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Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Friday, August 21, 2009

Mazel Tov!

Watching the "Tyson" documentary last night, and was struck by how precisely his life fits into Lonnie Athens' theory of the creation of a violent criminal:

1) Brutalization or violent horrification. Tyson was beaten by thugs when he was young, and had no support at home.

2) Rebellion ("I'm mad as hell"). Watch his eyes when he talks about reaching the point where he decided not to take it any more: someone killed one of his pidgeons.

3) Acting out. He beat the hell out of the guy who killed his pidgeon, getting respect in the neighborhood.

4) Finds a group of like-minded individuals to cheer him on. Joins a gang of thugs ripping off crack houses.

5) Internalize their voices. Now this is where it gets interesting. By the age of 12 or 13 he fell into the hands of boxing trainers who saw his potential, and Cus D'Amato, who treated him like a son, and began the process of programming him psychologically/emotionally to be a champion. The filmmaker represents the confusion of the conflicting "programming" with a cascade of overlapping voices. It is easy to imagine the confusion and virtual "shorting out" of old programs.

D'Amato died when Tyson was 19, I believe, just before he won the title at 20. If Cus had lived to help Tyson sort through the offers, money, women, "friends" and so forth, the negative voices would slowly have diminished. As it is, we had an abused child in the body of a god. A recipe for disaster.

I like Athens' theory because it makes perfect sense of military, martial arts, and other forms of intense training, and also how an individual who might, with proper support, become a useful citizen can turn into a monster. It justifies both the need for SERIOUS prisons (once you've reached the 5th stage there is no known way to rehabilitate) and also for a broader social safety net. It resolves the apparent conflict between the Conservative and Liberal attitudes about miscreants. And it's based on actual research, not spiritual or political beliefs.

##

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT about "INGLORIOUS BASTERDS."

There is controversy in the Jewish community about Quentin Tarantino's WW2 revenge fantasy, in which a "Dirty Dozen" burly Jews drop behind enemy lines in occupied France, killing and scalping Nazis. I'll see it this afternoon, but even then I'm not Jewish, so I can't claim to be a part of that particular cultural matrix, with very special sensitivities that come from living memories of a damned efficient attempt to exterminate them. Does this trivialize the Holocaust? Put Jews on the same moral level as Nazis? Well, as a non-Jew, all I can say is that the killing of uniformed soldiers has NOTHING to do with herding children into ovens. That I would flat love a good movie where slaves rose up and slaughtered their masters, or blacks in the segregated south ripped Klansmen a new asshole. Whether it is "historically accurate" or not is beside the point: this is fantasy. Mel Brooks could mock Hitler thirty years ago...I think it's possible to be a little flexible in the 21st Century. I also suspect that Jews over 60 will react to this very differently than those under 30. From what I've seen of young Israelis, their attitude is: "Hell, no!" They imagine that if a Hitler came for them, they would go down fighting to a man. That "Basterds" is the kind of wet dream that I would just LOVE if I was Jewish.

I do think it raises uncomfortable questions and emotions, however. Similar to those about why blacks "allowed" themselves to be enslaved, or "tolerated" segregation. I have nothing but sympathy for those caught in the "did we? Why? What does it mean? Never again" loop. It can make you question yourself in some seriously uncomfortable ways. The best answer for the Holocaust is the same one for the 9/11 passengers: no one had any idea how #$%% bad this was going to be, until it was too late to act. The boiling frog routine. I remember watching the Israeli Special Forces working out, practicing their martial disciplines, and felt like I was watching guys I went to High School with, with the single added difference that the "My back is to the wall" switch has been thrown.

I empathize, and can only comment from the position of an outsider who believes, with no shred of equivocation, that Israel has the right to exist. Period. But memories of the Holocaust are great for manipulating public opinion, and if I were Jewish I'd want to control the way that imagery is used as well. But I seriously believe that if I were Jewish, I'd love the image of Jews bashing Nazis with baseball bats. I know many older blacks who would cringe at the idea of similar imagery involving blacks and racists. In my mind, they were beaten down to the point that the mere idea of direct conflict feels like suicide. To a younger generation, the Civil Rights movement can feel like servile, feminized men going with hat in hand begging Massa to play fair. The Jewish Defense League in New York back in the 60's and 70's (karate fans: remember Alex "Plus One" Steinberg?) made it clear that Jews were no longer going to rely on the protection of non-Jews. That they were active, not passive. And that God helps those who help themselves.

Today, I'm gonna be Jewish. Mazel Tov.

19 comments:

Michelle said...

Interestingly enough, there was a group of Jews that banded together and fought back. There are several books on the subject but there is also the Daniel Craig movie Defiance.

Having said that...and caveat: I'm not Jewish, I think we need to laugh at our demons. No to do so gives them power over us beyond the grave.

Marty S said...

Steve: You are right that Jews of different ages react differently to the holocaust. My uncle, who fought in the war for the rest of his life would never buy anything made in Germany. I was born in 1945 after the war was over, but I grew up with neighbors who were concentration camp survivors and had numbers tattooed on their arms. So while I am not anti-German like my uncle, the survival of Israel is of paramount importance to me. Israel is symbol to me, that the world hasn't forgotten the holocaust and the demise of Israel will foretell the next holocaust. My son, just came back from eight months working in Germany and while he is still a strong supporter of Israel, he does not have the same emotional attachment I do. As to the film, I don't like the idea. I feel that fantasy Jews getting payback 1)It trivializes the real events. 2) By providing a film depiction of non real events it aids those who try and claim the holocaust never happening because they will use this fantasy to smear film depicting actual events as fantasy.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Lonnie Athens' theories about what makes violent criminals make the most sense to me of anything I've read. (My husband got a book of his back when he was writing a lot about prisons, and Alcatraz in particular, and I read it after him.)

poltergeist said...

Inglorious Basterds. Neat flick. Got my money's worth, save for the sticker shock of almost twenty bucks for a medium buttered popcorn, small Coke, and a box of Raisinettes. Shit. Glad I went by myself. Glad I speak fluent German, too. I caught more than a few people around me snoozing and shifting uncomfortably in their seats during the basement bar fight scene when the jig is up as the Gestapo guy outs the Brit for what he truly is and where 99% of the scene is spoken in German with subtitles. Bummer that as I would imagine that decent portions of any given audience are lazy and just want to follow along without reading subtitles as well. I dunno. Tell you this much, there sure was a LOT of supposed restroom going and confirmed refreshment refreshing during that segment in any event.

Otherwise, neat flick with a sweet revenge ending. I'll buy the DVD for my next viewing, and I'll eat much cheaper, too.

poltergeist said...

Marty:

>I feel that fantasy Jews getting payback 1)It trivializes the real events. 2) By providing a film depiction of non real events it aids those who try and claim the holocaust never happening because they will use this fantasy to smear film depicting actual events as fantasy.<

Not as much fantasy as you might think, but certainly less dramatically fanciful as depicted in the film.

There were in fact Jews that had served in WWII in mostly Brit units that took it upon themselves after WWII to get even with certain Nazis that made it on their shit list. They hunted more than a few down while wearing their old Brit uniforms as well as liberated uniforms of the other allies complete with "official" orders, ID, and other documentation and took them out for fairly discreet summary execution all by their lonesomes and presumably without official sanction, save but the 11th Commandment admonishment. Thou shalt not get caught.

Perhaps their most ambitious and noted (I bet you can probably Google and find it) operation was infiltrating a US ran prison with Shutzstaffel, Sicherheitsdienst and other personnel they thought deserving of harsh terminal treatment an then lacing the bakery dough for bread with cyanide and/or strychnine, or both, I forgot. I can't recall now why things didn't go as planned, but suffice to say, it didn't.

For what it's worth, this very same element of people went onto form the core of the Hagganah, Lehi, Igrun, Stern Gang, and other splinter groups and turned the tables on the Brits during the early days and formation of the State of Isreal, to include blowing up the King David Hotel in what might be considered an act of terrorism as the hotel served as part of the Brit HQ. If I recall things correctly, Menachem Begin was in charge of that particular operation as either the leader or one of them of the Igrun.

I'd say those Isrealis learned some lessons quite well.

Anonymous said...

"Shutzstaffel, Sicherheitsdienst and other personnel they thought deserving of harsh terminal treatment and then lacing the bakery dough for bread with cyanide and/or strychnine"

APPLAUSE! Frankly speaking, those who directly perpetrated the atrocities and genocidal crimes of the Third Reich richly deserve FAR WORSE, and merit zero pity or mercy. Better still was the penalty inflicted on some SS captured by Stalin's forces: slaving unto death mining uranium, perishing under the triple assault of exhaustion, sadism and poison to equip the USSR's fledgling nuclear arsenal.

One need not be Jewish to applaud those who attempted to avenge Shoal victims. Like retaliation should have been inflicted on slave masters, the Turks who perpetrated the Armenian Genocide, and, thankfully, is being dealt to Ba'athists who orchestrated the Anfahl campaign. IMHO, such vengeful violence is beneficial since the emotional catharsis and idea of "score evened" it provides plausibly facilitates healing by the survivors, while dramatically demonstrating the unacceptability of such atrocities to humanity whit large.

"I think we need to laugh at our demons."

As per the instinctual pantomime obeyed to various degrees by all primates, enemies and demons are vanquished through their humiliation. Ridiculing demons knocks them flat on their asses beneath the dominance hierarchy, as does beating them senseless. Humor and violence: two means to similar ends.

Ethiopian_Infidel

Marty S said...

When one blows up a bus full of school children that is a terrorist act. When one flies a plane into a building full of innocent civilians that is terrorist attack. When one bombs the headquarters of an enemy army and precedes that attack with warnings to civilians in the area it much more resembles a military action than a terrorist attack

poltergeist said...

>When one bombs the headquarters of an enemy army and precedes that attack with warnings to civilians in the area it much more resembles a military action than a terrorist attack<

That dog won't hunt if you're caught and compelled to stand at a military tribunal and protest that you're not being accorded the rights of international law and treated as a POW. Any civilian in a paramility organization not formally belonging to a recognized full military organization conducting military like or type activities is going to find themselves in deep kimchi and likely placed up against a wall or at the end of a rope (as was done to many a Israeli freedom fighter by the Brits)as a result of a very stickable charge of conducting terrorist warfare. And that's assuming they even bother trying you. These days the offended party just hunts you down and kills you in your sleep whenever possible. Quite a few Hezbollah members found this out the hard way after killing 283 US Marines in Beirut in 1983 after blowing up their barracks. Hotel, barracks, both are still military billets. No difference in target, force application, and designated personnel of either side. Just different Time.

Warnings to civilians? Few favors there except to spare their lives which is a big favor I must admit, but you've also made them accomplices before the fact and subject to some very very intense grilling procedures later on down the road. That's the tricky part. A sudden exodus of civilian personnel from the site and surrounding area is going to be noticed after the smoke clears because of a lack of proportionate civilian casualties. Counterintelligence and counter-terror folks are going to be curious and they're not going to be very gentle in their Q&A sessions. That doesn't make the news very often, but there are plenty of old surviving Israelis, Algerians, Vietnamese, Palestinians, Congolese, Colombians, Nicas, ad infinitum still around to tell the tale. I've even met some, and while generally fine with independence there's just a hint of being a pawn in a deadly game that's slightly detectable and I didn't get the impression anybody was happy about it.

Those in Israel did what they had to do at the time and I fault them not for it. The little guy has to fight the big guy the best way he can and by any means at his disposal. Good for them, but it is what it is and was. Terrorism. They were civilians not part of a recognized standard military force.

Dan Moran said...

I've never heard a definition of terrorism that didn't fundamentally come down to "not us, because we mean well."

poltergeist said...

Me neither. The stroke's painted by whoever is holding the brush. Some even give themselves cute names like those naughty chaps back at Boston Harbor calling themselves the "Sons Of Liberty" who are hardly ever thought of or spoken about in terms of what they really were at the time. That being terrorists and traitors from the ruling government's perspective. You know ... one man's this is another man's that sorta thing.

I kinda favor the old Roman twist on things. Vae victus. Many translations but the ones I find of interest and note are essentially, "f*ck the loser" and something along the lines of "he that wins the war writes the history".

Travis said...

"Any civilian in a paramility organization not formally belonging to a recognized full military organization conducting military like or type activities is going to find themselves in deep kimchi..."

Well, if you read the Geneva Conventions definitions for lawful combatants you find that it covers paramilitary organizations under appropriate circumstances. Now as we all know a piece of paper doesn't make it so, but revolutionaries 'not part of the regular military' are well within the scope of the conventions. The whole terror/POW/ torture/ interrogation debate has largely been framed by people who have clearly haven't read the Geneva Conventions.

I've always kind of thought that the blame should go to the people who co-locate military targets in civilian locations. But American media and popular opinion show that I'm clearly in the minority on that.

Orion said...

Whether or not people deserve mercy, to be merciful is a good thing for society. I do think that there are people who ought to be given the death penalty, whether it's in a military action or criminal courts or whatever. But it should be quick and clean and as painless as possible. To punish someone--make them suffer for what they've done--and then kill them reduces the humanity of the executioners, and doesn't gain any real advantage. If the purpose is to gratify the executioners, then there's a deep problem there. If anyone imagines that 'bad guys' will hesitate before doing some heinous act because their neighbor Joe was tortured and killed for doing the same thing, then they haven't looked at history and research. If an execution removes a threat to a societal group, good. But torturing someone for entertainment/satisfaction prior to killing them regardless of the reason ... I think it will create more problems for the 'good guys' than it solves. At least it seems so from where I sit.

Having said all that, revenge fantasies are part of life. The fantasy part of them is that the good guys can remain good guys while exacting their revenge, and the bad guys never come after anyone ever again. I indulge in revenge fantasies too. Some of them are even nifty fun. I just don't think that the reality would be satisfying, and I think there would be dire emotional and societal consequences.

Marty S said...

The Random house Dictionary defines terrorism as an act of violence intended to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purpose. Now when we dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki we had no military objective, our objective was to intimidate the Japanese into surrender. This would make those bombing acts of terrorism. On the other hand the bombing of the King David hotel did not have the objective of intimidating or coerce the British, it had the objective of protecting members of their own organization by destroying British intelligence information. So this would seem not to fit the dictionary definition of terrorism. But yes most people will still define terrorism as a violent act by those I don't like.

Shady_Grady said...

I think that generally "terrorism" means "violence with which I disagree".

But the Stern Gang (Lehi) has to be considered terrorist by any definition of the term.

Not only did the group blow up British police stations and the King David Hotel, it also assassinated an UN Mediator, mined the train to Cairo (killing civilians), murdered a British ambassador, massacred civilians in Deir Yassin, murdered other Jewish people with whom it had political disagreements, and even sought to ally with Nazi Germany to fight the British in exchange for recognition of the new state.

Scott Masterton said...

"That I would flat love a good movie where slaves rose up and slaughtered their masters, or blacks in the segregated south ripped Klansmen a new asshole."

I'd buy that book Steve...I think you should write it :).

Scott.

Nicholas said...

First, let me say I saw the movie and I enjoyed it. It created a visceral emotional high and satisfied an animalistic sense of justice.

That said, I realize that one of the greatest accomplishments of that era were the trials at Nuremberg precisely BECAUSE it illustrated how the Allies WERE NOT like the vanquished Nazi foes who were now at their mercy. I would invite all of you read the opening statement of Chief Justice Jackson, Chief Prosecutor for the Allies as my clumsy paraphrasing could not do it justice.

My point is the movie has its place as a feel-good fantasy and you can like the movie while still appreciating the honorable path that was actually taken.

I'd also like to take a moment and recognize the work of the Nazi Hunters at DOJ special investigations, particularly Eli Rosenbaum. They do an invaluable service and, like the Nuremberg trials it is less about the broken, disgraced criminals that are pursued and more about the message sent to the world.

Now to address the the Black fantasy...why are there no movies about Nat Turner or John Brown? More importantly why hasn't John Brown's citizenship been restored? It was restored for the entire Confederate Army.

Nicholas said...

First, let me say I saw the movie and I enjoyed it. It created a visceral emotional high and satisfied an animalistic sense of justice.

That said, I realize that one of the greatest accomplishments of that era were the trials at Nuremberg precisely BECAUSE it illustrated how the Allies WERE NOT like the vanquished Nazi foes who were now at their mercy. I would invite all of you read the opening statement of Chief Justice Jackson, Chief Prosecutor for the Allies as my clumsy paraphrasing could not do it justice.

My point is the movie has its place as a feel-good fantasy and you can like the movie while still appreciating the honorable path that was actually taken.

I'd also like to take a moment and recognize the work of the Nazi Hunters at DOJ special investigations, particularly Eli Rosenbaum. They do an invaluable service and, like the Nuremberg trials it is less about the broken, disgraced criminals that are pursued and more about the message sent to the world.

Now to address the the Black fantasy...why are there no movies about Nat Turner or John Brown? More importantly why hasn't John Brown's citizenship been restored? It was restored for the entire Confederate Army.

Anonymous said...

"one of the greatest accomplishments of that era were the trials at Nuremberg precisely BECAUSE it illustrated how the Allies WERE NOT like the vanquished Nazi foes who were now at their mercy."


Gandhi and many others condemned the hypocrisy the Nuremberg trials. Consider: Mid-20th Century USA, where de facto Nuremberg laws systematically denigrated People of Color and Klan Eisatzgruppen equivalents roamed and killed Blacks at will, and Stalin's USSR, whose gulags murdered far more than perished in German vernictungslager, sitting in judgment of Nazi Germany?! One of the principal judges presiding over the proceedings was V.I. Nititchenko, a prosecutor during Stalin's purges!

The Nazis condemned at Nuremberg richly deserved far worse punishment than the Allies or even the Holy Inquisition was capable of inflicting, but the Nuremberg proceedings themselves reeked of hypocrisy.

Ethiopian_Infidel

Dan said...

"Better still was the penalty inflicted on some SS captured by Stalin's forces: slaving unto death mining uranium, perishing under the triple assault of exhaustion, sadism and poison to equip the USSR's fledgling nuclear arsenal."

Yeah, using a totalitarian state's treatment of prisoners as an example. Well thought out.

Does no one see the irony of saying that nazis aren't human and deserve barbaric treatment?