Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Moral Authority of Emma Gonzalez

The moral leader of this country seems to be a 17-year old named Emma Gonzalez.

Along with a small army of outraged and grief-stricken juniors and seniors from Parkland, Florida, Gonzalez has managed to accomplish what no one over 17 years of age has been able to do: She has parted a sea of rhetoric, propaganda, politics, and evil-robot mischief that has prevented the U.S. from taking one single step toward reasonable gun control policy.

Since Trump took office, with all his bizarre cronies, our country has been ethically rudderless.  His government has proven, time and again, on various fronts, that it is operating in a moral vacuum.

Most of the world, including our allies, are having to try to save the planet without us. Because our government does not care about the environment. It turns a blind eye to climate change. It does not care about the condition of the planet. It does not care about polar bears, or whether Manhattan and Miami fall into the ocean. It certainly does not care about Puerto Rico. It does not care about our children's or our grandchildren's future. And it does not care that our kids are being terrorized and mowed down by AR-15 guns in their schools.

Our government leadership is operating in a moral vacuum.

Fortunately, nature abhors a vacuum.

When I heard Emma Gonzalez speak on tv, I believed that her words could actually turn back the red tide of moral atrophy and create a path forward from this terrible tragedy.

She did her homework and got the facts right.  She had no agenda, except to right the wrongs that should have been corrected in the 1970s [ "11 School Shootings that Took Place Before Columbine"]. She spoke truth to power through tears of grief and moral outrage.

The shooting took place in the freshman building at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  Like big brothers and sisters, the juniors and seniors at Stoneman Douglas are taking up the mantle of adulthood--doing everything within their awesome power and moral authority to ensure that the younger kids did not die in vain, and that such horrors will not be visited upon other kids again.

The way older siblings do, in families without responsible grownups, these seniors and juniors have appointed themselves the fierce champions of the younger kids.

Certainly no politician can pretend to have an iota of leverage against their moral authority.

I have no doubt that history has spoken. And it has spoken through the words and grief of Emma Gonzalez and all of the other big sisters and brothers at Stoneman Douglas High School.

These "kids" are going to lead us out of this ethical miasma, toward a more sane and caring society.

Because nature abhors a vacuum. And enough is enough.

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Tiny Generation of Dubious Distinction

"Caught between boomers and younger Millennials, Generation X is mainly known for being neglected and ignored." ["The Undetected Influence of Generation X," Anna Sofia Martin, Forbes, 9/13/2016.]

My generation (Gen-X) has grown up, come of age, and is now aging, in the shadow of two colossal generations: the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. 

We are like Pluto, orbiting the same star as planets that have moons that are bigger than we are. And they don't mind asking, (because who is going to tell them it's rude?): Is Pluto even a planet?

The Baby Boomers dominated my life, culturally speaking, from the moment I was born (though my parents were slightly too old to be Boomers) until their children, the Millennials, were old enough to take over--which they have done. 

The worlds that these colossal generations created seem, on the surface, different. But, at a deeper level, they're not really that different. The Baby Boomers were the "Me" generation; the Millennials are "Generation Me." [Check it on Wikipedia.]  

The self-exploration through music and drugs, therapy, sensory-deprivation tanks, and me-time of the Boomers has been culturally displaced by smart phones. 

And yes, the iPhone was invented by Steve Jobs, a Baby Boomer, but most of the apps are being developed and used by Millennials. 

I like various forms of naval gazing--obviously. And I like my smart phone. 

But when I read in my New York Times app today that "text" (as in content, not texting) will soon be replaced by audio, video, and memes, I thought, Now hold on right there! That is going too far! 

The article asks, How do you feel when your FB/Insta/Snapchat/Discord/LinkedIn app pings while you're reading an article? Can you resist the impulse to stop and check it?  If you try to ignore it, does it  beckon to you like a big hunk of cold chocolate cake?

That's as much of the article as I read. I had to go on FB to see whether anyone had reacted to anything since I'd last checked.  And I never, truthfully, finished the article. Which, I suppose, proves their point. 

Even though I hated what they were saying, that sustained reading of text is about to become a thing of the past, I took the bait hook, line, and sinker.

That's what it has been like, my whole life. I would like to think that I have a choice about whether or not to be swept up by the next generational wave, but I don't. 

I might choose to put down my smartphone and never pick it up again, (fat chance!), but what difference would it make, except to magnify my own obscurity and isolation?  

Everything changes. Language changes. Even if you think you're speaking the same language, you probably aren't. 

I updated my resume recently. (I'm using the word "updated" very loosely.) I subsequently discovered that the language I had used to describe my professional skills was hopelessly out of date, though I suspect the skills and aptitudes are the same (which shows what I know). 

For example,  instead of editorial development, project management, and copy writing, people now oversee content operations, manage workflow and content deliverables, and migrate authors from using Word templates to xml authoring tools.  Or words to that effect. 

The original language that I used would clearly indicate to a Millennial that I haven't worked in an actual office since 2003.  

"Tracked and managed updating of content for 700 topics a year." (I lifted that from someone's LinkedIn profile.)  

What does that mean?  If I post a picture of my cat on Facebook, does that count as updating content for one topic?  

Is there a fresh new word that youthfully describes the experiential continuity of a lifetime, to the tune of 52 years? Is there any awe-inspiring cool way to express that?

I didn't think so.

But that's gotta be worth something, right? 

I saw an article yesterday directed toward actual grownups who have never seen a 10% correction in the market before, because they've only had an IRA for like, five minutes. 

I remember the last correction very well.  It was the week after I rode sixty miles on a three-speed bike for a locally farmed veggies cooperative. I had a Guinness at a tavern a few miles from the finish line, and chatted up a cycling team comprised of financial analysts.  One of them predicted the imminent correction that would wipe out an entire year's profits, which in fact happened the very next day.  

But really, nobody values experience as much as they value a firm grasp of the latest occupational jargon and business-tech lingo.  

And sure, I could color my hair, cover up the gray, have a twenty-something modernize my resume, and learn how to speak young words.  But none of that would actually make me cool.

This is off-point, probably, but I look at Jane Fonda, who is now 80, and her jaw-line is firmer than mine. By the time I am 60 and she is 88, she will look twenty years younger than me. She will look younger than me when she has been dead for two weeks, I think.  

So, if you're a Millennial, or very wealthy like Jane Fonda, you are probably on top of the world, for now. Eventually, you do have to die, no matter how great you look.  

Eventually, no matter how multitudinous your generation, another one overtakes you, and all the popular trends that you created become obscure, or even ridiculous. 

But, history will treat you well, in deference to your great size and impact, as you shape your time as you please. 

And meanwhile, my generation, as ever like Pluto, an object of dubious distinction, will continue to orbit the sun.  Whatever we are, we are not a moon, circling a planet. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Comfortably Numb

Should art be judged on its merits, apart from the artist who created it?

Until recently, I would have said yes. Art exists apart from its creator. It should stand or fall on the basis of whether it succeeds or fails as art.

Seems simple enough.

What if we had to vet every artist of every work of art in the MET?  And what of anonymous artists, whom we know nothing about?

And then there's Woody Allen, an interesting case in point.

How did the revelation of Allen's affair (and subsequent marriage) with Mia Farrow's daughter, Soon-Yi, affect your judgment of Woody Allen's movies?

And BTW, why does the media consistently refer to Soon-Yi as Mia Farrow's adopted daughter? Why not simply say her daughter?  Does the fact that Soon-Yi was adopted make her qualitatively less than a daughter?  No. But that is the subtext: that Soon-Yi was not really, wholly Mia's daughter--she was adopted, after all.  And this weighs in in Allen's favor, as though it were a mitigating factor.  But it is not a mitigating factor, unless you agree that adopted children are not wholly the children of their adoptive parents--which no reasonable person believes.

There are people in my family who despise Woody Allen.

I was in the camp of those who were merely disappointed in him.  (It wasn't until years later that allegations of Allen abusing the other children came out.)

When the news about Soon-Yi broke, in the 1990s, people were reluctant to believe the worst of those  we "knew" and admired (as opposed to their faceless, unknown victims). We preferred to believe that egregious things did not happen to the innocent. We cast doubt on the testimony of victims, whether they were children, women or men. That is what we did, something we have to own.  

But now, we are trying to face our demons squarely. We are calling them out. We are giving victims the benefit of the doubt.

And in this new framework, I ask the question again: Should art be judged apart from its creator?

I defended Woody Allen's movies, but not the man, NOT because I thought they were all good, because they're not, but because I believed that they should be judged on their own merits, apart from Woody Allen's personal failings.  I didn't think they should be condemned categorically because of something--anything--that Woody Allen had done.

But now, what about Quentin Tarantino?

Tarantino is the reason why I'm writing this post. I just finished reading Uma Thurman's account of her experiences working with him on "Kill Bill."

According to Uma Thurman, ["This Is Why Uma Thurman Is Angry," Maureen Dowd, New York Times, Feb. 3, 2018] for a scene in "Kill Bill," Tarantino pressured her, in lieu of a stunt double, to drive a car that Thurman believed was not safe.

Tarantino insisted that the car was safe. But, video shows Thurman driving it, wrestling with an unresponsive steering wheel, and crashing into a tree, seriously injuring her head, neck, and knees.

The article's author Maureen Dowd notes, "Tarantino aficionados spy an echo of Thurman's crash in...'Death Proof,' [in which young women] die in myriad ways, including by slamming into a windshield."

After that car accident, Thurman views her relationship with the auteur of pop violence in a different light.

In "Kill Bill," Trantino himself spit in Thurman's face "where Michael Madsen is seen on screen doing it." And it was Tarantino himself "choking her with a chain" in another scene in which another actor is shown choking her with a chain.

After I read this, not an hour ago, I realized that I could never enjoy Tarantino films again. Tarantino and his whole sadistic oeuvre are dead to me now.

I'm not saying that a rule emerged in my mind, clear as day, black and white:

"The sins of the fathers are to be laid upon the children."
Bill Shakespeare

It's still an arguable point. It remains gray, not black and white. But, in some cases, things become clearer. 

I now know that the violent pageantry and frothy pulp fiction of Tarantino's films, which I have only been able to enjoy in the  confidence that there is nothing real about them, that they were cotton candy, cheerfully over the top, stylishly dark, bordering on parody--in other words, a ROMP--was  actually pretty f__g malevolent. 

There was a contract that I assumed to be in place between Tarantino and myself. But there never was a contract--I had only imagined it. And it was never just a romp. It was always malevolent.

Caveat: I haven't seen all of Tarantino's movies, so I probably sound naive to say that every film was a romp. But, for the several movies I have seen, assuming the romp perspective was part of the suspended disbelief that allowed me to enjoy those movies.

Obviously, I can't trust Tarantino anymore. I believe he is a sadistic sonofabitch, and I can't pretend otherwise, or take enjoyment from his dark perversity. It really is violence against women.  That's the back story that is part and parcel of his film-making process. It's a pity, but there it is.

It's like Louis C.K.'s jokes about rape. To the extent that they were ever funny, which is entirely subjective, they were only funny because we believed that he actually respected women. Once that contract was broken, the number of people who would find those jokes funny is reduced to just the assholes in the audience.

In this whole gray area, I think the examples of Tarantino and Louis C.K. draw clear distinctions. 

If the subject matter is disturbing, but made palatable by a contract of confidence that the viewer has in the artist's integrity, and then that integrity turns out to be a sham, that does affect the viewer's experience of work. 

I can no longer view Tarantino's movies as a confection, but only as a reflection of his true and sadistic nature.

Jokes that were ironic when told by Louis C.K. who respected women become confessional when told by Louis C.K. as a sexual predator.  

Was Picasso an asshole?  Probably. Was he a sexual predator?  I don't know. He was unkind to many women. He loved and discarded many women.  In cubist paintings, he deconstructs and shatters many women and men...Personally, I can live with that. Picasso gets a pass in my book.

We'll never have a full accounting of all the crimes of all the artists in all of art history, thank God. We can be grateful for that.  But we may come to view art differently. 

I won't be so easily duped the next time I see violence against women being marketed as art.

The problem is, when you get right down to it, it's a minefield out there, in movies and primetime, of images of violence against women.

And part of the problem is, I've grown numb to it.