Monday, December 1, 2014

I Am a Poor Boy Too...

I am a poor boy too…

One of my least favorite Christmas songs for the majority of my life has been “The Little Drummer Boy”. I can’t really explain why. Maybe the constant ‘parumpumpumpum’ing got on my nerves. I never really like the Rankin and Bass animated short because, even by its standards when made in 1968, it still looked cheap. But as I grow older Christmas has come to mean many different things for me, as it should for everyone. Obviously each year I write a lot about it. I find that there are few other times that inspiration strikes as strongly. Maybe Halloween. Maybe Summer. Alright, maybe I just love Christmas.

But recently I was listening to what has become my favorite rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy” by Josh Groban from his CD Noel. Something about the fullness of that version (probably the bagpipes) just lit me up and I couldn’t help but get teary eyed. And I think it was because that had been the first time I really truly listened to the lyrics. And I don’t mean listen as in heard them, I’ve had the words memorized since I was six, but I mean this is the first time the words really landed and had an impact of me, now some twenty years later.

Regardless of what you believe I think it’s still possible to let yourself be affected and even changed by the simple, relatable nature of different belief systems. I may not classify myself as a Buddhist or a Taoist, but I have read and studied them a great deal and allowed them to resonate with and affect me. At Christmastime, there tend to be three camps of folks who discuss “the true meaning of Christmas”.

  1. Far right/ extreme Christians who feel it’s only about Jesus’ birthday and celebrating anything other than that is wrong and sinful and if you want a TV for Christmas you’re selfish and if you sit down to Hanukah dinner with your neighbor you’re running the risk of blasphemy and also Santa is a rearranged anagram for his true identity: S A T A N.
  2. Cynics and “rationalists” who think Religion, and Christianity in particular, is stupid and that Linus’ speech in A Charlie Brown Christmas is preachy because Christmas is actually and amalgamation of traditions stolen from the Pagan Holiday celebration Yule so you should feel stupid for believing in magic or miracles and grateful to them for believing in reason and science and making your better by posting photos from the “I F*cking Love Science” Facebook page explaining away silly beliefs and informing you that Neil DeGrasse Tyson is, in fact, God’s true secret identity.
  3. People who just like to be happy and want others to be happy and do their own thing so they’re pretty chill about whatever goes on during the Holidays.

I like to think I fall into the third camp. But we’re all familiar with the other two and probably want to beat our heads against a wall when the Holidays come around.

The point to that mini rant is to explain the perspective that, hey, it’s Christmas, so let’s just relax. You can find value in all walks of life and all belief systems. So long as no one gets hurt, you do you BooBoo. You don’t even have to believe Jesus was a real guy to be affected by his story or by the story of those who came to celebrate his birth. History suggests a lot of contrary things about the birth of Jesus, mostly that he probably wasn’t even born in the Winter. But the nature of embellished stories can still inspire people to feel something deep and poignant, and sometimes even blatant fiction is the best driving force to get people to do something good for their fellow man. And that is the story that goes along with the The Little Drummer Boy.

Nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of a kid with a drum. But as the song goes, the little drummer boy hears of Jesus’ birth and decides he will go see the child and celebrate his birth because the rumor is he’s going to grow up to be someone pretty special.

Let’s let the little drummer boy’s story speak for itself through the song’s lyrics.

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.
Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?
Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

I spent that brief moment above justifying that it’s okay to believe whatever you want because I’m asking you to let yourself be affected by the real heart of this song. It’s going to require some of you going with me on a hypothetical journey, but I find life is a lot easier and certainly a lot more beautiful and rewarding when we do.

If you’d heard the news that the savior of all mankind had been born and all your friends were tugging at your arm saying, “Come on! Come on! We have to go see him!” What would you do? Would you drop everything you were doing and go? Or would you balk and think, “But I haven’t a gift to bring that fit to give a King.”

A lot of the time, regardless of belief, our human nature has us telling ourselves we’re not worthy. We get self conscious and scared and second guess who we are, how we’ll look, what we’ll do or say; especially at times like Christmas, when expectations seem so high.

It might seem surprising but I really don’t like getting gifts. Christmas, Birthday, whatever it is, I really feel strange when someone gives me something. I have trouble receiving them because I immediately think to myself, “Oh no! What will I get this person in return?” And it’s a terribly selfish way to act since most of the time we give things without expecting anything in return. That’s the true nature of giving. I also clam up because I’m not terribly clever at coming up with what tangible gifts to get people. I measure my ability to give in the time spent with people. Good conversation, enjoying food and drinks together, laughing, singing, joking, whatever it may be. That’s my favorite type of giving and receiving; simply spending time with the ones you love.

And so the little drummer boy had the same dilemma. What do you give to the baby who has everything? He is the son of God after all, what could he possibly need? And if you go empty handed you run the risk of looking foolish standing next to three wise men who’ve brought along frankincense, myrrh, and even gold. Better not to go then. Better not run the risk of embarrassing yourself and embarrassing God by not bringing his son something he deserves. You’re just a poor boy with a drum and tattered clothes. Surely you are a disgrace in the presence of the Lord.

Most of us wouldn’t go. It’s like feeling like you can’t go to church because you don’t own any nice, expensive, or fancy clothes. It’s not taking a chance because you’re afraid of failure and embarrassment under the judging eye of someone or something “Holy”. But the most important thing to remember is that God is not human. God doesn’t wear ties or suits, dresses or skirts. God doesn’t collect physical possessions and has no use for them. So why on earth would we think that what we offer up as our gift to God should be something tangible? It isn’t to say it’s wrong. The idea is that you simply give from your heart, the best way you can. You give openly and freely because you love God, not because you are afraid of him. So many cultures used to, and still do, offer up animal sacrifices to him. But God doesn’t want bloodshed. God wants your love. God just wants you, whoever that person may be; man, woman, or child, straight, gay, or transgender. If you’re giving from the heart, no gift is too big or too small. We are all equal in the eyes of God.

But the little drummer boy remembered, “I do have something! I have my drum! I’ll play for him on my drum!”

And so he traveled far, a dangerous journey for such a young kid, in order to reach the child everyone had been talking about. And he stood quietly behind all those who came to praise the baby. They laid down their gifts for him, some extravagant, some small and meager, and finally, when all eyes turned to the little drummer boy he stood there in silence, holding his drum.

“Little baby,” He said as he approached the young Jesus, not worrying himself with many of the judgmental eyes that were on him. The whispering voices could easily be heard. Some thought he was cute, others felt he sullied the Lord with his presence. But, much as children do, the baby Jesus had no need for judgment. Neither did his parents Joseph and Mary. They had both come from immense poverty and traveled a journey similar to the drummer boy’s.

“I am a poor boy too.” The drummer boy said as he observed Jesus’ tattered and plain surroundings. He was born in a barn! The drummer boy thought the son of God would’ve been born on a golden throne, in a castle, surrounded by servants, money, and feasting. But here he was, surrounded by farm animals, lying in a pile of hay. It brought a strange joy to him as he spoke.

“I have no gifts to bring.” The drummer said timidly, looking from Jesus to his parents. “But…” he stammered. “Shall I play for you? On my drum?”

Mary nodded. And he played. The little drummer boy played his best for the baby Jesus because it was all he knew how to do. He had no money, hardly any clothes, and certainly not much respect in the eyes of the elite, but he did have a little drum. And he could play it well.

And as he played, something amazing happened. The baby Jesus, the son of God, God himself even, smiled at him. He smiled at the little drummer boy and at his drum because this gift had been more than enough to give. His talent, something given from the heart, was worth more than anything else he could’ve given, more than all the riches on earth.

And many years later, that baby who grew into a great Rabbi would impart the same lesson to his disciples, the lesson taught to him by a poor, honest, worthy little drummer boy.

“Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.’” Mark 12:41-44

Christmas, whether or not the story of Jesus’ birth seems relevant to you, is about giving. Not just giving in the hopes of appeasing or giving out of obligation, but giving from the heart. Any gift given from the heart is a worthy gift, and any person not willing to recognize that a gift they receive, although meager, coming from their givers heart is a person who is not worthy to receive such a special gift. It doesn’t mean they can’t be worthy, but it means their focus is on receiving only tangible things, things that, if they were to burn to the ground, would be gone forever. As that little baby would one day go on to say:

"Don't store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21

Gifts that come from the heart cannot fade. Even if they are physical items, the spirit within them will never die. Even if a photograph is lost, a painting is destroyed, or a house is toppled, the spirit lives forever. The little drummer boy is proof of that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Classic Feminist Cinema, 3 You (Probably) Haven't Seen

I took a feminist film studies course when I was in college and quite enjoyed it. I don't think I had any expectations since I was still fairly new to film theory at the time. In the years since, obviously, I've become a rabid cinephile, especially of the classics. From that course I learned a great deal about women in film and to this day much of it still determines how I break down and analyze films. But the further I delve into the greats that made Hollywood the legend it now is the more I feel modern audiences take little time to appreciate the women who not only made Hollywood incredible amounts of money but also had to fight tooth and nail to get to where they were and have even a shadow's amount of power compared to the men of the same Hollywood era.

So many of these actresses are not forgotten but more-so neglected by a majority of today's male and female audiences as they find more interest in pictures like Blue Jasmine, American Hustle, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Divergent, or even Twilight. I think that's perfectly alright considering we're all a product of our times. And though I do think all those films have their merits (yes, even Twilight) and can do wonderful things for young girls, just like in the textbooks there's a lot of  history to be found on various subjects in the movies. I still hold to the fact that things are better today than they were 50 or more years ago, especially in Hollywood. (I said better, not perfect.) But there's a lot to be learned from the women that starred on the silver screen long before J-Law and Cate Blanchett.

I think we Universally reflect this attitude that the discrimination we face today is as bad if not worse than it has been historically and I think that's just how everyone feels when they're young and opinionated. But if we could go back into time 50 years you'd find a much harsher, more rule laden world than what we have now, especially for women and minorities, and especially for their roles in Hollywood. Actresses like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn, and Lucille Ball just to name a few. (And there were many.) Davis, for instance, had so much star power in getting big pictures made that she was dubbed "the fifth Warner Brother".

Barbara Stanwyck was reviled by many "traditional" men and women of the time for playing characters that were transgressive and encouraged women to be in possession of their sexuality.

Frank and Ernest comic strip writer Bob Thaves famously said of Ginger Rogers and her in comparison to her screen partner Fred Astaire that, "Sure he was great. But don't forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, backwards and in high heels."

Myrna Loy famously lobbied against racism and against discrimination in Hollywood. "Why does every black person in the movies have to play a servant?" She asked MGM execs in 1934. "How about a black person walking up the steps of a courthouse carrying a briefcase?"

 Lucille Ball was THE first female studio head in Hollywood. It doesn't get bigger than that.

To really put things in perspective, Katherine Hepburn, who said she was "unaware that women were a second rate sex," was one of the first female screen legends to make women wearing pants popular. She said, "I realized long ago that skirts are hopeless. Any time I hear a man say he prefers a woman in a skirt I say, 'Try one. Try a skirt.'" Her biographer Christopher Anderson said, "She is the person who put women in pants, literally and figuratively. She is the greatest star, the greatest actress that Hollywood has ever produced."

I think many actresses today are furthering the effort of equality in cinema and in Hollywood. Cate Blanchett's recent Academy Awards acceptance speech wonderfully reflects that women "are not a 'niche' audience." I'm fairly certain that the only people who don't like Jennifer Lawrence are crazy people and her attitude toward the Hollywood elitism is refreshing and real.

I think much of today's Hollywood royalty, like those who came before them, are just as powerful, interested, and passionate about pursuing equality in film. I don't seek to diminish or lessen the importance of women in contemporary cinema but rather illuminate the classic actresses I grew up watching whom I really love and value for being some of the first to start shaking things up and pave the way for the women of today.

Baby Face (1933)

Widely regarded as an early protofeminist film (the movement before it had the name, recognition, and steam it does today), Baby Face is a wonderful pre-code (The Hays Code) picture about Lily (Barbara Stanwyck), a former speakeasy bartender who's often forced by her father to sleep with his customers in order to keep his business afloat. Upon learning of her power over men, Lily makes a break for New York City in order to use her sexual charm to climb her way up to the top of a the Gotham Trust.

What's tricky with proto-feminism films is that on the surface or based on an initial summary they come across as being wildly sexist. Often times these were men telling tales of women the ways they wanted so the feminist perspective in classic cinema isn't as it is today, which can be portrayed by women for women or by people who truly understand the movement. Classically, you're looking at men, or women with pen names or acting as a background influence, trying to make statement that turns a traditional genre on its head. Proto-feminist cinema falls more under this type of film making or storytelling.

Baby Face is reflective of early feminist films because it treats Lily as its hero. Unlike some films of the late 70's and 80's which seemed to reflect this sort of "revenge on or punishing of women", classic films like Baby Face were profound for treating the female protagonist exactly the same (or as close as it could come) as it would a male. If, hypothetically, it were a film about a man sleeping his way to the top there would be little rancor for a character like this. A male audience would likely cheer him on for being "a man" and women would be further forced to remain silent and accept the discrimination in practice that a man is just allowed to do these things and a woman is not. So Baby Face was one of the first of its time to really empower a woman with her sexuality the way men have been portrayed as being empowered with theirs. No one questions a man's sexuality (unless it concerns homosexuality) in film because he's "cool", "suave", and "manly".

And Barbara Stanwyck doesn't play a sort of Glenn Close ala Fatal Attraction here. She's not crazy or insane or a temptress seeking to upset a "perfect" family. Fatal Attraction is a prime example of a setback in feminist (the revenge on women themes I mentioned above) cinema since Michael Douglas' character, a seemingly happy, perfectly content married business man, is tempted by Glenn Close who seeks to destroy his marriage and his family since she is so wildly obsessed with him. Eventually (spoilers) she wants to kill them all and boils their child's pet rabbit in a pot. Unsurprisingly the film ends with Close dead and Douglas' wife and children forgiving him, smiling, hugging, happy it's all behind them now. All is well THE END.

Close's character in Fatal Attraction, Alex Forrest, is completely unsympathetic because she is completely crazy. She's also the mouthpiece for a male film maker who displays little regard for women in film and considers the independent, working, business woman (like Alex) to be insane and the complacent, innocent housewife (Douglas' wife Beth) to be the "ideal woman" who loves and forgives her man no matter his transgressions. So in films like this the concept of women being on an equal playing field as a man is first punished and then these "dangerous" women are put in their place, which is six feet under.

Baby Face uses Lily in the complete opposite way Fatal Attraction uses Alex Forrest. Lily is a victim of abuse and has long suffered at the hands of her father and his customers who've raped and assaulted her. She's grown a hard shell because of it and, rather than consider herself a victim and act helpless, she takes her revenge out on men. It's a nice flip from the traditional more commonly held gender roles in film. And this revenge isn't psychotic or crazy but clear and calculated and there is an end to these means. She isn't just sort of skipping along the busy streets of New York, willingly giving herself to anyone who'll have her, no, she's playing Chess with the rich businessmen of the big apple and she's the Queen, the most powerful piece on the board and taking the pawns one by one.

The film also portrays these wealthy businessmen as idiots and fools who let the blood rush to their penises rather than their brains. But, in all honesty, that's much the reputation that these type of men really do have. Society embraces and allows men to mistreat women, but if a woman commits the same act she's immediately Hester Prynne. Even the bible condones a man divorcing and remarrying but a woman who has been divorced is committing adultery if she remarries. I'm sorry, what?

So it's easy for Lily to climb her way up the ladder because she's the only one with any real power in the film and is thus it's hero and protagonist. The men she seduces and soon replaces are old white men from old money or young white men from old money. None of them show clear skills or business savvy, rather they represent how much of the outside world views the heads of big business; as rich, greedy know-nothings.

But, as is true to form of most all classic films, Lily finds her man. Most modern audiences would consider this a betrayal to the grounds its laid as a feminist film, but context is key with any argument, especially one being analyzed historically as the beginnings of a movement. And it's one of the reasons people avoid studying classic films with a feminist eye, because they don't consider them valid to the contemporary argument. But we have to remember that, without films like these, the contemporary argument would be very different and likely not as powerful. The idea of Lily, basically, winning the game of chess and empowering herself is achieved. She has everything she wants and needs. Though even someone seeking self empowerment or self actualization can understand that no human being, male or female, deserves to be destroyed in order for us to get what we want. Because of this Lily is the perfect example of a proto-femnist film hero. She's not so callous or selfish or insane that she's willing to go down with the ship so long as it means killing all the evil men on board. She is a real human being with a heart and a conscious and she uses them. Some of the men she's toyed with have died as a result of her and she doesn't consider herself completely innocent. And she understands that this sort of thing can't go on forever or else she will become the same type of person who abused her in her past. So rather than become her own worst enemy she falls in love instead.

That might sound simple and like a typical male film maker tying a neat little bow on a cute kind of, sort of feminist picture but when you consider what it means for the films that would follow, it's truly ground breaking. The film was even cited as one of the top ten main reasons why the Hays Code was enacted in the first place. Because it was edgy, brave, and displayed the sexual empowerment of a woman, society wanted it, and all films like it, gone and forgotten because they were "dangerous" and "bad" for the public. Simply because of the fact that it still exists and can be studied as a prime example of early feminist cinema shows you can't keep a good film down and that, in the long run, you cannot suppress a powerful and important movement.

The Thin Man (1934)

Few films truly define what a modern genre has become as much as the "screwball comedy". The way most audiences think of comedies today, especially romantic comedies, fundamentally come from screwball comedies. I read a nice definition of the genre recently that really hit the nail on the head, and that is a male-female dynamic in which the female dominates both the relationship and the male and in turn challenges his masculinity. Beautiful.

A lot of films in this genre are flawless and each of them would make prime examples of early feminist films, particularly It Happened One NightMy Man Godfrey, Bringing Up Baby, Ball of Fire, and The Philadelphia Story to name a few personal favorites. All of these display strong female protagonists acting opposite men often regarded as "strong" or "masculine" and rob them of the way they're used to being treated by women who often belittle them amidst a slew of funny mishaps and errors that cause the two to fall in love.

As is typical of all films, not just the classics, a love story is often a key component to the screwball comedy. Falling in love or finding love at the end of a film was, and still is, a sure fire way of allowing the audience to leave the theater happy. I've heard a lot of arguments, especially in regard to feminism in films, that falling in love with a man or vice versa can cheapen the argument or themes of empowering women because settling down with a man means trading in your independence for complacency. Personally, I think love stories are equally relevant to feminist cinema as non-love stories simply because, you know, people fall in love a lot. It's kind of an important component of living life and creating a film that the majority of your audience can agree with. Valid arguments can be made around the block for each different way of thought, but for the sake of classic feminist cinema we sort of need to be okay with it here, like in Baby Face, because History has already happened and we can't go back and make it different.

The Thin Man, however, is a little different in that the film's protagonists, Nick and Nora Charles (played by William Powell and Myrna Loy), are already husband and wife. So during their mishaps and adventures and sleuthing, they don't fall in love for the first time. However, what I think is so wonderful about the film, and its franchise as a whole (they made 6 total), is that the two are always falling in love all over again. Not that it's lost and regained but that they appreciate, value, and cherish one another and recognize each other as equally important components of their marriage and their success as a crime solving couple. However, on the surface, the films don't paint Nick and Nora as being equals. In fact Nick is often guilty of locking Nora in cars or rooms or trying to find other ways to leave her out of the crime solving in order to keep her safe. But true to screwball comedy form, Nora always finds a way back to the adventure and to solving the mystery or bringing the film to its resolution.

Since sexism seems blatant on a surface level it shouldn't be surprising that on a subtextual level it's truly Nora who pulls all the strings, much as all the female protagonists in screwball comedies often do. Without them, the men would crash and burn and fail and its the absolute truth. You know the scene in the movie 300 in which, before making the ultimate decision to start a war, Leonidas looks to his wife first and only upon her nod does he shout, "THIS IS SPARTA!" and kick the Persian messenger into the big well? It's like that except without all the yelling and bloodshed. On the surface, all these handsome, suave, fancy, strong, manly men are nothing without their better half, she who truly holds all the power. Without a woman who rationalizes reasonably, kingdoms would fall and people would suffer needlessly. Or mysteries would go unsolved.

Myrna Loy, despite starting her career as a typecast vamp style temptress (often playing Asian characters even though she was not being Asian) eventually became the top of the town, being dubbed "Queen of the Movies" in a 1936 poll taken by movie goers. In part it was because of her character in The Thin Man which came out only 2 years prior. Nora Charles is the real brains behind the operation and often the reason the mysteries she and her husband are investigating are solved and her real life counterpart is undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons they franchised the series into 6 Thin Man  pictures.

Myrna Loy and Barbara Stanwyck are probably my two favorite actresses primarily because of the power they have on screen. They own themselves, their sexuality, are whip smart, and have the ability to make men feel smart or stupid, worthy or worthless with only a flash of their eyes. The films they were in, whether they were intended to be this way or not, are structured around them and the power they hold over their male counterpart. Particularly in The Thin Man, Myrna Loy's Nora Charles

Born Yesterday (1950)

My absolute favorite. Partly because of how much I love Judy Holliday and mostly because it's quite an important and well crafted picture. Holliday won the Oscar for best actress with her fun, quirky, ditzy performance as ex-showgirl Emma "Billie" Dawn, the girlfriend of wealthy but uncouth tycoon Harry Brock. Harry's making a run for a top spot in Washington politics and is finding his mistress an unfortunate drag on his plans since to the rest of the upper crust she comes across as an uneducated no nothing bimbo. But we find that couldn't be further from the truth when Harry hires newspaperman Paul Verrall to tutor her and Billie takes to her new-found intelligence like a duck takes to water, eventually doing what we've been waiting for her to do, stand up for herself against the oppression of both Harry and the upper class.

Judy Holliday was fairly typecast, not unlike Marilyn Monroe, as the ditsy blonde and Born Yesterday is partially responsible for that since it was a role she originated on Broadway. In reality, however, she was whip smart and even famously channeled her character of Billie when being questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee about her involvement in, or knowledge of any of her friends' involvement in, the Communist party. She essentially acted her way out of actually testifying, playing the ditsy, dumb Billie instead of Judy Holliday herself. Because she appeared to know so little about anything, she was not pursued or black listed like some of her fellow actors were.

Born Yesterday is like a movie from the future. It's so spot on in its themes and tones that the same exact film could be released this weekend and be equally as effective. But what's most effective about the film is the unabashed oppression by men in places of power against their "dames". When treated like they're not supposed to know anything or that they have a lesser place in society, many women end up believing that of themselves. This is Billie at the start of the film. She knows little of the real world or how politics work because she's been arm candy her whole life. And since she appears so ditsy at social gatherings since she can't carry on an "intelligent" conversation then it creates a problem for the politician types who are looking to make a name for themselves.

But the film goes to show that intelligence is something everyone has, especially in their own individual way. And that oppression can be the greatest cause for ignorance. Billie appears ignorant and unintelligent at first because she's been a victim her entire life. Men have treated her poorly and as a former showgirl it's not hard to imagine the way other people looked at her and perceived her. When people say things about you long enough to start to believe them. Not until Paul begins to tutor her does she understand that she isn't just a "dumb bimbo", but a human being who has value, one capable of believing and doing whatever it is she decides to do.

When Billie finally rises up against Brock it's one of the greatest, stand up and cheer moments in cinema history and is a moment that will stay with me forever.

These are just three of the many, many films out there showcasing powerful, talented women from Hollywood history. There may be more to come from me on it in the future, but if you were looking for a good jumping off point in your exploration of classic feminist cinema, these are an excellent place to start.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I'm Going to Hell and I'd Be Happy to See You There

I'm going to hell.

You read that right.

When I die, I'm going straight there. Maybe it'll be in a hand basket, maybe it'll be through some other sassy idiomatic means but regardless, that's where I'll be when I bite the dust. And to tell you the truth I'd absolutely love to see you there. I think it'll be wonderful. There'll be a whole group of us sinners down there, most the population of the entire world in fact, just sipping mint juleps I'm sure, playing pinochle or gin rummy, wearing our Sunday best just looking out upon the lakes of fire from our porches in our rocking chairs, fanning ourselves with old newspapers and commenting in our Foghorn Leghorn accents, "I say, I say it is mighty hot down here. Lord almighty!"

Why I've decided to depict all us future sufferers as old Southern Belles and Gents I don't know. It sounded funny. Mostly because it helps me make light of something so preposterous that I find it hard anyone could possibly believe. And that's "HELL!" You've heard of it. Fire and brimstone and eternal damnation and suffering. All your worst fears and nightmares come to life, played out before you like a never ending snuff film. Sounds like a terrible place. But mostly because it sounds so terrible, the older I get, the more I feel confident in knowing it doesn't exist. And if it does, I'm sure that's where I'm going. We all are. Because it's impossible for one Religion's rules or dogma to be exactly right over another's. There are so many Religions in this world it's astounding. And most all of them believe different things. And even if they're rooted in similarities, like Christianity, they make sure to distance themselves enough from other denominations to ensure they are the, "One, true Religion."

Growing up Christian and raised in a Church with its own set of rules I believed a lot of the imagery for a long time. Basically if you do good and believe Jesus is God's son then you get to party it up in this beautiful puffy cloud room called Heaven and drink wine and gorge on the fatted calf with the other people who believed the same thing. And if you do bad then you go to hell where Satan tortures you and you get to burn forever and ever because God hates people who don't believe what he tells them to.

That's most Church dogmas in a nutshell. "Do this or else fire." Thankfully, the older I get the sillier it all sounds. The more time I spend living in an array of diversity the more I realize shades of grey are the color palette of life. But despite this seemingly bleak hue of coexistence, life is rather colorful. It is precisely those different shades of grey that make it that way.

For the uninitiated, I've always been open with the fact that I am a Christian. But not as you might think. I don't believe most of the things other "Christians" do because I think they're man made, not divinely inspired. I believe in "love and treat others the way you would desire to be loved and treated", and that about sums it up. For me, all other traits of what should dictate how to live as a "good" person come from that golden rule, and the acceptance of others for being different is an inherent part of that because I want them to love and treat me with the same respect in return. Though when I simply say, "I'm Christian" I'm immediately placing a label on myself. When I say it I'm acknowledging the immediate subconscious judgment I'll be met with by the person I'm talking to, whether it be positive or negative. Because life itself, all its meanings and all its purposes, is far too abstract to convey in comprehensible terms without labels. Labels are words that help us classify complex notions, ideas, and things. Like the names of colors. What "color" truly is, is a spectrum of light in its many different forms. But we call each color by its own specific name in order to put a label on what we see so we can understand what it is without digging down into the abstract. Conversations would be awfully long if we spoke in literal terms one hundred percent of the time. So rather than say all that we simplify it with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and their variations thereafter. The English words for colors.

Now say I use the Japanese words for those same colors. Aka, daidaiiro, kiiro, midori, ao, aiiro, murasaki.

When you think of simple labeling words such as terms that represent the, technically, abstract concept of color you don't consider their representations in any other language but English to be false simply because they are not English. That's called ignorance. We accept that other languages can be translated into all other languages because at the end of the day we all communicate the same way, with labels, or, our own words. Though they are unique to a certain people they are simultaneously the same as every other language, just different. One of life's beautifully sensible contradictions. They are the same but not the same and it makes sense. And that's all language is; different "labels" used to identify the same abstruse concepts. Like color.

Now consider Religion, or more broadly belief and or faith, the same way. I define faith the same way the dictionary does, "confidence or trust in a person or thing." That's it. And in that definition I don't see the words God, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Shiva, Zeus, Muhammad, etc. They're not there. Faith, simply, is the confidence or trust that what you believe to be the truth of your life is truth. It may not be a Universal truth but it is "truth" nonetheless because it is yours and it is how you define your life. And everyone is, or should be, entitled to their own truth because your life is your own and no one else's.

But seeking to simplify the abstract or make comprehensible the incomprehensible is not something everyone is interested in doing. As I mature I find that not all are like me. We all do. When we were young it was okay to assume everyone was the same because, at that age, grasping the complexity of individualism was too difficult, so assumption provided the simplest answer; that everyone else should be like us because we make sense to ourselves. And that rational was fine when we were children. But we're adults now. And being an adult comes with a lot of responsibilities, one of those primarily being the acceptance of others for being different than ourselves the same way we don't dispute that difference in language exists as it is just a natural part of existence. Just like not everyone has brown hair and brown eyes, not all skin colors are the same, not all sexual preferences are the same, not all beliefs will or should be the same. They will be independent to us and us alone because they are ours, because we must rationalize and make sense of our individualism in how it makes sense to us independently from all others on Earth.

Though, again, as I get older the more I find that not all people are like me. Not everyone is as interested in pursuing their individualism as I am. I'm a left handed, right brained person. I think logically in my day to day tasks but more often than not few things interest me as much as abstraction, spirituality, and art. That's who I am. And whenever I urge others to get in touch with their spirituality, to think of life more abstractly, the more I realize not everyone is interested in doing that. And I have to be okay with that because I'm not a child anymore, I can't expect everyone to want exactly what I want. Some people are more logical than me, more scientific, and certainly more mathematically inclined. Some people just like living in the day to day without considering the big picture because it scares them. Some people like accepting the "Universal truth" or an organization because it relieves the pressure of having to solve those problems on their own. And so we have Religion. And we have to be okay with that. It's inevitable.

However, unlike genetic differences, religion is a man made label developed to put reason to something we all have in common; our desire to understand our meaning in this life. In itself Religion is not something or any one thing. It's meant to classify the broad strokes of belief that many of us share. If everyone said they were an individualist, no one would understand what that meant, what their basic principles are, and how they, broadly, define life and their place in it. Saying you are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, etc. provides a label to the rest of the world and to yourself so we can classify what our basic belief system is and then categorize others away into a compartment inside our brain reserved for someone else and the rest who are "like" them in order to understand them the way we all understand colors; simply. Most often, people need to make things more simple in order to understand them, not more complex. But of course no two people are the same, however this kind of classification is needed in order to prevent our heads from exploding.

Because Religion is man made it also provides a set of rules or laws that have been created by human beings, mostly men, and oddly enough all of them were created thousands of years ago. Modern Religions can spring up from time to time like Scientology, but even then most of them, like Mormonism, draw from a greater labeled Religion like Christianity, which in itself is a broad Religion with many denominations. In a simple way of putting it, Religion is terribly convoluted.

People need rules. Not everyone but most, because complete self actualization is often too difficult and too scary since it usually leads to the knowledge that you are alone in the universe. This isn't implying that you aren't in the company of others, but that because you are truly one of a kind then technically no rules apply to you the way they apply to anyone else and no one will completely understand you or the universe the way you understand yourself and your universe. Because the universe truly is yours. But it's also hers, his, and ours. It exists completely as itself but its true meaning will, and must, be different to each and every one of us. Because all of the answers to all the questions of "why?" will never be found. Some of them may be, some of them have been and we can share them amongst ourselves, but the ultimate "why" always exists, and the answers you find to your "why's" will always be different from anyone else's answers because you and everyone else is unique.

Of course we have "laws" that must be obeyed to ensure things are kept in order and to prevent chaos and anarchy from breaking out, but truth be told, when you first find self realization most people hold themselves in a higher position than the rest of the world because things that seem petty, like laws, rules, and Religion, no longer apply to them and it is extremely liberating. They have seen their "God" or whatever it is they'd like to label the answer to their question "why", and then they sit on a throne of "understanding" because they see that no one else can truly understand them. It's what I like the call the "Enlightenment Fallacy". That once you've achieved self actualization, or enlightenment, you're finished. Not that your life is over, but that you no longer have to seek the greater truths because you have found them, as they apply to you personally at least, and you get to watch the rest of the world scramble around trying to do the same thing and laugh at how silly their struggle seems.

But self actualization should more so be considered as Prometheus' fire, something that is "taken from the Gods" and given to humanity in order to assist in progress and civilization. Enlightenment is viewed by the public too often as a selfish act when what it truly should be is the most selfless thing you could ever hope to accomplish. You have had your consciousness dipped into the white hot heat of understanding the abstract and rather than letting it consume you, you allow it to fuel you and let that fuel propel you into helping others do the same. But, to make a complex situation even more complex, you must also understand that the fire of self actualization that fuels individuals isn't always the same as what fuels you. Your savior may be Jesus Christ and someone else's Muhammad and you have to be okay with that. Now most people won't be because Religion has a great way of indoctrinating people into following the rules they've created in order to control individuals and extract money from them. I don't mean this in an entirely negative way, churches and groups need contributions in order to keep those organizations running. Many of them do good work throughout the community and offer help for those who are seeking the answers to their lives, and those monetary contributions from members justify the means and allow the good works to continue.

Though it's unfortunate that despite most Religions having seemingly good intentions, several of them push the perspective that individualism is more dangerous than sameness. Because imagine having a bunch of think for yourselfers running around, tearing down the fabric of how the world has worked since its beginning. That's bad for business. And believe me, it is a business. Self actualization seems dangerous to most because it is the understanding that you are who you choose to be and you need no one else's acceptance or approval to be that person. You are allowed to reject all other forms of Religion and belief because they are not your own, and the belief that you have found is the most substantial to yourself and, truly, all you need. Though it never entitles you to rejecting others for being different since, in a way, it is exactly the same thing you're asking of others. It should always be, so long as no one gets hurt or discriminated against, we are free to believe what we choose. And I mention the avoidance of discrimination but I believe it is the fundamental building block of ignorance, which only limits your own ability to achieving great self actualization. But of course true enlightenment is free of conditions, meaning when it is achieved there is an automatic understanding that hurt and discrimination have no place in this world.

Because of all these things and the knowledge that many religions and beliefs have existed since the dawn of man, and since you are capable of creating your own faith, it is impossible to say that heaven and hell exist specifically the way you say they are and even more impossible to prove. But you might be thinking, "Aha! Proof isn't necessary because I have faith and truly that is all you need!" Of course that argument, which you hear almost daily, is saying that the faith or beliefs of others different than yours is wrong because how you define an indefinable abstract is "correct", and since others define the same indefinable abstract differently they are wrong. Therefore wrongness is ultimately decided arbitrarily and lines are drawn and people argue and it's a shame. How easy and pleasant it would be to find interest in our differences and explore them and personally grow from what we find rather than shut down individuality in favor of conformity because we are afraid of our personal infinite potential.

Since there are so many different walks of life and so many different versions of hell, it makes me certain I'm bound to end up in at least nineteen or twenty of them. On the flip side I guess it could mean I'd accidentally end up in some version of heaven as well since, at the end of the day, it's all arbitrary.

So hey, if it turns out there really was one specific set of rules we were supposed to follow, then great, good for the few who found them. But chances are, considering how different we all are and how differently we interpret the meaning of life and our place in it, none of us will have found it or ever will. Because Universal truth does not exist, but individual truth universally does. That's why I know I'm going to hell. And it's likely you'll be there too. And so will the rest of the world. And if all of us end up there together because we were all wrong, what's the difference between that existence and this? Between "wrong" and "right"? I guess that means, technically, we're all living in hell at this very moment. Strange. From where I'm sitting, when I look out at it all, it's quite nice actually. There's a lot of good, beautiful people here in hell. Honestly, I couldn't think of a place I'd rather be.