The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Applying Lifewriting to rather depressing cultural observations...

The following is presented in the form of a conversation. While not being an actual conversation, it does represent the essence of about a dozen e-mails received over the last week:
Q: "When you point out the racial attitudes still ingrained in America, it makes me depressed."
A: Well, you can decide to be depressed, or you can decide to learn from it, and love people even more.
Q: "How do I do that?"
A: first, by attributing these attitudes to universal human behavior and perceptual patterns. Not "American" attitudes. Not "Hollywood" attitudes. Not "White" or "Black" attitudes. A universal phrasing that explains this phenomenon might go: "The primary rule of life is to avoid pain and gain pleasure. Thinking creatures understand that the acquisition and maintenance of power is central to survival. Therefore, members of group X will do what they can to hold ont their power, even to the detriment of group Y. People also delete information inconsistent with their world view, or that is too uncomfortable. Therefore it is difficult for members of group X to understand and admit that they twist the game rules to their advantage."
Q: So white people are evil? (Please substitute your favorite dominant group here: men, heterosexuals, the wealthy, Americans, etc. etc.)
A: Nope. We all do this. Let any of the "oppressed" groups get into the majority, and you'll see the same behaviors emerge.
Q: so...We're all corrupt and evil?
A: No, we want to survive. We want to feel good. And unless we evolve to higher levels of perception, the easiest way to do this is to dominate and control others, and to enforce our own world view on the culture.
Q: But there are cultures that are peaceful and loving...
A: Yes, and they all live in the cracks of the world. High atop mountains, out in the deserts, deep in the jungles, on distant islands. They cannot compete. Speaking as one who belonged to a culture that ended up on the losing end of a cultural competition, I see nothing particularly wonderful about being THAT peaceful. To lose the ability to pass your culture to your children, to protect your women, to worship your gods in your way...I don't think this makes you superior, folks. Of course, neither does the ability to dominate. But you know what? If I had to choose one or the other, I'd choose to dominate. And about 99% of humanity would make the same choice. Fortunately, there is another way: being strong enough to resist domination, and gentle enough to be kind, and to conquer the kingdoms within our own hearts and minds rather than those of our neighbors.
A: Isn't that a pessimistic view of humanity?
Q: Pessimistic is as pessimistic does. Anyone who knows me knows that I am almost unfailingly optimistic. I believe in and love human beings, and believe that the future will be greater than the past. However, I know that there are snakes coiling and hissing in the human hindbrain, and believe we must be alert.
And by the way: wait and see how Will Smith's movie "Hitch" does at the box office. They are trying like hell to break him out of his cultural box (regarding sexuality). I doubt they'll be able to do it. No one who criticizes the movie will say: "I don't like Smith being sexual." No, they'll complain about the "lack of chemistry" between him and his love interest. Or "it seemed cliched and unfunny." No one will confront the actual problem that makes a romantic comedy a hard sell. And, sure, maybe that particular film WON'T be funny, and maybe they WON'T have chemistry. It happens. But it's damned curious that this weird statistical anomaly has cropped up every time a black or Asian male has a romantic interest in the cinema. The movie just happens to be lousy. Wow! What a strange little quirk. And you know? To a degree they're right. It takes a huge number of people to make a movie work. And if a certain percentage of those people are just disengaged, if they don't care, if they're just going through the motions, if in their hearts they wouldn't want to see a movie like this...They just don't bring that little "something extra" that creativity demands. In other words, you can kill a movie simply by "just" doing your job. It doesn't sparkle. It just sits there. And I predict that that will happen to "Hitch", and "XXX" and any other film that tries to expand the humanity of non-white males...and that will continue to happen until a larger percentage of America is brown. Which, of course, is happening as we speak. Listen to the right-wing talk shows and hear the fear. Don't expect my sympathy, folks. Welcome to MY world, Mr. Limbaugh.


No comments: