27 April 2010

A Joke, of Sorts

I see that last year Sarah Palin earned 12 million dollars. Of course, I use the word ‘earned’ with not a little irony. After all, last year is when she resigned her term as governor of Alaska having finished just half of it. Apparently she is now very busy. Doing what, I wonder?

A politician stands before the crowd asking for their vote. She wears a brand new dress recently purchased from Bloomingdale’s—stylish, black, modest but snug enough to reveal a woman’s body underneath. Her make-up has been impeccably applied, and her hair suitably coiffed. She has clearly spent more time on her appearance than her speech. “Americans,” she cries, with just the slightest hint of irony in her smile, “it is time to take the country back from the politicians now in power. They don’t care about the problems of those of you who have to get up every morning and go to work, who get your pay checks every week (sometimes) and stare amazedly at how much the government takes from you. I promise that if elected I will continue to give you the opportunity to live a life of pleasure and reward. Look at me, I come from a small town and from working class parents. I set a goal for myself when I was just a little child to make the most of my life and try to help people like my mother and father and the friends who shared our life. I received no help from anyone, least of all the government. And now,” she said with pride, “I stand humbly before you asking for your vote. I think I am best able to represent you in Washington. I am, after all, a self-made woman.”

And from the back of the crowd, a voice called out loudly, “Apology accepted.”

11 April 2010

Paranoia Strikes Deep . . .

Paranoia is an unfounded or exaggerated distrust of others, sometimes reaching delusional proportions. Paranoid individuals constantly suspect the motives of those around them, and believe that certain individuals, or in general, are "out to get them (http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com).

Last evening I saw Roman Polanski’s new film, “The Ghost Writer,” a paranoid nightmare of suspicion and fear. In this film, no one seems to be who or what they are; as we learn repeatedly throughout the film, how much we don’t know about anyone points up how powerless that lack of knowledge renders us. Without the ability to make some somewhatidentity, power becomes amorphous and untraceable, but nonetheless potent because of that invisibility. Every character in the film is “a ghost,” and not really there; as a ghost they have no substance, and therefore, are essentially unapproachable and unreachable. There is talk, but who speaks? there is action, but who acts? One speaks, but to whom does one speak? There is no way to control meaning when the one to whom I speak is not the one to whom I think I am speaking.

I think my life has been somewhat characterized by paranoiac possibilities. I have stood in the muddied waters of the Kennedy assassination and the resulting conspiracy theories. I have wondered about the larger questions surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. by James Earl Ray. I have survived the execution of the Vietnam War, and the war against the anti-war movement. I mourned the deaths of my colleagues at Kent and Jackson State, and cursed John Mitchell and Richard Nixon for their complicities in these horrors. I remained riveted by the prosecution of the Chicago 7, and terrified by the persecution of the Black Panther movement by the FBI, and appalled by that agency’s vilification and persecution of Martin Luther King); I was terrified by Watergate and Iran-Contra. I mourned for the election stolen by George W. Bush and his conspsirators. I watched in horror at the destruction of the Twin Towers, and the slimy and deceptive motives by the dirty politicians justifying the invasion of Iraq. Even as I write, I feel the list endlessly growing. I despair. I am a Jew in the world which in the last century tried to annihilate Jews. And this wasn’t the first time the attempt had been made.

“Paranoia strikes deep/Into your life it will creep.” Indeed. Something is happening, here Mr. Jones, and I almost never know what it is. I only saw what they let me see.

In this vein, I think, I was sickened this morning when I heard some Republican on the radio anticipating the 2010 mid-term elections. He said we have to focus on ‘taking back the country.’ What could that possibly mean? Take it back from whom? What must Republicans think of democracy that they could make such statements such as this?

05 April 2010

Not the Same Time, and Not the Next Year

I remember, as if it were yesterday, screening the movie Same Time, Next Year. This 1978 film by Robert Mulligan, starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn, portrayed the annual, romantic tryst of a man and a woman, each married to a different person, who sometime in the 1950s, happened to discover themselves in bed engaged in sexual activity, and who then continue to meet in the same room on the same date every year for the next twenty-five or so years. For one weekend every year—same time, next year, they intone to each other upon departing—these two reunite to . . . well, that is the issue for me right now. Why do they maintain this relationship? I never got the sense that it was the fantastic sex, though even in 1978 such suggestion was not something polite society acknowledged, at least in the society to which I belonged. The two do not seem to share an intellectual life, nor do I think they read the same books—well, if they read books at all. During these rendezvous they do exchange personal headlines reporting the significant occurrences that have taken place to each of them in the past year, and these communications inspire the appropriate response from the other while offering some shallow catharsis for the audience. These were perplexing, traumatic times in the United States, and so over the twenty five years of their relationship we observe the steadily (even rapidly) changing social mores and beliefs which made up and sundered society’s fabric. In fact, however, the characters in the film are mere emblems, a means to display the social changes rather than actually explore them, and the film manipulates the audience into a shallow, nostalgic, solipsistic miasma that obscures the complexities of the social, political and psychological order in a superficial image of conflict and change exemplified in the relationship of this politically correct couple. Ah, yes, the audience sighs comfortably, I remember: that is exactly how it was.

It was a terrible movie, actually: sentimental, and false as all nostalgic movies must be. These productions do not portray reality, but only the perception of how reality might have been if only there were no conflict or context. But I don’t mean to talk about the film; I want to address here the film’s premise: same time, next year.

I suppose that somewhere out there out there exist individuals who can sustain such a relationship, but I cannot understand how it might be accomplished. I cannot comprehend how it could be possible to live separately and without any contact for an entire year, one filled with an immensity of details and incredible (even incomprehensible and unspeakable) complexities, and then to come together for a single weekend into an intimate situation and behave as if the whole previous year of absence and silence had not occurred at all. To pick up where one left off as if only a brief interruption had occurred. “Now, where were we before we were so rudely interrupted by our lives?” Or in these reunions to enact the illusion of an intimacy as a response to a costume or an altered physical appearance, or to some sudden, even dramatic but necessarily generalized revelation that provokes some clichéd response. I have always thought that intimacy results from behavior as well as intention, and that true intimacy—the kind intimated in the film as occurring during the yearly trysts—requires consistent effort and regular vulnerability and an engagement and sharing of daily living in what is for most an ordinary life. Otherwise, I think, such occasional occasions become the business of catch-up. There is no development. In the film, the relationship is static because it lacks real life.

The issue: how to expect the intimacy of a relationship to be sustained and even to grow when there is no contact and sharing and leaking enjoyed during the very long periods of time between meetings. Is it true that there could be no other place or time to have any contact whatsoever? What is the function of such yearly meetings if there has been no development of any intimacy in the time prior to the meeting? Couldn’t I find such conversation closer to home? Here, the film’s actions serve merely to portray the changing times, though the people never do really change at all. What is finally gained by such annual assignations except the marking of time. For Thoreau, since the pursuit of perfection made time irrelevant, these meetings had nothing to do with perfection.

And if the universe is expanding into nothingness, then as a concept nothingness is an object to which I can relate.

And I cannot any more understand the draw of such meetings for me. I have nothing to catch-up with or on—ending my sentence in prepositions without their objects.