Thursday, March 09, 2006

Crystal Lake Park District Re-Votes: OKs Gay Games

The Trib covers the re-vote.

Board President Jerry Sullivan, who was absent for the first vote, cast the deciding vote in favor of the games. Now the City Councils of Lakewood and Crystal Lake (the two bordering municipalities) will vote on whether to allow the games by restricting wakes on the lakes during the events.

The same two members of the board, David Phelps and Scott Breeden again voted against allowing the event.

They commented:
"I have been threatened," Breeden said. "I have been called names I do not appreciate. To be called a homophobe and names just because I'm trying to represent the people who elected me, I feel uncomfortable."

"I was not elected to be park commissioner to the world," Phelps said. "I was elected to represent the people of Crystal Lake."

Of course, I am appalled to hear of any substantial threats that Breeden may have received, although I would like to hear what these threats were. After all, the rest of his statement is so ridiculous, it does call into question his judgement. He reflects that part of our society that will happily perform acts of bigotry and then became up said when they are called "bigots". If the people of Crystal Lake are homophobic and these men choose to represent their constituency, I would wish that they at least have the courage to say, "Yes, we have performed homophobic acts, but we did them as proud representatives of our homophobic community!"

As to the common complaint that "sports should not be about a sexual/political agenda", I think this exchange highlights the viewpoints quite well:

George Stasiak of Crystal Lake said the name "Gay Games" is offensive because no one should flaunt his or her sexuality in public.

On Wednesday, Baim said the name is not about sexuality.

"There's not a need for a `Heterosexual Games' because heterosexual people are not oppressed and killed for who they are and who they love," Baim said.

Sadly, we can see this reality even in this victory of Gay Games proponents, Co-Chairperson of the Games, Tracy Baim:

She also pledged that organizers would spend the next four months trying to soothe any lingering concerns about the event.

Think about this: Remember when you reserved the park for your company BBQ, or your child played Little League their during the summer?

There was no need to spend the months preceding the event ensure people that your contingent wouldn't ruin the park and corrupt the community. You weren't stereotyped based on historical prejudices against your group.

If we look at history, one would wonder why we don't prevent straight, conservative, European Americans from using parks--they sure haven't demonstrated a talent at playing well with others and sharing civic resources...

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Winner "Crash"'s Tolerance has Its Limits

Discussion on Mixed Media Watch

Crash on Tavis Smiley's program here

Liz and I kind of half-heartedly watched the Oscars tonight--she was studying and I wrote while half-paying attention to what was going on.

I was happy to see Ang Lee's victory in the best director category--he did a masterful job making "Brokeback Mountain", a movie I want to revist in a later write-up.

Liz was also elated to see her favorite actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, take the Best Actor award. We especially liked his acceptance speech in which he shared some moments from his childhood to show love to his mother, who raised him and his three siblings by himself. I hope people remember that the next time they get the itch to demonize single parents. Also, I think it demonstrates how much better entertainment the Awards are when it's not all canned dialogue and people all giving each other Masturbatory Back-Slaps.

We did feel a little disappointment with the multiple awards given to "Crash", a movie that was long on self-promotion by the director, who really believed that he had made some kind of miracle work.

We went to see it in the theatres when it first came out and we quite underimpressed. There were three main problems we had with it:
The writers were really trying their best, but they came up short in the empathy department. The racist whites were portrayed empathetically, and some of the other characters as well, but not all of the them. The couple of Asian descent were especially poorly portrayed, as they were one-dimensional stereotypes. Seriously, I know they live somewhere in there, but have the filmmakers actually been awake and in LA? I think there are some real Asian Americans for them to model three-dimensional characters after...

The handling of the sexual assault was especially bad. We didn't buy that saving someone's life would make up for the initial assault and in a way, it seemed like a cheap ploy by the writers to justify a rape fantasy. The victim's response, while well acted seemed utterly ridiculously written and was rather upsetting.

Finally, the crowd response was not what the filmmakers had promised. The predominantly white crowd did not seem the least bit introspective on issues of race and rather laughed at many of the racist stereotyping in the film and didn't seem the least bit uncomfortable about that. They practically cackled with glee as misfortune befell the characters.

In the end, we tried to view the movie in perspective--we are all seekers to become better citizens, but perhaps it was aimed at people with a more shallow understanding of race issues. I wanted to believe the filmmaker that perhaps without that deeper empathy, the film would still reach mainstream Americans who were complicit with institutional racism, but the message didn't even seem to reach that point. It basically was just a "there's racism around and none of us is perfect on this, except the filmmakers" message, but didn't challenge anyone to explore or initiate the dialogue it promised.

Seeing the filmmakers tell their anecdotes about shallow racial awakenings like they were some kind of parables made me think of "Aren't I a special white boy?" syndrome. I especially found the scenes of a black couple on screen debating "blackness" with words written by others, creepy. It didn't bother me that the writers were white. It bothered me that they seemed to not have a deeper understanding and happened to be white.

I'm sick of people, including white people themselves, treating whites like they are special just for doing anything when it comes to the issues of race. Racial inequities hurt everyone, including the ethnic majority group. They should be as enthusiastic to learn about these issues as anyone else. In my opinion, to pat them on the head for poor achievement is patronizing and not respectful to white folks.

I don't want "Crash" to win "they aren't total morons on race and that's awesome" awards. I want to see it challenged as the filmmakers were when they appeared on Tavis Smiley's program. Smiley did a great job getting Maxine Waters and another community activist to challenge the filmmakers to see that these racial issues are daily and constant for much of the community.

And I guess that's where I feel like I should step back. Because although they were overmatched, didn't appear to entirely do their homework, and seemed to be writing from a place where privilege was limiting their empathy, they still did have to write the movie and for the few days on Smiley's show they were actually discussing it on a level to educate people. Even if that's as far as it went, it's still something that they deserve credit for. After all, how many movies even do that much for our society plagued with race problems, but scared to death to talk about or even acknowledge their existence?

But still, even in the Smiley discussion, they avoid the fact that the film for all its parading of "tolerance" has no interest or empathy left for Asian Americans.

Angry Asian Man had explains in detail some of his concerns about the 1-dimensional depictions of Asian Americans here.

Meanwhile, Memoirs of a Geisha won three Oscars for some nerdy technical shit. It still sucked as a movie and as an atrocious vehicle for Orientalist fetishization. What does it tell you when you get a great sound and music crew, sets and costumes staff and your movie STILL totally reeks?

Two new movies with Mos Def

Mos Def, half of one of the greatest politically conscious hip-hop groups of all-time, Black Star, is in two new movies this week, "16 Blocks" and "Dave Chappelle's Block Party".

Both films got favorable reviews from Ebert:
16 Blocks review
Dave Chappelle's Block Party review

I was a little sorry to see Ebert so dismissive of hip-hop music, but as usual, even when his tastes dictate an aversion to something, he is still able to be reflective about his own tastes and the universal merit of what he is looking at.

Ebert discusses a little the impact that signing his $50 million contract with Comedy Central may have had on Chappelle. Chappelle was in an impossible situation as a high-paid performer with a social conscious whose largest fan base was aversive white racists. How do you walk that tightrope?

Conservatives go after teacher for his political views

Audio Here

Before I get into this, let me say that I'm fully aware of the necessity of NOT indoctrinating your students and kids with your political beliefs. It's been my experience that the most powerful visionaries in society, regardless of place on the political spectrum, become strong through the development of their own political ideology through strong questioning rather than mimicry of others' perspectives.

So I am not at all satisfied with a teaching culture that places teachers above students, responsible for transmitting "correct" knowledge to their charges, and I commend efforts to change that culture.

What we have in this story however is a group of conservatives who are not taking issue with indoctrination, but with indoctrination of views they disagree with. In this particular case, students have been very supportive of the teacher and say that they have learned a lot. Critics don't seem to care--they think that this man should be silenced because of his viewpoints not his lack of teaching ability.

Look at Michelle Malkin's take on the story, for example. She doesn't critique the points. She doesn't address the fact the student doesn't produce evidence to support his claims, or even display much knowledge on the history of the situation. She's basically mad that the teacher did his job by providing counter-evidence to the students' questions. She's not mad that the teacher was talking too much and not letting the students interject. Quite the opposite, she actually mocks the other student who speaks on the tape. You can't just hate on people because they disagree with you. You have to engage their points.

Furthermore, the student Allen, who is now some kind of hero to many on the right, is breaking the law. Personally, I don't care about that. I don't think he should be charged of any serious crime, and I realize there is a wealth of perspectives on the right. However, I do think the people who use the "if you don't break the law, you have nothing to worry about" line of argument need to check themselves at this point. By any definition I know of, this kid is a criminal, who taped a section of a person's workday without their permission and then turned it over to folks who have allowed their hatred for the points being made overcome their ability to evalate the situation.

So if you want to criticize this teacher for having a bad day, and being too teacher-centered, fine. If you don't agree with his politics, fine, engage him with the tools of a marketplace of ideas. But how ironic is it that Malkin and friends are claiming to be in favor of a free expression classroom while calling this teacher "Unhinged" and "needing medical help" simply for disagreeing or asking questions they don't want to hear?

They show a complete and utter lack of understanding of what makes a good teacher--it's not conservative or liberal viewpoints, but the ability to encourage students to ask critical questions and challenge the social conventions of their surrounding, liberal or conservative.

As a teacher, I argue points that I utterly disagree with all the time to help my students learn. They need to be able to discern between a credible argument and a poorly support one regardless of political bent.

Obviously, Malkin didn't get this care from her teachers when she was learning. I don't think she's "unhinged" or "needing medical help", but a mild injection of empathy sure wouldn't hurt.
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