Friday, July 11, 2008

2 or 4 things

1: I think, therefore I ramble.

Watching TV at a friends house: Her grandmother's house is flooded, so Granny is staying there a few weeks until the water evaporates from her living room. Granny is bored and uncomfortable in an unfamiliar home. Her favorite show is on - CSI (or some derivative of it) - so we accommodate by changing channels. Granny is appeased. The show is unintentionally hilarious and very condescending to the viewer with much extraneous, explanatory dialogue. And bad acting. We try not to mock it in front of Granny, but at one point she hears us laugh through all our holding back. "What's so funny? ...You can change it!" she says, embarrassed. We are ashamed. Poor Granny.

The show relates the story of an FBI profiler who is having doubts about his profession. He's starting to get dragged down by the mutilated corpses he's forced to examine each day and the mind-of-the-killer way of thinking he must put himself through in order to solve the crimes. By the end of the show he relates this, in confidence, to another FBI agent.

Profiler: I'm having doubts.
FBI Guy: About what? If you're strong enough to do this?

The scene seemed very wrong to me. Strong enough to do this; those words stuck in my head and the conversation just didn't make sense. Strong enough. I quickly realized how many assumptions were backing up that statement; assumptions the writers took for granted as factual points of view that no one would question, not even them: it takes a strong person to be able to stand the sight of mutilated corpses day after day; it takes strength to continuously put yourself in the mindset of a psychopath in order to solve a crime. Only a strong person can stand to do these things and if you can't, you are weak. The only problem is that these things are myths. Our culture, however, must pretend that they are true.

In reality the Profiler should be asking himself if he's strong enough to walk away. Away from the money and the reverence our culture has for his profession and - by extension - him. A sane person would want to walk away from that environment: death, mutilated bodies, and a job they don't enjoy. A sane person would want to be (and would be) affected by those things, but the whole subtext of this scene enforces the belief that to be affected, to care - to be human - is to be weak. Only a sick person would want to push all of their humanity aside and learn to be "strong" in the face of that horror simply for the money, the prestige the job affords, or what they perceive as public service. Only a sick person would want to continue spending such a huge portion of their life working a job that makes them miserable. The concepts of strong and weak are totally mixed up.

(I'm not trying to make any generalizations about what being an FBI profiler entails or what it means about you if indeed you do enjoy it, I only mean to relate it through the premise and point of the particular scene (and within the context of the show) where the person in question is dissatisfied with his job. Yes, we could get into a discussion about whether "dehumanizing" yourself and/or spending your whole life doing something you don't enjoy for some perceived greater good is an example of strength, whether or not the job is in fact an example of public service, and what the other possible motives for remaining under the described conditions could be, but that isn't my point.)

Regardless of whether or not these premises are true the fact remains that it's all presented as unquestioned truth, and most of the people watching the show probably don't even realize that it's presenting a point of view, and by not seeing this they internalize the values that are presented to them, and thus, are poisoned in some invisible way (not to mention how it's teaching/urging us to not think or question things and to just absorb or consume). Of course this is a banal example but it reminds me how pervasive unquestioned assumptions are, which is probably why I often hear people say, as a retort to me mentioning the possibility of a different way of doing things: Yes, but this is the way things are. It's how it's always been. I didn't make the rules.

And then Granny died.

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2: Going out of business...

One of the Hagerstown Wonderbook and Video stores. It did. It's gone. I got over 100 books, including 50 Horizons (a hard cover periodical about art and culture from the 1950s-70s). They're fantastic, with articles on Artaud, Genet, and all sorts of other things. I'll be posting the best things I come across if I'm able to scan them in a way that makes them fairly easy to read.

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3: Changes:

I added something to my blog on the sidebar: recently discovered and recently read. For anyone who's bored there might be something of interest there now and again to read, watch, explore, etc. (It might even be better than aimless internet surfing!) This list will be updated more frequently than my blog, and it displays 100 items at a time. (If blogging has any real purpose, the sharing of information and discoveries is likely to be near the top of the list.)

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4: Essential viewing/Link of the day

This is a 46 minute documentary that originally aired on Frontline. Shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, Jane Elliot, a 3rd grade teacher, decided to divide her class up into the "blue-eyed" and "brown-eyed", making one group the in-group (giving them privileges), and the other the out-group (treating them with condescension). The experiment is reversed the following day. All of it is documented, along with her students return years later, and her use of it on adults in a work environment.

Watch it HERE

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