January 22, 2009

Some Thoughts on Barack Obama’s Inauguration

Posted in politics, society tagged at 1:03 pm by degyes

Here are some thoughts I had this morning in response to the assertion, made by some, that Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency is just that–the attainment of high office–with no deeper significance in terms of the (perhaps gradual) erosion of overt racism in the United States, a view with which I do not agree.

In 1984, when Jesse Jackson made a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, there were whites who expressed themselves quite openly — USA Today ‘man on the street’ opinion page, Donahue and other talk shows — that they “don’t believe America is ready for a black man” to be president. Plain and simple. There was no sense of cultural sanction that prevented them from expressing themselves that way. Now I’m not claiming that America has seen the last of racial bigotry, ethnic tension, or just plain nastiness, by any means (some even say it may get worse if the Obama presidency sours or fails). But I can say that such a “we’re not ready” view would probably not even be expressed out in the open today, for fear of social sanction. Yes, there are individuals and groups who may be “openly” bigoted when amongst their own, but they’ll keep themselves in check when in polite company. This was not so much the case when I was growing up, and wasn’t even on the horizon when my folks were kids. To me that signifies a change, a slow change perhaps, but progress nonetheless.

Let it be stated, for the record that no, I did not support Obama in his bid for the presidency, but at the same time recognize the profound significance of his attaining that office. I wish him success.

January 19, 2009

Of Chickens and Changelings

Posted in entertainment tagged , , , , , , , , at 5:02 pm by degyes

Although there wasn’t necessarily anything distinctly remarkable about this film, apart from being well-acted with very good special effects that gave you a decent — if a bit artificial — 1920’s feel, I feel compelled to post a blog on my reactions to this movie. This film freaked me out, plain and simple, in a way that I haven’t been freaked by a film in several years. The last film to leave me with such a reaction (perhaps a stronger one) was NaPolA, which told the story of boys in an elite Nazi-era school.

Anyway, in The Changeling (2006), Angelina Jolie portrays Christine Collins, the mother of one of the boys abducted, and most likely murdered, by Gordon Northcott, who was convicted of confining and then brutally killing several boys in the L.A. area between 1928 and 1930. There were probably several more whom he killed for which he was not convicted due to the manner in which he succeeded in destroying much of the evidence. What was unique about Christine Collins, was that her son, Walter Collins, who was reported missing the night that he disappeared, was “returned” to her six months later, apparently as part of a publicity stunt by the badly corrupt and much publicly maligned LAPD. However, the boy returned to Mrs. Collins was in fact a double (whom she loses no time in identifying as a fake), named Arthur Hutchins. Thus the title, “Changeling.”

Anyway, leaving aside some of the historical inaccuracies (for instance, according to Wikipedia, Northcot’s mom, revealed at trial to be is grandmother, was involved in the killings; however, this character never appeared in the film), the movie succeeded cinematically. Read more about that on IMDB, or wherever you get your film reviews. I’ve learned — and I frequently remind myself — that we don’t go to Hollywood to be informed, let alone educated, but rather to be entertained. The brief glimpses at the manner and method of the Northcott killings was chilling, although what was particularly painful was the outright helplessness and innocence of his victims, little kids who where picked up and abducted by Northcott with the aid of his younger cousin, Sanford Clark, who was pressed into service as Northcott’s unwilling (and sexually abused) accomplice. Beyond that, the scenes at the psychiatric hospital (wash-down, syphilis test, electro-convulsive “therapy”) were upsetting enough. However, what was particularly disturbing — and what has left me mulling over this film for days afterward — was the use of administrative psychiatric confinement as a tool by which unscrupulous (and downright evil) authority figures were conveniently “putting away” those who might cause them embarrassment, undermine their already sullied public image, and hinder their careers. There’s that unfortunate characteristic of human nature where even in cases of clear victimization, we try to think “what could this person have done to avoid this unfortunate situation?” And yet the only thing Christine Collins could have done would have been to shut up and accept the Hutchnis boy as her son’s replacement, and avoid the LAPD characters (Captain Jones, and his medical accomplices).

What was also galling was the willing participation of medical authorities (pediatrician, psychiatrist, psych ward staff) who conspired to go along with the corrupt LAPD officials in trying to cow Collins into believing that Hutchins was really her son, confining her to the ward, and subjecting her to the horrors of crude and unnecessary tests and “treatments.”

Anyway, this has been more or less a therapeutic exercise for me at this point. If you’ve got the stomach for it (or if you’ll watch anything with Angelina Jolie), go see the film. If not, suffice it to read the Wikipedia article, or whatever other literature is available on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. I’ll be avoiding chicken for the next few days (maybe weeks), at least until the main brunt of the images is out of my head.

By the way, for all that I’ve described about the plot, I really haven’t given away any spoilers, since it’s obvious from the beginning that the “changeling” isn’t the Collins boy.