The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"Taken" (2009)

Look...the poor sick girl who had six children, got IVF and implanted eight more, has no husband, no job, and lives with her parents' three-bedroom house, who declared bankruptsy and lost their last house...this is just too easy a target. It's such a bizarre outlier that I really hesitated to suggest it is evidence for my point about it being more effective to pressure women in terms of sexual responsibility...except that it would be irresponsible not to mention it.

Why? Because if education, public pressure, shame and guilt aren't brought to bear on cases like this, laws will be passed. And I can't think of any laws that would have stopped this mess that would not, ultimately, impinge on the rights of more reasonable, responsible women. It's clearly a nightmare scenario, and has nothing to do with her "right" to have all the children she wants, whether she has a full support system or not. So I'm just gonna say a few things:

1) When I first heard of the case, I thought: Jesus. Is she out of her mind? Those poor kids.

2) My second thought: I hope she's not black.

3) My third thought: I hope she's not Mexican. The local right-wing radio was all over that, claiming she was an illegal alien welfare queen who had gamed the system to make the state play for the implantations.

4) My fourth thought: how in the hell do we stop things like this?

If this is an outlier, there are tons of women who make smaller mistakes in comparable situations: no job, no man, clearly emotionally damaged, who want children to complete themselves in some way. Her parents supported her (but now the mother says she's gettin' out of there. She never bargained for fourteen grandchildren!) and the children will suffer horribly. Even if there is a flood of charitable money, or Movie of the Week money that gives her a temporary boost, the role model is GHASTLY. I promise that there will be a rash of silly girls out there who are saying: "see? Isn't that cute?"

Shame and guilt works perfectly well on children. It should be applied here. Otherwise...the Reproduction Laws are coming.


The Micheal Phelps thing is just a scream. Let's get this right: Marijuana is illegal because it inhibits performance. Which is why you can get tossed out of the Olympics if you have it in your system, because it is an unfair advantage. I heard people screaming about his bong usage who were unfazed by his DUI. Let's see...using Pot behind closed doors is worse than risking vehicular homicide on the open road. Insanity, and this kind of insanity diminishes respect for the law. It is simply too glaringly obvious that the law drags decades behind public understanding.

State governments are slower than local governments to change. Federal governments are slower than states. That's just inertia.

But I can't use that, or anything, as an absolute justification for "States Rights." As far as I can see, that was never anything but an excuse to justify whatever you wanted to do in the first place. For instance, I've had horrifying conversations with "States Rights" advocates who jsut don't give a shit that it was the Federal government who stepped in to stop murder and intimidation against blacks during the Civil Rights era, when the states did NOTHING, and gloated about it. When I asked what blacks were supposed to do, they quite literally said: "move." Really. No kidding.

But let one comatose white woman in Florida be taken off the ventilator, and we get a special session of congress threatening new laws. Wow. The milk of human kindness.


Just read "Another Life: The Last Burke Novel" by Andrew Vachss. I have to admit that I love his work. It goes so far beyond "hard-boiled" that I don't even know what you'd compare it to, or how you'd go any further and still be readable. When he began his writing about twenty years ago, critics thought he was making up all this child abuse stuff. We know better now, so maybe it IS time to let poor Burke find some peace. Burke is just unbelievably cynical, but one set of comments he makes in "Another Life" I pretty much have to agree with:

People have their attitudes, and prejudices. They make a judgement about what is best for them, and then try to twist the laws, the Constitution, or whatever else, to justify what they wanted to do in the first place. Better still if they can say they're doing it "for the people." The number of people who will vote against their own interests is pretty damned small...small enough that you are safer to assume no one will do it.


Liam Neeson's new movie (actually about a year old) "Taken," about an ex-CIA agent whose daughter is kidnapped in Paris, is a wish fulfillment fantasy par excellence. Hard to imagine a father who, if HIS daughter was taken, would not want the same set of lethal skills Neeson displays, wouldn't be willing to do anything, and everything, to get her back. Basically, it's pretty much what Jack Bauer would do if Kim was kidnapped. Almost exactly, actually. Hmmm. Saw it with Nicki, and we had a great time. A strong "B." And I'm angrier than ever at George Lucas for his terrible misuse of Neeson in "Phantom Menace." Some people just shouldn't be allowed near a blue screen.


But critical response to "Taken" and even the new season of "24" raises an interesting and rather funny problem the entertainment industry is running into. There is literally no one that can be turned into a villain any more without someone complaining. It's Albanians in "Taken," and critics were complaining about the "towering" Neeson "karate-chopping" the swarthy, shorter ethnic types. If you make the villains Eurotrash you get complaints. Evil industrialists? The Right screams. Blacks or Mexicans? The Left screams. It's all so much fun. I enjoy this, because I remember clearly when Hollywood (or whoever...every country seemed to do it) turned any group who wasn't white into either criminals or borderline subhumans or victims. Love to hear the squeals even out.


Which makes me remember the Inauguration. I had a reaction that surprised me. When Aretha Franklin sang "America the beautiful" and reached the line "Land where my fathers died..." I felt it. For the first time in my LIFE, I really felt it. I was able to see not only the black men who died fighting, but those who died in chains. And it was all part of the same tapestry of Americana: some immigrated by way of the Bearing Strait, some on the Mayflower, some in the belly of slave ships...some other ways, but now, for the first time ever, it's all part of the same thing: becoming Americans.

The interesting thing to me is that it isn't just about electing a Black man. It was about electing someone who didn't come from a tiny little gene pool out of the British Isles. Look over the names of our first Forty-Three Presidents. It isn't just that there weren't any Changs or Obamas. There were no Stavros, no Kruschev, no Jorgenson, no names that clearly belong to any group that wouldn't naturally be sitting in the House of Commons. italians, Russians, Swedes, Greeks, Jews...NOTHING. One tiny group has had a stranglehold on the American presidency for all our history. And we pretended not to notice. We pretended the door was open to everyone.

NOW it's open. And I really don't think those who COULD see themselves reflected in the occupants of the Oval Office can ever really get it. The closest I can come is listening to white folks on talk radio bleeting "well, he's half white...why do they (they?) call him black?" or watch the Obama rallys, more gloriously multi-cultural than any in the history of this country, and, yes, sometimes when the cameras focused in on white male faces you could see that they felt a sense of loss. Something was passing from their hands. Hopefully, forever.

And for the very first time in their lives, I think that some of them glimpsed what I have felt my entire fifty-seven years. Just as when Aretha sang on Inauguration Day, for the very first time in MINE, I think I glimpsed, just for a moment, what it must feel like to be white. Wow. Felt great. No wonder people didn't want to give that up.


Unknown said...

Well, there was VanBuren. And two Roosevelts. All Dutch. And Kennedy was Irish - same region, different island.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

That woman with the octuplets strikes me as evidence that reproductive responsibility and sexual responsibility are somewhat separate issues.

I think that laws are likely to follow education and shaming rather than happening if the education and shaming aren't done. The laws will happen if there are similar cases.

Reproduction laws have a lot of scary possibilities. I don't think forbidding IVF to women who already have at least four children would have a lot of possibilities for abuse, though enforcement is tricky.

I wouldn't say shame and guilt work all that reliably on children. And damaged adults are frequently suffering from too much shame and guilt already. Is there evidence about what methods actually work to get people to be less destructive?

Another piece of the situation is religions that push their members to have as many children as possible, even if the result is desperate poverty. I doubt that public shaming will work on those folks.


I've read some of Racial Paranoia-- a book by a black anthropologist with the premise that, since racist statements can not be made safely in public, Americans generally are searching for little clues about how racist other people might be. It looks crazy, but it's a response to a difficult situation. The average white response to Reverend Wright is based in the same thing that black response to Biden calling Obama clean and articulate.

It was the first time I'd thought of black and white Americans as "we", as in "we're all being driven crazy by the same situation". It felt moderately good, somewhat weird, and mostly as though I'd become a little saner.

Unknown said...

And I can't think of any laws that would have stopped this mess that would not, ultimately, impinge on the rights of more reasonable, responsible women.

Half right. There are two aspects to this. One of the "octuplets are a fertility treatment failure" aspect. Octuplets, even ones that somehow all survived delivery, really are a failure, not a success, of fertility treatment, because the risks to mother and children (both life and health) are just too darn high. As such, it's entirely OK for medical professional organizations to penalize professionals whose treatment is sufficiently far outside acceptable medical practice, and even OK to make laws if the medical profession should fail to sufficiently police itself. I'm not convinced enough that the medical profession will fail to police itself to require any new laws at this point, but I wouldn't think it wrong to outlaw implanting eight, or six, or however many embryos can reasonably be judged just plain unsafe.

The other is the "single mother of six with inadequate means of support continuing to have kids" aspect, and for that aspect I think you're right; there's no law against this that wouldn't ultimately impinge on the rights of reasonable, responsible women - and it's best that there be some room where people feel free to express judgments about what's irresponsible, without legislating them.

There were no Stavros

I didn't say it pre-election, because Dukakis is remembered as the sort of doomed candidate that Democrats should never nominate again. But I have to admit, part of Obama's appeal to me, as the child of a Greek immigrant, was the same son of an immigrant appeal that was part of Dukakis' appeal to me. And it was nice to see the guy with the name that other Americans find funny sounding win this time.

Pagan Topologist said...

And, Eisenhower is not an English name, either, I think.

And I am very glad that the election of Obama makes the tent bigger, so to speak. I have always believed that the most important group I belonged to was 'human' with 'American' a distant second. Being a white male was much further down the list.

Anonymous said...

I love the Burke series but I'm sort of relieved that he is ending it. I loved the books where Burke was a fish out of his familiar pond seemed like a good series reboot. It ended way to soon and Burke was back in New York and the series lost some steam. His other work like The Getaway Man and Two Trains Running seemed so vibrant compared the Burke series.

This was a good stopping point.

Josh Jasper said...

Oh those poor Hollywood execs? Are people *complaining about them* ? Oh, what a horrible fate! Let's you and me hold them a pity party.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Tentative theory: Being nice to people and being harsh to people are both compulsive behaviors. Either of them work some of the time. Neither of them are all that reliable for getting what you want.

If you're convinced that one of them is the only possible strategy, check your premises very carefully.

Anonymous said...

enjoyed Taken.

I worry that Obama's election will fool the masses into believing we're in a post-racial society,a theory that is both dangerous and highly problematic

Steven Barnes said...

1) I'll accept the comments about VanDuren, Roosevelt. Good. Kennedy is still part of the British Isles.
2) Post-Racial? Only if the country is totally genetically blended. Functionally Post-Racial when blacks are represented in the Senate at a rate at least 50% of their statistical presence in the general population.