The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hellboy II (2008)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Well, any worry that the great Guillermo Del Toro wouldn't be able to direct "The Hobbit" can be laid to rest. For the first fifteen minutes of Hellboy II, I thought I was watching another film on the level of "Lord of the Rings"--I was honestly tempted to consider it that level of masterwork. No, it isn't. What it is is an exceptional piece of fantasy, and a phenomenal comic book movie. I think that we can now safely consider comics to be as much of an art form as any other medium: stage, novel, film, television, whatever. Mostly crap. But capable of rising to the level of the sublime.

None of Hellboy's effect would be possible without Ron Perlman, who is as close to perfect as the cigar-chomping, beer-swilling son of Satan as it is possible to imagine. This time "Red" and his companions at a "Men In Black" style paranormal investigation force, including pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) and geeky amphibian Abe Sapian (Doug Jones) are up against an entire army of the Fairy Folk, resurrected to spearhead an assault against humankind. I don't want to get into it too much, because the joy is in the telling of it. And Del Toro delivers an avalanche of visual wonders unlike anything I can remember in commercial American film in many, many years. Simply wondrous. And at the core of it all is a touching love story--two of them actually, one between Red and Liz, and the other between Abe and a princess of the netherworld. This is cinema at its most purely entertaining and imaginative, with a dash of real humanity. Just great summer entertainment. And if it isn't quite classic, it's still a mile above most of what passes for film these days. Or any days. A very easy "A".



You knew THIS shit was coming, didn't you? Even a demon from hell can get the girl. Compare with "Hancock." Del Toro understands very well that the core of most story, second only to survival itself, is love. In my opinion anyone who thinks men hate women is either out of touch with their own emotions, or doesn't understand men at all. Men love women desperately, feel incomplete without them, will die to touch them, and pay just to look at them, especially naked. They are men's only route to immortality, (especially for heterosexual men) and that urge to control the reproductive function leads to loathsome levels of possessiveness and jealousy. The need leads to fear, and the fear to violence. But the primary emotion is love, and fear of loss or rejection. That drive powers a fantastic amount of literature, and the joining between male and female is the fusionary energy powering all of human life and civilization.

Hellboy uses that yearning beautifully, in the on-off relationship between Liz and the misshapen, ugly spawn of Satan. Hancock couldn't touch that third rail. Del Toro's last foray into comic books: "Blade II" couldn't touch it.

The oblivious will immediately say something like "But Hellboy didn't get laid, Steve"--oh, please. Haven't you been listening? I use "laid on screen" simply to have an objective statistic to point to, otherwise those of you who benefit from this situation (and trust me, if you are white, you and your children, on average, have benefited from the image systems showing you as more beautiful, intelligent, successful. As men have benefited by images of women subservient. As women have benefited by images of men willing to die to protect them or compete for them). The point is the lesser degree of humanity accorded black actors and characters. What does it say that I've seen black men playing God more often than being simply genuine human beings? If you can't progress up the chakras, you can't get there. The "Spiritual Guide" image is purely for the entertainment of whites. There is no way to get there. We can survive, be sexual, develop the power to raise our families safely, open our hearts to love, learn to express our truth, develop the ability to communicate, develop a map of the world, and prepare ourselves for death. And the Path opens in that order. Cut off the earlier steps, and the later ones rarely develop.

Let's just put it bluntly: on an unconscious level, white people can see the humanity in a demon from hell more easily than in a black man. They can empathize with his yearning for love, his need to touch. True, we don't see him make love to Liz (I'm not sure they even kiss) but Hellboy is clearly accorded the greater intimacy. Someone might say that this is reflective of the source material. Fine. Then how should I phrase this: "when whites create black characters, they invest them with less humanity than when they create either white characters or fantasy characters". What have I said about the SF/Fantasy field? "SF is 99.9% White people and their imaginary friends."

Just as the tendency to shoot black suspects more rapidly than white ones can be ameliorated by training (bringing the conscious drive up to the level of the unconscious, imprinting images from childhood on), I believe that honest discussion about this can bring about changes in the media.

Remember: the images on the screen wouldn't matter if I didn't think they connected to cops shooting black men dead in the street, as well as unemployment, incarceration, and violent death statistics. On both a conscious and unconscious level, for 400 years we've gotten the following message "you are, on average, less than us. Less beautiful, less intelligent, less important. If you cannot be utterly subservient, please go away and die. We like your beautiful women, and some of your men...if they promise not to cock-block, or complain that we screw your women and program your children to think us closer to God. If you forget what we did to you, and never, ever seek redress."

Well, that's fine. Remember my theory: every group tries to keep all the power for itself, and then tries to pretend that's not what it's doing. Men want what they want. Women want what they want. Black people want what they want, and White people want what THEY want. Hell, adults want what they want, and children want what they want. And each of these groups will do whatever it can to gain as much control as they can, in every way that is pleasing for them. Everyone wants the world to revolve around them.

Popular media responds to culture and also drives it. In these comments, I'm talking about film as evidence of widely-spread unconscious drives, like looking at the grass bending to know if the wind is blowing. Those committed to remaining unconscious will try to blame it on "Hollywood" or "Racist Liberal filmmakers" or "sexist rich men" or something.

If you take a look at those 300 or so films that earn above 100 million, you'll find only about eight of them with stars over the age of 50. About six male, and about two women. Clearly ageism. But suggesting that this is "Hollywood" is blind. Hollywood has no ethics. They certainly respond to conscious and unconscious drives, but their primary drive is to make money. While studio execs tend to be young, the OWNERS and primary stockholders are older. They could push decisions to make any movies they want, and know that their American audience doesn't want to see themselves age. The vast majority --if not the totality of stars in 100-million plus films are those who are in the "Breeding Circle"--young, heterosexual, lean-bodied. Note that the males who appear in 100-million plus films who ARE over fifty (Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Sean Connery) are, almost without exception, demonstrated to still be "fit and powerful"--in other words, still warriors of their tribe, capable of reproducing and protecting those babies. Women are almost exclusively young and fertile--or still have the "hourglass" body configuration that signals youth and fertility to the male hindbrain. First and second chakra stuff, kiddies. That's what America wants. Considering that our films are the most popular in the world, it is arguable that that is what all the world wants. We want to survive: as individuals, as a family, as a nation, as a race, as a species.

Right after those two chakras, it's tribalism. Race. So we get into conflict. Denzel, Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Wesley...these are all smart, fit, sexual warriors. Women drool over them. But they are also, on a racial level, warriors of the "other" tribe. So the male hindbrain will feel entertained by long as there is no sex, reproducing, potential cock-blocking, ESPECIALLY no interracial yum-yum.

Fantasy characters represent the unconscious longings of the creator. Look at Del Toro's composition of secondary characters. Fantasy in the front. White actors with 100% of the dialog. A tiny sprinkling of non-whites way in the background. Blink and you'll miss them.

I understand where he's coming from. His racial filters are on overdrive, but I still love him. His fantasy world has no room for us. When he represents us, we can have power, and save the white world, but not experience love or sex. But he sees the heart of the demon quite clearly. It is so sad and sick. I've watched the dynamic for so long. And every group is oblivious...or pretends to be the way they do everything in their power to control, while pretending not to.

The racial complexion of this country is changing. Your white children are going to be on the losing end of this one day. I promise when that happens, if brown people do the same shit to you you've been doing to us, suddenly you'll notice. And be angry that we "don't notice."

I wonder: had the shoe been on the other foot, would I have noticed? Probably. But I doubt if I would have spent much time worrying about it. Oh well. What does it matter? It's just movies. Make your own movies! I would say, pointing to the bending grass, over and over again, no matter how many times white people said: "you're looking at the symptoms, not the disease. I'm talking about the hurricane, and you insist on focusing on the grass." And I would nod my head, tsk-tsk, and know, deep inside, that white people are simply obsessed with long-dead history, trivia, and obscure pop statistics. Why don't they just get over it?
Because when it comes right down to it, humans forgive, but we never forget.


Josh Jasper said...

I saw it myself last night with 7 friends. While I thought it was overall great movie, the emotional journey you see Krauss (the ghost in a steampunk suit) take was flat and uninspiring. He went form "by the book hard ass" to "maverick" in what seemed like seconds.

And then I went and got assaulted by two would be muggers on the way home. Teenage kids, really. I scared them off by just shouting at them and shouting loudly for help, taking my phone out, and calling the police.

No time to handle it the way you tell your story of talking the mugger out of his attack. I thought of you, and how you'd handle things, though.

salina said...

AAAHHHHH!!! THIS is why I call you Baba! Your analysis of race and the media machinations are SO. ON. POINT.!! Often Im unable to translate and write my thoughts in a way that makes sense to anyone, unbearably frustrating. You clearly, coherently and concisely expressed what I couldn't find the words to explain. lol ANd where's the story about you and the mugger?!! I can't WAIT to see HB2! Guillermo has a masterful eye; I'm still haunted by both Pan's Labyrinth and The Orphanage...

Michelle said...

"The racial complexion of this country is changing. Your white children are going to be on the losing end of this one day. I promise when that happens, if brown people do the same shit to you you've been doing to us, suddenly you'll notice. And be angry that we 'don't notice.'"

So then...was Rwanda an okay thing for you then?

It better sound cruel...because it is. Rwanda is a modern example of one group making another pay when the power switched places.

It's an extreme example but it was the first thing that ran through my head when you said this.

Personally I don't take kindly to threats. That was a threat, and does nothing to further anything but anger.

Hollywood isn't blind. If anyone is biased Hollywood certainly is.

Anonymous said...

Today is the first day I saw a black sitcom with atleast one white person. Why are blacks so quick to say "there isn't enough black actors in this show/movie"? I think sometimes there is too much worry about these things. I like Wesley Snipes just as much as Arnold. Why do you have to keep making divisions and assuming everyone white is biased. I don't see a Jewish TV network but I see a BET network. I see more black sitcoms with no white people. Lets all just live together and stop being elitists or separatists. We are all equal and the more you referenace slavery or unequality or lack of black actors, you are overlooking other minorities that have been more of slaves, genocides and lately overlooked for jobs and shows because they aren't colored diferently. I am just as unique, cultured and important as anyone. It's a shame people have to keep pointing out differences and not celebrating how we all are just important as each other, in one shared world. Stop focusing being overlooked and start sharing how we all are important regardless of race, religion or color - how we are all equal.

Anonymous said...

To Salina- go watch Hancock! Stop playing the race card! There are plenty of black actors, shows and movies! I think the affirmative action and PCness is now getting overly done. Why can't we just make movies and shows with actors without having to do quotas etc? I'm not voting for a president because he's black, but because she or he is a good president! enough is enough! Would you protect my rights as a non colored minority if you knew more about them? Lets drop the reverse racism. We are all equal.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

I just saw Bollywood/Hollywood last night, and at the beginning it has some wildly over the top humor about the whole "get that other group out of the reproductive circle" thing you talk about.

Desi man brings white girl friend home to meet the family. Grandmother freaks and calls white girl friend a whore. White girl friend storms out - and in the next scene is killed. In a freak accident. Falling while meditating and trying to levitate. After, we later find out, the grandmother had prayed to have her removed from her grandson's life. Clearing the way for the rest of the movie to focus on whether the grandson can bring home a nice Desi woman and make his family happy.

It was so over the top silly about the whole thing that it kind of reminded me of Blazing Saddles. (Though the rest of the movie wasn't particularly Blazing Saddles style comedy - even if it was comedy all through.)

Christian M. Howell said...

May or may not see HellBoy. DelToro's content is usually good, but I'm not a fan of his camera or lighting. I have an extreme limit to my "suspension of disbelief."

I truly EXPECT that the white men will get the best roles - meaning most noble, moral, loyal, and just down-right perfect.


Most white men are barely keeping up with THEIR OWN COUNTRY'S TECHNOLOGY. And as a programmer, I work with mainly white males.

I think that the key to better roles for blacks is black filmmakers taking the chance to portray us as just Americans. Americans who pay taxes, teach our kids to ride a bike, worry for the economy, etc.

I, for one, would never choose the worst of us to define us. I'd rather the Blair character on "In Treatment" (minus the interracial thing) in that it's a character with depth and most importantly good enunciation.

The last 5 movies about blacks have either been mindless fare or homages to racism.

We, as black filmmakers, need to change that. I think that's one of the main reasons I chose to venture back into the world of cinematic creation (I dreaded the horror stories).

I want to see real characters of all races and cultures.

As i say, though, we have come a long way from "Good Times." At least now our silly sitcoms take place in nice neighborhoods (yes I'm talking to you Tyler).

After all, those old men in their ivory towers depend on statistics more so than personal feelings. They take the best for the majority and if anyone else makes an appearance they'll pick up a few more dollars.

Myself, I disagree with the real drives of males in this country as it doesn't involve the true equality of women.

Perhaps in our homes we have one opinion but it is not reflected in the general direction of society.

We are still bombarded by lingerie ads and the new "hot young thing" with the brains of a child.

Perhaps until ALL the groups say, "we're better off together," we'll all die with the disparities in our midst.

That really sucks. But hell I think I'm good enough to make a few movies before I die. At least I'll be able to say I tried.

Anonymous said...

"... if brown people do the same shit to you you've been doing to us, suddenly you'll notice."

Speaking as a representative of the Vast Monolithic Oblivious Lean-Bodied White Male Heterosexual Horde:

Looking back over my life, I see the following things that I have been "doing to" the outside world that have accounted for such modest personal successes and privileges as I enjoy:

Reading and thinking a lot, rather than just watching TV.

Studying in school a lot; picking hard topics like biochemistry rather than easy-A topics; going into basic scientific research as a career, rather than some more lucrative thing such as corporate law. Generally, being a lifelong nerd.

Totally avoiding drugs and being very abstemious about alcohol.

Not taking on financial debts that I can't or won't repay.

Trying very hard not to get into romantic relationships where I'm not at least as seriously attached to my partner as she is to me.

Making some sort of effort to keep my mind open to qualitatively new things (e.g., Lifewriting!). Trying to pay attention to the things between the lines that my linear, rational mind tends to discount unless corrected.

These things have pretty much accounted for both the failures and the successses in my life, from age 16 onward at least if not earlier. In some ways they've been impediments, but they've kept me from some hellaciously bad things too.

So, the big threat is that "brown people" are going to start acting like me? To that, I have two comments:

1. Hello!? Brown people are already acting like me. But, they're called "Asians". (Defining "Asian" broadly enough to include the Indian/Pakistani subcontinent, of course...)

2. Oh, wait, you meant that American blacks are going to start acting like me? Whoopee! Bring it on! I'd like to see more African Americans at Caltech.

By now you're probably saying to yourself, "But ... I was talking about movies. Images in cinema." To which I can only reply: whites aren't a monolith, and the ones you're unhappy with (the ones who ask for, and get, Sambo imagery in movies) aren't the sum total of whites in America. They aren't even necessarily the ones responsible for such substantive successes (in areas such as science) that whites have so far had.

So I really don't think there'll ever be a day where "brown people" just get to stomp on whites. At best, "brown people" will get better at doing tensor calculus, and will slowly see racial images adjust on the screen. But the endpoint that I expect (and hope for) is one where the differences get gradually blurred, not one where the inequalities between monolithic racial blocs remain intact while being reversed.

--Erich Schwarz

salina said...

Oh Lord, somebody done gon' (intentional) and called me out. I'm ONLY pleasant when suffering foolish comments of misinformed people because I respect STEVE. To the anonymous, ive seen Hancock. And I HATED it. lol I'm not sure WHAT and HOW you even see a connection between Steve's observation/question and Rwanda ? To go further and take it as some personal threat? Your comments along with the other anonymous posters are unfortunately TYPICAL of the liberal whites who have done LITTLE or NO examination or study of critical race theory. It's always remarkable how the TRUTH comes out when folk feel their sense of security and sanctity are being challenged.
And Christian, I appreciate your thought on women, that's one of my arguments with racial justice advocates; the persistent patriarchy in the "movement".

salina said...

Freire,Chomsky, Fanon and MANY others (who've STUDIED and RESEARCHED) have written extensively about the danger of "Inadvertently becoming the oppressor". It boggles my mind that you would sit here with that indictment of his comments... Actually it doesn't boggle my mind; it offends my sense of logic and reason. Your statements speak LOUDLY to the reason that SO MANY people of color DO NOT LIKE TO BUILD cross-racial coalitions with WHITES. There is a pervasive inability to discuss race without becoming defensive.

salina said...

Eric: Is this where i call you eurocentric and racist for implying (rather explicity) that Black and Brown people are intellectually inferior? Just curious. Hmm, a few names off the top: Nubians, Moors, the Dogon, The Egyptians (remember them?), Imhotep, Benjamin Banneker, Mark Dean, Charles Drew, Byron Freelon... Just some RANDOM "BLACK" people who had/have the capacity to study and create in the areas of math and science.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

I read "I promise when that happens, if brown people do the same shit to you you've been doing to us, suddenly you'll notice" as not so much a threat as a statement that we all have more or less the same nature, and could show the same faults in the other person's position. Note that there is an if in that statement. Zimbabwe did turn about on white people; South Africa hasn't.

Personally, I'm optimistic, and see gradual movement toward greater equality all around as more likely than turn about. But, yeah, if "brown people do the same shit" to white people that white people have done the other way, you'd get white people just as angry, and brown people just as unwilling to buy that white people's anger was justified.

In any case, given that my husband and I haven't been able to have kids, and given who has had the most kids among my siblings, my DNA's mostly going with the "brown people," whether I choose to be oblivious about racial matters or not.

Dan Moran said...

"Your white children are going to be on the losing end of this one day."

Not if I can help it.

I get the anger behind that statement, and you know, you've talked about old white men dying off -- Jesse Jackson's recent comments about Obama are an interesting coincidence. Jesse's angry and Obama's not, and Steve, there's a reason Obama's not threatening to (almost all) white people.

Maybe Jesse will get past what he's angry about, and maybe you will ... but Obama has, or at least appears to have.

The old people dying off thing goes both ways. You've met my buddy I play basketball with -- he's older than you are and doesnt like white people much. Not me -- I'm recognizably human to him -- but white people in general. I don't take it personally any more than I take your obvious (and righteous) anger personally ....

But I'm glad there's a day coming when the generation after ours gets to work on this. They'll do a better job than we did.

Dan Moran said...

Josh, glad to hear you're OK. "Be careful out there."

Anonymous said...


What I am pointing out is that simply saying whites "do" something to blacks, in a monolithic way, and that this is the sole source of whites doing well in America, is simply untrue.

Whites aren't a monolith. We don't all do the same things or act in the same ways. In my own life, I've had very little relevance to or involvement with pop culture. Instead, the quality of my life's been overwhelmingly dependent on my ability to think well and discipline myself to act effectively on that thinking, in a rather austere field of work.

Assuming that there ever could be a simple situation where all the biases in society just flipped around, as Steve seems to be half-seriously doing in his post, presupposes that there's just one axis of achievement in American society, and that that axis is zero-sum: if I win, you must lose, and vice versa. The world I myself know most about (scientific research) isn't really like that. Somebody else winning the Nobel Prize doesn't lower my own probability of doing good work; that depends on my own qualities. And if American blacks want to have the role in society that participating in my world can give them, they'll never do it by simply hoping to have me shoved down. Just doesn't work that way.

Meanwhile: there's a huge number of "brown" people in the sciences and they tend to be really smart. They also overwhelmingly tend to be from east Asia or the Indian subcontinent.

I have no idea why African-Americans aren't equally prevalent in the hard sciences; but in 2008, they're just not. I don't like that, and I hope it changes sooner rather than later; but until it does change, all the Hollywood movies in the world aren't going to be fundamentally useful to African-Americans in at least some nontrival sense.

Conversely, if African-Americans do suddenly start to excel in the sciences, it's not a zero-sum game. Really, it's not! There's room for lots of people from lots of different ethnic groups in what I do!

So I'm hoping it happens. But I'm also pointing out that, if American blacks do start having more of a presence in science, they will indeed have to do it by doing "the same stuff" I'm doing, or something eerily similar to it.

And that "stuff", in my case, consists mainly of being an amazingly bookish nerd, plus being rather boringly self-disciplined. For years on end. That's how you get into and stay in basic science.

I can understand the frustration with portrayals of blacks in movies. It seems to me that Steve's painfully correct about the de-masculinization of black actors who are, objectively, quite physically and personally virile. It's easy to ignore until somebody points it out (if you're white), but I at least can't ignore it now. It's ridiculous and wrong.

What I am saying is that whites don't simply owe their status to such cultural chichanery, and that getting real status in America will take more than just getting control of moviemaking, or even having a more "brown" market for movies. It seems to me that the self-esteem of a racial group is very unlikely to be caused or cured solely by sexual imagery in Hollywood.

--Erich Schwarz

Dark Moon said...

I find it interesting that when it is suggested that retribution may befall whites who have used privileges, coercions, science, philosophy, and other tactics to prove their supremacy over Blacks, there is always the retort that –Whites are not monoliths, Blacks are racist too, which of course totally discounts why some Blacks are so angry, marginalized and often grouped as a monolith—because from my view we are often de-humanized, dismissed, and discarded. Of course the onus on proving some level of humanity to Whites, is on Blacks, by being less threatening, not too smart or too pretty in order to assauge what they may normally believe about Black people.

We have IQ tests to thank, our supposed backward cultural mores, our crime stats, out of wedlock births, our inability to control our sexuality hence being riddled with AIDS, inability to assimilate because we separate ourselves—while of course negating the fact that acceptance by Whites is perhaps the most salient mantra that reverberates Black literature and thought. And of course our staggering paucity in not contributing anything of importance to Global civilization as is evident by the supposed journalistic, noxious rantings here:

If in the unlikely event that Whites lost complete control and were treated as less than what they normally expect and demand by individuals and institutions would they begin to see, would they realize? Would they understand the agony of being judged as less than an animal somehow awaken empathy and a desire to connect with Blacks? No. from what I see the specter of Reverse Racism law suits and fear of Obama that upitty N**,the supposed advantages of AA that I have yet to see, tell me tthat this will only exacerbate their disdain for Blacks as it is apparent now and they will continue to work feverishly to protect their Racial hegemony now.

As you say, Whites on a level that goes deep---cannot truly see or care about seeing Blacks as the same with all their complexities and nuances and thus I always wonder if we would to ever be visited by an advanced species, they would probably be granted honorary humaneness then it would ever be accorded Blacks.

Anonymous said...

ERICH. LOLLOL, OHMYGOD, roflmbo. so much of the science you study has it's origin and foundation in the work of Black and Brown people...yet you sit here hoping "that more AFrican AMericans start to excel in science" ?! Homey, Black people were the ORIGINAL scientists. Obviously, it's not a matter of cognitive or intellectual ABILITY. I have no interest or TIME to present a lesson on oppression, colonization, or race theory. You're a scientist, do the research. At this point, ALL I can do at such a tom-foolerific statement is LAUGH. YOU and those like you are guilty of perpetuating the mythology of White Supremacy. YOur words are condescending and reek of Eugenics.

salina said...

the above was from me. salina

Anonymous said...

"We have IQ tests to thank, our supposed backward cultural mores, our crime stats, out of wedlock births ..."

Others can speak for themselves; but I never have cited IQ as an issue here. Not once. In point of fact, I have no idea why it is that when I go to work every day I see such a skewed distribution of racial groups. And I'd like that skew to end.

But I really don't think it can end until a reasonable number of black boys are brought up to do the sorts of things that get you into a lab.

What provoked me to bring that up at all was a relatively brief comment by Steve: "... if brown people do the same shit to you you've been doing to us, suddenly you'll notice."

And my only real response to that was: I wish! I wish "brown" people were behaving the way I behaved. Please! Let millions of brown African-Americans start being bookworm nerds!

The imbalance of racial groups that Steve's written about is, I think, quite real. I detest it, now that I've become aware of it. I wish that would end, and I don't think it's a trivial thing at all.

I just take issue with the idea that whites are all equally happy with this stuff, all equally involved in it, all equally defined by it. We just aren't. And no amount of resentment over the real wrongs of culture in one dimension will make other dimensions of culture go away, or not matter.

"If in the unlikely event that Whites lost complete control and were treated as less than what they normally expect and demand by individuals and institutions would they begin to see, would they realize?"

Complete control? You really think that any random white guy reading this blog has "complete control" of anything? Specifically, do you really believe that I do?

Again, I wish!

--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

As a Mexican-American, I really feel that it is quite strange when people who share my ethnicity are lumped in with all "brown people." If a white person does this, perhaps depending on context, I think that there is a good chance that they are a bigot. If a black person does the same, well, I see no real difference. There are strong differences between "brown people." Asians have been discussed a bit here already, and there are differences between Asian groups of course. Mexican-Americans are also different from African-Americans and Asians in important ways. The Sambo alerts of which Steve writes are far less of an issue for Latinos - Antonio Banderas often has romantic scenes and often gets the girl, as do other Latinos. Hell, Ricky Ricardo did too, back in the 50s. Very sadly, gang-related murder in the streets in L.A. is increasingly occurring based on hatred between Latinos and African-Americans. In matters of political power, Latinos are eclipsing African-Americans in Southern California, and are likely to do so throughout the Southwest in the not too distant future. The idea that "all brown people" are fundamentally united in some way is foolish. Divisions exist between people of Latin American ancestry too. Many of us are comfortably part of the American mainstream and are totally accepted by whites. Recent immigrants tend not to be, though I've known exceptions. Many Latinos definite feel that Latinos and whites are different, but that does not mean that they believe that they are a part of some universal "brown people" identity. In any case, some here seem to to believe that "brown people" will soon be in charge and that white people had better watch out! "Brown people" don't share one united racial vision though, and those of us who are most likely to outnumber whites in the near future - Latinos - are not united in some sort of shared brown people vision of bigotry against whites. And, very sadly, some of the worst of my ethnic group seem to be less fond of blacks than they are of whites, and express their hatred with murder.


Marty S said...

Eric: As one white science nerd to another, I think your being very unscientific in your analysis. There is nothing unscientific about deducing the existence of one thing from another. Scientists deduced the existence of Pluto, before they could see it because of its affect on the orbits of other planets. Using the portrayal of blacks in movies as a measure of the racial state of society is the same because a cause and effect relationship exist. The same is true about your observation of blacks in the science industry. Going into the sciences requires opportunity at a young age. If you start off in a socioeconomically disadvantaged group, in an area with poor schools, then the chance of you ending up in the sciences, no matter what your personal inclinations toward nerdism are reduced.

salina said...

thank you marco. I attempted to distinguish between Black and Brown people. I use Brown to refer to the currently colonized and MOST oppressed peoples/nations in SOutheast Asia and the "Americas", as well as oppressed groups of people in China and other less impoverished countries. Black is the term I use loosely for AFricans in the diaspora. This is not a matter of race or ethnicity, because in most of the Asian nations, for example the Dalits in India, there are millions who are SEVERELY oppressed. I use black/brown terms as a means of solidarity amongst disenfranchised "people of color"...

Dark Moon said...

Even if you didn’t specifically bring up IQ, in this society, it measures intelligence and IQ was and is a device that provides the statistical data to highlight the supposed gaping intellectual deficiencies of Black people. As you say Asians have the cultural and intellectual discipline to produce an army of technophiles and industrious scientists, while the cultural mores of Blacks have yet to produce anything of merit---where it counts (which is an arrogant assumption of itself)—in science, math, etc. And of course you couch your supposed perplexity on this issue, the underpinnings of racial assumptions, without acknowledging how skewed the system is in favor of White privilege. Anecdotally, I wanted to be a doctor, but a white male teacher thought I was too stupid, because I struggled with math. Not having a support in place, that changed the trajectory of my life. It is the assumption that I was intellectually inferior to my White and Asian classmates which led me to believe that I should not take on a Pre-med course. Hey I’m no Ben Carson, and although I am in graduate school now, I wonder if I had a stronger sense of self and the cultural meme that Blacks are inferior—if I had tried harder to squash his withering contempt—I would probably be an intern now. Many Blacks struggle with this daily and it takes being extraordinary to fight it. This leads to the conundrum of Black identity in America as fractious at best. Asians and Hispanics have the luxury of a home country as a touchstone and continuity of culture as their guide and fortification against others. Blacks identity is fragmented and cobbled together, thus it is made all the more difficult to galvanize into a cooperative monolith and to lob off attacks. In fact our identity is based on fighting the social meme that we are inferior, that we are less than Whites because we lack cultural continuity that Asians and other racial groups can enjoy.

Also you seem to forget the whole social construct of honorary whites and model minorities because of the perceived Asian superiority to grapple with and superseded Blacks economically, academically and socially, and even Whites to some extent, without threatening their social currency and allows them to emphasize their privileged status at the top. In other words Whites can see themselves in Asians and Hispanics despite certain language and cultural barriers. An Indian coming into this country with those kinds of expectations of being smarter than average provides a definite social boost. Blacks on the other hand as Langston Hughes noted—are perpetual refugees in America. It is astounding to me how difficult it is for Whites to empathize and see the humanity in Blacks as the debacle of Katrina amply illustrates.

I would add that mixing that is happening between Whites, Hispanics and Asians, is perhaps transmuting the definition of whiteness, thus I chafe against including Blacks in this arbitrary brown subset—because most non-Blacks do not identify or want to be grouped with Blacks in any shape or form despite what blacks did to afford ALL to access greater resources and rights. Minorities already come to this country with the implicit and pervasive understanding that Black are on the bottom and is the speed bump that they must roll over. There is no fabled racial unity among Blacks and others, and if anything they take their cues from Whites on Blacks and act accordingly. Thus what you see is what ethnic whites have done to become White—the only difference is that in the near future, it will include Nguyen and Santiago.

So going back to the main point, the only thing that may worry whites—if they think about Blacks at all—is that Blacks may retaliate Mugabe style, but as I said before reverse racism, downplaying and dismissing Blacks etc, will nullify anything that Blacks may seek to change.

Anonymous said...

marty s:

If I wasn't clear enough:

I agree with Steve that the representation of black men in movies is seriously, deeply lacking.

I even agree with him that this matters a lot for society. I'd like to see Will Smith be able to express his heart chakra on film, too!

I just disagree that this one variable is the one variable that governs:

1. How whites monolithically behave and acquire their status in society, or

2. What blacks will have to do to themselves acquire the status that whites have now.

And I'm basing this pretty much on what I know best: what I've done in my own life that's worked at all, and what I see people in my world around me doing.

I live and work at Caltech. I've spent my entire life around people who have little or no representation in pop culture, but who have a big influence on the actual development of new technologies in our society. And it's not by any means fully populated by affluent whites: the most heavily represented group tends to be people from mainland China whose parents survived Mao's Cultural Revolution, or from Vietnam whose parents fled Saigon in 1975, or from India whose grandparents grew up as colonial subjects of the British Empire.

It's apparently easier for somebody to come out of the most rural provinces of China and end up working at Caltech, than it is for somebody born in south-central L.A. to make that same trip.

If you want "brown people" to "do to whites what whites did", it can mean having brown people take over Hollywood and have only brown heroes get the girls. And that might indeed make a difference, culturally. But as long as whites remain more likely to earn Nobel Prizes, there'd remain a source of deep inequality that would not go away until brown people did something else entirely.

--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

"Whites can see themselves in Asians and Hispanics despite certain language and cultural barriers."

That is not the way the world worked when I was growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s. If you or I were plonked back into 1973, we'd probably both be struck by just how much more predominantly white the U.S. was, 35 years ago, than it is today -- not only culturally, but also in plain demographics. Remember that in '73, the end of the Baby Boom was only nine years in the past, while the opening up of the U.S. to less-restricted immigration (which began with LBJ's changes to immigration law) had only been working its effects for a few years.

35 years ago, if you'd told just about any white American that an Asian (then called an "Oriental") or a Hispanic (then, probably just called a "Mexican") was the cultural equivalent of a white, you'd have gotten a reaction of complete incredulity.

Yet it was about then that the Asians pretty much started taking over the hard sciences and technology in America. By 1982, when I had my first lab job, this was already becoming visible. By the mid-to-late 1990s, when I did a postdoc in NYC, it was absolutely overwhelming: most of the biology department at Columbia University below the faculty level was from mainland China.

And that's pretty much been paralleled by the rise of Asians in technology-based private sector as well. One of the richest men in the world today is Jerry Yang of Yahoo. What did his parents do? What did his grandparents do? How culturally esteemed were people of their race, in America during the 1940s and 1950s?

To the degree that Asians today are seen as "honorary whites", it's a result of their having excelled academically -- not a cause.

What I'd like to see is that sort of retro-redefinition of race occur pervasively, so that in 35 years, this whole debate about whites versus blacks is as arcane to our successors as the past animosity between whites and Asians is to us now.

But that won't happen simply by changing who gets to have sex with who on Hollywood movie screens. Or by engaging in denial that there is more than one problem here, and that while devaluation of black sexuality in cinema is actually real and toxic, it's not the only problem that matters.

--Erich Schwarz

Dan Moran said...

Let's just put it bluntly: on an unconscious level, white people can see the humanity in a demon from hell more easily than in a black man. They can empathize with his yearning for love, his need to touch. True, we don't see him make love to Liz (I'm not sure they even kiss) but Hellboy is clearly accorded the greater intimacy. Someone might say that this is reflective of the source material. Fine. Then how should I phrase this: "when whites create black characters, they invest them with less humanity than when they create either white characters or fantasy characters". What have I said about the SF/Fantasy field? "SF is 99.9% White people and their imaginary friends."

Gone back and forth about posting this ....

First of all ... which "white people?" The ones married to blacks, with biracial children? The ones living in entirely white small towns in the middle of nowhere who have never seen a black except on television?

"when whites create black characters"

Which whites? The ones who don't write about black characters, and are therefore racist? The ones who write blacks only as supporting characters, and are therefore racist? The ones who write blacks as main characters, but, being white, can't really understand the black experience, and are therefore racist? Because I've heard every single one of these complaints at one time or another from black friends.

Let me tell you about my experience of black people. When I was about 8 my best friend was a black boy. When I was 19 my best friend was a black guy. Three of my first 5 girlfriends were black, four overall. I've been the only white person at parties with hundreds of blacks. I've interviewed about 30 blacks over the years and hired 7 or 8. I've fired one black woman and would have fired another if she hadn't taken another job. I've had two black bosses over the years, one of whom was a screaming asshole who I helped get fired; the other was a mean bastard who really liked me and gave me the single best piece of career advice I've ever received from anyone, back when my first marriage was falling apart.

One of the real regrets of my life is that I never asked out a black woman named August Fullenwider who I was more than half in love with the whole time I knew her.

I've spent most of my life playing basketball with black men. One of the three times I've cried as an adult was when I learned Magic Johnson had HIV.

I've been shot at by one black man, beaten unconscious by another. I beat another black man until he fell down, and then kicked him a few times to make sure he wouldn't get up again. He's the only guy I've ever kicked after he went down -- did I do it because he was black? I don't think so; I think I did it because I was losing the fight before I got lucky and I really didn't want him to get back up again.... But maybe not. Maybe I wouldn't have kicked him if he'd been a red skinned demon?.

The only time anyone ever tried to mug me, it was a black guy with a knife, and I ran over him with a shopping cart.

Black men, Crips, kidnapped, raped, tortured, and murdered my wife's sister.

What do I say about "blacks?" I'm damn sure that if I started making sweeping statements about "black people," I'd get called out for it on this blog. But "whites" are monolithic? White people can't see the humanity in blacks?

Dark Moon said...

Take a look at the Chinese Exclusion act of 1882 as well as the Asian Exclusion Act that was passed in 1924. White America limited Asians from immigrating to America, thus, Asians were corralled mostly on the West coast—specifically California (Google Angel Island—Asians version of Ellis Island) in which they had limited access to schools, and jobs. During that time the few Asians that were in America had access to their home countries, etc and could obtain resources, etc that Blacks did not have, despite the uneven success of Black townships. Why do you think there was a Back to Africa movement?

Until the Immigration of 1965, after the efforts of Civil Rights—this allowed a Second wave of a skilled Asian workforce to immigrate into America. They were often used as a comparison between the blighted poverty of Blacks coming out of systemic racism through Jim Crow and repugnant discrimination practices in the north, against the seemingly educated and wealthy immigrants who were allowed access to technological and scientific jobs. Need one forget that you have to have money to come to America if you aren’t sponsored by an citizen. Thus, their experience are vastly different from the majority of Black Americans, thus it stands to reason that the process of Blacks branching out to technology and science would be far slower than Asians—who have resources and the blessings of whites as a palatable and far more acceptable and honorary minority.

Marty S said...

Eric: You are in essence doing the same thing your arguing with Steve about. Steve is a Hollywood person and relates to movies. Its something he is familiar with and understands, so his barometer is how blacks are portrayed in the movies. You are a science person and familiar and understand science so you use that as your barometer. Its the same thing. We all view the world though glasses colored by our own life experiences.

Steven Barnes said...

""when whites create black characters"

Which whites? The ones who don't write about black characters, and are therefore racist? The ones who write blacks only as supporting characters, and are therefore racist? The ones who write blacks as main characters, but, being white, can't really understand the black experience, and are therefore racist?"
I can only be responsible for my own attitudes. If you don't write about black characters as an individual, that may well be the throw of the dice. When an entire field almost never does, that ain't accidental. Of COURSE people of one group can write about members of another. I've heard just as many gays, women, or whatever complaining about straights or men writing about them--its one of the ways a group tries to keep control. But if every time (or the vast majority of the time) white folks write about black people they are written about in a partial, less-than-human way, I feel perfectly comfortable commenting upon it. After all, to my knowledge every one of the movies I complain about is written by someone white. Not pointing that out would be rather silly, don't you think?

Steven Barnes said...


I absolutely believe that brown and black people are acting like white people--on average, given similar stimulus, they produce similar response. You actually want them to behave DISSIMILARLY to white people: that is, even with different resources and context, you'd like them to get the same result. What you don't see is how very different the starting position is. As the playing field gets more level, the results become more equivalent.

Steven Barnes said...

Interesting that my comment about what's going to happen if the racial numbers flip is interpreted as a threat, as if I WANT that to happen, or am looking forward to it, or could stop it. In fact--I'm trying to stop it. The faster people become aware of these subconscious tendencies, the easier it will be to fight it.
And have you noticed that, no matter how many times I explain, people interpret this as "white people feel..." rather than "PEOPLE feel. And in America, one of the signs of this is that the group holding the power and outnumbering the other group gets to impose its prejudices" In no way, positive or negative, do I believe white people are remarkable at all. I think people who keep accusing me of this are trying to put their thoughts into my mind. Won't work.

Steven Barnes said...

And do we notice, again, that no matter how many times I say that the movies are just bending grass, that I'm trying to point out a wind that blows very differently for black Americans and influences a vast range of social phenomena, people keep acting as if the problem is a tiny group of guys in Hollywood who won't let the images through. NO. The problem is a near-universal human tendency to fear and dehumanize the "other." The movies are just a way I measure it.

Steven Barnes said...

"If you want "brown people" to "do to whites what whites did", it can mean having brown people take over Hollywood and have only brown heroes get the girls. And that might indeed make a difference, culturally. But as long as whites remain more likely to earn Nobel Prizes, there'd remain a source of deep inequality that would not go away until brown people did something else entirely."
Erich--you are a very, very smart guy. And I'm kinda shocked that you're missing the mark so completely here.
1) Did I say I wanted this to happen? Hell, no.
2) Did I say people in Hollywood needed to make more movies in which brown people get the girl? NO. I said that they can make them, and that the public won't go to see them. You want to isolate this problem to a small group in Hollywood, rather than looking at this as a problem of human perception, as I do.
3)What in the world do Nobel Prizes have to do with this? You've brought this up several times. If I'd complained that "black people aren't shown winning Noble prizes as often as white people" your comment would make sense. I'm not asking Hollywood to make films that don't reflect statistical reality. I'm saying that human beings have fear and loathing toward the "other", that American whites are human beings, and that these negative tendencies are on clear display. I'm not at all sure why you keep harping on this. Are you clear on why you're doing it?

Steven Barnes said...

"What do I say about "blacks?" I'm damn sure that if I started making sweeping statements about "black people," I'd get called out for it on this blog. But "whites" are monolithic? White people can't see the humanity in blacks?"
I'm going to repeat this, because I love you, Dan, and this obviously struck a nerve. I make sweeping statements about human beings, and then have the temerity to suggest white folks are people. Horrors! Do I suggest that whites are more bigoted than blacks? (Other than to suggest that there has been a bit of brain-washing that reduces some anger in the black community). I say that group "A" will always consider itself a little better, prettier, closer to God than group "B"--and vice versa. That because of relative power positions, this has worked out really badly for black people. But never have I suggested that white people are especially negative--or positive--in any way at all. Nor have I ever suggested that black people are superior--or inferior. It amazes me how hard it is for people to get this about me.
WHITE PEOPLE ARE NOT SPECIAL. NOT ESPECIALLY GOOD, OR BAD. They're just folks. Is that plain enough? That is absolutely my attitude. Nothing else should EVER be inferred.

Steven Barnes said...

Oh, and I don't, and never said, "all, every, without exception white people." Isn't it clear that I'm saying "the average member of group X" and "the average member of group Y" and that I use the 100 million measurement to represent broad cultural acceptance of an image? Quite obviously, there are two ends of a Bell Curve going on. I am happy to clarify if such is needed. I've never said white people are a monolith, any more than any other group is. But it is certainly possible to describe and determine the attitudes of large blocks of people by the way they vote, or spend their money, or respond to surveys. I'm doing it by the way they buy movie tickets. I think you guys find the results unsettling. Sorry about that...imagine how it feels on this end. And again, if the shoe was on the other foot, I'm sure we'd screw you over just as bad, and be just as unconscious and uncomfortable about it. Nothing personal, folks.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not at all sure why you keep harping on this. Are you clear on why you're doing it?"

I'm doing it because it seems to me that you're describing one problem accurately, but ignoring a separate problem of arguably equal importance.

The problem I think you've nailed: movies tap into a very basic level of human tribalism, in which we want to see our own kind win and breed, while not wanting the "other" to; and American blacks are really prominently marked as "other" (with different non-white racial groups getting somewhat less discounted). I agree about that. Completely. It's probably one of the few political points I'm in total agreement with you about.

The problem I think you're ignoring: this is just one dimension of successful life in America. And it happens to be one that, for whatever reason derived from my genetics or cultural upbringing, I'm pretty isolated from. Instead, I've spent my entire life competing in a different arena: the contest to excel in the realm of science and technology. And having done that, there are some things I may be able to see a bit more clearly than (left to my own devices) I'd see popular culture in the movies.

Some things I've been seeing:


1. People who choose to be innumerate are putting a pretty low ceiling on their futures in 21st-century America. If you're mathematically literate at age 18-22, you can pretty much write your own ticket in modern America: the big new fortunes are going to guys like Jerry Yang who actually understand computation, even if they themselves have become business managers. The manager-types who aren't able to hack numbers? They may be fine if they're Steven Spielberg's age ... but increasingly, folks like this are at the mercy of connections or luck or the economy.

2. There is no real job security for anybody any more. Not for whites, not for anybody. The whole U.S. is pretty much turning into a nation of free-lancers whether anybody likes it or not. And this point is connected to point [1]; the sort of stuff Americans are good at these days pretty much demands that sort of atomization, and makes it possible.

3. People with relatively few material resources can end up earning serious wealth and prestige if they can cope with science and technology. In at least some sense, they're driving the society. One of the hottest hot-button political issues of the last decade has been mammalian cloning, something that was considered totally impossible until 1997. That's not an accident: cloning is potentially huge because it gives us the prospect of people really being able to grow back lost body parts or live longer.

4. Blacks are seriously underrepresented in all this. Not absolutely absent, thank God -- there are black students here at Caltech -- but conspicuously rarer than they should be, and it's been that way for as long as I've been on this campus (18 years now, eek).

5. A good deal of such success in this society as I have comes from having coped with points [1]-[4] above. That's been my life; and anybody who wants my perks is going to have to at least live an analog of how I've been living (though I'd hope they'd do it more effectively than me).


So here's the deal. You can write about how movies devalue black men, and I'll agree. You can argue that this is human, and I'll ruefully agree. You can even say that the tables will be turned as America becomes browner, and I'll actually agree completely. (I've already written about how much the U.S. has changed ethnically in 35 years; I totally expect it to change yet more in the next 35. Such is life and change.)

But if you think that sexual imagery, in films or out, is the sole dimension of what it will take for blacks in America to achieve genuine parity in this society, there, I'll have to respectfully (and long-windedly) disagree. Because there, you're not just talking about the aspect of American life that you've seen, but (implicitly) about that aspect of American life that I've seen.

Which is a really different aspect, and which depends a heck of lot more on being willing to learn abstruse things for their own sake than on being liked.

--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

"Isn't it clear that I'm saying 'the average member of group X' and 'the average member of group Y' and that I use the 100 million measurement to represent broad cultural acceptance of an image?"

It's clearer now that I've read this, and certainly this is totally consistent with all the points you've made; particularly, your point that this is a human problem, not a Hollywood, American, or White problem.

I do find it amusing to claim membership in the Great White Lean-Bodied Heterosexual Borg, though...

--Erich Schwarz

Marty S said...

Steve and Eric: Steve you tend to say white people don't notice, many of us, certainly I notice, but Eric we may notice racism we may even despise it, but we don't live it so we can't feel it and understand it at the same way blacks do. This is true, just like a non-Jew can't appreciate what it is to be Jewish. A non-Jew may be horrified that Hitler perpetrated the holocaust, but doesn't understand the to the same depth the fear that it could happen again.

Steven Barnes said...

"But if you think that sexual imagery, in films or out, is the sole dimension of what it will take for blacks in America to achieve genuine parity in this society, there, I'll have to respectfully (and long-windedly) disagree"
Of course! That would be insane on my part, and I've never said it. What I say again and again is that I use this to measure the invisible hand of unconscious prejudice, and then suggest that it also manifests in countless other arenas.
Because you are SMARTER than average, and so far as I can see more thoughtful as well, and have been reading my thoughts on this for years, I submit to you that confusion and misunderstanding on these issues is the rule, not the exception. There is something in us that makes it VERY hard to hear what others say, if it goes contrary to our experience or beliefs. This isn't your problem, Erich. Or white people's problem. Or blacks. Or men. Or women. We have to step back, take a deep breath, take FULL responsibility for our behaviors (remember how hard that is?) have compassion, see ourselves in the Other...and move on.
And yep, I want to see LOTS more black people in math and science.
And Erich, I am quite sure that your success in life is due mostly to your own efforts, and was hard-won indeed.

Michelle said...

Steve: The way you put makes it sound like a threat. Sorry it does. I do believe that you are not working to something like that but that is what it comes off like sometimes.

Salina: Rwanda is prime and horrible example of when one group punishes another for once being in charge. It has nothing to do with being black but rather being separate and unequal...then having the power switch. Iraq is a non-black example if you like. Zimbabwe is an almost example. Those are extreme examples I hope to never see in this country. I hope you can agree on that at least.

Charles said...


If find it interesting that you saw Steve's words as a threat-

"The racial complexion of this country is changing. Your white children are going to be on the losing end of this one day. I promise when that happens, if brown people do the same shit to you you've been doing to us, suddenly you'll notice. And be angry that we 'don't notice.'"

If you look at the part I've bolded, it seems that he was merely saying that if the status quo changes, and if attitudes towards those who were in the majority are the same as attitudes towards the current minority, you the then minority, will suddenly notice. There is no threat there. It's just the nature of humans to more readily recognize things that are happening personally to them, rather than to a third party.

Where's the threat?

Ronald T. Jones said...

African Americans have always had a presence in the sciences. Yes, blacks are underrepresented in all scientific disciplines, but those who are in the field have been and are doing world class research and development.

I hope to see the numbers of African Americans in science increase, significantly if possible. But make no mistake, there are African Americans who are among the top sceintists and engineers in the country...which makes them among the best in the world.

Steve Perry said...

"Then how should I phrase this: "when whites create black characters, they invest them with less humanity than when they create either white characters or fantasy characters".'

Put the word "some," or maybe even "many" between "when" and "whites." I'm good with that.

Otherwise, you aren't altogether correct.

If you can point out which of my black characters have less humanity than my white, brown, or green ones, I'd be happy to sit corrected.

A sweeping statement is seldom totally accurate. It's why they make modifiers ...

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I'm not convinced that men (on the level of generality you're using) love women. Men want and need women, but that's not at all the same thing.

Consider that prostitution under vile conditions is a worldwide problem, and that prostitutes are generally despised.

Consider the amount of work it's taken to get domestic abuse (mostly violence by men against women) taken seriously. I grant that violence by women against men isn't taken seriously enough yet.

Consider that women were considered to owe sex to their husbands (in other words, husbands were legally permitted to rape their wives), even when death in childbirth was a serious risk.

If men actually loved women, they'd be a lot more careful about how often and where they had wars.

As far as I can tell, it's taken a very long process starting with the troubadours to get men to treat women at all decently.

Charles said...


You're doing the same thing in reverse. I don't think I'm in the minority of men that would never do such things. And who view women as precious, and not in a condescending manner either.

Its only been very recently (historically) that women have not been the flower of a man's virtue, and though such things as domestic violence existed even then, and there was no legal recourse, society and peers did the same.

Chivalry started a bit before the troubadours, and such ideas predate even its origins in France- though perhaps not as institutionalized as it was by knighthood. But one of the things that has dulled that part of honoring women in modern society is, ironically enough, women themselves. In the quest for equality, many now demonize chivalrous acts as chauvinistic, which is quite sad.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Charles, which thing am I doing in reverse?

Thanks for the history-- I was going by casual memory.

As for chivalry in the modern world, it's a messy topic. I wouldn't recommend demonizing it, but dealing with someone who insists on helping you whether you want it or not is no fun.

Steve Perry said...

No offense, but chivalry was more lip service than reality. A man who opens a door or pulls out a chair for a woman, brings her flowers and offer poetry then beats and rapes her once they are in the bedroom, and with all due legal rights to do so?

Not how I believe it ought to work.

As long as somebody is property that their owner can do with as they wish, then we are talking about a nasty state of affairs. Slaves, wives, children, all were an extension of their owners for a long time, and who got the worst of it varied by time and place. Yes, there were good masters, but masters they were, with the force of law and convention behind them.

We still don't have equal rights across the board, or did I miss that when it happened?

Nancy Lebovitz said...

For the most part, I've been treated decently or better by men. My current way of reconciling this with the historical record and what's still going on to a large extent is partly that civilization consists of slowly taking the social structure away from the most aggressive and status-oriented people (both men and women), and also that I've been somewhat lucky.

Charles said...

@Nancy and Steve

Both of you are generalizing, which is what I believe that Steven did in his original post.

Nancy is generalizing that men don't love women. Actually, after further thought, and discussion with a friend, I think she may be onto something here, but needs to go a bit further with it.

There has been a struggle for equality among men and women. I see that as a worthy cause- to a point. Why to a point? Because men and woman are not equal.

Hear me out- I'm not saying that men or women are better just not equal. So men don't love women in general the way that women love men. And I think that a lot of women expect this. Because of this difference in mindset, what love is to a woman is different than what love is to a man in general, in my opinion. And so when you try to apply the same measure to the love of a man and the love of a woman, that measure will fail. You can't compare apples to oranges.

As far as Steve's point about Chivalry, in practice there were some- even many- who took advantage of their position over the 'weaker sex' to lord over them, and claim such rights. But that was never the original intent of Chivalry, which was my point. Like a lot of things, the practice, when put in the hands of fallible humans, becomes much different than the original intent.

Steve Perry said...

But, Charles, it's the practice that matters. Good intentions pave the road to hell, and while one gets credit for trying -- and we have to start somewhere -- talking the talk is not walking the walk.

We haven't gotten there yet, and folks who believe we have aren't paying attention.

Charles said...


I agree with you that the practice matters- especially for those who are on the receiving end of the practice.

But my point is that to condemn the practice of Chivalry is to look at the wrong part- and to look at it in my opinion in a completely too general manner.

This is the same sort of argument that small minded people make towards Muslims. The Koran doesn't say make yourselves into human bombs and go kill innocents. It says nothing about animosity towards Christians. So does the fact that Wahhabis sends so-called Muslims ignorant of what the Koran says on these subjects to do so make the Muslim religion a violent, wrong religion?