BAN “GONE WITH THE WIND?”

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Whatcha say folks? Now that we are banning/censoring all things Confederate, should we ban “Gone With The Wind?” (Both the book and the movie?) If so, we could have book burnings/BBQs for the 4th. How about the yearly commemorative charge of the VMI cadets (one of my distant relatives was in the original)? Trash all the Confederate graveyards? I understand people are rushing to buy GWTW DVDs lest pressure mounts to take it off the shelves.

Where is Gay America going next?

future queer

chee-lede

BY ALEXANDER CHEE
ILLUSTRATION BY NEIL GILKS
JUNE 23, 2015

THE DAY IN 2011 THAT I WENT TO THE OFFICE of the city clerk in lower Manhattan with my partner Dustin to register for our domestic partnership was coincidentally also the first day same-sex partners were allowed to register for marriage in the state of New York. A reporter was on hand, hoping to get a quote. As a prompt, she told us that the state’s marital forms had not been updated: Any couple registering that day would be required to designate one person as the man, and the other, the woman. Did we have any reaction?

“We’re not here for that,” we said, smiling, as we passed her, and then we found we had to keep saying it at every point of the process, to all of the helpful clerks at each step who reminded us that we could register to marry instead. We thanked them and continued on to get our partnership. We had discussed marriage and decided it wasn’t for us, not yet, maybe not ever. A domestic partnership suited us. We joked a little afterward about which one of us would have been the man, which the woman, but without question, I had the uncanny sense of entering another world, one in which government officials recognized our relationship in a friendly, helpful way, even if we weren’t going to marry—and even if the forms weren’t quite ready for the many people like me about to get married. I remember thinking: This is the future.

I’ve lived through several of these moments. In 1995, for example, whenhighly active antiretroviral therapy, or what became known as the “AIDS cocktail,” was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and then later entered the lives of my friends with HIV or AIDS, I went from worrying if they were going to live, to worrying that they still smoked too much now that they were going to live. Or in 2007, when my sister, who’s a teacher, invited me to speak to her high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and the students there asked me why I didn’t come out in high school. I had to explain that such an act was unimaginable for a boy from Maine in 1984—as was anything like a student Gay-Straight Alliance—and I could tell my past was as unimaginable to them as their present was to me.

Or in 2008, when the Democratic National Convention adopted “Health care is a right” into its platform for the presidency. I remembered staffing a volunteer table for ACT UP in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood in 1991, on the corner of Castro and 18th Street, and on my table were posters, stickers, and t-shirts that bore the same slogan in all caps—ACT UP slogan house style.

I wore one of those shirts to model for passers-by. People walked by me, uncomfortably most of the time, but on occasion, someone would come up and ask for a sticker or a t-shirt, and it felt like a little victory. This presidential platform moment, while huge, felt strangely small at the same time—still not enough.

ACT UP was trying to explain to Americans that AIDS could affect all of us, that health care that ended once your disease was expensive could affect more than gay men with HIV or AIDS. We were trying to tell them about the future—a future they didn’t yet see and would be forced to accept if they failed to act. But there was an epidemic of denial happening alongside AIDS, the belief that you could not get AIDS, not really, unless you were gay—and that you would never need the protections people with HIV needed. In 1990, health care was not something most people feared losing, and employer-based health care was not yet considered a business cost too high to bear. Blue Cross Blue Shield was not yet run for profit. But we had seen our friends and lovers abandoned by doctors and shunned by hospitals, and as we knew only too well, drug companies were run for profit, and there were drugs that needed to be tested in order for people with HIV to survive. The number of people infected in 1990 seemed too low to the people running spreadsheets at drug companies, and so they weren’t doing the tests on drugs that they could. There was no upside for them in making drugs that they believed would only benefit perhaps 50,000 people. This is a fate any American with a rare disease has faced—not just people with HIV—they quickly learn that their lives are the cost of doing business.

As of 2013, according to the World Health Organization, 35 million people were estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS globally, and 39 million have died from the disease. The epidemic of denial won, and now everyone knows there is money in the making of drugs for AIDS. There is now, sadly, a great deal of money in it. And, as some of my old ACT UP friends have noted, there is now no money in curing it. Instead, there is PrEP, the one-pill HIV, pre-exposure prophylaxis, which promises condom-free sex, if you can afford it, at a price tag for the uninsured of $8,000 to $14,000 a year.

WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF WHAT YOU’VE INVENTED?That’s a question I often ask my students in fiction writing, as a way to get them to generate plots organically out of the little scenes that first come to them. So what are the implications of what we’ve invented?

For many Americans, marriage equality represents a capstone “here at last” moment for gay people, but it really is more of a beginning.

I live in a world today that I never would have imagined possible. I can serve in the military as openly gay, if I wanted. I can join my friends as they passionately, freely, and publicly debate the merits and downsides of the sex life that PrEP makes possible. I can choose from male, female, and “custom,” as well as my preferred pronoun, on my Facebook profile, where I get notices about the upcoming reunion of ACT UP SF alongside updates about my upcoming high school reunion. And, yes, I can marry in 37 states.

The pursuit of marriage equality has changed us. We privilege the life of couples over those who might never marry in a way we never did before. For many Americans, marriage equality represents a capstone “here at last” moment for gay people, but we know it really is more of a beginning. It is still legal to be fired for being gay or transgender in more than half of U.S. states. Those openly gay soldiers, should they marry, can be denied shared retirement benefits for their spouses in states where marriage equality is not (yet) the law. Increased trans visibility and the conversation around gender identities have generated more awareness than ever before about trans lives, and has resulted, for example, in advances, such as the inclusion of trans girls in the Girl Scouts. Yet terrible violence against trans people continues, often as brutal murders, many of them left unsolved, should they even be investigated, especially against trans people of color. Religious conservatives, meanwhile, are busy using the courts and legislatures to try to deny us the rights we have only recently gained—claiming that upholding the laws that have been passed oppresses their religious freedom, and that they must be allowed the liberty of their bigotry.

And so it is with a very strange sort of ambivalence that I await news regarding marriage from the Supreme Court. I feel we are at the edge of another one of those uncanny thresholds—that the future is sneaking up on me again. At my most pessimistic, I fear that this decision, along with the appearance of PrEP, is a sign of some sort of Freudian repetition cycle the whole country is in, in which marriage equality is always being fought for and decided, and AIDS is always the ground for advances in treatment instead of a cure—all while these other very serious issues also need attention, and we fight forever over the same inch of ground.

 

IF I WERE TO WRITE A NOVEL ABOUT A GAY MAN LIKE MYSELF in the future—let’s say the year 2035—his ability to marry another man, whatever the Supreme Court ruling, wouldn’t be in question—it could even be the conventional choice, the one his friends laugh at even as they attend because they love him. He might even be descended from two generations of officially recognized gay marriages. “Gay,” “Queer,” “Straight,” “Same-Sex”: these would be deeply retrograde terms—orthodoxies to be resisted, or historical fictions, even. Given the press of overpopulation on us now, I could imagine my character as having chosen a childless, single queerness, and could depict this as the green choice, sexually and emotionally. The rearing of children could be something that is done only rarely, especially given its increasing cost. More and more, having children is something only the wealthy can afford in the United States, so in 2035 it wouldn’t be science fiction to imagine an entrenched oligarchy as the only class legally allowed to have them. In a political twist, China’s one-child policy could be seen retroactively as both visionary and not having gone far enough.

My protagonist could find the process of questioning his sexuality and gender as normal as we now find deciding what to watch on television. He might have no single sexual identification—omnisexuality—and that could be the overwhelmingly mainstream norm. Or he could be a part of an elite group of wealthy gay men, all of them seronegative and residing in an intentional community sexually sealed off from anyone who can’t pass a credit check and an HIV test.

Marrying more than one person at the same time might also be possible for him within this system, especially if marriage is finally seen as the economic system it is—with fundamentalist Mormonism as something of a model for the legal future queer, but more like if the sister wives all ran away with each other and set up a home together. Or maybe my protagonist lives closeted inside a Christian radical white supremacist plantation state, complete with death camps for sexual deviants, married to a woman who is, perhaps, closeted herself.

Yet, when I think of the future for myself in real life and not fiction, I stick to what I know. Which is almost nothing. My hope is that marriage equality queers marriage, rather than straightening queers—that we reinvent it and keep reinventing it, and sexuality is finally acknowledged as having no inherent moral value except, perhaps, when it is ignored. But my generation never planned for this. Many of the men and women who might have showed us how to grow old while being queer are dead, and most of us, well, we didn’t think we’d live this long, either. One of the most punk rock things I can think of now for me and my friends from ACT UP, is for us to grow old with the people we love, however we choose to do it. Getting to be an old queer is our next revolution.

If I am alive in 2035, I will be 67, and I can easily imagine myself stepping down from a plane in Berlin to begin my retirement with Dustin, who, while he doesn’t quite believe in marriage and may never marry me, will also never leave me. In Germany, our immigration status as a domestically partnered couple is today protected in a way it wouldn’t be, say, if we were moving to the United States. And given the way marriage equality is in some states delegitimizing domestic partnership as a path to shared benefits, it could be that, at that time, we would be moving to avoid being forced to marry.

If I’m still in the United States, most likely, I’d be in the Catskills, having expanded the hunting cottage I just bought with my partner and our friends, Kera and Meredith, into something like a retirement compound. Kera and Meredith’s son Theo will be 23 by then, have just graduated college, if we still educate our young that way. Dustin and I are his gay uncles, and I will have taught him to pee standing up in the woods—we’re working on it now—and he won’t probably even remember it.

The future I can’t imagine, but want to imagine, is one where we’re all at peace, working toward something else. I find myself wanting to ask the religious right, which has fought so hard, all my life, to demonize me, if that is really the best use of their time on this earth. Because, as I think of my future, I think of all that I could have done if I hadn’t been fighting for the right to the basic freedoms we’re all supposed to enjoy as Americans—freedoms gay people have never fully had. I hope we find some way to live together in peace. I just don’t yet see how.

Alexander Chee’s new novel, The Queen of the Night, is forthcoming in February 2016 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122091/future-queer-where-gay-america-going-next?utm_content=bufferf2488&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By David Walsh
24 June 2015

Directed by Julie Taymor; written by William Shakespeare

Julie Taymor’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream was screened in a number of movie theaters in North America this week for one night only (on or about the summer solstice). The film was shot during a run of Taymor’s version of the play at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn in 2013-14.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream [Photo credit: Theatre for a New Audience]

Scholars theorize that Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Nights Dream, perhaps for an aristocratic wedding, in the mid-1590s. The comic-magical play, one of the few whose basic outline the dramatist did not derive from another source, has several interconnected plot strands.

Duke Theseus of Athens and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, are making preparations for their wedding day; four young lovers—Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius—attempt to sort out their relationships, in the face of a host of external and internal pressures; Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of Fairyland, are in the midst of a quarrel, with all sorts of implications for the natural world around them; a group of Athenian “mechanicals” (workmen) are rehearsing a play, the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe [a story that resembles Romeo and Juliet], to be performed at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.

Much of the play takes place in the moonlit woods presided over by Oberon and Titania. Angered at his queen, Oberon has his “sprite,” Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, locate a flower whose juice, smeared on the eyes, will make any creature fall in love with the next person—or animal—he or she sees. Puck changes the head of one of the workmen, Bottom the weaver, into a donkey’s, and Titania, on seeing him, falls madly in love.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream [Photo credit: Theatre for a New Audience]

Meanwhile, the four lovers are stumbling around the forest. At first, both Lysander and Demetrius are in love with Hermia, much to the unhappiness of Helena, who adores Demetrius. After Puck drops some of his potion in the wrong eyes, Lysander and Demetrius direct their affections and attentions toward Helena, who becomes convinced that the other three have conspired to play a cruel prank on her.

Bottom passes the time with Titania and her attendant fairies, until Oberon and Puck intervene and restore him more or less to his previous condition. In the end, Oberon and Titania are reconciled, the three other couples find their way to the altar, and Bottom and his fellow workmen stage their play successfully at the wedding reception.

Taymor (born 1952) is best known for spectacular theater stagings, especially of The Lion King (1997) and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (2010). She has directed a number of films, including Titus (1999, based on Shakespeare’s bloody Titus Andronicus), Frida (2002), Across the Universe (2007) and The Tempest (2010). While visually intriguing, none of these films was an artistic success. Frida, about the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, was significantly misconceived.

Taymor’s work in general has seemed a triumph of style over substance. Fortunately, with A Midsummer Nights Dream she has taken on a work that brings her considerable skill to the fore. Imaginatively staged and exuberantly performed, Taymor’s effort is largely a delight. If it does not explore the play or its themes deeply, and it does not, it certainly allows an audience to experience something of the work’s relentless beauty and poetry.

The play takes place on a stage deeply thrust into the audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn. A central image is a giant silk bed-sheet that makes itself into a balloon, a sky, a sort of hammock, a projection screen and a good deal more. Taymor makes great use of lighting, harnesses, trapdoors and a variety of equipment, especially in the Titania-Oberon-Puck scenes.

Kathryn Hunter as an androgynous Puck, who twists herself into any number of poses, is thoroughly engaging, as are David Harewood as Oberon and Tina Benko as Titania. A crowd of small children charmingly represent the fairies. To her credit, Taymor has made the play accessible to contemporary audiences, without sacrificing the original play.

There is something genuinely breathtaking, almost “unbearable” (as I noted in a review of Michael Hoffman’s 1999 film version of the play), about the sweetness of the language in A Midsummer Nights Dream. This is Oberon to Puck:

Thou rememb’rest
Since once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her song
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the sea maid’s music?

And further:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and eglantine.

And that sweetness is powerfully brought out here, by Taymor, Harewood, Benko and Hunter in particular.

As we noted in 1999, A Midsummer Nights Dream is perhaps “the gentlest of Shakespeare’s works.” That review went on:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream[Photo credit: Theatre for a New Audience]

“Puck plays his pranks, and Oberon takes his relatively harmless revenge on Titania, but this is not a nightmare, it is a dream born of a warm summer night. Oberon takes pity on Helena, ‘a sweet Athenian lady … in love with a disdainful youth.’ Puck says, although mistakenly, of Hermia lying near Lysander: ‘Pretty soul, she durst not lie / Near this lack-love, this kill-courtesy.’ Later Oberon instructs Puck to prevent a fight between jealous Demetrius and Lysander, and declares his intention to release Titania from her spell, ‘and all things shall be peace.’ Or, as Puck puts it, even more suggestively, ‘Jack shall have Jill, / Naught shall go ill.’”

One of the remarkable themes of the play, bound up of course with great changes in social relations in Shakespeare’s time, is the extraordinary and novel malleability of human personality and emotions. Granted that Oberon and Puck intervene supernaturally from time to time, but the four young people, as well as Titania herself, demonstrate that love, for example, is hardly a sentiment fixed for eternity.

Demetrius observes that his love for Hermia—which he was only cured of the night before!—“seems to me now / As the remembrance of an idle gaud / Which in my childhood I did dote upon.”

Titania declares her undying love for Bottom at the beginning of one scene (“O, how I love thee! how I dote on thee!”) and, only a few scant moments later, once having woken from her “visions,” exclaims, “How came these things to pass? / O, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now!”

As we noted in 1999, A Midsummer Nights Dream suggests “a world of infinite possibility. After all, this is the only one of Shakespeare’s plays in which a man on the Bottom sleeps with (or by) a Queen, at her instigation no less. In the forest in the middle of the night in a dream all things pass into one another and are transformed, love and hate, man and animal, spirit and matter.”

The rapid, dramatic changes of Taymor’s set and design have the advantage of suggesting something of this transmutability.

The weakest point here is Max Casella’s Bottom, or rather, not the actor, but Taymor’s direction. Casella is far too broad, with his clichéd New York-New Jersey accent, and works far too hard for broad and rather cheap laughs.

Shakespeare was not writing his play principally for “mechanicals,” for laborers, although they formed a section of his audience. And certainly there is a degree to which the playwright laughs along with Duke Theseus and the rest of the Athenian elite at the artistic-theatrical pretensions of the weaver (Nick Bottom), carpenter (Peter Quince), bellows-mender (Francis Flute), tinker (Tom Snout), joiner (simply “Snug”) and tailor (Robin Starveling).

As occasionally foolish as the “mechanical” actors are, however, their essential geniality, solidarity and sincerity come through. Is there a genuinely warmer moment in Shakespeare than that in which Bottom makes his reappearance, after losing his asses’ head, among his fellow artisans?

BOTTOM

Where are these lads? where are these hearts?

QUINCE [and the others]

Bottom! O most courageous day! O most happy hour!

BOTTOM

Masters, I am to discourse wonders: but ask me not what; for if I tell you, I am no true Athenian. I will tell you every thing, right as it fell out.

QUINCE

Let us hear, sweet Bottom.

Essential to the success of the “mechanical” scenes is the workers’ spirit of togetherness. Despite their various idiosyncrasies, they stick up for and stand by one another. In Taymor’s version, Brendan Averett as Snug, Joe Grifasi as Quince, William Youmans as Starveling, Jacob Ming-Trent as Snout and Zachary Infante as Flute all do well, even memorably. Infante’s “death scene” as Thisbe is quite remarkable. On the other hand, portraying Bottom as something of a scene-stealer and “ham,” and not simply an enthusiast, is a mistake and detracts from the work.

Whatever intentions he had in his head to begin with, Shakespeare was Shakespeare, and once he began to work through a character’s situation, he generally got to the heart of things. We recently noted the comment by Orson Welles that Shakespeare’s Falstaff (who appears in a number of the history plays) was “the most completely good man, in all drama.” Then Bottom is certainly one of the kindest and most endearing.

He is the favorite of the artisans; during the time he spends away from them in Titania’s company, they are at a loss. He has, according to Flute, “the best wit of any handicraftman in Athens,” and he is “the best person, too,” adds Quince. “O sweet bully Bottom,” cries Flute, sadly.

We noted in 1999: “The weaver is unfailingly thoughtful and considerate, and apparently unfazed by any of the astonishing things that befall him. When Titania unexpectedly proclaims that she loves him, he replies, ‘Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason for that.’ Nonetheless, it is not unthinkable, for ‘to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.’

“Offered the part of a lover in the workmen’s theatrical, Bottom expresses the desire to play a ‘tyrant’ instead. No one is less fit for such a part. So concerned is he about the ladies in the audience becoming frightened, because a lion appears in the piece, he explains that were he to play the part, ‘I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove. I will roar you an ‘twere any nightingale.’

“Worried as well about the impact on the female spectators of his character killing himself, Bottom suggests adding a prologue in which he will explain that ‘we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyramus [his character] is not killed indeed; and for the more better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver. That will put them out of fear.’ I think Harold Bloom is entitled to assert in his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human that Bottom is ‘a sublime clown … a great visionary … and a very good man, as benign as any in Shakespeare.’”

In any event, despite the missteps in this regard, Taymor’s A Midsummer Nights Dream is enjoyable and absorbing. It will open more widely later in the year.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/06/24/amid-j24.html

Bored of mindfulness? Give mindlessness a try.

Mindlessness relies on little more than a combination of snap judgments, intuition and absent-minded daydreaming. It sounded easy so I decided to try it

Free your mind.
Free your mind. Illustration: Ellie Foubert-Peck

I’m getting annoyed with mindfulness. Do you know how exhausting it is to constantly live in the moment? It’s really bloody exhausting.

In my experience, using your consciousness to observe and process every single piece of information that comes at you just makes you want to punch someone. Mindfulness is now so prolific that you can buy books on mindful eating, mindful art or being more mindful at work (mindfulness is popular with managers, apparently, as it’s another way of getting your staff to stay focused on what they’re meant to be doing). When you can download a book called Hot Mess to Mindful Mom, you’ve got to wonder whether the whole mindfulness thing has gone a bit too far.

Thanks to a new book called The Power of Negative Emotion, an alternative has reared its head. And its name is mindlessness.

Mindlessness operates on the basis that your mind and body already know how to take care of themselves. You don’t need to consciously concentrate on your breathing, or what you can smell, because you’ve been unwittingly been doing that since before you were born. To be truly mindless, you need to rely on a combination of snap judgments, uninformed intuition and absent-minded daydreaming. All the things I’m best at, in fact.

Illustration of person playing music by Ellie Foubert-Peck
Play soft music while you work. Illustration: Ellie Foubert-Peck

Daydreaming

A central tenet of mindlessness is the idea that a wandering mind is a creative mind. Drifting off in the middle of a boring task might unconsciously lead to a chain of events that sparks a profound personal epiphany. These “aha” moments tend to sneak up during unfocused moments.

I have a short attention span generally, so I did everything I could to promote a wandering mind. I played soft music as I worked. I kept a pen and paper nearby, in case I felt like doodling. But having free time to daydream is a luxury that I can’t afford. Now that there’s a baby in the house, everything has become a short-deadline emergency. Time spent leisurely exploring my mind’s interior right now is absolutely time wasted. Not to be indelicate, but the only time I even came close to attempting this was on the toilet, and to some extent it worked. It gave me the time to piece together a column about baby poo. Whether or not that was the book’s intention is unclear.

Decision-making

I got in touch with Todd Kashdan, one of the book’s authors. When it comes to making snap decisions, Kashdan said, “the bigger the decision, the better. These are the ones where [your] gut instincts become important. Choosing apartments, colleges, romantic partners.”

Nothing is more terrifying to me than mucking up something huge based on what amounts to a cerebral coin toss. Still, the book says no decision should take more than 10 seconds to make, so I put that to the test. It worked amazingly – snap decisions made me incredibly productive, instantaneously blowtorching all kinds of unexciting offers and invitations – but it also made me lazy. “Do I want to go to the gym?” I asked myself a few times. The answer was always “no”.

Plus, it doesn’t always work. The book quotes a Dutch study claiming that uninformed adults often outperform obsessive fanatics when it comes to making snap predictions about sports results. As an out and proud uninformed adult, I tested this by spontaneously putting a fiver on a horse called Shy John, running in the 14:35 at Wincanton. The race started. Shy John dropped behind. Then he fell over. A bit more time to think and I believe I wouldn’t have made that bet in the first place.

Illustration of person going for a run by Ellie Foubert-Peck
Going for a run might help reach state of mindlessness. Illustration: Ellie Foubert-Peck

‘Truth through exhaustion’

The most fascinating aspect of mindlessness is its insistence that basic politeness is exhausting. Remaining socially conscious in conversation, the authors say, is a high-maintenance interaction that wears down all parties and accomplishes nothing. “But what if you drained a person’s energy prior to the conversation so that they lacked the oomph to hide, escape or water down what they were thinking?” With exhaustion comes disinhibition, allowing for a more honest conversation that both participants will enjoy more. This is apparently why old people are often thought of as wise – they’re just too tired to be polite.

So, the next morning, I went for a run, with the intention of wearing myself out enough to have an honest conversation with one of my editors. However, the book didn’t take into account just how ingrained British politeness is. Despite being fully exhausted, I still wasn’t able to be as forthright as I wanted. On the upside, this means that I didn’t shout my way out of a job.

Will mindlessness seriously catch on? I’m not sure. If the unconscious mind was as well-oiled as the authors claim, then surely mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy wouldn’t have needed to be invented. However, despite my reluctance, I’m eternally grateful to mindlessness for one thing – when it comes to productivity, snap decisions are brilliant. Ask me something. The answer’s no. See?

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/12/give-mindlessness-a-try?CMP=fb_gu

A new film version of Far from the Madding Crowd; Brian Wilson’s story inLove & Mercy

By Joanne Laurier
12 June 2015

Far from the Madding Crowd, directed by Thomas Vinterberg; screenplay by David Nicholls, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy

Far from the Madding Crowd is the latest screen adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s famed 1874 novel. Set in rural England, it is the story of a free-spirited young woman who attracts three suitors of diverse social and psychological make-up.

Directed by Danish-born Thomas Vinterberg, the movie is pleasant and straightforward, but with a flatness that reflects certain artistic problems: above all, a lack of urgency and historical concreteness.

The film begins in a bucolic setting of expansive green fields. (Hardy set his novels in Wessex, a fictional stand-in for his native Dorset in southwest England, where much of the new film was shot.) Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), a willful young woman meets local farmer Gabriel Oak (Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts), who almost immediately proposes marriage.

Far from the Madding Crowd

But Bathsheba does not want to be any man’s property: “I’m too independent for you.” This, despite the fact that Bathsheba is penniless and Gabriel has a sheep farm. (“I have 100 acres and 200 sheep.”) Soon after, their economic circumstances are reversed. Gabriel loses his herd and Bathsheba inherits a large farm from a deceased uncle. He now becomes her vassal.

Adjacent to Bathsheba’s property lies the farm belonging to the prosperous William Boldwood (Michael Sheen). In a rather irresponsible prank, she sends Boldwood, a lonely and taciturn man, a valentine inscribed with the words “Marry me.” The middle-aged bachelor becomes obsessed with his young neighbor, offering Bathsheba “shelter and comfort … If you will marry me out of guilt and pity, I don’t mind.” Later, highlighting one of the movie’s—and novel’s—themes, she muses: “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.”

Having dispatched her second suitor, she falls madly in love with the reckless, pleasure-seeking gambler, Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), whose plan to wed Bathsheba’s servant, Fanny Robin (Juno Temple), has come to naught due to a misunderstanding. When Troy marries Bathsheba, the union is from the start an unhappy one—the soldier treats his wife and her employees dreadfully—and is finally shipwrecked when a poverty-stricken Fanny dies in childbirth.

Overcome with grief and guilt, Troy plunges into the ocean and is presumed to have drowned. Years later, down on his luck, he reappears like Lazarus risen from the dead. Unable to bear the thought that Bathsheba will now be completely out of reach, Boldwood kills Troy, a desperate act that puts him behind bars for life. A much matured Bathsheba finds true love with Gabriel. Not only are they now economic equals, but having withstood various slings and arrows, they have become emotional partners.

Hardy ’s fourth novel takes its title from a line in Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751), about the dead lying peacefully in their graves. It appears that through the title Hardy was ironically countering the notion that rural folk led less dramatic, complicated lives than urban residents. The economic and social conflicts and contradictions, argues Hardy, are as acute in the countryside as in the city.

The novel concerns itself in particular with rigid Victorian morality and social roles. One historian, K.D.M. Snell, notes that Hardy, in his major novels, was attempting “to formulate the conditions in which affectionate and lasting relationships could take place … [H]is work persistently gives an embittered and bleak account of marriage and marital relations in its descriptions of what he termed the ‘false marriage.’” Bathsheba and Troy are a prime example of a marriage in which the two partners have hardly anything in common and know almost nothing about one another.

Far from the Madding Crowd

Class mobility, and upward mobility in particular, was another of Hardy’s concerns, rooted in his own personal circumstances. Hardy’s father was a stonemason and builder, and the family lacked the means to send Hardy to university. He remained acutely aware of class divisions and his own supposed social “inferiority,” as well as the fragility of an improved social standing, throughout his life.

In Far from the Madding Crowd , Gabriel makes the transition from landowner to wage laborer overnight. One minute he is comfortable enough to ask for Bathsheba’s hand; the next, he is turning his farm over to the creditors and becomes an itinera n t worker. Troy loves Fanny, but he is an opportunist and primarily desires Bathsheba’s wealth and position. When Bathsheba considers marrying Boldwood, who proposes to pay off Troy’s debts, it is as “a mere business compact.”

Hardy (1840-1928) wrote in his 1895 preface to the novel: “The change at the root of this has been the recent supplanting of the class of stationary cottagers, who carried on the local traditions and humours, by a population of more or less migratory labourers, which has led to a break of continuity in local history, more fatal than any other thing to the preservation of legend, folk-lore, close inter-social relations, and eccentric individualities. For these the indispensable conditions of existence are attachment to the soil of one particular spot by generation after generation.” This was a period of vast industrialization, urbanization and the decline of rural society, which Hardy sought to grapple with.

With his movie version of the novel, director Vinterberg (best known for The Celebration, 1998) has created a work that is fortunately some distance removed from the subjectivist and narcissistic Dogme 95 group, which he founded with fellow Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, and some distance removed from Vinterberg’s own dreadful Dear Wendy, 2004, scripted by Trier.

His Far from the Madding Crowd is respectfully done and drenched in pretty images. But when landscape panoramas play such a dominant role, it is usually at the expense of thought-provoking content. In this case, the film’s default setting is an ahistorical feminism; and laden with a modernist sensibility, historical imagination is barely in play here.

Most of the work’s strengths lie in what the movie is not—it is not bombastic or toxic. It is not violent. It does not bore one with gratuitous sex, etc … Rather than a determined search to locate what’s universal in the novel through concrete historical treatment, the movie is essentially a series of personal relationships, with no particular historical or social significance.

Both Mulligan as Bathsheba and Schoenaerts as Gabriel spend an inordinate amount of time in gazing mode—the human equivalent of the film’s preoccupation with scenery—although one suspects the Belgian-born Schoenaerts is otherwise a fine actor. Sheen is always striking, but his Boldwood strains, no doubt because the actor must fill in too many blanks. Jessica Barden as Liddy—Bathsheba’s maid—is amusing and endearing in the film’s opening sequences, but recedes into the background for most of the movie. Sturridge as Troy barely makes a ripple.

In comparing Vinterberg’s interpretation with British director John Schlesinger’s well-known 1967 version of Far from the Madding Crowd, the most significant difference is that Schlesinger’s nearly three-hour film, although uneven and occasionally awkward, retains more of the novel than Vinterberg’s movie.

Graced with a remarkable cast—Julie Christie as Bathsheba, Alan Bates as Gabriel, Peter Finch as Boldwood and Troy marvelously performed by Terence Stamp—Schlesinger’s work does not tend to scrub away the novel’s tension-filled rough edges. And, unlike Vinterberg, Schlesinger attempts to maintain the humor of the lower rustic classes, an important element in Hardy’s classic, embodied by characters such as Matthew Moon and Joseph Poorgrass. Vinterberg comes close with Liddy, but is not really interested in concentrating on this social layer.

Also treated more effectively by Schlesinger is the pivotal, wrenching scene when Troy discovers Fanny and their child in a coffin in Bathsheba’s house. Horribly, Troy tells Bathsheba: “This woman [Fanny] is more to me, dead as she is, than you ever were, or are, or can be … I am not morally yours.” In the new movie, the scene is fairly brief and tepid, devoid of the requisite dramatic punch, much to the work’s overall detriment.

A great deal of effort and talent has been expended to make an agreeable and rather forgettable trifle.

 

Love & Mercy

Love & Mercy, directed by Bill Pohlad; screenplay by Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner, based on the life of Brian Wilson

[Reposted from our coverage of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.]

I keep looking for a place to fit / Where I can speak my mind / I’ve been trying hard to find the people / That I won’t leave behind / They say I got brains / But they ain’t doing me no good / I wish they could,” Brian Wilson sings in “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times,” a song on The Beach Boys’ seminal album,Pet Sounds, released in 1966.

Love & Mercy

Wilson was, in fact, very much made for “these times,” as his remarkable music and the widespread popular response to it over the years so clearly demonstrate. However, he was definitely not made to conform to—or escape intact—the soul-crushing music industry in “these times.”

Attempting to tackle the pop genius’ complicated history, director Bill Pohlad’s biopic Love and Mercy divides Wilson’s life into two different phases: the early Beach Boys years, including the artist’s acute mental collapse, and the more recent decades when Wilson is rescued from the clutches of a Machiavellian psychiatrist by his future wife Melinda. The movie cuts back and forth between the two periods. The younger Brian is played by Paul Dano, while Wilson’s older self is played by John Cusack. Elizabeth Banks plays Melinda and Paul Giamatti is the manipulative Dr. Eugene Landy.

The film is at its most interesting and creative when it tries to dissect Wilson’s inner turmoil. The scenes featuring Dano are more intricate and convincing than those with Cusack, which tend to be rather conventional, even superficial. Unfortunately, Love and Mercy makes little effort to grapple with the postwar social climate and conditions in America that produced such an extraordinary figure. This helps account for the movie’s relative thinness.

To Pohlad’s credit, he does capture something of Wilson’s manic search for musical perfection. A segment in Love and Mercy corresponds to the statement Wilson has posted on his web site: “I would have the musicians keep playing over and over again till the sound made sense. I worked overtime on that; I worked hours to get it right. If the sound didn’t make any sense, then I wouldn’t know what to do—I’d be lost! It’s instinct that tells me. I have an instinct for music, or a feeling about it, and I’ll have my feelings guide my hands.”

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/06/12/farf-j12.html

How Austerity Killed the Humanities

Not long ago, the Right fought viciously over the teaching of the humanities in American universities. Now conservatives are trying to eliminate them altogether.

BY ANDREW HARTMAN

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Few people are nostalgic for those culture wars because they were a fight between implacable foes. But in retrospect, perhaps we would do well to remember a time when all sides of a national debate believed that a humanities-based education was crucial to the survival of a democracy.

In the 1980s and 1990s, debates over the humanities were a major component of American political discourse. On the one side were conservative traditionalists who believed that all American college students should read the Western Canon—the greatest books of the Western mind since Aristotle—as a foundation for democratic living. On the other side were academic multiculturalists who believed that a humanities education should be more comprehensive and should thus include texts authored by minority, female, and non-western writers.

Those debates of the ‘80s and ‘90s were heated. Indeed, they were a major front in what came to be known as “culture wars” between merciless foes. Yet all sides in these culture wars believed a humanities education—history, literature, languages, philosophy—was inherently important in a democratic society. In short, the humanities were taken for granted. In our current age of austerity, this is no longer the case. Many Americans no longer think the humanities worthy of public support. This is especially true of conservatives, who in their quest to cut off state support to higher education have abandoned the humanities entirely.

Take the state of Wisconsin, for example. In early February, Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker drafted a draconian state budget that proposed to decrease the state’s contribution to the University of Wisconsin system by over $300 million over the next two years. Beyond simply slashing spending, Walker was also attempting to alter the language that has guided the core mission of the University of Wisconsin over the last 100 years or more, known as the “Wisconsin Idea.” Apparently Walker’s ideal university would no longer “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses” and would thus cease its “search for truth” and its efforts to “improve the human condition,” as his proposed language changes scrapped these ideas entirely; the governor’s scaled-back objective was for the university to merely “meet the state’s workforce needs.”

When a draft of Walker’s proposed revisions to the Wisconsin Idea surfaced, outraged Wisconsinites (including some conservatives) compelled the governor to backtrack. Yet Walker’s actions are consistent with recent trends in conservative politics. Republicans today are on the warpath against education—particularly against the humanities, those academic disciplines where the quaint pursuit of knowledge about “the human condition” persists.

In 2012, Florida Governor Rick Scott proposed a law making it more expensive for students enrolled at Florida’s public universities to obtain degrees in the humanities. As Scott and his supporters argued, in austere times, they needed “to lash higher education to the realities and opportunities of the economy,” as Florida Republican and State Senate President Don Gaetz put it. In other words, a humanities degree, unlike a business degree, was a luxury good. Even President Obama joined this chorus when he half-joked recently that students with vocational training are bound to make more money than art history majors.

Such anti-intellectualism, a strong animus against the idea that learning about humanity is a worthy pursuit regardless of its lack of obvious labor market applicability, has deep roots in American history. President Theodore Roosevelt advised that “we of the United States must develop a system under which each individual citizen shall be trained so as to be effective individually as an economic unit, and fit to be organized with his fellows so that he and they can work in efficient fashion together.” Contemporary conservatives are thus merely following the crude utilitarian logic that has informed many politicians and educational reformers since the nation’s first common schools.

But it was not always thus. During the 1980s and 1990s, prominent conservatives like William Bennett, who served in the Reagan administration as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities and then as Secretary of Education, argued that every American should have an education grounded in the humanities. This surprising recent history is largely forgotten, and not only because most conservatives now dismiss the value of the humanities. It is forgotten because the arguments forwarded by Bennett and his ilk came in the context of the traumatic culture wars, when left and right angrily battled over radically different visions of a humanities education.

Few people are nostalgic for those culture wars because they were a fight between implacable foes. But in retrospect, perhaps we would do well to remember a time when all sides of a national debate believed that a humanities-based education was crucial to the survival of a democracy.

As a leading conservative culture warrior, Bennett held a traditionalist vision of the humanities. He believed the Western canon—which he defined in the terms of Matthew Arnold as “the best that has been said, thought, written, and otherwise expressed about the human experience”—should be the philosophical bedrock of the nation’s higher education.

“Because our society is the product and we the inheritors of Western civilization,” Bennett matter-of-factly contended, “American students need an understanding of its origins and development, from its roots in antiquity to the present.”

Most academics in humanities disciplines like English and history, in contrast, took a more critical stance towards the Western canon. They believed it too Eurocentric and male-dominated to properly reflect modern American society and thus revised it by adding books authored by women and minorities. Toni Morrison was to sit alongside Shakespeare. As literary theorist Jane Tompkins told a reporter from The New York Times Magazine in 1988, the struggle to revise the canon was a battle “among contending factions for the right to be represented in the picture America draws of itself.”

Many college students agreed with the canon revisionists. In 1986, Bill King, president of the Stanford University Black Student Union, formally complained to the Stanford academic senate that the university’s required Western Civilization reading list was racist. “The Western culture program as it is presently structured around a core list and an outdated philosophy of the West being Greece, Europe, and Euro-America is wrong, and worse,” he contended, “it hurts people mentally and emotionally in ways that are not even recognized.” Stanford students opposed to the Western Civilization curriculum marched and chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture’s got to go,” and the academic senate approved mild changes to the core reading list that they hoped would satisfy the understandable demands of their increasingly diverse student body.

A sensationalist media made Stanford’s revisions seem like a proxy for the death of the West. Newsweek titled a story on the topic “Say Goodbye Socrates.” University of Chicago philosopher Allan Bloom wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal editor in 1989—two years after his book, The Closing of the American Mind, made a rigorous if eccentric case for a classic humanities education rooted in the Western canon—in which he argued the Stanford revisions were a travesty: “This total surrender to the present and abandonment of the quest for standards with which to judge it are the very definition of the closing of the American mind, and I could not hope for more stunning confirmation of my thesis.”

Bloom believed that a humanities education should provide students with “four years of freedom,” which he described as “a space between the intellectual wasteland he has left behind and the inevitable dreary professional training that awaits him after the baccalaureate.” Liberals and leftists might have been sympathetic to such an argument had Bloom not dismissed texts authored by women, minorities, and non-westerners as lacking merit compared to the great books authored by those like Socrates who composed the Western canon.

In retrospect, these culture wars over the humanities are rather remarkable artifacts of a history that feels increasingly distant. Whether Stanford University ought to assign John Locke or the anticolonial theorist Frantz Fanon, a debate that played out on The Wall Street Journal editorial page in 1988, would be nonsensical in today’s neoliberal climate marked by budget cuts and other austerity measures. Now Locke and Fanon find themselves for the first time on the same side—and it’s looking more and more like the losing one. On the winning side? Well, to take but one example, Winning, General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s breezy management book, which is widely read in American business schools. Sadly, even the almighty Western canon, revised or not, seems feeble up against Winning and the cult of business. Conservative defenders of the humanities are voices in the wilderness. The philistines are on the march.

The culture wars over the humanities that dominated discussion of higher education in the 1980s and 1990s had enduring historical significance. Shouting matches about academia reverberated beyond the ivory tower to lay bare a crisis of national faith. Was America a good nation? Could the nation be good—could its people be free—without foundations? Were such foundations best provided by a classic liberal education in the humanities, which Matthew Arnold described as “the best that has been thought and said”? Was the “best” philosophy and literature synonymous with the canon of Western Civilization? Or was the Western canon racist and sexist? Was the “best” even a valid category for thinking about texts? Debates over these abstract questions rocked the nation’s institutions of higher education, demonstrating that the culture wars did not boil down to any one specific issue or even a set of issues. Rather, the culture wars often hinged on a more epistemological question about national identity: How should Americans think?

But in our current age of austerity, Americans are not asked to think about such questions at all. Neoliberalism is fine with revised canons—with a more inclusive, multicultural vision of the humanities. But neoliberalism is not fine with public money supporting something so seemingly useless. American conservatives have abandoned their traditionalist defense of the Western canon in favor of no canon at all.

ANDREW HARTMAN

Andrew Hartman is associate professor of history at Illinois State University and author, most recently, of A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars.

 

http://inthesetimes.com/article/17962/how-austerity-killed-the-humanities