Sunday, September 21, 2014

Americans Loves Violence #BoycottNFL

That's right, sorry to be the one to tell you ... Americans love violence. Oh yes, we feign outrage. We put warnings on movies and video games and maybe even trigger warnings on books. We are clearly offended by simulated violence. I could play Call of Duty (rated M for Mature) all day and then watch all the Die Hard movies (rated R for violence) and by the end, not a single person would have gotten hurt. Yet, a sport where people pound either causing bodily harm and in many cases brain damage, Americans welcome it into their homes every Autumn Sunday, no warning, rating or censorship. Simulate violence: bad. Real violence: a-okay.

How do football fans rationalize this? I can't say I know. They are experiencing cognitive dissonance perhaps. People seem to have an uncanny ability to compartmentalize what they call their beliefs from their actions. I once had a co-worker who used to claim he was a vegetarian then I'd go out to lunch with him at some of greasiest wiener joints in Providence and he'd not see a problem with this. I once went to lunch with friends who complained about tax loopholes throughout the meal and then take a receipt for our non-work related meal for his tax write off. When I pointed out to him that this write-off is a loop hole, he looked at me with complete confusion. We all know people like this, right? Like someone who complains about GMOs in her food or chemicals in her lawn, because they might cause cancer, as she smokes away at a cigarette. Among these cognitively dissonant friends, I put the person who claims that they abhor violence while wearing an NFL jersey. Football is violent. If you like football, you like violence. Admit it and move on.

Football is America's favorite sport. America loves violence. We have a history of violence, founded on violence. We were founded by a bloody revolution, a bloody civil war preserved us and bloody massacres expanded our borders for our Manifest Destiny. We all know this. Just admit America ... you love violence. Stop pretending that you don't. Denial is unhealthy.

I didn't always feel this way. When I was young, I thought I lived in a peaceful nation. I used to say, silly stuff, "there will never be another American war in our lifetime" and "after Viet Nam, we don't have an appetite for war." Then, in 1990, the first George Bush went into Iraq and people loved it. You'd ask them what they were doing for Friday evening, they'd said they were staying home and watching the war on CNN. They'd  stop off on their way from work to get a pizza and a 12 pack and hurry to the comfort of their couch to watch the missiles hammer Baghdad. Peace loving folk. Maybe not.

I had a similar epiphany a few years ago when the reports came out about concussions and Repetitive Head Injury Syndrome in football, I thought, well that's it, no more football. We now have proof that long term brain damage is being caused by playing football for a long-time.  Today, 1-3 NFL players will have some sort of brain injury in their lifetimes. We haven't stopped watching football after this information came out, of course not, if anything viewership has increased. The bloodier the better I guess. I still see people signing up their kid's for youth football.  The trend continues.

As our daily news programs continues to report about brutality that these players commit off the field, the beating of a wife in an elevator or the hospitalization of a child from being hit with a stick, we have to wonder who is to blame? These guys were once very little boys, we told them to go hit someone hard. If you do it well enough, you might make a lot of money. Turn on the television and watch a few more games, drink a few more beers, eat a few more chips and watch those commercials. The violence you are buying is no longer only on the field or on the screen. How many more of these thugs do you need to turn off the television or change the channel. In a capitalistic society, demand is consent. If you stop demanding it, the supply will disappear.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The St. Albans Raid

Since I've lived in the Northwestern Vermont, I've heard references to and seen signs for the St. Albans Raid. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. I assumed it was something that happened related to the War of 1812 or something more obscure. I did not realize until recently that it was an American Civil War event. When I think of Civil War battles, I don't think of Vermont; I think of Pennsylvania or Virginia. Vermont is too far north yet, the St. Albans Raid was a American Civil War event, not so much a battle, unlike any other.

Bennet Young was a Confederate soldier who escaped to Canada. He made his way back to the Confederacy by way of Nova Scotia and Bermuda. He met with Confederate Generals with his idea to attack Northern cities. St. Albans, Vermont was a railroad town about 15 miles south of the Canadian border. At the time St. Albans had around 4,000 residents, now it has over 6,000. The railroad in town, the Vermont and Canada Railroad, was owned by the governor at the time, J. Gregory Smith.  The town had three banks. The idea was to attack the city, rob the banks and then burn it to the ground. The intent was to help the Confederacy with their financial problems and divert the North's attention to protect their cities from surprise attacks. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant and given a group of 21 cavalrymen to return to Canada with to organize the raid.

They arrived in St. Albans via train from Montreal in cells of 2 or 3 men on October 10th to the 19th of 1864 with the cover story that they were on a sporting vacation and took rooms in local hotels. On the morning of October  19th, Young sat in the hallway of the American House awaiting, reading his Bible as the soldiers gathered. He was posing as a preacher. At 3pm, they stood on separate street corners which is now Main Street and started yelling something about taking the city for the Confederacy. The townsfolk quickly understood that this wasn't a joke when their three banks started getting rob simultaneously while many of them were held at gun point in Taylor Park for their horses.

Obviously, the town was never burned to the ground. The damp rainy day prevent them from lighting their bottles of Greek fire. One of these buildings is still a bank (TD Bank), another holds an art gallery now and the other building no longer stands, the local Toyota dealer is there now. One town person was killed and another wounded as they got out of town heading north with $208,000.00. The only building that was destroyed was a shed. As they headed out of town, they diverted their trip north to go northeast and then east. They headed toward a town called Sheldon because it also had a bank, but the bank was closed. They set fire to a bridge that was put out immediately by the local preacher. The bridge survived for another 100 years. They stole a horse while in town from the house in the picture below. In the upstairs bedroom lie a Yankee veteran who was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia earlier that year. Ironically, he was the nephew of Reverend Reuel Keith, who married Robert E. Lee and his bride, Mary.
Reverend Keith is buried next door behind the Presbyterian church in downtown Sheldon. 

This was the time of the telegraph. So word got out of their approaching the border so they split up as they reached Enosburg, a larger town than Sheldon. The raiders made it into Canada where they were arrested but eventually freed. Only $88,000.00 were recovered. Local legend is that one of the local farmers found the remainder in a hole in the ground and built a beautiful brick house that still stands. 

At the time, the raid was considered a success. Yankee General Philip Sheridan was ripping through the Shenandoah Valley so any victory helped the spirits of the Confederacy. The raid did scare many of the American towns on the border of Canada thinking they were next. Canadians at the time were still British subjects and were afraid to be pulled into the war. The raid turned popular opinion against the Confederacy.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Manic Pixie Dream Girls and the Magical Negroes

If you ever get the impression that American society is not white-male-centric, you don't have to go very far to change your mind back. Just watch a movie.  When I look at Wikipedia's list of top grossing films of all time very few of them have a female lead and I can't find one with a non-white lead.  I guess you can't blame Hollywood if they are marketing their films to their audience ... but do white guys watch more movies than other demographics?  I don't know, really.

It is not just who the lead of the film is but the tone of the films. The story arcs of most American films revolve around white people. An all too common trope is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.  This term was created by the film critic Nathan Rabin back in 2005 after seeing Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, but the term can apply to films much earlier. It refers to a stock female character in a film that influences the main character (a white male) and is usually his romantic interests. She is quirky, attractive and girlish. A majority of the mainstream films made in America have a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Why create something new if an old trope will suffice? Most people won't notice that they are watching the same old thing. We have Barbara Streisand in What's Up Doc?, Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, Carrie Fisher and Natalie Portman in the Star Wars flicks, Natalie Portman in Garden State and to a lesser extent Beautiful Girls, Emily Watson in Punch Drunk Love, Kate Hudson and Meg Ryan in pretty much everything they have ever been.  They have no growth, very little depth and merely revolve around the protagonist like a satellite, not doing much but influencing the tides.

Things are changing I hear. Of the 40 movies released this summer by major studios, 17 of them had women leads. This is less than half but higher than most years. But is this really an improvement?  The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media did a study of 122 recent family films, of 5,554 speaking roles only 29.2% were female. This is the same ratio as 1946. Of these 40, there was only one female director. Perhaps that is where the studio needs to start to fix this problem. This is a problem!

A lesser used trope is the Magical Negro or as Spike Lee called it the Super Duper Magical Negro. The Magical Negro doesn't always have magical powers but when they do, they help out white people. Will Smith in The Legend of Bagger Vance appears on golf courses and helps white men with their golf game or Michael Clarke Duncan's character in The Green Mile is a magical prisoner on death row that uses his magic to help the white guards. I am not making this shit up. I don't think there is a single black person in any Stephen King book that doesn't exist to help white people. Mother Abagail in The Stand (the magical old black lady), Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers' character) in The Shining and Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding (Morgan Freeman's character) in The Shawshank Redemption are example of this.

I want to say that this trend can't continue, but since woman are a majority perhaps this is just naive. According to the Hollywood reporter, 54% of film goers this years were Caucasian while making up 60% of the population. White movie-goers decreased while Hispanic and black movie-goers increased. Will we get more Forrest Whitaker and Steve McQueen (the director) in the years to come? I hope so because I love those guys. This year's Best Movie Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave was a great film. But please note, it is not on the list of the top grossing films. Most Americans want an escape at the movie theater, not introspection. We'll save that for our Netflix queue. I watched it on the plane. No one wants a downer when you drop $8.00 at the box office.