The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Babylon A.D.

The RNC convention was looking like a Pillsbury Dough-Boy family reunion, but then I came across interviews with a group of Black Republicans over on Huffington Post. Ariana (who, by the way, can REALLY dance. Had the pleasure of watching her at a DNC fundraising party four years ago...yow!) asked them what they thought about Obama's candidacy, and they gave thoughtful, measured answers (while obviously being aware of the irony of the question) that had to do with lack of experience, potential versus reality, taxing the most productive citizens, and so on. Good answers. It was interesting that the one talk-back to the video link accused her of racism: "why not ask white voters what they think of John McCain..."

Which was patently absurd. First, there have been tons of surveying asking racially-charged questions concerning this election. Second, if McCain were the first white man to run for President, you bet your ass there would be questions asked more pointedly.

Third, it demonstrates that the term "racist" is bandied about a bit too easily. As is "sexist." I mean, to note that a member of a group might have a special interest in other members of said group is just recognizing a truth of human nature. To suggest that membership, or birth into, a given group is a determinate in certain behaviors is controversial, but not necessarily hateful or bigoted. (Are black people more likely to like dancing? Are women more likely to be informed about spring fashions? Is suspecting both might be true bigoted?) The funny thing is that in both cases, asked privately, blacks or women will often express pride in their relative knowledge or capacity in these arenas. Make a public statement about such things, and WOW! Watch the fur fly. Of course, the reason is that categories have been used to limit people, and even after the fences have been pulled up, the lines of dead grass remain in the field. Even after you cut the rope, the elephant thinks it can't pull away. That's how psychological conditioning works.

Stating (what seems to me to be) an obvious truth: that women are better prepared for the care of infant children than men, doesn't mean that their roles should be limited to such actions, or that men can't or shouldn't learn to step up in that arena, or that technologies of birth control and infant care should not be developed. My view is that every human being should have the chance to rise to her highest good, to the full expression of dreams and hopes. But you don't get there by ignoring reality. You HAVE to understand gravity in order to build a flying machine.

The problem with looking at cultural preferences, or biological mechanisms is that some people will use them against you, or excuse their bigotry with it. And that is a problem. Expect members of any group that has been oppressed or limited by another group to have a serious flinch response. One way or another, everyone is a member of an oppressed or denigrated group (or perceives themselves this way)...or has been, or will be. And most of us are members of an oppressor group (or are perceived this way)...or have been, or will be.

We have to tread carefully as we try to undo the damage of the past, to approach a brighter future.


I am virtually alone among my political friends in not believing one side or the other is better. True, I think that different sides have more or less to offer to different constituencies. That's one of the things that makes a democracy (or, yes, democratic republic) interesting--the drive to compromise between these different groups. But I know of no objective set of standards, simply expressed, that makes Republicans (for instance) superior to Democrats, Liberals to Conservatives, or vice versa. No one can say that every time we've had a Republican president the GNP went up, or crime went down, or whatever. People always hedge and haw: "well, he didn't really adhere to our principles" or "the Congress wasn't behind him" or whatever, producing a maze of complex charts selectively high-lighting this factor and ignoring that one. And Liberals tend to make a little more money, while Conservatives give a litttle more to charity, and this group tends to have higher educations, while that group has a little less teen pregnancy. And those of rigid thought try to thread their arguments through the stuff that makes them look good, and ignore anything to the contrary. It's laughable, and predictable, and I'm surprised that adults don't get the joke.

The joke is that, rather obviously to me, when you can divide an issue into dualities, neither of which has a simple objective advantage across the board, you need BOTH of them to create a whole. There are truths on either side, and the people screaming at each other are like ants crawling across a silver dollar hollaring "Heads!" "Tails!"

They are, in my thinking, like a swimmer who insists that his left arm is better than his right, never noticing that he is swimming in a circle unless he uses both. Either side, in power too long (and there's a problem: everyone's definition of "too long" will differ, of course) will grow corrupt and complacent. When I cheer for the Democrats or Liberals, it's because I feel like Conservative Republicans have had too much power, for too long. I have no doubt that if Obama was in office for eight years, followed by another Democrat for say, one term, I'd start getting a little itchy for a Conservative revolution.

A case in point is the fact that I don't know a single person, Conservative or Liberal, who will admit that the media is in their pocket. Both sides think the media is against them. Since I have NO reason to believe either side is more honest, the only conclusion I can come to is that if you're standing to the left of a line in the sand, it seems to be Right. And if you stand to the right of a line in the sand, it seems to be Left. And all you'll do is amass the data that justifies your perception, and discount anything that contradicts your POV. It's a big, ugly joke, and to me, a game for children.

I get asked again and again what I'm really up to with the 101 program. There really isn't quite language for it. I can say "lose 20 pounds" or "double your energy" or "increase income" or "find love" or "decrease stress" and all of that would be true...but all would be merely means to an end. What I'm really interested in is waking people up, and helping them become adults. Being an awakened adult means taking responsibility for their results in all three arenas, and realizing that you are where you are in your life because of choices YOU have made. And recognizing that we are in a web of biological and social and spiritual relationships--and smiling tolerantly at the children who sit in the sandbox insisting that THEIR castle is better than anyone else's...and daily inspecting your own attitudes to see where you do the same thing. Because you do. We have to be constantly aware, like a drowsy driver on a mountain road taking micro-naps. Wake up. Wake up.


Want to know when I'm asleep? For one, ANY TIME I have an emotional response to the "Black Male Sexuality In Cinema" thing (as opposed to bemusedly noticing it) your host is sleeping. I'm being a Needy, Wounded, Abandoned child. Pure self-indulgence, because in those moments, rather than creating new paths, I'm complaining that I don't like the direction of the old ones. You're watching my wounds ooze.

And you, dear do you know when you are being a child, and asleep?


Saw "Babylon A.D." last night with Nicki and her guy. Wow, what a turd. I like Vin Diesel a LOT, and he was fine, within the limits of this confused, muddy, sub-par re-tread of "Children of Men." It was o.k. until the last twenty minutes, when it went completely to shit. What were they thinking? I don't know at all. But this story of a professional smuggler moving human cargo from Russia to America just couldn't figure out the story they were telling, and ultimately dissolved into a flurry of half-baked metaphysics and improbable plot twists. I could almost hear the collective audience groan "say what?" at one scene involving a missile, as their collective suspension of disbelief collapsed like a glass overpass in an earthquake. Wow. And Michelle Yeoh was in it, and you KNOW how much I love her. This was a gigantic waste of talent, and I put the blame squarely on the director, who had no coherent visual style to keep us locked into his world. Ugh. A "D"


Mike Ralls said...

>And you, dear do you know when you are being a child, and asleep?<

When I put off doing work that I know needs to be done.

Procrastination is my biggest vice, and not just in the little, "oh that is an annoying flaw of mine" but in the sense of "I procrastinate working to an unhealthy degree and it keeps me from achieving the goals in work that I want to achieve." Specifically my master's thesis has taken me _way_ longer than it should (and I'm still not done), but in other areas as well. I've avoided putting out a story a week because I told myself I needed the time to work on my thesis, and then I end up not working on my thesis _and_ not writing stories. *slaps head* Doy.

I know I'm doing it, but my "Monkey voice" keeps telling me, "oh just wait five more minutes, five more minutes, ooo look at that instead, look at that its interesting and not work you should look at it for just a while just a while" and it keeps on in that vein until the day is over and then it goes, "sleep time, bed time, you can do the work tomorrow." and then the next day it does the same thing.

I _know_ it's a dumb stupid voice, but I keep listening to it.

I kicked the procrastination voice's ass when it came to exercise. Just stomped it into a bloody mess and it rarely ever even talks to me about exercise anymore. When I think it's time to work out, I just go and work out.

I never had a problem with it in relationships either, but work goals . . . that's where it reals it's ugly head. Part of the "problem" is that I have a good job right now that is not very demanding and pays me plenty. So there is no day-by-day slam of a motivation to just get er done.

But I _do_ want to at least have other options, so I do _want_ to overcome this vice and just get my work done.

Kami said...

>And you, dear do you know when you are being a child, and asleep?<

When I get angry and a script runs through my mind. It's different than when I get angry at a specific thing and go on about that. I know when I see an inciting incident, say, a driver cutting me off in traffic, and I start mentally ranting and raving about how certain people shouldn't have driver's licenses and everyone's just a stupid ape pretending they're civilized driving around in tonnage of killing machine with no sense of responsibility or consequences and on and on.

Getting out of that script is hard. I see folks doing it all the time. The inciting incident needs only to be peripherally related to the script, too. For example, someone mentioning they're voting for a certain candidate will get someone on a script about corporate rape of the environment or government waste or the ozone layer. Yes, there's a connection there, but it can be pretty flimsy and the point is that the brain is on a script from that point onward. It's not thinking anymore.

Anonymous said...

Boy Mike, do I get you on this one. Procrastination is a big one. I too have a long over due Thesis that I've just left to gather dust for a while now. I'll do ANYTHING rather than work on it. So, there's something that I don't want to see. Yeah, I'm asleep.

There are lots of other areas too but I'm not going in to those here.


Anonymous said...

I think I'm childish and asleep when my attention to detail starts to blot out the bigger picture.

Let me just say, I find people who see everything as a racial issue tedious. Having said that, your emotional response to the "black male sexuality in cinema" issue is absolutly legit. If you did'nt have an emotional response of annoyance, irritation or even anger it would not be healthy. It's that emotional response combined with rational thought that allows us to change things. I think this is one of those times when you should embrace and channel those emotions into a goal.


John M.

Shady_Grady said...

"No one can say that every time we've had a Republican president the GNP went up, or crime went down, or whatever."

Well at the risk of being considered laughable or rigid, there are certain statistical predictions that are valid about Republican or conservative Presidential administrations and Democratic or Liberal Presidential administrations. The most consistent one is that under Republicans income inequality increases and overall growth slows while under Democrats the opposite is true.

While there may be other objective benefits to living under a Republican administration, income growth for the majority of people tends not to be one of them.

I do believe in right and wrong and I believe that many of the ideas that the modern conservatives adhere to are.. wrong.

Whether one is talking about the environment, civil liberties, consumer protection, employment discrimination, labor rights, workplace safety, the ideas generally promulgated by conservatives are wrong in my opinion.

I can respect people on the other side, but I still think they're wrong. I don't think that makes me (or them) childish. It just makes us opinionated.

Dan Moran said...

I'm slow to anger and slow to get over being angry. The first is mostly healthy; the second is mostly childish. When I find myself walking around angry for hours or days on end, it's always my fault.

Happens less often than it used to, but it still happens.

Marty S said...

Gee Dan we really are opposites. I am real quick to anger and real fast to get over it.

Steve: an awful lot of what you say in this post makes sense to me. Neither conservatives nor liberals are completely correct on most of the controversial issues and a little more willingness to consider and learn from the other side would be real helpful.

Steven Barnes said...

My knee-jerk reaction to cinematic images isn't healthy. Channeling that emotion into goals IS healthy. You guys are kind enough to let my little kid rant really helps.

Dan Moran said...

Marty, I suspect you're better off. It's those people who go about simmering who give themselves heart attacks. Long term anger is corrosive to your health. Quick upsets may be more destabilizing day to day (I'm guessing, not stating) ... but I doubt it does the same long-term damage.

Ashe Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ashe Hunt said...

Seems like the director wasn't too happy with the movie either. Seems to be a reoccurring problem with SF films. They usually don't turn out too well when the studio and financiers get too involved.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

If I can tell I'm asleep, I'm waking up at least a little.

That being said, if I keep thinking things that make me helplessly angry or paralyzed, that's me knocking myself out.

And I don't even need an inciting incident. I was amazed to find that I'd invent things (what if someone said X?) to be annoyed at.

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