2020s, culture, education, In My Opinion, inspiration, movies

IMO: 20 Years Later

I feel a silver lining to the COVID experience is it has allowed me to stop the merry-go-round to pause, reflect, and prioritize. This has brought to the surface tapped down memories and feelings and discussions around the table. The not-so-good feelings, the spiders on the wall–my 4 D’s: delusion, denial, deprecation, and depression have followed me around all my life. Then there are the good parts of me, the virtues: initiative, perceptiveness, diligence, and loyalty. In short, at worst, I’m a neurotic dreamer. At best, in a past life, I was probably a dog. Ha!

One boring day, my daughter and I took a free Myers-Briggs personality test. I’m a BDNF. I’m rare, they said. I’m John Snow. An Eleanor Roosevelt. A Gandi. Wow. That’s flattering, but there’s guilt that I haven’t done much in light of their accomplishments. Except for John Snow. He was a boring character in Game of Thrones. I do feel, however, that in a past life I was Brienne of Tarth. Speaking of boredom, after ravishing through Season 4 of The Last Kingdom and gulping down Season 5 of Outlander, I decided to rewatch the GoT series when I couldn’t remember much of what happened in the first four seasons. I must say, I am having fun. During COVID, my time is spent babysitting, reading, writing, and researching. I need a bolt of fun in the evening. 

In the 1990s, when I was in my thirties and at college, I wanted to become a professor at the community college level. A professor warned me to get my teaching degree at the secondary level while I worked on my Master’s. He predicted the market would become saturated, and it would be tough to get a full-time position as a professor. “Everyone’s going to college. Those Ph.D. grads that don’t get hired at the university level? Guess what? The junior colleges pick them up, thus making a Master’s degree the value of a bachelor’s degree.” Well, he was right. Imagine being a single parent! Yikes! No wonder I was frazzled, and the 1990s and 2000s were a blur. My adult life is like Game of Thrones. I know I lived through it, but why can’t I remember anything? COVID allowed me to revisit the seasons to see if I held up over time. 

Still, I have taught at both levels simultaneously for twenty years. I’ve been a hole-filler adjunct since 2000. I’ve taught at the high school level since 1999. I didn’t want to be a high school teacher. But I did it. I have six more years to go. All my student loans will be paid off, and I can retire with a pension. I did not want to run this marathon race, but I’m almost at the finish line, and grand vacations await.

When you are “becoming” something, it’s easy to believe that it is your destiny. When you fall into a career you did not want, it is easy to believe you were shortchanged. After twenty years, it’s all okay. Once I was obtuse. Now it is clear that God wanted me to have this career because I am very good at it. Don’t ask me about the paradigm-shifting, acronym-gathering, administrative micro-managing parts of the profession. None of it bothers me anymore. I just smile and carry on. 

The time spent in seclusion has allowed me to feel grateful for my career. I feel the honor of getting to know the saintly students–those who will most likely succeed with the straightest trajectory, and the sandpaper students–those who have interesting personalities and circumvent the norm. My school asked teachers to create a short video message for the graduating seniors. Who knows what will happen to our school when we resume on August 1. I thought it might be interesting for you to see the real me and hear my voice. I may be getting old, but I’m safe. I’m one of the good guys, and I’ve got their backs. Hail, Brienne of Tarth!

2010s, culture, In My Opinion, movies

IMO: Extremism is the New Reality

I assume the intellectual set has come up with the term for today’s obsession for extremism representing the last decade in television and filmmaking. Or is this post-post-post modernism? Netflix and Amazon, HBO, to name a few, have kicked the shins of the traditional format for movie making and television. They don’t have to abide by FCC rules. FCC rules found here. The result? Cable television has few restrictions, if at all. Their influence has had a dramatic effect.

1. Nudity and sex are commonplace.

2. Profanity has never been raunchier.

3. Deviant behavior storylines abound.

4. Apocalyptic storylines abound.

5. There is no God.

By now I’m guessing you think I’m a prude and ultra-Conservative suggesting we reinstate a censorship board to protect the virtues inherent in children and society as a whole. Like in the 80s when the moral majority attempted to control the hair bands by censoring their music with a warning label.

NO. I’m not on a soapbox trying to persuade you that amorality has us enthralled. I’m saying we are desensitized. Like blogging and self-publishing, we are inundated with choices. The speed at which the removal of barriers, not for the purpose of telling a story that needs to be heard, but for the shock value to hook us, is akin to the rush of cocaine to distance oneself from the boredom of normalcy. The barriers I’m referring to are 1 – 5 above. 

For the record, narratives of varying viewpoints are welcome. Go LGBT. My idea of deviance is a storyline about torture. Especially children. (Absentia, The Alienist). Nudity and Sex in all its variations. Game of Thrones. Westworld. The use of extreme profanity. Even The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has its raunchy moments. Pick your series!

Take Netflix’s new hit, The Russian Doll, for instance. Created by Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler, and Leslye Headland, it is a dark comedy-drama that has a smart, highly entertaining storyline. Natasha Lyonne’s character Nadia describes herself as “If Andrew Dice Clay and Merida from Brave had a child…” referencing the Disney heroine with big red hair along with the 80s NY comedian who was banned for his crass and rowdy routine. (Since A Star is Born, his raunchy routine redux tour has sold out.)

I focused on the Mindbender aspects of the story when I watched season 1 and tried hard to ignore the extreme profanity and casual sex and substance abuse like it was a mainstream part of life. It’s obviously made for a mature audience, but like the previous examples, the access to them is unrestricted. The story for select audiences becomes mainstream. 

As a teacher,  I have seen students watch this before, during lunch, and after school, because they heard it was really good. I have to confiscate phones daily. Students will plug their buds in their ears and tune in to their phone during the middle of class. They are addicted to extremism. And it can’t compete with learning. Learning a subject takes imagination and repetitious practice and active engagement.

Dragons and witches will rule in April with the advent of Game of Thrones. Who does the storyline target? Banging sex is a part of the package. It’s hard to watch students obsessed with it during school hours. I’m betting elementary and middle school kids have seen it, too.

It’s the stripping of inference and the death of imagination for the sake of extremism that has me concerned. When you reposition what was once behind closed doors to the center stage and put it up on a platform for all to see, especially children & teenagers, the loss of innocence has me wondering what price will we pay for this new liberation? 

Can you imagine films and television in the next ten to twenty years? What happens when there is no more envelope to push? Taboos a thing of the past? Do we need taboos in society? Or will it one day be okay to watch child sex in a television series and sadomasochism and bestiality?

“Restriction” has now become the foulest word in the English language followed closely behind “moderation”.

I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock and film noir. Talk about gritty, deviant storylines. I know Hitch was restricted by the studio system (probably a good thing) because it caused him to tell a creepy story by using devices that activated the imagination. I enjoy historical fiction, science fiction, and mysteries. I crave complicated characters and smart dialogue. Tell the story. Please, don’t forget the underrated technique of subtlety.

The point: films and television series have pushed the envelope off the table with unnecessary jolting language and abusive or sexual situations to the mainstream.

What films or television series do you notice embrace the extreme? If you took out the extreme elements would the storyline suffer?  

1920s, 1930s, actors, Are You Not Entertained?, art, books, culture, documentary, Film Spotlight, movies, photography, Read This

Are You Not Entertained?

How many times a day do you seek to be entertained? It is elusive. It is dangerous. The rush of stimulus bombards us. The mob mentality of pop culture is easily distracting and much is nonsense. Yet, I love music and books and movies and have no intention of stopping my search for fine entertainment. Here continues a monthly series of the entertainment that has occupied my time, for better or worse.

MUSIC 

eagles1

Former member Don Felder, who complained about his place in the hierarchy as an Eagle, including this documentary from 2013 in which he co-starred, was a constant thorn in the side of Glenn Frey, but that’s only one element of the long, complicated marriage, divorce, and reconciliation of the 1970s band, The Eagles, explained by everyone in the band. The birth of classic rock stations erupted to carry their songs forward after The Eagles disbanded in 1980, and when they reunited in 1994 for their Hell Freezes Over tour, fans were ecstatic. Even if you don’t care for their harmonies or musicianship (Really?), I find it hard to think about the 1970s without them. In the 1980s, Glenn Frey and Don Henley pursued single careers, but I respect their work more as group members of The Eagles whose success and influence in the history of Rock and Roll are undeniable. We’ve all heard “Hotel California” probably 300 times, but when I’m alone in my car with the windows down, and the sun is thinking about setting, the guitar harmonies of Joe Walsh and Felder still resonate and transport me back to the pleasure and pain of younger days. I highly recommend it for those who know little about them, forgot a little, or have loved them for decades. RIP Glenn. What a collection of beloved celebrities who have passed in 2016!  5/5.

Winding_Stream

As an American history buff, I love social history, so what could be more fun than looking at our great-grandparents values and feelings through the lens of music? Therefore, The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music captured my imagination. Many are aware that Rock and Roll has been heavily influenced by Gospel and Country, which fused the chords and set the seeds to influence future giants like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and a host of British invaders who appreciated the musicianship and heartfelt songs. I can’t say I’m a big country music fan, but I respect its place, its singers, and I admire the pluck of “Big Daddy” Brinkley who created a national audience from a “border town of Del Rio, Texas, (and) set up a new radio station across the river in Mexico. With 500 kilowatts of broadcasting power, XERA was ten times as powerful as the biggest American stations, which were forced to live within the federal ceiling of 50 kilowatts. Its signal easily reached all forty-eight states, not to mention much of Canada, and within a few years spawned a slew of copycat border stations.” Read more about the Carter Family and XERA found here:  PBS.ORG, THE CARTER FAMILY

Or, rent and watch Beth Harrington‘s 2014 informative documentary.  4/5. 

Speaking of Documentaries…

People criticize the attention and profits made by the discovery of photographer, Vivian Maier. The questions raised in the 2014 documentary Finding Vivian Maier cannot compete with the woman and her captivating photography. There is a mystery surrounding this nanny-recluse who played a life-long game as a secret observer of people and treasure hoarder. When she died in 2009, obscure and alone in Chicago, director John Maloof and Charlie Siskel pulled the threads and discovered an amazing story about this 20th Century version of Emily Dickinson. Both were shy, atypical, prolific artists caught in the moment of creating poems and pictures than selling themselves. Posthumously, their art soared in popularity. In Vivian’s case, right or wrong, her work is admired around the world. It’s the complexity of Vivian that makes the documentary compelling. I disliked the directors filming themselves in the narrative. Their inclusion was offputting. The people who employed her and the children she nannied have warm as well as alarming stories that create a haunting portrayal of a very talented woman who was fiercely independent and bizarre. Would she mind the hoopla surrounding her work? She lives through her work as a ghost, garnering admiration without intimacy, and somehow I think she would like that.  4.5/5 

Check out her photography at http://www.vivianmaier.com

BOOKS 

1_27_the-wright-brothers (1)

David McCullough‘s easy style is graceful, well-researched, and entertaining. He’s my go-to historian regarding all things U.S. History. The Wright Brothers(2015) continues Professor McCullough’s elite reputation for portraying the human side of famous Americans. Orville and Wilbur are two boys from Ohio who are armchair scholars and possessed a drive to achieve flight. Their family helped shape them. Their father was a minister and their sister a Latin teacher. They shared the same house, and they shared the trait of inquisitiveness. All were all productive and supportive. It’s the Wright Brothers who attain the fame and the patents. Their trials at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, surviving mosquito swarms, and wind storms while they practiced their contraptions was my favorite section. Once they flew, you would think the story was over. But their involvement with the French and the U.S. military adds depth to their plane story as it gave flight to the First World War. 4/5

TELEVISION 

Game of Thrones Seasons 1 – 4. 

(Spoilers) Now here’s  a guilty pleasure. I love the cinematography and the developed characters. I love the Magical Realism. Yay for Giants and three-eyed crows. Was I glad when Joffrey died? You bet. Was I troubled when Khaleesi frees the slaves only to chain up her dragons? Yep. Was I sad John Snow’s red-headed wildling died in battle? Yes!  If I had a broadsword would I stab Ramsey Bolton for torturing Theon? In a second. I will miss The Hound. Which character would I be in the series?  Gwendoline Christy’s Brienne of Tarth. I love everything about her.  Obviously, I’m hooked with the Medieval soap-opera which must find room to show a bum and boob in every episode. Thankfully, they have also included chunks of dialogue to develop the characters (i.e., brothers Jaime & Tyrion in the cell, bonding over the simpleton who beat the beetles). They all have good qualities and disgusting qualities which make them very human. Tyrion is an original character you don’t often get to see on television. His smarts and kindness and retribution are very interesting to watch. What’s there not to like? Probably the violence. And if you have something against boobs and buns. However, it’s more than a junior high video game. It’s wonderfully done with characters I care about and root for. Now on to season 5. Don’t tell me what happens. 4.5/5