The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Unlike Denzel or Will, the "Book of Eli" is coming

As "Avatar" creeps toward the all-time top box office, it is kind of fun to note the shots taken at it from the Left and the Right. A damned fine sign that Cameron is taking the middle course. You know that I consider Jim to be playing out of the box, an awakened artist archetype. He has much, much to admire: his filmmaking skills, as a total package, are as high as anyone I've ever known of, and he works in the genre I've loved all my life. If over the entire stretch of his career, only one black male character has ever survived his work (an unnamed, light-skinned non-com at the beginning of Avatar is not seen to die), he's just a typical white guy. No white critics or audiences, to my awareness, have ever noticed. No one cares. So what the heck.

But I notice that along with the inevitable "it's a left-wing screed on environmentalism" there is also an inevitable "it's a right-wing racist `white men save the universe'" myth. Well, again, there it is. The problem is that I think there is a basic myth pattern in human culture: one of "ours" goes "over there," meets resistance, masters their skills, rescues them, wins their women and synthesizes the two cultures. We happen to live in a world that has been dominated by white images long enough that it seems this pattern is exclusive to Caucasians. I think not--my attitude is that there is nothing special at all about white people, including their foibles and flaws. They're just as messed up as the rest of us (although organized in REALLY interesting ways.)

Someone pointed out the presence of similar themes in "I Am Legend" and the upcoming "Book of Eli" starring, respectively, Will Smith and Denzel Washington. Well, I haven't seen "Book of Eli" yet, but I'll bet you there is one very serious difference: Avatar's Sam Worthington got laid. Will Smith, confronted with the last women in the world, has no interest in sex at all, in fact, seems to try to die as rapidly as possible (almost as if aware of the audience's discomfort). Denzel? Ever see his house? Very clearly his advisors sat him down long, long ago, and said: "listen, D. You've got two choices: you can get laid in your movies, and have a wonderful Direct-To-Video career, or you can live in a palace. Your call." And Denzel, being no idiot, chose the palace. I'll see the movie on Friday. Here's another prediction: IF Denzel gets busy the movie will flop. White viewers will dislike the movie, for reasons that have NOTHING to do with the sexual content. Of course. Black viewers will have a FAR more positive reaction. For reasons that have nothing to do with the sexual content. Of course.

Amd yes, I'm talking about you.


Thanks much for the feedback on WWW.DIAMONDHOUR.COM. I am horrible at HTML-speak, and the site has enough easy-edit tools that I can actually add to content and modify the templates. I am looking for feedback: what would you like me to add there? What free information or services would be good additions?


I now have eleven coaching clients, half way to my maximum load. The most important thing I can do is to deepen my meditation, so that I am totally centered when I listen to their concerns. "I" am not sufficient to help these wonderful, accomplished people. But the space I inhabit, when I am careful to root deeply, is more than enough. It is not me, and never was. Every day, that truth has to be nailed into my ego. It is not me.


Day Eight of the 101 program is Heartbeat Meditation. Pure coincidence. Even if one has no metaphysical bent, this is an incredibly powerful technique. In my mind, meditation is merely the ability to maintain a particular quality and quantity of mental/emotional focus, on either an external or internal locus. Candle-flames, sounds, images, breaths, motions, concepts, sensory impressions, phrases...all are valid "targets" for this practice, some version of which exists in every culture in the world.

The time frame is usually about twenty minutes or more. This is because the first fifteen minutes is usually filled with your mind's random chatter, so that you effectively get FIVE minutes of real depth in a twenty-minute session. That said, even a few seconds is far, far better than no meditation at all.

I learned the Heartbeat Meditation as a "secret" technique (I've yet to see it mentioned elsewhere, although that may just be my own ignorance) as a devotee of Sri Chinmoy, one of the truly remarkable men I have ever experienced. He was the first human being I'd met with a visible aura...but that's another story.

Even if there is nothing "spiritual" about the practice, the depth is remarkable for such a simple, safe method. Here are some reasons:

1) Pulling your attention into your body is marvelously focusing upon the physical root of your existence.

2) "You can awaken your Kundalini from the heart out, or the root up, but never from the head down." In other words, your intellect just can't get you there, no matter how it may try to convince you differently. Nothing sadder than watching smart, over-intellectualized people wobbling through their lives, convinced that intelligence actually makes their existence more difficult. Hardly. Intellectualization makes life difficult, but intelligence, defined as problem-solving capacity, is fabulous...assuming you address the appropriate problems.

3) You have to relax deeply to "hear" your heartbeat. To relax deeply, you have to extend your spine as if held by a string from above, allowing the skeletal structure to do its job while the muscles release tension. This in and of itself is a wonderful practice.

4) Our culture associates deep emotion with the heart. For that reason, thinking or concentrating on the heart connects us with the emotional center of our lives.

5) Listening to the heartbeat familiarizes you with the way mental or emotional focus affects the heartbeat. You can begin to slow it down (NOTE: this is NOT a technique dangerous enough to cause the heart to stop. Such techniques exist, but trust me: this one is kindergarten, while the dangerous ones are graduate school. The chances of "accidentally" stumbling onto one of the dangerous ones is nil.)

6) Concentrating on the breath is terrific. But we have no direct voluntary control over the heartbeat--and that can help humble us.

7) There is more. Much more. But this is a damned fine place to start. This is, quite possibly, the best and safest "doorway" into the inner world.


Michelle said...

The alternate ending to I am Legend...the one that test audiences didn't like (for what I can only imagine are stupid reasons) made that movie.

You can get the movie with the alternate (or real) ending on dvd. It's the one where Wil Smith lives and gets the girl. It's so much better than what was shown in theaters it makes me ill to even think of the theatrical ending.

Resasaurus said...

I'm with Michelle. The alternate ending of "I am Legend" was so much better than the theatrical ending, it was hard to imagine why the theatrical ending was used. Along with the MC not dying part, it ties up some stuff about the vampire critters that makes many other things in the plot make sense.

I saw Avatar this past weekend. My dad was Shoshone and my mom Irish American, so Avatar was a big personal button pusher of a movie for me. I see that it has its issues and things that could have been better done, but at its root it's Hero's Journey, and IMO a good Hero's Journey tale at that.

I think Diamond Hour looks great. The only thing that annoyed me is that you don't have a feed of your blog on your blog link page like Tobias Buckell has. He also has a feed of his blog on his homepage, which I think is way too cluttered. Maybe I'm hard to please. Here's his weblog page so you can see what I mean:

Happy Tuesday!

Nancy Lebovitz said...

The problem is that I think there is a basic myth pattern in human culture: one of "ours" goes "over there," meets resistance, masters their skills, rescues them, wins their women and synthesizes the two cultures.

Any comparably basic stories with a woman as the lead character?

Reluctant Lawyer said...

- Nancy,

I seem to recall several stories about women during colonial times being kidnapped by men from a native american tribe, being rescued and voluntarily going back to the tribe.

I don't know if any of those stories was ever made into a novel, movie, or tv program.

Anonymous said...

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Steven M. Vance said...

I looked for an email address to send this to. It would have been my first choice, but I couldn't find one (and if you would like to email me regarding this comment, my email is

Is there a predominance of Caucasians in Cameron's films? Yeah. Is that a good thing? No.
Were there a lot of strong female characters in LOTR? No. Especially in the original books. They beefed those up, a little, in the films.

Have there, historically, been a lot of strong Caucasian roles in some films I could name?...

How many wrongs does it take to make a right? I felt insulted and condescended to reading this post. If I were a Caucasian writing this post in reference to African-Americans, I think I know what six-letter word starting with 'r' would get trotted out in association with my name. ('Profiling' is another word that comes to mind...)

'Typical white guy'? Maybe I'm atypical, but I rarely go around thinking of myself as a 'white man'. Except when forced by people who are more conscious of my color than I am. We'll leave some of my ancestors - the Native American ones (in the last few centuries), the Magyars (a few centuries before those) and Jews (a long time ago) - out of it. They are deeper than my skin and so go unnoticed. And skin color is not my first referent for other people, unless they clearly demonstrate that it is how they define themselves.

My parents brought me up with films like 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?' (y'know that scene between Poitier's character and his father?). My mother has always had the hots for Sidney Poitier. I don't have a clue what this whole 'audiences don't want to see Denzel (or whoever) get laid' thing is about. I rooted for him to get just that in the films that pop to mind...'The Mighty Quinn', that bank robbery one with Clive Owen, 'The Manchurian Candidate'.

Its hard for me to take you seriously as a 'life coach' or 'motivational guru' when you are constantly waving the skin color banner about every minute. It makes me feel that is your prime mover, the deep-seated 'fact' from which you interact with the world. And that will 'color' my views of your motives in dealing with someone like me...a 'white' man. Are you just after my money? Or is it going to skew your dealings with me? How 'enlightened' can you be when this whole color issue seems so all-pervasive in your writings?

I've always thought of there being a "human race", not a series of "races of various colors".

Anonymous said...

I will not concur on it. I think precise post. Specially the title-deed attracted me to read the unscathed story.

Steven Barnes said...

Hey, Sun Bear!
You're not reading very carefully. I didn't say anything about Cameron having a predominance of Caucasian characters. I said that none of his black male characters survive.
Also never claimed to be enlightened. In fact, I've SPECIFICALLY said I'm not. I'm "awake," which is a different thing.
And I mention race and media because it interests me, and has had a direct impact on both my childhood and my occupation...and that if you don't notice it, the default human tendency is to tilt the playing board toward whatever "your group" is. I have never suggested that whites do anything to change the situation. Just refuse to sit quietly when people insist the playing field is level--or when images and attitudes that are dangerous or damaging are displayed. If that bothers you, sorry...but isn't it nice that there are so many other places in cyberspace for you to visit?
In terms of whether or not you can trust me, if you aren't black...that I find hysterical. The vast majority of the groups I've lectured or clients I've coached have been white. Ask around.

Steven M. Vance said...

Whatever you say...

I'm sure your perception of your writings are the only valid ones...and you've just answered a question for me as clear as day.

I'm not going to waste my time identifying why some people might find your comments distasteful.

You've certainly got the self-confidence down pat.

Of course...the old Zen story about the full teacup comes to mind, too.

Steven Barnes said...

Oh! And "Sun Bear"--I find it hysterical that you complain about me discussing race and media in my blog, suggesting that I'm making too much of it, when your very screen name screams your heritage. There's this expression about the kettle calling the pot bellied...

Steven M. Vance said...

ROTFL! "Sun Bear" was chosen because of reasons I stated on my profile, which you obviously didn't feel a need to read. Not surprising. Why confuse the issue...

Hope you enjoy your life and new career.

Reluctant Lawyer said...

I think the exchange above is exactly why I don't blog.

Steven Barnes said...

Hmmm. My comments distasteful? Certainly not on racial grounds. I promise you can't point to a single thing I've ever said that suggests whites are unusually bigoted, closed-minded, clannish or anything else. Everything I discuss has to do with apparently universal human traits. Period. So if you are offended for humanity that I suggest that we are tribal, I guess you've got a point. Otherwise, I have no idea what a mature human being would find to be "offended" about.

Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"I rarely go around thinking of myself as a 'white man'"

The answer to this is almost clique. White Men in the West don't have to consciously identity themselves as such because they're the normative standard for humanity! The political power structure and media imagery ceaselessly bombard Westerners with the mantra that to be truly human, one needs White skin and a penis. It's easy for Sun Bears to think of the human race monolithically when history has made them its de facto standard bearers.

"I felt insulted and condescended to reading this'

I've been insulted and condescended to numerous times IN THE FLESH simply due to its brown hue.

Unknown said...

I am just too curious not to ask: What heritage does "Sun Bear" scream? The only thing I can think of is Asian. Inquiring minds, and so forth.


Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"What heritage does "Sun Bear" scream?"

Sun Bear does have one valid complaint: Few who criticize or question his moniker bother to seriously investigate the matter by reading his blog. As shown there, he's a White American with some Native American ancestry. His nom de plume reflects his love for SE Asia, particularly its weather, martial arts and cuisine. As one who's had the privilege of visiting Thailand, I fully share the Bear's passions for the region. That old German expression of bliss: "Like God in France!", should be redone: "Like God in SE Asia!".

olddude said...

Something to remember about the "whiteman rules the world club".It's like an onion, it has many layers and most of us arent allowed to participate at any more meaningful level than a visible minority, an invisible majority if you will. This isn't to make light of your struggles but rather to suggest that at it's deepest level power has very little color and more to do with who's your daddy,school rings, and the dedication to kill your enemies.There is always a bigger dog.

Steven Barnes said...

Just as Sun Bear hadn't thoroughly investigated my ideas about race, apparently assuming that I shared attitudes commonly held by others, I linked his comments about Native American heritage to the name "Sun Bear" (the name of a powerful and famous writer in the field of Native American spirituality) and assumed that that expression and/or homage was pleasing to him. Natural assumption. He didn't have the obligation to read deeply into my blog, and I didn't have the obligation to read his bio. Even reading it, I could come to the conclusion that that name, at least partially honored his Native American heritage. And what in the world would be wrong with that?