Friday, November 27, 2009

Precious (Big Spoiler Alert).

J and I just saw Precious. Here's my take:

It's a very conventional film full of stock characters who never surprise. Some really fine acting (especially Mariah Carey, whose character and scenes are the most interesting). The girl who plays Precious is natural and appealing on film but not remarkable in any way, which might just be because there's not much very interesting or complex about the character.

There's this conceit where, when things get really rough for Precious, she mentally exits into a fantasy world where she is a model or a pop star or a singer in a gospel choir with her fantasy boyfriend, but it's kind of cheesy and doesn't ever come together to inform or interact with the real world of the film.

J was exasperated by some sloppy filmmaking, microphones visible at the edges of some shots. I never notice that stuff, but he does and it drives him crazy. It would annoy me, too, but I just don't see it.

What annoyed me is that in such a preachy film, the protagonist's choice to raise her two children on her own instead of giving them up for adoption was presented as the brave moral choice. An uneducated, emotionally and psychologically damaged 16-year-old HIV+ homeless girl with no family and no resources chooses to keep her retarded toddler and newborn child and we're supposed to applaud her? I'm not passing judgment on any actual teenager's choices; I'm questioning the filmmaker's decision to present this as a virtuous act. Precious says "nobody loves me," and the teacher-with-a-heart-of-gold tells her, "Your baby loves you." So she decides to keep her baby because it is the only being who loves her? Good luck with that, kid.

I left the theater wondering what all the fuss is about. My theory (on the fly -- I have to give this some more thought) is that middle-class white people (audiences, critics) are blown away by this film merely because of the facts of the story. Teenage girl suffers lifelong abuse by her mother, rape by her father and two children by him, chaotic and violent schools and neighborhood. For people who don't live in these neighborhoods, the film is exotic and revelatory at the same time. I make no claims to any special insight into the lives of poor urban black people. I live among them, but for the most part I am not invited into their lives. But I have to say it's no surprise or shock, unfortunately, to hear and see this story. Pretty much since I was 20 I've lived in poor, squalid, urban ghettos. I know the lives of many, many poor black people in this country are bad, are worse than most middle-class white people imagine.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Morning Musings (Having Nothing To Do with Gratitude).

Out shopping for groceries yesterday, J and I had a free-wheeling conversation -- sparked by the recent AMA Awards show. I was remarking how I used to keep up with current music -- I read Billboard every week and even if I didn't like a lot of the songs on the pop charts, I knew the names, knew what was popular -- but I stopped paying much attention a few years ago, and now there are huge stars who have had hit after hit for years and I have no idea what they look like or sound like. Lady Gaga? I know what Kanye West looks like (sort of, if he wears the glasses) but I can't distinguish his songs from any other pop hip-hop song on the radio. I'm not saying they all sound alike, I'm saying they all sound alike to me.

Because I follow politics more closely than popular music, I did catch the Adam Lambert/Out Magazine brouhaha -- which was nearly as mind-numbingly boring as Lady Gaga's burning piano -- but I felt a certain obligation.

I was surprised and I have to say somewhat relieved to learn this morning that we can blame Adam Lambert for the failure of the gay civil rights movement. Just when we were successfully sneaking into the mainstream with weddings and babies, etc., here comes an ignorant, selfish pop star to remind everyone that we're actually, um, gay. (Ignore that man getting a fake blowjob, America! He's not one of us. Marriage is what we want, not sex. We promise we'll be less gay if you let us get married. No more blowjobs and buttfucking -- everyone knows married people don't have sex.)

Anyway, eventually the conversation between J and me got around to where it always seems to get around to lately: men. My major insight was that if you're going to date a younger man, it's better to date a man 20 years younger than say 10 years younger, because the 20-somethings are all obsessed with the 80s right now. The pop culture of that decade is, in some twisted way, formative for you both, so you're more likely to have cultural touchstones in common. I can talk about Keith Haring, ACT UP, early Madonna, and they eat it up, whereas guys who came of age in the 90s ... I don't have much to say about 'N Sync and TLC. I just have to be careful about saying things like (in a whiny, pedantic monotone): "Lady Gaga is not doing anything Madonna didn't do better in 1985." I'm pretty sure that's unattractive.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Chapman Brothers.

A friend posted this on facebook. I thought I'd share it with you and write a response, but I just can't think of anything to say that doesn't pale in comparison to the experience of watching it.

No emotion left untouched.

There's something I really like about the woman introducing them, her directness and compassion. She speaks so clearly, and I love how her face lights up at the end of her spiel. I feel like I know her.

Sitting Ducks.

This is pretty interesting. You have to wonder how carefully it was edited to make the crowd look ridiculous. But, I don't know, maybe it didn't take much editing. I've never actually talked to anyone who likes Sarah Palin, but when I read stuff by her supporters it always comes across like the people in this video: full of catch-phrases, jingoistic, and appallingly ignorant.

I can't help but wonder how easy it would have been to videotape a bunch of people in line at an Obama booksigning and then edit together all the people talking out their asses having no idea what Obama actually wrote about, or stands for, or believes, or did in office. People have a hard time with the details. I think there are two things at play. One is that it's just hard to remember stuff and even harder to keep a grasp on how issues connect. Most people just don't know much about government and, whichever side they're on, can't call forth much beyond the talking points. I consider myself pretty well-informed, engaged with the issues, but if you asked me right now what cap and trade means, I'd struggle for a bit to give you a definition and to express a clear point of view about it. Especially if you were pointing a video camera at me.

The other phenomenon of course is that people are always looking for a savior and are inclined to believe what they wish were true, ignoring the evidence. Just look at how surprised and disappointed many progressives are by Obama's moderately conservative style as president.

It's Gonna Be a Bright, Bright Sun-shiney Day.