students differently based on color is too accurate and very frustrating. The way Remy is groomed and radicalized by Neo-Nazis is very real, including the initial sense he had that he is being preyed on, just not the way he thinks. A lot of it comes from Singleton's college experience. 

Even that it is a Black woman who keeps trying to help everyone and ends up losing her life for it has a certain accuracy, but I don't think that he saw ir in that way.

Some of that may be timing. Frequently I see traces of respectability politics in the work or hear it in the commentary, and I see that it is from 1995 or so, and it's not that surprising. 

Let me switch to Poetic Justice, Singleton's second film. 

After his debut with Boyz n the Hood - focusing on the men - Singleton wanted to look at the women. 

Many girls wrote to him saying that he had captured their experience, so I am sure there is a lot he got right. However, his main character Justice - played by Janet Jackson - is different in a lot of ways. She has inherited a large house and was born when her mother was in law school, so comes from an educated, financially better-off family with high expectations. Then her mother committed suicide, and her grandmother died recently, and she is an only child, and probably most of all, her boyfriend was killed right in front of her. Then people keep wondering why she's always wearing black and never wants to have any fun. 

That's real, and it is nice to see her connect to Lucky, and open up, and even better that the Lucky's temporary rejection does not stop her healing. However... it is easy to humanize this dream girl; it would have been more impressive to humanize Lucky's baby mama, Angel.

I suspect it never occurred to Singleton to try. 

He might get a little closer with Juanita in Baby Boy, but we never see her side of what happened with Jody's brother, and so it leaves her to be seen as not nurturing enough. Her boyfriend is shown doing more for Jody.

That doesn't make John Singleton a bad man or a bad director. It might mean that he didn't really spend enough time listening to the women around him and hearing their stories. It's a common problem. 

It is important to be able to recognize a person's shortcomings without needing to hate them and everything they do.

We will probably get to that soon too.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Director Spotlight: JOHN SINGLETON

Had already seen: "Remember the Time" (Michael Jackson video short, 1992)
Watched for this: Boyz n the Hood (1991), Poetic Justice (1993), Higher Learning (1995), Rosewood (1997), Shaft (2000), Baby Boy (2001), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), Four Brothers (2005), 30 for 30: Marion Jones: Press Pause (2010), Abduction (2011), American Crime Story Season 1, Episode 5: The Race Card (2016)
Have not seen: 5 television episodes (from Billions, Snowfall, and Rebels) and a video short commemorating the 25th anniversary of Poetic Justice

It's hard to believe I had never seen a John Singleton movie before this. My first was also his first, Boyz n the Hood, viewed on July 2nd, 2019. 

I had been interested in it, but I was more hesitant to see an R-rated movie in 1991. I was also really interested in Rosewood, but in addition to the rating it had gotten some pretty bad reviews. (Which were fair; I referenced that in https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2020/03/still-not-seeing-harriet.html.)

Having seen all of the features now, I really appreciate Singleton. One of his best gifts is to take stupid material and make it really fun. 

I know that there are people who love the Fast and Furious franchise, but even then they probably don't call them smart. I thought Hobbes & Shaw looked fun from the trailer; I wish Singleton had directed that! As for Abduction and Four Brothers...

Of course, the stupid ones were all written by other people. I have some mixed feelings about Shaft, where Singleton had a writing credit but was not the main writer. I mean, I am not sure how I should feel about Jeffrey Wright's performance, there seems to be some bad stereotyping going on, but it is also really entertaining,. The movie lunges into its weaknesses I guess, with the playfulness of parody but still not being parody, except for maybe when Shaft throws the badge.

I should mention that I was thrilled to find the American Crime Story episode on Netflix (thank you free trial!), because then I got to see what he did with someone else's really smart material, and it was fantastic.

It was also good to see the Marion Jones feature. That was a different kind of material and very serious. There was a lot of humanity in his direction, which I always appreciate.

I was most blown away by Higher Learning, and that led to a turning point. With some of the themes he approached, I wanted to know more and know what was deliberate and maybe if there were things that he had to leave out. I watched it again with the audio commentary on.

The really big shift was loving that option. Having listened to two others, I wish I had started sooner, though I am not sure that time constraints would have allowed that. I suspect my ideal situation - at least for good movies - is to see them in the theater on the big screen the first time, and then to watch with commentary at home. I could enjoy that.

Anyway, some things were enlightening; sometimes our interests were different. There is a scene near the end where Malik is trying to catch up with a fleeing Remy, and I loved how the shots were set up with the stairs. In the audio, Singleton focused on their fight, with portraits of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson overlooking. I had noticed Washington but not Jefferson. Hearing him talk about that did make me appreciate it more, but man, those stairs and the way it was shot! Or perhaps I got that on my own and did not need to hear him talk about it.

The thing that became very clear to me was how much John Singleton loves movies. Some directors hate having to film the stupid material of other writers. Listening to Singleton mention other directors who influenced him, and other movies, and things Columbia did for him, and people he met through Columbia, and friends and their family members and crew members' family in some parts... he loved watching movies and he loved making movies. Any job he got was a chance to work on his art, to work with people he liked... it makes sense that he could bring the fun, because he could not have loved what he was doing more.

I worried when I first started the commentary that then I would get all attached to him and I would be sad that he was dead. There was some of that, especially when I listened to the Poetic Justice commentary and heard his grief for Tupac Shakur and another friend, Dedrick Gobert, especially in the scene the two shared. And yet, if I had not listened, I probably would not have noticed some shots, and I certainly wouldn't have known that the other guy in the mail room was Janet Jackson's boyfriend, or why that spat in the beauty shop happened, or other little things that are just fun to know.

I do feel a sense of loss that John Singleton died, but I also have a much greater appreciation that he lived.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Introduction to intersection

One of the Outdoor School lessons that I remember was looking beyond food chains to food webs. We had initially been taught something linear, and then it turned out the reality was more complex. 

I can't swear to whether it was them teaching kids the simpler version first, or that even the adults were starting to understand things differently. In 1994 Mufasa explained to Simba that while lions eat antelopes, after they die they become grass, and the antelope eat grass, so clearly it is material that can be taught to children, but it can also make sense to build up to complex things.

When we understand the various kinds of discrimination, there is a lot of complexity. 

You have your basic sexism, more commonly referred to as misogyny now, but it used to be called chauvinism a lot. Those changes in terms ideally help people understand the forces behind them better. You may nonetheless notice a resistance to understanding at times, often expressed as a resentment of political correctness.

It is still a great thing to understand something and to be able to express it. There is a power in naming. It's worth trying to understand.

There is a complexity to misogyny. There is even more complexity to racism.

Racism is not just judging someone by the color of their skin, though that comes up.

Racism is also white supremacy. There was a weird reference to "Aryan" in my Western Civilazation text book about peaceful people in India being mowed down by invaders. That probably came from theories of 19th century French writer Arthur de Gobineau who had this idea of blond white people migrating and founding all of the major civilizations. That's not how it happened, but before his work became popular with Nazis, it was popular with pro-slavery people in the United States .

Therefore, the next thing that it is important to know about racism is that there is also anti-Blackness, which indicates that brown people (who may also be referred to as yellow and red - it is hard trying to keep a necessary discourse about ugly things from turning ugly) are not as good as white people, but still better than if they were Black.

I have written before about how legislation after Bacon's Rebellion made slavery permanent for Black people as a response to Black and white indentured servants banding together. Now, let's remember that quote from Lyndon B. Johnson:

If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you.

I mention those to point out the value of having one race still lower than the other lower races, at least for people who want to think that way. 

(For me, going through and describing it makes me feel like crawling out of my skin, but I believe it is important. I also feel unqualified, but if it is easier as a starter to hear it from someone white and straight and cis, okay, and I will try and give some good resources in a later post.)

There are other prejudices that come into play: homophobia and ableism are big ones, but you will also see ageism at times, and growing fatphobia. Somewhere between white supremacy and anti-Blackness you can find colorism, where things like skin tones and hair texture become important. Money and class still come into play; some socialism-minded people will tell you that fixing them will fix everything else, but they are wrong.

You may also have seen the term BIPOC, for Black and Indigenous People Of Color, acknowledging that "nation of immigrants" does not describe what their historical experience has been.

Having so many vectors of hate is a complication to understanding everything. That some people will internalize the racism of the dominant culture at their own expense can complicate things. But also - and this is what we talk about when we talk about intersectionality - many people fit into more than one category of marginalization. 

So you might have a white disabled woman or a Black gay man or an Asian lesbian, and that gives them different experiences, and may cause them to relate differently. 

I want to make three points here. 

1. I know I'm repeating, but the structure is more of an issue than personal feelings. I reiterate it because that is what makes "reverse racism" a ridiculous charge. Even if I am treated with extra suspicion by a person of color, there are historical reasons for it, and there is a framework supporting me. Back to the white woman calling the police on the Black man in Central Park when he pointed out that it was not an off-leash area for her dog; she knew that calling the police and calling him a threat was dangerous. Video and awareness brought some mild consequence to her, but historically she has whiteness backing her up, and he doesn't. Let's reverse structural racism first and then worry about individual courtesy.

2. If we could get over this desire to exert power over others, we would not need to find so many things to hold against people. The dominator culture model may not have enough analysis beyond gender relations, but it does still get at a core part of the problem.

3. When there are prejudices, and especially as they are built into society and jobs and government, it is easy not to notice them if they don't apply to you. This is a key concept for when we talk about privilege. 

Here is an easy example, looking only at gender and ignoring race (which would add complexity.)

There are different requirements of attractiveness for women than men with most jobs. (Somewhat less in tech.) This tends to mean extra money spent on hair and makeup and clothes. It is magnified since women tend to be paid less, even for the same jobs. 

It is very easy for a man to not know this. It is also quite easy for men to give excuses as to why the wage gap is fair (that are wrong), and pretty easy for them to say that the extra outlay is a choice and not really necessary (also wrong). These are things outside of their own experience. They have to listen to someone with a different experience to understand it, and they are conditioned to assume that they know more about... everything, really.

Now, this discussion is going to go on hold until Monday, and we can spend Thursday and Friday talking about John Singleton, but I want to leave you with one point to ponder until Monday.

How much do you get to ignore if you are on the receiving end of combined white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and misogyny?

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Navigating hierarchies in the microcosm

How's that sound for fancy talk?

I want to get to why people say to listen to Black women and what that means, and I don't want to waste a lot of time cushioning the blows to egos that people might get as they deal with their own privilege.

However, all of the factors that lead up to it are fairly complex, and a lot of it is stuff that happens without a lot of thought. It is more a matter of conditioning than nature, but that conditioning runs deep enough that it can feel unnatural to challenge it. 

My solution to that is going to be a sort of circumnavigation to it, where subsequent posts build on each other. That is my natural tendency anyway (which makes me worry about exactly how much patience reading my blog requires).

First up, I am going to link to a post that I linked to ages ago:

http://paulgraham.com/nerds.html

It is a long post that covers a range of things, and I cannot say that I completely agree with Graham's conclusions, but it fascinated me at the time. (His post is from 2003, and I first read it in 2012.) Parts of it definitely resonate with me. The relevant part for today is quite small, but I think true:

Because they're at the bottom of the scale, nerds are a safe target for the entire school. If I remember correctly, the most popular kids don't persecute nerds; they don't need to stoop to such things. Most of the persecution comes from kids lower down, the nervous middle classes.

Now I am going to tell you something from my own experience; when the most popular girl in the school brought some friends to cluster in front of me and talk about how fat I was, it felt like it was every girl in school. It was probably not more than five or six girls total, but part of the effectiveness of bullying is that it feels like it contains the mass of society, whether that is by using superior numbers or superior strength or some other edge. 

(This is also why a smaller kid who bugs you is not a bully, but a pest, though they can still make your life miserable.)

Anyway, since reading that all of those years ago, I have come to recognize it as true. My school experience was never anywhere near as stratified as The Breakfast Club or The Outsiders showed, and there were a lot of different groups with their own hierarchies. You could still point to some people as more popular though, and these were generally not your worst people. If there was a group of boys that were friends, it was probably going to be the least cute one, without a girlfriend, who would pick on you. It's logical; in lieu of other assets, he can at least assert superiority by going after someone below him. 

Like Suzy on the playground when I was six, I have also written about the cafeteria when I was fourteen before. I will probably get to them again soon because I have gotten some new insights, but here is one interesting thing about that incident: for some reason it was just girls that day.

My junior high group was more or less five other girls and four boys, with some fluctuation. We did not get picked on a lot. We did have teachers tell us to quiet down at least once when we were having too much fun, but despite being overwhelmingly nerdy we did not attract a lot of abuse, except for that day.

Perhaps it was safety in numbers, but I tend to think now that some of it was the guys being gone. 

For future reference, studying one form of bigotry does not automatically mean that you understand all forms, but you find parallels. You should not even try and draw a straight line between misogyny and racism, but if you notice similarities, pay attention.

In Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne, Manne grapples with what misogyny means and how it plays out. Is it really hatred of women? Is it really dehumanizaton?

There is a lot to it, but a key part is that men expect women to be available for them, with an understanding that some women will already be property of others. That would explain why so many men after grossly coming on to a woman will then apologize to her husband after they find out that she is taken.

A less obvious example might be how men like telling random women to smile: does it reflect an actual interest in her emotional state, or is it more an injunction to not kill his buzz?

A good one to check right now is how a man handles political disagreement with women versus other men. There is a different anger at feminine disagreement, though if you ask about that, it is very offensive.

Remember, for a long time a woman was viewed as the property of her father until she married, at which time she was deeded over to her husband. Many of the moves toward legal equality have happened in my lifetime, and there are other moves that have not happened at all. It's not surprising that there are un-examined expectations.

So, in retrospect I have to wonder if the absence of any boys at our table that day made us seem like fair game. I had realized a while ago that perhaps I should not have taken the incident so much to heart in light of the fact that none of them were boys that I found attractive or nice; I did not care anything about them until then. (Maybe that was the problem.) Looking back in light of Graham's work, I can also say that none of those boys stood out athletically or musically or intellectually. 

The really cute and talented boys didn't need to bug us, but even for those boys, if they had been nice we would have talked to them. We were all pretty nice people. If they wanted to dominate, though, yeah, that approach was probably best.

Interesting tidbit: a few years ago one of the boys contacted me through Facebook and I brought up the incident. He had no memory of it. He expressed regret, because the next year he got bad acne and was really unpopular, and he would hate it if anyone treated his daughter like that. 

My experience could not seem as real as his own, or an imagined one to his traditional property. It doesn't make him a bad person, and I didn't necessarily want him to be haunted for life, but he has not engaged with patriarchy and come away a better person. If he is in a solid enough place in life he probably does not feel a need to pick on anyone, but that is not so much enlightenment as luck.

That's probably enough for today, but let me point out the obvious: these interactions are rooted in rank and power. bell hooks has used the phrase "dominator culture" for this. It turned a light on in my head, but I have not read a lot beyond that. 

The term was first popularized by Riane Eisler, who contrasts the dominator model with the partnership model, and whose work focuses on relationships between men and women. 

Therefore, it relates well to today's content, but we will be moving beyond that to intersectionality.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The unbearable whiteness of tech bros

That title may feel a little in-your-face. 

It happened because I got mad. I got mad at myself for not just coming right out and saying that the problem was white people, and then I got mad that it felt so necessary to cushion the blow because white people are so sensitive about their skin color. 

Allow me to insert my periodic reminder that I am white and I do know it. I'm not trying to fool anyone about that. I am also not ashamed of it, nor am I trying to make anyone else feel ashamed of being white. However, our society has a legacy of patriarchy that has reflected and sustained a certain power structure, and we have to deal with that. As much as I love kindness, an individual commitment to niceness will not fix this.

Now let's get back to the movie.

In The Social Dilemma we get a parade of white men (Jaron Lanier's dreadlocks do not make him any less white), most of whom got rich off of social media and now feel bad about it. They have been thinking about it deeply - one has co-founded a center - and yet somehow they don't offer anything really helpful. 

Maybe they are talking to the wrong people.

Personally, I wanted to scream "Where are the Black women?"

I had included multiple links in the previous posts that approached that, but here is another article I like:

https://techonomy.com/2020/09/the-social-dilemmas-blindspot/

We disagree somewhat on the statistics - I remember an additional brown guy - but I am not going to watch it again. It wasn't that great, and it's more important to follow the information that will help. There are people who have been working on this. I want to say more about that later. Today I want to focus on the reasons for the gap.

Early in the film, the interviewer asked several of the subjects to name the problem and got a bunch of blank stares. I was saying "People. It's people. Say people." Then someone did say it, so we're getting closer, right? But still not doing anything with it.

They did kind of poke at how structural racism can be a factor. There was a line about it being white guys, and they showed some footage related to white supremacists. The family was carefully made a blended family, so you had two races represented. And yet, they still just couldn't come out and identify racism as a key problem. The white family members had more character development; the white talking heads got more screen time.

Here's the thing: people - at least especially white people - get easily offended about racism. I felt that pressure myself in just writing about the movie, and yet, I know that I am not going to get anywhere without addressing it; I would like to see proof that Jeff Orlowski knows that too. 

Even more, I would like to see Tristan Harris (no relation) talk about the conversations he has had with people who have traced the spread of white supremacy through different aspects of internet use. I would like to see him talk about seeking out people who have faced online harassment. Many of those people will be women, and women of color, and Black women, and they will be queer and non-binary and some will have disabilities and knowing all of that WHY IS THIS A PARADE OF WHITE MEN?

No offense, white men. I am fond of many of you. I also know that society has prioritized you in a way that can make it very uncomfortable for you to have to consider the opinions of people who are not white and male. I have seen levels of offense taken at some questions that should be really surprising (because the questions are actually pretty mild), but then it happens often enough that it loses the ability to surprise. No, it doesn't mean that everything is easy for you; but that was never the point. When you won't listen to that, though, and when you won't allow a point that doesn't have you at the center, well, then you suck.

And when a subset of white men - and mind you, they are frequently not poor white men but raised in affluent areas and getting good educations with connection to capital - controls the conversation around technology, there should be nothing surprising about the technology reflecting and exacerbating patriarchy. It would require effort and awareness to change that.

Therefore, it is also completely logical that these are not the best people to solve the problem.

I mean, I guess it's nice that some of them acknowledge there is a problem. When we say "If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem", I can see how they think they should become the solution. Great. It's going to require de-centering. It's going to require listening to people who do not look or sound like you, and paying them and crediting them. 

"Disrupt" is a very popular word in tech, but if the only disruption is that some new white men become rich, it's not that big a disruption, is it? 

To be fair, The Social Dilemma focused on the bad that is done, while briefly mentioning the good in the beginning. There is a lot of good, and people from the margins have used that bandwidth effectively, and then been targeted for it. Listen to them.

And because I think a lot of people have heard that we need to listen to Black women but don't really understand what that means or why it is important, that is what I am going to try to address next.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Horror un-fan

When I was a child I did not understand why anyone would write something with an unhappy ending. If you were in control, and could choose what happened, why would you make bad things happen? It's not that I objected to there being conflicts for adventure, of course, but it should all resolve in a positive way.

Decades later, I guess my first answer was that you are not really in control. I found that on my first novel; it did not end the way I had been planning on. My mind was doing all of these leaps and somersaults to try and make it come out right, and then it was clear that it wasn't right. For those people and circumstances, they were eventually going to end up together but it wasn't going to happen then.

Later, I would read short stories by novelists I loved and be kind of appalled. It turns out the sometimes the short form makes it fun to experiment with the dark side of things, whereas with the longer commitment of a full work, that would feel very different. I have written some dark, short stuff.

The thing that hasn't changed, though, and I hope it doesn't, is that I still fill my work with good people who try and do good things. Not everyone is like that, but I try to still see the humanity of those who aren't even trying. Ultimately no matter how frustrating people are (and that can be a lot), I still love people and am good at liking them. There have been books that I should have liked in terms of plot and everything, but where I was ultimately held back by the contempt for humanity that I felt coming from the writer. That is my sensibility.

When I don't like horror, it's not that I get scared, or grossed out, or anything obvious. I just don't enjoy it.

This was not true of old classic horror; I have a real fondness for old B movies, especially when they are getting mocked by late night hosts. There have been a lot of movies that are as terrible as they are fun. I love those. 

I don't love movies that fetishize how lovely women's bodies can be as you kill and dismember them, especially when they deserve it for having sex, or for being beautiful but out of reach for some guy. 

I don't love movies that have a group of people that you care about dying one by one, until finally the last one gets to kill the monster. Making them people you don't care about doesn't help it for me. Also, making the last character die instead of surviving doesn't help.

Based on my basic objections to horror, things like the surge in popularity of "torture porn"  or the more nihilistic movies where no one overcomes anything aren't going to solve it for me.

For the record, I think when I remember questioning why people would make movies like that, it was probably due to my father's fondness for Clint Eastwood movies. Whether they were the Westerns or the Dirty Harry movies, those were bleak, from a humanity standpoint. Maybe I am not surprised that Clint turned out the way he did.

I read some pretty bleak non-fiction, but I want my movies to be fun. However, if someone makes a really good point about something via horror, then I may feel like I need to watch it.

Get Out  and Us had a lot to think about. I don't regret seeing them. I kind of got the points they were making by reading about them, but watching is different.You feel it more.

I could never enjoy a Purge film, but I get why they might be important. I might get something out of Bird Box or A Quiet Place, but I don't think I want to.

If I give in and watch more horror, it will probably be for Bong Joon-ho, with Parasite and The Host. If I don't want to, it is because of Ki-jung and Hyun-seo, but I suspect their respective losses are deliberate. I think he is making a point; if I do watch them it will be for that.

I would probably still be happier watching those than watching the Bad Idea movies.

Related posts:

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-other-gotham.html

https://sporkful.blogspot.com/2018/11/the-ghost-and-mrs-muir-was-stupid-movie.html

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Director Spotlight: JORDAN PEELE

Watched for this: Get Out (2017), Us (2019) 

It is not often that you can say you have seen a director's entire oeuvre, but with Jordan Peele, I can.

(I am one movie away from having seen all of John Singleton's features, and I have seen all features directed by Denzel Washington, but there are television episode that don't always seem worth the effort, except for one that totally was.)

It may make the most sense to compare Peele to Denzel Washington - director of three features - where the directing is competent without being showy. I felt more of an emphasis with Washington on bringing out the best in the actors and going for the heart, but that may be more due to the material. 

It wouldn't even make sense to go for heart-warming in horror.

I cannot do a good job of comparing Peele to other horror directors, because I do not watch a lot of horror. 

I am pretty sure that Peele has.  

I did watch three seasons of Key & Peele for this. That was a comedy show but they brought in horror elements a lot; not just for Halloween. Some of that was mining tropes (my favorite was probably the sketch with the vampires who didn't really enjoy all the leather and partying), but some of it was also introducing weird pieces of eeriness and existential horror into odd places.

I will probably go more into my own feelings about horror tomorrow, but I watched Get Out and Us (with trepidation) because I thought they were important. I thought they were dealing with important things. 

Eddie Murphy had a pretty well known bit back in the day (and Peele was inspired by it) about how you can't make a horror film with a Black family in it because when they move into a haunted house and find out it is haunted, they will leave. 

"What a beautiful house!"
(Demonic voice) "Get out."
"Too bad we can't stay."

There is something in there about Black people having more sense, but the corollary is that horror movies involve people making a lot of poor choices (a Geico commercial has teens running past an escape care to hide behind chainsaws) to keep the plot moving.

Because of this I felt that there would be pressure on Peele to make it so that you could feel that your characters were smart, and their choices were reasonable, but they were still getting into trouble.

Some spoilers will follow, though they will probably be more confusing than revealing if you have not seen the movies.

The removal of stupid choices was handled well. With Us, the trouble follows the family home. They are in a place where they should be safe and have every reason to be.

Get Out is a little trickier. Chris has reasons to leave the rest of the Armitage family behind, but doesn't. The ways in which they are terrible are so terribly normal, and also there is Rose. Because she acts like she is overestimating her family, and then angry at herself for doing so, he does not doubt her until the last possible moment, when it is too late.

There are two other things with that, though. 

His early loss of his mother and the absence of family has left him more vulnerable. A girlfriend is more important and harder to give up. That's what makes him as easier target; it is not just that he is vulnerable, but there are fewer people to come looking for him when he disappears. That makes the Armitage family more gruesome.

But Chris still has a friend. 

As ridiculous as some of Rod's ideas seem, and as much as he seems to inflate the power and authority that are his due as a TSA agent, it is Rod's friendship that saves Chris. It is also Chris having a pet that needs care, so that Chris and Rod communicate more and that thread is established.

As creepy as Us is, it mattered to me that Adelaide had to check on Umbrae, and that she tried to stop Pluto from dropping the match. They were children, and they looked like her children. Even though at that point you are finding out some unsettling things about her, even though at this point she has killed and will kill at least once more, she is not callous about it. That smile as they drive away is unsettling - will she stop caring? - but humanity is not extinguished yet.

Not exactly heart-warming, perhaps, but still something that I care about.


Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Some thoughts on the vice-presidential debate

This was not what I intended to write, but it was another bad day. Some elements repeated from yesterday, and will play a role again tomorrow. There was also a completely surprising new development that will be keeping us busy for a while. I feel like screaming a lot, so I might as well write about politics.

1. Pence really cannot stand women being able to talk, can he? 

2. You need the ability to kill the mic, yes, but also, there really needs to be fact-checking, especially with his swine flu nonsense.

3. It shouldn't be that hard to say that you support the peaceful transfer of power. I get Trump not admitting it, the same way I get him not denouncing racism; expectations could not go lower. But Pence is the one who is theoretically not a malignant narcissist and capable of speaking in complete sentences. If he were to say that they respect the will of the American people and the law, there is still plenty of room to get in "But I believe we are going to win", and it would be at least a little comforting. Sure, Donald would not like stepping down, but if everyone around him accepts it, they can probably get him to leave with them. It's scary.

3a. Though it was a little funny that he couldn't admit that Trump is old. Failure to actually answer the question asked was in no way surprising.

4. Obviously, vote. Vote early. Drop off ballots instead of mailing them if you can. Ask for help getting to the polling place if you need it. I guess record if there are people intimidating you. I wish we didn't have to think about things like this, but we do. Put all of that together and vote.

I realize that is focusing on the problems with those currently in power, rather than on the qualities of those whom I hope will soon be in power. It is hard to ignore the horror show.

However, I should also add that while I was not initially thrilled with Biden being the nominee, I heartily approve of Harris being his running mate. I thought it showed growth in him, and a willingness to do better that seems to be borne out by his messaging. And then, watching someone capable of kindness, empathy, and deep thoughts has been a nice change. Four years is a long time to miss that. 

So, yes - enthusiastically now - Biden/Harris 2020.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The mystery of the mutant sunflower

 It has been a bad day, and I am too angry to write well about a complex topic. I'll figure it out.

In order to write something at all, I am going to write about the mutant sunflower. It does fascinate me.

I did an internet search to see if anyone had similar issues. I found one entry on a UK gardening site from 2016.

One person suggested that there was probably damage at the stem, resulting in an errant bud. That would have had to have happened about twenty times. When I first saw all the extra buds I wasn't even sure they would be viable. Some waited longer, but they are still coming through.

I would be shocked if we get any seeds from this one.

Another suggestion was that a seed for a multi-branching breed got mixed into the seed packet. They said to look forward to being able to pick for bouquets.

That comment made sense, because looking at multi-branching varieties they do tend to have longer stems. They also don't tend to have that one big "normal" head surrounded by all the little ones. The big one is starting to lose the petals; is has been blooming longer and now it has all the little heads crowding it out, but it followed a normal growth trajectory.

No one came up with an answer that seemed to match.

I am guessing it is some kind of accidental hybrid. I have enjoyed watching it, and now even as all of the sunflowers are starting to droop, watching and waiting for seed formation is interesting. I don't care if birds take them all; I just want to watch it happen.

And it is really good to have a garden when you have days like today.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Thoughts on The Social Dilemma

I admit that hype makes me very suspicious. When I started seeing people talking about how scary or disturbing The Social Dilemma was, I raised an eyebrow. 

Where I really went in prejudiced against it was when someone who had just watched it responded "Fake news!" to a story that wasn't fake. I mean, there was room to argue the story's significance, but to dismiss it so quickly, and with such a parroted phrase... maybe it has the wrong message.

Having watched the movie now, it's a little more complicated. 

The unalloyed praise I will give it is that Vincent Kartheiser is a really good actor, and choosing him was great casting. He brought nuance to his three roles as Engagement, Growth, and Advertising AIs, and not everyone could pull it off as well. I have nothing bad to say about him.

I will say that the movie indicated a level of it being personal that doesn't ring as true for me. I won't really fight it though. If there is a level where if you realize that your brain is changing and that you are acting in ways that are not in your best interests because some various groups want your attention and so the social media company that you use is manipulating you to sell that attention... even if it's not personal for them, it may be reasonable to act as if it is personal for you.

I did roll my eyes a little at the older sister who raised the warning voice but was mostly ignored being named Cass. Subtle.

Otherwise, my concerns about it are a couple of minor ones that relate to a big one.

Let's start with the hype. I will never be able to read Dan Brown because of how much people like him. He may be a good author but I don't know and that's on me. However, I do have a friend who was excited to read him and got out some art history books, and found some easy errors, So maybe my feelings about hype have some basis in people getting excited about things that don't stand up to the scrutiny.

With the hype for this movie, people are finding it eye-opening and scary. I hope that doesn't lead to panic and poor decisions, like someone deciding to disconnect and losing a reliable source of human contact. Some interactions are toxic, but not all of them are. There were people raising alarm bells about girls finding pro-anorexia and bulimia sites back in 2004 at least, and there was definitely cyber-bullying happening then, but there have also been people finding support systems there. Internet has been a lifesaver for queer teens who have a hard time finding acceptance or role models close to home.

That leads to a reminder that a lot of this information is not new. I have been aware of Jaron Lanier's work for about a decade now. I'm not saying that there haven't been any changes, but if The Social Dilemma was a total surprise to you, then you should think about what news sources you are using, and if there might be ways you could be better informed. 

Is that a little concern or a big concern? Let's get to that other "little" thing: an absence of fact-checking on a statement accepted as fact.

Linguist Dr. Caitlin Moriah posted an awesome rebuttal to Tristan Harris' throwaway comment that people didn't panic when bicycles were new, because they did:

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1310312499355422720.html

This is very worth reading. For me, the line jarred me because I remembered something about a "bicycle smile" that would have been seen as a corrupting element. Dr. Moriah knows a lot more, and she told it in a fun manner.

I would feel better about The Social Dilemma if they had fact-checked that comment. Maybe it seemed obviously true to them, so they let it pass, but that seems like it could disqualify them from being good guides for us.

You may also have noticed that they weren't really guides. Did you get an answer other than deleting your social media - either just from your phone or completely - and did it feel helpful? Once the youngest daughter grabbed a hammer to free her phone from the timer safe, sure her father was going to talk to her, but what was he going to say? 

Otherwise the answer is for the people in tech to get a conscience, or maybe some laws can get passed to save us from ourselves. Does that sound likely?

I have read some other pretty good things on what was missing from the movie, and I will link them at the end. 

On my own I noticed one glaring abyss of a crater or a lack, but that becomes a much bigger topic that even naming will cause some people to be offended, and yet ignoring it causes a perpetual cycle of trouble. 

I'll save that for tomorrow. For now, I recommend the following three links:

https://slate.com/technology/2020/09/social-dilemma-netflix-technology.html

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1308542908291661824.html

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1306341560548757505.html

 

Friday, October 02, 2020

Comedy specials

When I was coming up with my original list of movies to watch, I saw that Robert Townsend had directed Eddie Murphy: Raw (1987). I had seen the clip about Bill Cosby criticizing Eddie Murphy for using bad language of course, but I had really not watched any comedy since they quit having the standup spotlight on VH-1. That felt like a gap.

After some looking at my options, I ended up also watching Richard Pryor... Here and Now (1983, directed by Richard Pryor), The Original Kings of Comedy (2000, directed by Spike Lee), and The Original Latin Kings of Comedy (2002, directed by Jeb Brien).

(Jeb Brien is really more of a music video guy, but you shouldn't need a lot of direction for a comedy special. I did like the "Low Rider" segment, but see, that was kind of music video-ish.)

I didn't laugh nearly as much as I'd hoped to. 

Of course, comedy is often very contemporary, and may not age well, except that I know bits that have, from a few different comics. I would still be laughing at old Bill Cosby records if he hadn't ruined that by being a rapist. 

Well, that might relate.

That's not saying that all of the comics are terrible people, either, but they weren't always punching up, at least; lots of homophobia. 

Some of it was really sad. When Eddie Murphy was talking about breaking his engagement because of being unable to trust that he wasn't being used, and the people wanting to pick fights now that he's famous... sometimes I cringed for him and sometimes I just felt really sorry for him.

I think I could really enjoy listening to Bernie Mac now if he were still alive and doing comedy. That makes me sad in a different way.

As it was, my favorite moment was with Richard Pryor. People in the audience were handing him different objects to riff on, and someone handed him a live hermit crab. Pryor did talk to the creature, imagining its thoughts, but he also made sure to have someone put it somewhere safe, remembering that it was a living creature. There was a tenderness that touched me.

Putting all of them together made me wonder if there was really a good place for comedy, with all the self-loathing it seemed to thrive on.Maybe that is not the best way to get our entertainment.

Except, even though there are a lot of things I can't find funny, I laugh all the time. I have done comedy sets here and there, and it was only really self-loathing once. People still laughed, a lot, but people laughed when it wasn't coming out of terrible pain too. I know that it's possible, but the trend often seems to be comics who may have too much self-hatred or too little integrity or some combination that makes it impossible for them to condemn serial sexual predators.

I might still be wondering about it, but I finally started that free Netfllix trial. That's how I watched The Social Dilemma, and that's how I watched Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018, directed by Madelaine Parry and Jon Olb).

Wow.

I remember reading about how it was the future of comedy, but also that it announced Gadsby's retirement. Yes, I remember the obligatory jokes about how could it then be the future, like it couldn't possibly mean that other comics would move in that direction. 

I don't know if they will, but they should.

If you haven't seen it - and reading about it is no reason not to - apparently a lot of Gadsby's previous humor was based on her coming out, and being a lesbian and mining the humor from that. She did still talk about that, and worked in her art history background really well, but she gave a fuller picture, with things she had previously kept hidden. The story about a man starting to beat her up because he thought she was a man hitting on his woman, then realized his error and apologized because he didn't hit women... there is humor to that, though it is humor with an ugly side. But there's more.

Keeping it a joke meant not telling the rest of that story, where he beat her up anyway because she was a lesbian, and not very feminine, so hitting was okay. 

There were a lot of stories and a lot of laughs, but there was also raw emotion, and a realization that she had frozen her trauma to be able to get laughs from it, and the reason she needed to leave comedy was to heal.

That was powerful on its own, but while I was finding it, I saw another special. I wondered what her previous shows were like, for comparison, so I planned to watch it.

It wasn't previous.

Hannah Gadsby: Douglas (2020, directed by Madeleine Parry)

It was new, and it was funnier. 

It was still meaningful. It still made good use of the art history background. It was still personal as she went over getting a late autism diagnosis and some of the misconstrued evidence along the way. 

Masterful job of managing audience expectations.

And also, for all the fun we could have listening, I bet it was more fun for her too. 

It's not that her past pain didn't inform her art, but she didn't have to drag around the extra baggage of unhealed wounds. 

Who knew?

If that's not the future of comedy it should be.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Director Spotlight: ROBERT TOWNSEND

Had already seen: none
Watched for this: Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Eddie Murphy: RAW (1987), The Five Heartbeats (1989), B*A*P*S (1997)
Have not seen: Lots

Robert Townsend has 41 director's credits, as well as many production, writing, and acting credits.

When I started this focus on Black directors, I had originally planned to watch 22 films, including four by Townsend. I ended up adding at least ten films (I am still looking for some) and several shorts, because in many cases I felt compelled to view more. That has not been the case with Robert Townsend. I got very frustrated with him.

I saw Raw and The Five Heartbeats first, and I didn't love them, but I didn't hate them. With The Five Heartbeats, the two brothers bought a big home for their whole family based on their success; it seemed unlikely to me that they could have a falling out so big where Duck never knew that his nephew was named after him. Like, your mother never told you and tried to get you to make up? But okay, the script was based on events they wanted to happen, not completely organically: that happens a lot. 

It was easy to see where the same guy who did The Five Heartbeats also did that opening in Raw; very similar aesthetic and feeling.

Where I started to get mad at Townsend was with B*A*P*S. It's not just that it was pretty stupid (and still pretty inorganic), but it was stupid in insulting ways that did not respect the dignity of the cast. I had a hard time finishing it. 

When reading about it I learned that it was the first time that Townsend was working with a script that he hadn't written, and that made me feel very sorry for Troy Byer, who had written it.

She does not seem to be bitter. She acknowledges that it was a first for him, and if she didn't feel like her work made it on to the screen, at least she was able to try directing her own work later. I feel less forgiving.

(Two separate points on that: I don't know whom to blame for not having the title word figure at all in the movie and then be a surprise at the end; that was just weird and pointless. Also, Halle Berry is distractingly pretty, even with everything they did to make her look ridiculous.)

Then, with Hollywood Shuffle, my feelings became more complicated. 

There were definitely some laughs, and there were things that were less funny. 

One big joke that didn't land for me was in the Jheri Curl section, where the woman's breath was bad, but they were going to do it anyway, because he likes doing it. Bad breath is kind of gross, and you can play that up in a couple of different ways, but that didn't happen. It was just there for a meaningless "ick".

(Actually the repetition of "I like doing it" was pretty funny, but there were other ways of working it in.)

Then of course there was the humor that could be uncomfortable in that it was illustrating how racial stereotypes make things difficult for Black people in the film industry. That discomfort serves an important purpose. If laughter makes it go down better, great!

My problem was that there didn't seem to be a lot of kindness to the other characters, actors or fast food workers or relatives. It wasn't dark comedy either, where you expect everything to be a little scabrous and that's the tone. It was just that no one else mattered so much. 

At the end other people could talk about how sincere and appealing Bobby was - after giving up on his Hollywood dreams and going to work at the post office gets him a gig in a commercial about working at the post office - but none of the other characters get to be that special and appealing.

I felt sympathy too, because I do not doubt many bad experiences in Townsend's career, leading up to this film and continuing after. If he had really been giving Hollywood up to work at the post office, this might have been that scabrous comedy. 

Instead, Hollywood will remain for him, but you can just go work at the post office. Then ten years after making this, he would become the bad experience for yet another writer/actor/but not yet director.