Art & Culture

A general category addressing visual art, music, architecture, dance, etc.

Art May Be Its Own Reward, But Artists Need to be Paid

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Art is its own reward.
 
As Shakespeare once said about mercy:
 
“It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.”
 
Now don’t get me wrong. For those of us who make a living in the arts, we want to be fairly paid for our services. Many of my colleagues and I resent the fact that so many artists are not paid for their services, and are expected to ‘suffer’ or ‘starve for our art.’ Many in Congress and in the greater public believe that because we love what we do, we naturally would do it one way or another, and ultimately for free. And the sad thing is…that’s true. We do it for free every day. But for those of us who make our living off our art, it isn’t enough. We have bills to pay. We have rent and mortgages. We have families, and need to put food on our tables as well.
 
The difficult thing about having a career in the arts is that because nearly all of us began painting with our fingers, or sat through piano lessons, or dabbled in writing bad poetry, or maybe even landed the lead in the high school musical, we all think — to some extent — that we are artists. And you wouldn’t exactly be wrong. But you wouldn’t exactly be right either. Everyone has an artist within them, and all of us are capable of expression. To live a life of art is to love wildly, and to throw yourself into whatever you do. As human beings, we make art every day. No one should be denied the right to consider themselves an artist, and to put as much beauty into the world as they possibly can.
 
For some, art is a hobby. And that’s okay. Your mother may take art lessons, and enjoy painting on the side. Perhaps you’ve taken an improv class, and get a thrill every time you perform in your local improv troupe. And what community would be complete, without its share of committed amateur actors performing regularly in community theatre shows?
 
Yet, for those of us who make our living in the arts, we must not be confused with those who dabble. We must not be confused with those who have full time jobs, and enjoy creating art on the side. That is not to say that their efforts are any less than ours, but only that we have dedicated our lives to our craft, and spent countless hours — and money — becoming the artists that we are today.
 
I have three university degrees in theatre. I have worked in the business for well over 30 years. I have been in over 200 productions, and directed nearly 50. I have designed sets, and lights, and worked countless hours building scenery and hanging lights. The writer Malcolm Gladwell once said that to be an expert in any field, you must have spent at least 10,000 hours solely dedicated to the deliberate practice of your field. I have spent well over that many hours in the theatre. I have been doing this practically non-stop since I was six-years-old. I am an artist.
 
For me, art is a way of life. I have spent my life in pursuit of a dream. I have spent my life creating art, and constantly evaluating and reevaluating myself as an artist, and evolving in my craft. You see, that is the sign of an artist. There is nothing wrong with performing show after show, and getting a high off performing for your peers. But what separates the professional artist from the amateur, is that the artist must constantly evaluate, evolve, and hone their craft to perfection. Of course, there is no such thing. I mean, perfection in the way that Plato meant it, and how we as human beings aspire to it. We must allow themselves to be vulnerable, accept honest constructive feedback, and evaluate how effective our art is, and how we can always strive to be better. It takes hours and hours of self-reflection, and the kind of time and resources that others may not have. Or desire to give.
 
For those of us in the arts, we must be paid for our many hours of service to the field. This is not just a hobby for us — this is a way of life. I would never say that someone wasn’t an artist who creates art. But I would say that for many of us, we have committed every fiber of our being to making great art, and constantly having to reinvent ourselves as artists — and as people. We ‘suffer’ for our art, because it allows us to never be complacent, and always working to get better, and to produce more. It is not an easy or romantic life. It perhaps knows more hardship and rejection, than triumph and reward. Yet, we know no other life, and cannot imagine doing anything else.
 
There is art for art’s sake, and art is its own reward. But for those of us who make our living at it, we appreciate your support in helping us continue. By supporting the arts, you are blessing your lives with what we endeavored to create, and you are blessing us with the means to continue putting more beauty out into the world. By all means, keep creating, and sculpting your own piece of wonderment for this planet, but never confuse what some may do for free with what so many do for food. Because like you, we would do it for free. But we still need to pay the bills.
 
Please support the arts and pay your artists. ❤

Colin Kaepernick & Captain America: Two Caps Fighting Their Own Civil Wars

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Have you ever thought about the similarities between Colin Kaepernick and Captain America, who are both referred to as Cap (Kap)? Stay with me. I know it’s a stretch, but if you’ve seen Civil War, you know that Captain America defies popular public opinion, and defends a known criminal, openly defying Congress’s call to register all superheroes and “profile” America’s defenders. His opinion is not a popular one, and this once popular superhero becomes labeled a traitor and demonized by a large portion of America. However, he does have his commited defenders, and this is why the superheroes are split, and the reason the film and comic story arc is called “Civil War.” How appropriate. 

Colin Kaepernick was once a hero of the NFL, and he has decided to stand up to police brutality by taking a knee. He has had an overwhelming majority of negative press, and people calling him a traitor and un-American, but he also has a large group of supporters, not unlike Captain America.

Whatever you may think of Colin Kaepernick or Captain America, they both represent the best of America. It just depends on what you see when you look at our nation. Do you see it as a perfect and flawless nation that we should make great “again” or a great nation in need of improvement, and the ongoing effort to “form a more perfect union” — for every American?

I think they are both superheroes, and saying I support Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter does not mean I hate cops or don’t support “all lives” or “Blue Lives.” 151 years later, we are still fighting the Civil War.

 

Photo Credit: Drawing by Dave Rappoccio

How Star Trek Shaped Me As A Man & Can Shape Us As A People

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Over the many years I’ve been on Facebook, I’ve gushed so much about how much I love Star Trek, and I know you’re probably sick of it by now. But today is the 50th Anniversary of the first episode, and I just wanted to share a few personal thoughts on why the show means so much to me.

I can’t tell you how much Star Trek has meant to me as a person. I first fell in love with the show watching The Original Series in reruns after school. By the late 1980s, I was addicted to its sequel, The Next Generation. And of course, I breathlessly watched all of the movies as they came out in the theatres. It played such an instrumental part in the formation of my values and morality as a young man watching that show. It meant so much to that young boy, and to the man I’ve become. It speaks to every fibre of my being.

Star Trek captures everything about the human condition, and about all that humanity IS capable of. As dark as it sometimes can get, Star Trek is a show driven by optimism, and the hopes and dreams of one tiny planet, amongst a sea of neighbors we may not even know yet. Admittedly, we’ve got a long ways to go on our own small planet, before we can truly hope to populate space with that kind of hope and goodwill, but it all starts with a dream.

You may say you hate Science-Fiction, but despite all the tecnobabble you may hear, Star Trek was never about gadgets and science. It is about people. People from all genders, races, religions, creeds, orientations, and yes…species…all trying to get along in the Universe, and trying to find peace and common ground. It is an allegory. In the mid-1960s, television shows simply could not talk about racism, classism, sexism, etc. Science Fiction was the perfect cover, and was used as a way to address social issues in a vaguely familiar way, but set in a distant future and in a far off place. It allowed the creator, Gene Roddenberry, to tackle the injustices he saw in the turbulent world around him. And spoiler alert: the same issues which are plaguing our world today. Star Trek has used analogous alien species and fictional conflicts to address real world problems, such as sexism, racism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Cold War, bioethics, Artificial Intelligence and sentience, capital punishment, religious intolerance, bigotry, class warfare, and even drug abuse, to name a few. Star Trek is not some action-packed adventure story with ray-guns and bad prosthetics (I mean, yeah, that’s all there)! Star Trek was the most cutting edge and provocative show of its generation, and STILL CAN BE! The job is not done. Star Trek still has a vital role to play in our society.

You see, Star Trek is not about space, but about the space in between. The space between you and me, and how we can close that gap, bridge that gulf that lies between us. It’s about an idea. An idea that humankind has a future in space, and can be ambassadors of peace and tolerance. But first, we must start with ourselves. That’s not Science-Fiction. But it could be Science-FACT. It’s already within us, we just need to have the courage to be able to find it before it’s too late.

My friend Bill Doughty expressed a few thoughts on Star Trek that I’ve shared below. He meaningfully articulates some points that I may have missed. His words, like mine, are love letters. Love letters to a show that has given generations of hopeful dreamers a place to hang their hats, and hold out hope for tomorrow. A chance to boldly go where no one has gone before…

Happy 50th Anniversary to Star Trek!!!  Live Long and Prosper.

From a post by Bill Doughty from Facebook (September 8, 2016):

“I’ve enjoyed reading people’s thoughts on Star Trek today. I’ve always loved Trek for the simple reason that no matter the series or format, it has always been about one thing: look at everything we could accomplish if we could only *get over ourselves.* But at the same time, it expresses that idea a million different ways across any sort of plot, genre, or storytelling medium you can imagine. Honestly, there’s at least one Star Trek story out there to speak to every man, woman, and child on earth, and if you say you’re the exception you’re wrong amd probably just trying to impress someone.

But whether it’s a TV show, movie, book, gamw, comic, or cartoon, and whether it’s tense, moody, silly, creepy, exciting, dark, thoughtful, or, yes, occasionally stupid, that same optimism is always there, hardwired into the DNA. Accept, tolerate, embrace, and explore, and there’s little we won’t be able to accomplish.

And we’ll also get teleporters and food replicators. You know you’d be down with that.”

The Democracy of Youth

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed many of my friends rediscovering and embracing their ethnic and cultural heritage. My Jewish friends have starting going back to temple and are exposing their children to their rich Jewish heritage, my Christian friends are doing mission trips and baptizing their children, my black friends are celebrating their shared history and struggles. I am grateful to see people taking stock of their lives and finding enrichment in their cultural legacy. However, I think back to what made us friends in high school and college, and our mutual loves of theatre, or literature, or debate, or heck, even partying and having a good time. The time we spent in the dorms together, and in plays together. It didn’t seem to matter then what anyone was, or where we came from. Rich or poor. Christian or non-Christian. Gay or straight. We were students. We were friends. We were lovers. 

I know people have to grow up. I know people mature, and perhaps become more conservative. I know priorities change, and people need to start thinking of their families, their finances, and their futures.

As we find our way into middle age, children, and spouses. As we find our way back into our cultural traditions and religious institutions, and as we isolate ourselves within our pockets of friends and families who share our same beliefs and values, we must never forget those times we had together, and the people who diversified our lives and made us stronger as individuals. As we get older, we must surely celebrate where our families came from and recapture our identities as Atheists, Christians, Jews, Gays, Blacks, Asians, etc. but never forget the rich rainbow of colors we had in our youth. As we separate, and go our separate ways, we must never forget what brought us all together in the first place. As we vote in these upcoming elections, and as we look to shape the future of this country, remember the friends you’ve made along the way, and recall that you loved them once. For a reason. Don’t ever let that love go. Stand united, my friends. Let’s truly make America great for EVERYONE.diversity forum flyer graphic_0

The #NoFilter Hashtag & The Masks We Wear Online

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The #NoFilter hashtag embodies everything I hate about Instagram and social media. Everyone’s so f–ing special these days — yet also so f-ing sensitive too — so we end up patting ourselves on the back for those rare occasions we peel back the artifice, shed our false masks, and actually post those rare and untouched photos. During these infrequent flashes of vulnerability, we actually reveal a glimpse of our true selves — double chins and all — and feel both naked and exhilarated at the same time.

There once was a time when we all lived unfiltered, and actually looked like we do in pictures — ugly warts and all. Our amateur photos were clumsy and artless, and no one expected our pictures to look like they were shot by Ansel Adams or your selfies to look like Giselle. We were short, we were tall, we were skinny, we were fat, and we were all painfully average and awkward. We didn’t all have manicured public personas, managed as an agent might style and craft a Hollywood celebrity. Nowadays, we’re all stars of our own biopics. We’re always crafting and shaping,  photoshopping and editing, and endlessly touching up our messy life stories and making them neat and glamorous.

 

I’d like to think I try and live a #NoFilter life not because I don’t desperately care what other people think of me, but because I care about what I think of myself. I try to be a good man, but I am deeply flawed and fail often. I am not always proud of my actions, but I’d be even more ashamed to not own them. I am painfully human, and cannot live my life any other way. That means I do a lot of apologizing, and invariably depend upon the kindness of friends and strangers. I’ve lost a lot of friends along the way, and I regret that sometimes. At other times, I realize that if they were true friends, they would have stuck around and given me the benefit of the doubt. I can’t look like I’d like to look in a selfie, but not because I can’t suck in my cheeks or add a clever filter, but because I’d know that wasn’t me. You might not. But I’d know.

We live in a society which increasingly demands us to be skinnier, grow taller, have higher cheekbones, and craft our online personas to comply with what society expects of us. These days, we must all be models, professional photographers, gifted writers, star athletes, and of course, have adorable children and cute pets. Our marriages must be happy and visibly vibrant. While single men over 30 are broken and suspicious, childless women are objects of pity. We all have fascinating and well read blogs, clever Pinterest walls, professional and elegant websites, sexy and endlessly interesting online dating profiles, and humble-brag status posts which remind the rest of Facebook that we’re still winning the Internet and always happy always. Happy. And damn, do we look good…

This is me with #NoFilter and perhaps it is why I am single and childless, but I don’t know any other way to live. If that means I fail the Internet, and am a dinosaur of the digital age, so be it. I still manage to sleep at night.

Why My Heart Still Won’t Open For ‘Eyes Wide Shut’

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When it comes to the film Eyes Wide Shut, I know that I’m often in the minority when I condemn it as being far and away the worst film Stanley Kubrick ever directed. Since I’m obviously writing this short review over sixteen years after the movie came out, I have had lots of time to process the film, and decide exactly what it is I don’t like about the film. About three months ago, I sat down and attempted to watch the film for the first times since I saw it in the theatre. I only made it about halfway through, before I had to turn it off. So truthfully, I have only seen this film one and a half times, but it was seared into my memory, and because I often have a photographic memory with work I judge harshly and have a strong negative response to. I know that many people are quite fond of the film, and that although my opinion aligns more closely with the harsh criticism directed its way by film critics and the media, there are many fans who have difficulty finding any fault with a Kubrick film.
I decided to write this brief review today, as a response to the article, Be Thankful For Eyes Wide Shut by Scott Wampler, and posted by my friend, Matthew Constantine on his Facebook page. My friend Joe Vincent had also liked the article, and although I have great respect for their opinions about movies, art, and culture, I knew I had to at least make an impassioned and reasoned argument AGAINST Eyes Wide Shut. As you can read in the article above, the writer takes great pains to praise the film, and make sure we understand it should be considered amongst his best. That rather than criticize the film, we should be thankful we ever got it. Especially considering Kubrick died a week after delivering the final cut. I have a very personal and visceral aversion to this film, and feel compelled to share my thoughts about the movie. I had problems with the article, and thought it was poorly written at times and did nothing to convince me to reconsider my views on Eyes Wide Shut. The writer felt young, and at times, more than a little wet behind the years. I seem to recall him mentioning being a teenager and how blessed he feels to have seen the movie on opening night. It was certainly his last, but perhaps also his first Kubrick opening. Like him, I also saw this movie opening night, but I was at the premiere, in Hollywood, while living in LA. Going into the film, I was a very big Kubrick fan, but coming out, I was severely disappointed and left with a terrible taste in my mouth.

 
This writer erroneously states that those of us who didn’t like the film, must have been uncomfortable with the subject matter, since the filmmaking was unimpeachable. This is patently false. I might not have enjoyed the story, but I had many more problems with the narrative, casting, direction, set, and execution of the film. Although some of the intrigue and murder plot elements in the context of this secretive organization were interesting to begin with, the script never seemed to gel. It never fully came together, and there was a disconnect  between this sexual dysfunctional relationship between husband and wife in their safe and small home, and the sprawling mansions of the organization, with naked flesh everywhere, and a sea of undulating sex as people  joined the larger orgy. The disparate parts of the movie felt clunky and didn’t always fit. One might argue that the relationships are broken and don’t work properly, like his marriage, and that is reflected in the structure and interactions in the film. I think this is often a cop out, and if Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman felt awkward and unnatural, it wasn’t a choice. It was a reality.

The other reality of the film is that this is a frightfully chilly and uninviting world. The characters were cold, and kept at a distance, alienating them from the viewer, and not allowing us access to anyone’s emotions, or engendering empathy in the viewers. At the holiday party, the first time we meet Sydney Pollack’s character, Victor Ziegler, he is soliciting Tom Cruise’s character, Dr. Harford’s help, to revive a naked and bleeding hooker, who just had some kind of sexual relations with Ziegler, and as well as overdosed on a mix of drugs. He naturally has a wife, and she’s presumably somewhere else in the homeI This is HIS holiday party, and he’s absent from his guests, doing drugs and banging a hooker. When she seems to be in bad shape, Ziegler is dismissive and talks of her like trash. He flops her body around like she was a rag doll, taking no care with her in the slightest. He just wants her out of there. This is our first introduction to this large character, and he is instantly unlikable. You can’t help but root for the girl. Dr. Harford is gentler with her, but still rather callous and indelicate. These are not the loving hands of a gentle family doctor, but a man pulled away from a party by one of his patients, to revive a hooker who ODed on a speedball, and to make sure they don’t have a dead hooker on their hands. Her nudity throughout the season is uncomfortable, and we the viewer feels culpable in their mistreatment of the girl. Dr. Harford is a party to all this, and becomes somewhat unsympathetic early on. As the film goes on, we meet more people who feel cold and detached. The characters are  simply too dead inside or corrupt with money or power. It’s hard to care for these characters, and without empathy, it was hard for me to care whether any of them lived or died. The film was frigid throughout. So no, I didn’t necessarily enjoy the subject matter, but not because it “challenged me” and “made me uncomfortable” — feelings he takes pains to point out that he enjoys in movies, but wildly assumes viewers new to Kubrick must not. I enjoy movies that challenge me as well, but only good movies, and not uneven ones. This film was very uneven, and although it had some great themes and motifs that pulled it together, it was cohesive as a whole. Wampler’s statement is reductive and a fallacy, because it implies that the only reason we could have to not enjoy the movie, was because of the off-putting plot.

 
I would argue, that in addition to the subject matter and content, I had major problems with the script, including structure, language, and style. I thought it often felt contrived, and fantastic. And characters spoke in heightened and stylistic dialogue that sometimes felt stagey and melodramatic, and often recoiled against the more natural elements of the film. The biggest problem with the film is that it’s all a much ado about nothing. Sure, there is this secret society, and a hooker does end up dead, but we don’t ever know exactly how. We never know what happens to Nick, the piano player. Did he get killed off too? The secret religious sex organization and its rituals are dark and shady, but apart from having illicit sex, what true threat are they? What are they covering up? Are they killing prostitutes regularly? It’s implied that the people under the masks are important people, but we never learn who, and therefore, we never learn how high the stakes are. Are they priests and moral religious leaders? State Senators? What it all comes down to, is for all the “atmosphere” that Kubrick provides — black cloaks, grotesque masks, spare piano cords, dark shadows, stained wood, people following Dr. Harford, drugs, illicit sex, a blindfolded piano player who gets roughed up, and more, the film actually provides little concrete action and tangible danger. Nothing really happens. The movie, therefore, feels a little like an elaborate film noir sleight of hand. It has that moody and dark intrigue, with always the constant threat of danger and menace, but rarely do we see it. Is this a movie about a man discovering a secret sex club that murders prostitutes and is filled with many important members of the community, who must remain anonymous film about a couple struggling with their marriage? The wife is having these sex dreams with a sailor, and Dr. Harford is flirting shamelessly with beautiful women, and on more than one occasion, soliciting sex from strangers and acquaintances. This couple is broken, and needs something to happen, in order for them to stay together. At the end of the film, Cruise simply falls apart with guilt. He breaks down in tears and decides to tell Alice the whole truth of the past two days. The next morning, they go Christmas shopping with their daughter. Alice muses that they should be grateful they have survived, that she loves him, and there is something they must do as soon as possible. When Bill asks what it may be, she simply says: “Fuck.” What does any of this mean? They haven’t had sex in a while, so did they have to go through this elaborate charade, in order to feel alive, and find their way back into each others’ lives? Why have we seen no emotion or crying from Tom Cruise’s character all movie, and now we see this vulnerability? It’s too little, too late. We never saw the human before, so we can’t be expected to empathize with his new-found feelings. He was trying to get laid, mixed up in murder, and treating overdoses casually, and we saw none of his guilt or pain. This is a serious oversight in the script, and the relatively stunted character arc of the character. No character in this film is allowed to grow and evolve in a natural and organic way. Tom Cruise the actor may not have the chops, or Kubrick may have directed him to play his cards close to his chest. And that’s what he did. We saw very little early on, to indicate what we would see towards the end. Kidman has even less screen time, and has these psychosexual dreams with the sailor, which are never fully explained.

The Achilles heel of Eyes Wide Shut is that it creates all this film noir, secret sex society intrigue and possible murder plot line, but then throws in all these red herrings and seeming non sequiturs. But it seems it’s all just widow dressing, because very little of it actually goes anywhere. It seems to have elements of the quirky, dark, and menacing atmosphere of a David Lynch film, or specifically, a show like Twin Peaks. Yet those shows went somewhere, and although they had their fair share of red herrings and misdirection, they also pursued the clues and leads they had dropped along the way. EWS has many scenes and unique characters that often stand out, but rarely serve practical and dramaturgical purposes. They are texture, and are included in order to establish mood and atmosphere. They’re also oddball and memorable characters, who sometimes provide levity and entertainment.

After a fight about their faithfulness to each other early in the film, Bill is then called by the daughter of a patient who has just died; he then heads over to her place. In her pain, Marion Nathanson impulsively kisses him and says she loves him. Putting her off before her fiance Carl arrives, Bill takes a walk. He meets a prostitute named Domino and goes to her apartment. Alice phones just as Domino begins to kiss Bill, after which he calls off the awkward encounter. Early on, we see Dr. Harford is wandering and lost, and seems to be looking for love, lust, affection, or something, in the arms of other women, He seems to be in search of anonymous lovers — perhaps in order to keep love out of the equation.

After learning from Nick, the piano player, about the costume party, he gets the password, and goes to a shop to rent a costume, The scene in the costume shop is surreal and absurd, starting with the owner, Mr. Milich, and his daughter, played by oversexed and underdressed Leelee Sobieski, who appears to be getting intimate with two Japanese men in the back, but almost to her delight and with her overjoyed permission. Her father gets angry at the indecency, and yells at the group. The scene is nearly slapstick absurdism, and could easily have come out of a Beckett, Ionesco, or Jean Genet play.

After Bill arrives at the mansion, and uses the password to get in, he is wandering around the large rooms, when he is approached by a woman. Although he is masked, the woman takes Bill aside and warns him he does not belong there, insisting he is in terrible danger. She is then whisked away by someone else. Bill walks through the rooms, and witnesses several acts of sex, with various people engaging, and others watching, Finding himself in the ritual room, Bill is approached by an imposing Master of Ceremonies, and asks him a question about a second password.  Bill says he has forgotten. The Master of Ceremonies insists that Bill “kindly remove his mask”, then his clothes. The masked woman who had tried to warn Bill now intervenes and insists that she be punished instead of him. Bill is ushered from the mansion and warned not to tell anyone about what happened there.

The next morning, Bill goes to Nick’s hotel, where the desk clerk (Alan Cumming) tells Bill that a bruised and frightened Nick checked out a few hours earlier after returning with two large, dangerous-looking men. Nick tried to pass an envelope to the clerk when they were leaving, but it was intercepted, and Nick was driven away by the two men. The scene could have easily been in a film noir from the late ’40s or ’50s. The circumstances, with the bruises, the two big defensive lineman-sized goons, and the desperate letter he was trying to pass, are all familiar tropes in these kind of gangster flicks.

The next we hear of Nick is when Bill is summoned by Ziegler to discuss the events of the last few days. We learn that Ziegler was one of the sex participants, and that he had Bill followed, and that the society’s warnings were meant to scare him, but that the society is capable of acting on their threats, telling Bill: “If I told you their names, I don’t think you’d sleep so well”. Bill asks about the death of Mandy — the prostitute from the beginning of the film, who it turns out, was the masked woman at the party who’d “sacrificed” herself to prevent Bill’s punishment. Ziegler insists that Nick is safely back at his home in Seattle. Ziegler also says the “punishment” was a charade by the secret society to further frighten Bill, and it had nothing to do with Mandy’s death; she was a hooker and addict and had indeed died from another accidental drug overdose. Bill clearly does not know if Ziegler is telling him the truth about Nick’s disappearance or Mandy’s death, but he says nothing further and lets the matter drop. This is one of those scenes that is so frustrating, because it’s meant to be mysterious. and plant doubt in the audience’s mind, but because we haven’t actually seen the society inflict any harm or seen anyone die, everything is suspicious. And I don’t just mean, in the world of the film, Bill doesn’t know who to believe, but I am accusing the filmmaker of being suspect. He has played with our trust and not betrayed any feelings in his characters, so it’s hard to place any real trust in the very veracity and reliability of the script and the greater film. Lots of red herrings had been dropped, lots of random colorful and suspicious characters had been introduced, but the film was over two hours now, and Kubrick may be the master of pace and creating taut and tense atmosphere, but there was only so far he could take the menace and dark foreboding of the society. It doesn’t matter how grotesque the masks are, familiarity breeds content. Set pieces and costumes lost power and the ability to scare or intimidate us. This masquerade could go on no longer. This raises major plot hole questions:

  1. It’s not clear whether the plot line surrounding the society and Bill was just supposed to fizzle out, like it appeared to
  2. Or is this scene supposed to be more intense, and it is meant to scare Bill straight, once he learns how close he might have come to being killed himself? This would actually work best, with his crying scene with Alice directly following. The problem, is that I never feel like Bill’s life is in, or was in, imminent danger. 
  3. Why doesn’t the screenwriter ever allow us to see one of the society, or threaten having one of them exposed? Their true identities is a vulnerability, that actually takes away their power in the movie, and makes them less imposing
  4. What is the connection between the society and getting back together with his wife? Nothing ever really seems to happen, and yet, he seems to break down crying as if it did. Why happened?

One of the other considerable problems I had with the film, was the very obvious set that was built to stand-in for Greenwich Village, New York City. I was thoroughly not convinced of the fake New York City set built at Pinewoods Studio, because they essentially filmed only the same corner from similar angles, and the camera never followed the actors anywhere. It felt like exactly what it was — a fake facade of a Greenwich Village street corner. We always saw the same two shops, the same street signs. Throughout history, there’s likely never been a film shot in NYC that didn’t have tracking shots, cranes, dollies, and steadicam, following the actors through the streets of New York, Instead, this set was small, tight, and claustrophobic. This film was clearly not shot in NYC and did nothing to convince me that it was. Without an authentic New York City taste, the audience is subtly taken out of Manhattan, briefly alienated from production, and asked to enter through another door, knowing they were never in New York City. That may seem minor, but those little things add up. To the discerning eye, the set looks fake and like a set. Whenever THAT happens, it can be a slippery slope from there. If they can’t buy into the set, what else won’t they believe? Will they buy into your script? How about those characters who all seem very cold and aloof, and aren’t especially likable?  Can you hold them for over two hours?  Sometimes, it can all begin with one little thread, and quickly unravel from there. I think the case can be made for Eyes Wide Shut being Kubrick’s weakest and least effective film, for many reasons, including the set and production design. No matter how expertly they dressed the block, anyone who’s ever lived in New York City, could tell that was no Manhattan block. Arguably, NO Stanley Kubrick film before this could ever have been accused of looking like a set or feeling inauthentic in any way. They had all been meticulously constructed,  fastidiously painted, and painstakingly dressed. 

Having said all that I have said, there are a number of elements which I do enjoy considerably. After all, this movie was still directed by Stanley Kubrick. Which means, even at its worst, even as HIS worst, it’s still hundreds of times better than the average movie. I would watch this easily, before I’d watch half the crap in the theatres today. Kubrick is arguably the best auteur director to ever live. This is is still a masterpiece. it just has a LOT of problems, and does not have the kind of consistent quality we’ve come to expect in a film by Stanley Kubrick. The Kubrickian techniques and elements I enjoyed were:  The isolation and loneliness of the main characters. The mystery behind ritual and darkly staged ceremony. The steady and deliberate pace. The long tracking shots. The unique framing. The brutal violence and nudity. The haunting score, and use of music, especially piano cords. The piano leitmotif of the chilling few notes. The skillful editing. The evocative costumes. The blocking and choreography was deliberate and intimidating. The nudity was slightly shocking and contributed greatly to those scenes. The taut tension and anxiety marking the scenes. The menace in the air.  The VERY talented cast of new and recognizable character actors. Reocuring motifs and thematic imagery. The homage to several film genres: absurdism, slapstick/vaudeville, psychological bedroom drama, Gangster/ Film Noir, Horror, and Drawingroom Murder Mystery, 

Here was the absolute deal breaker in this movie: Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s relationship and the actor’s uneven and fizzling chemistry. They were so bad, that when I tried to rewatch the film again, just three months ago, I couldn’t even make it halfway through the film. For a couple that was actually married in real life, I thought they had some of the worst onscreen chemistry I’ve ever seen. I simply did not belief that they were a married couple! It sounds almost unbelievable that an actual married couple would have such a hard time convincing an audience they were married and had chemistry. Instead, it was a weird energy, and not one that felt intimate and affectionate. So many moments felt forced and were not subtly in the least bit, perhaps none more so than the scene where Nicole Kidman smokes a joint and goes completely crazy. Nicole’s character is so over the top in this scene, she’s just chewing the scenery from the inside. I’ve often seen unskilled actors playing drunk or high, and make the mistake of “acting drunk” or “acting high” and go completely over the top. In reality, people that are drunk and high, often do whatever it takes to appear sober, so they’re actually fighting against the intoxication, and that gives an actor so much more to play with. She was staggering and stumbling like a drunken sailor, and it was painful to watch. As the story progressed, I became engaged with Dr. Harford’s pursuit of this mystery, which lies at the heart of the story (yet, we’re curiously never told exactly what it is), is a compelling one, and as he gets deeper into the mystery and intrigue, the better film became. However, Cruise is not an actor with a tremendous amount of emotional range, and so, Bill’s journey was a solitary one, and not one he shared well with the audience. He’s clearly the protagonist, and having trouble in his marriage. He’s become reckless with his life, ending up with prostitutes, followed by gangsters, frequenting a secret society of sexual fetishists, and since the film never gives us definitive answers, potentially the target of a future hit. It is most likely, that Bill caused the deaths of Mandy and Nick. She gave up her life to save his in the ritual room, and Nick gave Bill the password and told him of the costume party in the first place, leading to them finding out, exposing Nick, beating him up, and presumably, killing him. THAT might very well be our answer. THAT might very well be the slap to the face that wakes Bill up, and drives him back into the arms of his wife. That might be enough to make a grown man bawl like a baby. when held in the arms of Alice. He hadn’t known what he wanted, except for maybe vaguely sex with anonymous women. He took great personal risks, and in a fair world, Bill would have paid with his life. But he had an advocate — Ziegler — whose life he had practically saved earlier, and to whom he owed a big favor. Ziegler put his neck out there, and was admonished for his carelessness. Victor had brought Nick into the fold as a blindfolded pianist, and Nick had brought Bill into the society, with tragic consequences. Shouldn’t Bill be the one to die, since he’s the trie interloper? When Ziegler recognized it was Bill though, he had to intervene, and in so doing, he needed a sacrifice. Nick should have known better, sure, but he hardly deserved to pay with his life. It’s no coincidence, that Dr. Harford begins the movie saving Mandy’s life, and then near the end, Mandy ends up saving his. In essence, Bill saves her life at the beginning, and then he causes her death at the end. The only way for Bill to live, is if Nick becomes the scapegoat. Bill must know this, when he goes to Nick’s hotel. He at least makes an effort to save his life. He knew he was in grave danger. There’s an important element to take into consideration in all of this exchange of lives and sacrifice of strangers. And that is the socioeconomic picture. It’s easy to see that the society was made up of extremely wealthy businessmen, surgeons, politicians, lawyers, judges, heiresses, millionaires, and other titans of industry. Ziegler was an extremely wealthy patient of the presumably wealthy, Dr. Harford. These two BELONG in that mansion. They are wealthy, elite, and members of a small select few of people who run that City. State. Country. I have to wonder if they know who each other are. Do they always wear the masks? Regardless, its plain to see, who inherently didn’t belong in that setting. Nick was a poor pianist who once might have had a bright future, but he somehow ended up playing piano gigs throughout the city. He came lower middle class, if not from the poverty class. He was an artist, and he didn’t belong. Except as their entertainment. And that’s what’s Mandy was: entertainment. She was even lower status than Nick, as a prostitute. To these powerful people, she was a piece of meat, attractive as it may be, but one which you service your pleasures, and discard once you’re finished. If she hadn’t ended up strangled and lying as a Jane Doe in the Morgue, she’d have overdosed and ended up there anyway. Mandy was utterly disposable. The identity of these wealthy elite was imperative, and someone had to die. If Ziegler vouched for Bill, then it was obvious who had to be eliminated. Better two untouchables, than even a single from their own class. Which begs the question, now that Ziegler has been exposed, and made the group vulnerable, does he stay? If so, is there any possibility that Bill actually get invited to join the society? If so, is there any way that ALL of this was a test, to see how committed he was — even willing to sacrifice two people? These are questions the movie does not answer, but are certainly worth considering.

The storyline of murder, prostitution, secretive organization, and more, was engaging, but only to a point. Although I consider Kubrick’s pacing to be one of his strongest suits, I felt this movie dragged at points — running nearly three hours, I feel it is just too long. This story could have easily been told in less time.

I can’t help but return to the nucleus of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, at the very heart of this film, but never quite successful and cohesive. I know Stanley Kubrick wanted to work with a husband and wife team, but there must have been any number of actors he could have gotten for those roles. Not that they had the chops, but just to throw out some names: Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, and probably many more. Tom Cruise is a VERY limited actor, and I honestly don’t know what went wrong with Kidman — an actress whom I otherwise enjoy.

The film is very impersonal, alienating, aloof, distancing, uncomfortable, and sometimes just hard to watch. Although I cited above that I enjoyed seeing Kubrick play with many genres, I felt that also hurt the film. The movie never quite knew what it wanted to be. Was it a romance? Film Noir? Horror? Psychological Bedroom Drama? Or something else entirely? That meant, there were a lot of red herrings, but not always deliberately placed there, but rather, left there, after having fallen out through holes in the script. And there were many. The society was never quite threatening enough, and I never felt Bill was in danger. I would have liked to see him come closer to the line. If the society essentially knows who each other are, what is the big deal about having others inside see them? Presuming the society ordered the deaths of Mandy and Nick, WHY did they have to die? What is the problem between Alice and Bill, and how is so easily fixed with a “fuck” as she says at the end? Their relationship was arguably the weakest in the film, because we knew so little. All we were allowed to see from Alice was lurid sexual dreams about a sailor she fancied. Bill goes searching for women, and certainly has chances, but never quite gets there. Tom Cruise simply doesn’t have the depth to give us true insight as to what was happening in his mind. It was his story, after all. What drove him away from Alice, and what drove him back? Kubrick really could have helped the actor out here, especially by providing a script that fleshed out more of the character. The biggest problem besides not knowing exactly what kind of movie it wants to be, and having a husband and wife team who are not as strong as the script demands, is having a script with too many holes in it, and too many questions brought up, but not enough answers provided. It’s a confusing movie at times, and a few more drafts of that script, could have cleared a lot of the problems up.  If this was the work of any other director, it might be praised more than it has been. To some degree, it’s still quite a masterful film. The problem is, it’s Stanley Kubrick, and he was arguably the greatest film director the world has ever known. With an honor like that, you can be sure his body of work is profound and unrivaled. And it is. His films are unmistakable works of art, and each unique unto itself. This film, does not quite reach those heights. In fact, it falls quite short of that mark, and so we compare this film not to any other director, but against his own work and rigorous high standards. It is undoubtedly, the weakest film he ever directed. The film was not a commercial or critical success, receiving only fair to poor reviews. and has not come down through the years as a fan favorite. Most Kubrick accept the movie for what it is, but it’s not likely making anyone’s top five list. As it is, it’s a very divisive film. There are a surprising number of fans hopelessly devoted to Eyes Wide Shut, while others–such as myself — are quick to point out its many egregious flaws, and only wish it could have lived up to its considerable potential. 

The War on Truth & Intellect: Anti-Intellectualism & The Religious Right

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A reasonable person might ask, how could anyone vote for someone as stupid as Dr. Ben Carson? Why would you ever want to elect an ignorant person to the most powerful and influential job in the world? The sad fact of the matter is, not everyone in this country places such importance on intelligence as a prerequisite and qualifier for President. As much as the Right condemns those of us on the Left for having no values and attacking their faith, one of the most fundamental values we cherish is that of intellect, and the pursuit of knowledge. Intellectualism and human betterment have always been deeply held principles, and reason is central to progressive belief. There are plenty of religious people who count themselves liberals, but more often than not, they are reasonable and embrace plurality and diversity of opinion. Being a liberal or progressive does NOT preclude one from being faithful or religious.

Conservatives often rightly condemn us as elitists, but they often wear their own ignorance proudly, and as a badge of honor. As if being less intelligent and more faithful and religious was a good thing. But to them, it is. Faith will get you into Heaven, but don’t forget where Knowledge got poor Adam and Eve. Almost from the outset, some read the Bible as a cautionary tale against seeking knowledge and questioning God’s will. Asking questions and being too clever was looked at as sinful or prideful, and often severely discouraged and punished. Naturally, this is just one narrow and rigid interpretation of the Bible, but it has been led to a persistent and pervasive attitude towards education and learning that has found its way down through the ages, and into many evangelical and conservative faiths today.

The people considered fundamentalist have the narrowest view of the Bible, and are rigid in their condemnations of others for  behaviors they view as sinful. They seek to return America to its “Christian values” and fanatically believe America is being eroded by moral decay and a culture of permissiveness and sex. They are distrustful of medicine, science, technology, socialism or other types of government, non-Christian religions, minorities and laws like affirmative action, homosexuality, immigrants, Hollywood, the media, gun control, and many other hot-button issues. These are the people who vote and support candidates like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and once upon a time, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. This is a very different Republican party than Eisenhower, Nixon, and William F. Buckley inhabited. And as much as they love to claim them as their own, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt truly belonged to a party closer to resembling today’s Democratic Party. Anyone who knows the history of the parties and evolution over the last 150 years, knows as much. Over the last 40 years, the party has been hijacked by the Religious Right, and there has been a war on intellectualism. The days of Buckley’s incisive criticism and articulation of the party’s views are long gone, and the GOP is left with deeply faithful fanatical Christians, who have very little intellectual chops, but aren’t short on faith and moral outrage. They prey on fear, and use minorities, women, immigrants, and xenophobia to scare their base, and whip up the party.

People like Ben Carson can say outrageous and patently false statements, because 1) No one on the Right is going to fact check him, and 2) It doesn’t matter what facts and figures he has, because they’re not judging him on his intellect or veracity, but on the faith in his heart and commitment to fighting the culture wars from the Oval Office. They want an advocate to outlaw abortion, impose the death penalty, overthrow gay marriage, remove all environmental regulations, work to bring Creationism to schools and remove Evolution, build border walls and brutally enforce strict immigration laws, remove regulations from business and stoke a free market, cut taxes, reverse Obamacare, eliminate most social entitlement programs, and work to undo all the other progress the Left has made in this country. They care about moral crusaders and the soul of their candidates, but the mind is perhaps the least important part.

When Donald Trump uses the slogan, ‘Making America Great Again,’ it’s insulting to many Americans, and so sadly misleading. When was it great to begin with? Was that during the genocide of Native Americans, and when the country stripped them of their land? Or was it during slavery, and the years the country was bitterly divided and fought a civil war? Or when the Irish were rejected work? The lynchings and Jim Crow era? Perhaps it was when women were denied the right to vote or to work, or Japanese internment camps. Or was it Vietnam and the turbulent ’60s? The point is, there was no time America was “great” because it wasn’t great for everyone. Sure, maybe if you were a white, male, wealthy, Christian landowner in the south, there might have been great times. But it sure wasn’t for their slaves and the women in their households. America is a great country, and since the lofty goals outlined in the Declaration of Independence, and added upon in the Constitution even still today, it aspired to be something greater than it was. ALL men created equal. And women, and blacks, and gays, and every other person in this great country. But there is no ‘great’ to return to, Mr. Trump. The great is in front of us, as we take steps to make this country great and free for everyone.

The truth of the matter is, Intelligence is often the biggest indicator of tolerance, acceptance, open-mindedness, and a commitment to social justice. The pursuit of egalitarian principles is most often achieved by the smart and the bold. On the other hand, ignorance is the biggest indicator of bigotry, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, jingoism, and violence and a predilection to fight. Poverty is often the leading cause of ignorance, and not surprisingly, education and a war on poverty have been two of the biggest pieces of agenda on the Democratic platform. By stamping our poverty, we stamp out so many other things, such as violence, ignorance, and bigotry. Yet the Right has proven time and again, that it would rather spend countless trillions of dollars on foreign wars of election, than on educating every American, and lifting them out of poverty. Imagine what kind of education we could have provided with all the money spent on Afghanistan and Iraq. But again, since intelligence is not valued and cherished by many on the Right, either is education. It’s apparently more important to build walls to keep foreigners out and to build bigger and better weapons to fight wars and exert dominance over the rest of the world. This is a macho, jingoistic, xenophobic, truculent, and violent mindset. One who shoots first, and asks questions later. Only a mindless cowboy seeks fights, rather than keeps the peace, and avoids them.

If this world is ever going to achieve peace and tolerance, it will have to be won by the intellectuals and reason-minded. That doesn’t mean an attack on faith or that religion has no place in a civil society. Faith can play a tremendous role in a community’s health and well-being. Religion doesn’t have to be at odds with science and reason, or intellectualism and rationalism. The two are not mutually exclusive. That is, until you make them so, and admonish intelligence, and uphold blind faith and hateful, ignorant views. The people who vote for Ben Carson are not voting for intelligence, but his eternal soul. The President represents ALL Americans, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, and every other faith and belief there is. We don’t need another devout zealot trying to shape this country back into the Christian nation it once was, because it never was. The Founding Fathers did not intend it to be, and made it abundantly clear that there was to be a separation of Church and State. So go ahead, and get angry whenever a state removes a Ten Commandments rock from the statehouse grounds or prohibits prayer in school, but then go and read the Constitution, and get a clue already. A vote for an ignorant man — brain surgeon or not — is a vote for poor leadership. This is arguably the hardest job in the world, and a President probably makes at least a hundred decisions a day. This is subtle, nuanced work, and it takes a considerable mind to process all that information, face tremendous resistance, work successfully with opposing parties, use diplomacy effectively, keep peace or judiciously wage war, and make small and large decisions that could have catastrophic results. This is not a job for the feeble-minded or anti-intellectual. We saw how well George W. Bush did with his eight mindless years in office. He took a considerable surplus and turned it into a huge deficit, he launched two costly wars which we still can’t get out of, he spent all of America’s capital and good will the world had for us, he set global warming and sustainable energy back decades, he made a royal mess of Hurricane Katrina, and made many other serious blunders. W was not an intelligent man, and as such, he was handled and manipulated by war hawks and powerful men with militant agendas.

America cannot afford another dim-witted man in the White House. And that’s the fundamental difference between those who would vote for a vacuous mind, and those who put weight in the intellectual heft of a candidate. Ben Carson fans have absolutely no problem believing Joseph built the pyramids to store grain, because they either believe it to be true, or don’t care if it’s false. Either one is dangerous. Those of us who know better should do whatever it takes not to elect those who don’t.

The Goals vs. Gains of Political Correctness: Losing the War of Words & Making Enemies Where There Were None

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Today I came across a video of MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perryas she took offense to a guest’s use of the term ‘hard worker’ Saturday, arguing that it diminished the experiences of slaves.“If there’s somebody who is a hard worker when he goes to Washington, it’s Paul Ryan,” argued conservative guest Alfonso Aguilar. Harris-Perry didn’t disagree but wasn’t a fan of his word choice. She went on to say, “I just want to pause on one thing, because I don’t disagree with you that I actually think Mr Ryan is a great choice for this role,” she said. “But I want us to be super careful when we use the language ‘hard worker.’ Because I actually keep an image of folks working in cotton fields on my office wall, because it is a reminder about what hard work looks like.”

As soon as I finished the video, I immediately began writing this furious blog entry. I have no tolerance for that kind of bullshit and cultural reappropriation, especially to a well-meaning and harmless guest’s totally innocuous off-hand comment. She took it out of context, transported it to a new setting, and then manipulated it by endowing it with a racial and oppressive dimension it didn’t have before. The man’s words were condemned for an offense he could have never foreseen or prevented, and he was baffled and embarrassed needlessly. This is a glaring example of political correctness gone awry and the self-righteous overreach of those who rigidly enforce PC doctrine. I find few things as vile as vigilant censorship and an attack on free speech, especially when done in the name of lofty goals like equality, social justice, tolerance, and egalitarianism.

I have to say that I am socially very liberal, while being perhaps a little more fiscally moderate, but I consider myself a progressive, egalitarian, and open-minded person who is committed to equality and social justice and accepting everyone for who they are. I’m a registered liberal Democrat, but I also envy much of what socialism provides for its citizens.

Having said all that, there is one issue that I absolutely HATE to acknowledge I find myself agreeing with conservatives about, and that is political correctness. I am much more progressive, sensitive, and tolerant of Political Correctness than most Republicans I’ve met or seen online. In looking for a picture for this article, I poured over dozens of mean-spirited, racist, and hateful memes, all taking aim at the hated and maligned PC movement. Whereas, I recognize its objectives are good and noble, and that it started as a way to give voice to the voiceless and promote multiculturalism and cultural plurality. Disenfranchised groups could choose how they wished to be called, and the spirit of the movement was to provide safe environments where we could use uncoded and respectful language we could all agree on. People could pick how they chose to define and describe themselves. It was a way of taking ownership back, and probably even more obviously, a shift in power to the previously marginalized and disenfranchised.

Yet now, I feel like it’s gotten out of control, and actually curbs and muzzles free speech, sanitizes it of its character and strips away the vernacular, and removes anything remotely controversial or contentious. That might sound good to you, but the kernel of our healing and reconciling as a nation lies in that uncomfortable gray area where language breaks down, and we must find new ways to communicate. When everyone is so ultra-sensitive and easily offended, we don’t have a discussion anymore, just a unilateral wall thrown up in the face of the offender, and a public shaming of them, perhaps as cruel as the embarrassment once felt by the victim at the hands of a merciless majority. You see? It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s not just the advocates of political correctness being victimized and crying foul, but now the majority, who like to cast themselves as the oppressed minority, and stripped of their First Amendment rights.The Right call the Left sissies and whiners, but that’s no better than the pot calling the kettle black. Or should I say African American? 😉 Either way, the burden is on the P.C. movement, because more often than not, the conversation terminates with them. It’s a conversation ender, and someone feels vindicated, and someone feels silenced, but neither one learned a damn thing!

I don’t advocate racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other language that doesn’t belong in a civil conversation. Everyone deserves to be respected, and should have the right to be addressed with dignity. I’m talking about the overreactions and demonization of certain phrases or words, or even symbols that some overly sensitive people find objectionable. Listen up: the moral of this story is this: IT ALL COMES DOWN TO CONTEXT AND INTENT. There, I made it easy for you, and now you know what to look for.

Let’s say a white linguistics teacher is teaching the powerful book, N–gger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy, (You see? Even I’m afraid to write the full word in the title of the book, for fear I may invite anger or censure!) and the very purpose is to dissect and understand the history of the word, and why it is still a powder-keg loaded word today. Some in the PC Police might condemn this teacher’s actions, and claim he has no right to use that word and is unfit to teach black students. This even happens in high schools, when well-meaning teachers teach lesson units on works like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird, both which contain frequent uses of the n-word. I’m not saying this should be casually thrown around either. But rather, it should be used as a teachable moment, where the word is a jumping off place for more serious and rigorous discussion. It’s all about context and a well-meaning teacher’s intent to educate his students about all the realities of the world, even the dark and shameful parts. That’s how kids learn.

I remember when I was in high school, I read Elie Wiesel’s biographical book, Night, about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–45, at the height of the Holocaust toward the end of the Second World War. It was graphic and disturbing, and often hard to read, but it captured my attention, and taught me an invaluable lesson about man’s inhumanity to man and the strength of an indomitable spirit to overcome even the most hopeless and desperate situations. Years later, in Boston, I saw Wiesel speak, and got to meet him after the presentation. What I remember most is how firmly he locked eyes with me, and as he looked me straight in the eye, he gave me a surprisingly firm handshake for a man his age. He was so strong, even after seeing all that and losing that much. I instantly knew how a man like that could have survived. And after reading his thrilling book, I had to reflect on those few students in my class whose parents forbid them from reading the book, perhaps because it was too realistic and had things like nudity or sexuality, or some other inconvenient fact of life. If you’re sheltered from even finding life in a book, I’d hate to see how real life’s gonna treat you.

And that’s ultimately why I draw this line between political correctness, and editing, redacting, abridging, rewriting, forbidding, or banning a certain book for containing something controversial, indecent, profane, political, or rebellious. It’s when we coddle children from toddlers up through their teenage years and into young adulthood, and we send them off to college enabled, entitled, weak, dependent, helpless, and overly sensitive. And I speak as someone who was ostensibly no better, and just as connected to a psychic umbilical cord. I’m not going to start parroting some conservative meme I saw today, depicting tough cowboys fighting for their freedom of speech with weak, dainty, effeminate, delicate, and breakable ‘pansies’ or ‘whinny babies’ as they said. I’m no tough guy, and I could never tell another human to ‘man up.’ At least, not in so many words. I will say that children learn best from exploring, discovering stuff on their own, building things with their own two hands, playing with all kinds of different kids, being exposed to as many different ways of life as they can, and perhaps more important than anything else…failing. And failing often. Kids need to learn how to fail, and face challenging adversity. They need to break their arm, get lost and spend a night in the woods, build a campfire in the wind, fail an exam, not get cast in the school play or make it on to the baseball team. Kids need to have microcosms of our own adult lives, and gradually be given more and more responsibility, so that by the time they do go off to college, they’ll have failed so often, they’ll have taught themselves how to succeed.

The problem in some of the more extreme and militant corners of the politically correct movement, is many of these young college students have been raised much like the kids I described above, but the stakes are raised by the fact that they come from a diverse range of minorities: Hispanic, Arab, Jewish, Black, Trans, Lesbian, Gay, Overweight, Female, etc. They carry with them all the traits of the group above, but have an added dimension of their race, gender, orientation, religion, or cultural identity. Many of them will have been taught how to identify and represent themselves, and also learned the respect and courtesy they should expect of others. This is where the breakdown happens. Kids are still kids, and universities are more widely diverse than at any time in human history. That’s a lot of jostling cultures and conflicting belief systems to come up against each other, and try and get along. Just the sheer fact that they’re all mixing and mingling at all is a small miracle, and shows how far we’ve come as a nation. But that’s where our high expectations have to end, and we have to be realistic about the kind of results we’re going to see.

Those minority students are guaranteed by law the right to the same education as their white and homogenous counterparts. They have a right to be treated with respect and insist on a professor treating them fairly and protecting their best interests. The problem is, there are necessarily going to be times when things are said and feelings are hurt. Perhaps the professor didn’t word something right, or a fellow student said something offensive. Perhaps even racist. Unfortunately, these things happen, and we still live in a society not that far removed from slavery, indian genocide, sexist and subjugation of women, and just months out from gays earning the right to marry. This country’s just a handful more police shootings of unarmed black men and no justice served from turning into widespread race riots. They’re fed up in the streets, and white America only watch helplessly, knowing that someone should do something, but not quite realizing it’s us. These are fresh wounds, and classrooms now turn into battlefields, as Antietam, Gettysburg, and Fredericksburg are fought with words, as students try and understand what they’re learning, while trying to express themselves and not look stupid. But people always do. Because some people just weren’t raised the way you were. And the things you value might not mean anything to someone else. Should it? Sure, in an idea world, we would all demonstrate and exercise empathy, understanding, acceptance, respect, and value other people’s feelings. In that world, those minority students wouldn’t have to worry about being unfairly judged for not fault of their own, and just for being born. To those in the majority, they undoubtedly value stuff the others don’t, like the right own guns or their freedom of speech. If they’re from the south, these are cultural characteristics of many people from Dixie. There’s a rugged and rebellious streak that runs through many of those who identify from this region, and their individualism, intense love of freedom, patriotism, liberty, right to bear arms, and right to say what they please, are the values worth fighting and dying for.

Where does an honest dialogue and difference of opinion cross  over and become a racist incident or hate crime? What if an offended student had accepted an apology, and opened the door for another heated conversation? It may sound funny, but there’s no telling where that relationship could have gone. But we’ll never know. Doesn’t it take two parties to fight and offend the other? If so, why does one get to shut down a dialogue and stop the free — and potentially healthy — exchange of ideas, while the other is cast as the aggressor, regardless of who said what? Modeling courtesy, treating people with the dignity they deserve, and respecting the wishes and boundaries of others you may not share views with is the cornerstone of mature discourse and healthy work and school environments. When taken to the extreme, political correctness is much more dangerous to our society, than free speech, and harms much more than it helps! We shouldn’t end up violating one group’s rights and freedom of speech, in order to take pains to protect the right of another group — NOT to not be offended or challenged. Obviously, if there’s legitimate harassment, intimidation, hate crimes, or other serious violations, than a minority, individual, or group must be protected and their dignity and rights championed. But a difference of opinion, however distasteful that opinion might be, is the foundation of interpersonal communication, and learning how to communicate with those you may not like.

To completely change gears, how about all the noise a few months back, when states were finally taking down Confederate flags from state capitol buildings. Personally, I believe no symbol of hate like that flag belongs on state or federal land, and especially a building that legislates laws for EVERY citizen, not just white racists or Civil War enthusiasts. It may be a part of the south’s heritage, but so was slavery and cross burning, but we don’t allow that anymore either. I wouldn’t allow a flag with a cross on it either, or a Star of David, or a Wiccan symbol. It’s a neutral place for everyone, so it’s only fair we clear it of stones bearing the Ten Commandments or flags that mean family to some, but hatred, racism, and forced servitude to others. Like it or not, the Confederate flag was born out of a legacy of slavery and rebellion against a nation trying to abolish the hateful practice. The first place I believe the Confederate flag belongs is in a museum (remember, it’s all about context, and a museum is a place to learn history and where such a controversial object fits into history). The second place, is wherever private citizens want to display it on their property. People have the right to free speech, and I’d never deny anyone that.

However, having said all that, political correctness played an ugly and sometimes necessary role in that whole national conversation. The country was certainly divided and mostly fell along party and regional lines. As you can see, I mostly supported removing the flag from public and advocating for the feelings and needs of those who were victimized under the Confederate flag. However, there was instance where the PC Police went too far, and totally missed the point. It wasn’t before long that people seized on the show Dukes of Hazard, and soon, certain parties were calling for the show to be pulled from the air, banned, digitally edited to erase the Confederate flag on the roof of the General Lee, and eventually, toy companies were scrambling to pull toys, edit websites, and all the rest of the mess. Here is another example of an overreaction and people blowing something way out of proportion, without taking context or intent into consideration. The Duke Boys weren’t racist, even if they did have a car named after the General of the Confederate forces and a Confederate flag painted on the roof. They were proud southern boys, ‘never meanin’ no harm’ — as the song says — and like many in the region, they showed off their legacy. Not once was there anything to even suggest that Luke and Bo were racist or had any ill will towards any group…other than Boss Hogg, the law, and authority figures, perhaps. The task of going through and digitally removing the flag from the General Lee in every episode is time intensive, and completely unwarranted. The car isn’t being used as a symbol of hate, and it’s not even prominently featured enough to draw attention to itself. Rather than attacking the show and car reflexively, perhaps they would have realized it was a sanitized set dressing, and completely neutralized within the context of the show. Furthermore, if parents were that concerned, it seems like the perfect teachable moment to discuss how the flag can have two meanings, and in this instance, it’s a source of regional and cultural pride, but take the time to tell them its more malevolent history, and why it’s still being debated today. Kids can handle it. Black Americans can handle it.

We can’t possibly scour history for every vestige of slavery or some other shameful period in our nation’s history, nor can we sanitize words or artifacts from a time we’d rather forget. We must engage with history, and put it in its proper cultural context, and see what we can learn about our ancestors, and ultimately ourselves. The Politically Correct movement has its heart in the right place, and its aims are lofty and noble. It truly is about inclusion, and giving voice to everyone, while advocating for respect and sensitivity. I just think it’s gone off the rails. It has been taken too far, and we need to use common sense, and most importantly, pay careful attention to context and intent. Each case has its own set of challenges and circumstances. I would simply urge caution, patience, and a little thicker skin. None of us use language as precisely as we’d like to.

Ben Carson’s Absurd Comments Are More Dangerous Than You Think

ben-carson

As a candidate, Donald Trump may be brash, bigoted, sexist, narcissistic, unorthodox, and offensive, but his shockingly high poll numbers suggest the wilder his antics, the more his fans love him, even though his candidacy seems to defy all logic, common sense, and good taste. Despite all this, I contend it’s not The Donald we should fear, but the Doctor, who’s a much deeper and insidious threat to America. When Donald speaks, we know where he stands, and there’s no elegance, poetry, or rhetoric in his words. He speaks in blunt and overly simplistic hyperbolic phrases. Trump is unapologetic in his selfish and transparent grab for the crown. He may sound like a demagogue or passionate champion of Conservative xenophobia and jingoistic saber rattling, but make no mistake: Trump is not there to change lives or improve America. He is there for the same thing that has likely motivated him all his life. Hint: It’s not money. Or at least, not that alone. Money is only as good as the power it buys. The President of the United States is the most powerful position in the world. There’s no telling what Donald Trump would do with such power.

No, the one you want to watch is Ben Carson. Just yesterday, he soared past Trump in the Iowa polls, and New Hampshire is within reach. He has a large percent of the Tea Party and Evangelical vote wrapped up, and he’s become the darling of the middle, who might find Donald Trump’s opinions and courage to be refreshing, but know he’d never make it out of the Primaries, and stand a chance in the General election. His views and demeanor are too caustic, and he’s as far from Presidential a man can get.

On the other hand, Dr. Ben Carson seems like he strategically hid in Trump’s shadow all this time, yet benefited from Donald’s cult of personality and siphoned supporters who grew to find the soft spoken Dr. to be more approachable, nuanced, and most of all, Presidential. After all, Dr, Ben Carson is a celebrated brain surgeon, and a titan in his field, He is a gentle, soft-spoken, tender–yet strong, thoughtful, contemplative, and logical mind, as well as a deeply devout and committed Conservative. Perhaps most important of all, he’s a Washington outsider, and has never held any public office. He is a self made man, and for all intents and purposes, he is a rags to riches story, and proof the American Dream comes to those who work hard, not those who depend on the government to subsidize their life of crime and indolence. And did I mention he’s black? Carson is almost the anti-Obama, and makes the Republicans look hip and progressive, and goes far to capturing a much larger share of the black and Latino vote. He’s gentle and bookish demeanor, yet strong and decisive opinions have made him very popular amongst women. With each passing day, it’s becoming more clear that Ben Carson might be exactly the dynamic outsider candidate and charismatic leader the Republicans need to retake the White House. Lord knows, the establishment candidates with familiar names like Bush and Paul are failing to connect with voters, and in national polls, are shamefully stuck in the single digits, well behind Trump’s 32% and Carson’s 22%. With each new passing day, it seems more feasible that Carson could emerge a dark horse candidate, and overtake a Trump who’s looked surprisingly vulnerable lately, and betrayed his own liabilities. With Trump against the ropes, only a man who’s fought mostly in the billionaire’s shadow could know and exploit all the boxer’s moves.

And none of that would be as frightening as it truly is, if Dr. Ben Carson was actually a brilliant, curious, inquisitive, cerebral, contemplative, rational, open-minded, scientifically rigorous, well researched, and knowledgeable mind like he purports to be and is considered by his adoring fans. You’d think at the very least, the qualification they’d definitely ask of a brain surgeon is that he at least have his own brain. Dr. Carson proves that with hard work, sometimes a full heart is more important than an empty head. If you doubt how fundamentally stupid and misguided this odd man is, read this article and all of the laughingly fallacious arguments he makes. Prison makes you gay…’I Would Not Just Stand There and Let Him Shoot Me’….Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery…Jews couuld have prevented the Holocaust if they had had guns….Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to be President….and so much more!

I can’t help but laugh at how outrageous and ludicrous Ben Carson’s inflammatory comments are, but then I must take pause. There are thousands of his supporters who completely agree with his sentiments, and eat up his words enthusiastically. To them, he’s a kinder and gentler Trump, who still tells it like it is, and speaks truth boldly and unapologetically. He is the outsider, and not a career politician. In this election, it seems that at least on the Right, they want straight-shooters and not slick and polished politicians. Ben Carson’s voice rarely waivers or changes pitch and volume, and his delivery is rather slow, deliberate, staccato, modulated, articulate, authoritative, deceptively sound and credible, and above all else, calm, cool, and collected. If Ben Carson is the anti-Obama, he’s also the anti-Trump. Where the tycoon is loud, Carson is quiet, where Trump is cocky and defiant, Carson is humble and self-effacing, where Donald is caustic and confrontational, the good doctor is conciliatory and collaborative. Where the billionaire is hyperbolic and strident, Dr. Carson is gentle and nuanced. Dr. Ben Carson doesn’t tell any less truth (as he and his followers see it) than Donald Trump does, he just tells it in sweet and dulcet tones that’s easily more agreeable and less divisive to hear, and delivered in a manner only befitting a President.

Ben Carson is funny to listen to, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous or lethal to our democracy. Despite his cultivated laid back scholarly and academic demeanor, this man is reckless with facts and figures, is not a rigorous scholar and student of the scientific method, and is arguably more of a demagogue than Trump, because Carson actually believes his fatuous lies and Conservative fallacies. Whereas Trump claims to be Presbyterian, it’s hard to imagine faith has guided any decision in his life, and the threat of a theocracy or zealous religious administration would be minimal. On the other hand, a Carson administration would be dictated by his deep and devout strict faith, inevitably guiding his hand in affairs like legislating Planned Parenthood and federal funding for abortions and women’s reproductive health, Supreme Court Justices he appoints — particularly in regard to Roe v. Wade, which he has declared he’s committed to overturning, Congressional bills he vetoes or signs into law, the scope and impact of any executive orders he issues, whether he commutes sentences and pardons reformed and deserving prisoners, the way he may disenfranchises or dismantles entitlement programs, and many more areas of governance. And this only covers his decisions regarding to domestic policy. His handling of foreign policy could mean the difference between extracting ourselves from Afghanistan and Iraq, not inserting ourselves into other conflicts and starting new wars, gently helping the UN and NATO police the world’s conflicts, but only intervening when absolutely necessary and using only minimal force, trying to disentangle our economic and commercial interests from war zones and areas that are historically hostile to the United States and its allies, using aid packages and money to help the poorest and most devastated nations, such as countries in Africa afflicted with famine, AIDS, civil war, etc. And there are countless other moral and far-sighted choices our next President will face outside our country. Finally, we deserve a President who fundamentally believes in science, which you’d think an accomplished brain surgeon would, but you’d be wrong. Again, his faith prevents him from investing in the proven truths and undeniable discoveries science has made in the last 2,000 years. As you might expect, Carson does not fully embrace climate change or the aims of environmental regulations. Dr. Ben Carson’s background as a neurosurgeon doesn’t necessarily translate to a decent understanding of climate science. Carson told an audience at the University of New Hampshire on Wednesday that “climate change” is what happens any time temperatures fluctuate.

“Of course there’s climate change,” Carson said. “Any point in time, temperatures are going up or temperatures are going down. Of course that’s happening. When that stops happening, that’s when we’re in big trouble.”

Carson has previously said that he has not seen any “overwhelming science” demonstrating climate change, which prompted California Gov. Jerry Brown to send him a flash drive containing the report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Carson recently told Time magazine that he never received the flash drive. Carson told Time he is “very familiar with the various arguments” about climate change. But “it doesn’t matter about global warming or global cooling,” he said, because “at any point in time the earth is getting warmer or colder. That’s not the big factor.”
What matters, he said, is the “responsibility to take care of” the earth.

In recent remarks, Carson emphasized that humanity must take care of the planet for future generations. “What is important is that we recognize that we have an obligation to take care of our environment,” Carson said. “I don’t care whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative, if you have any thread of decency in you, you want to take care of the environment because you know you have to pass it on to the next generation. There is no reason to make it into a political issue.”

So Carson suggests he has seen no proof climate change even exists, yet believes it’s our moral responsibility to take care of the earth we live on, so we can pass a healthy planet on to our children. Okay. So how does that happen? Apparently, not politically. Elves? Prayer? I’m sure the fluctuating temperatures will work themselves out. Glad to see the good doctor is well informed and ready to lead the second largest polluting nation in the world!

This man is the worst. What makes him so dangerous is that people take him for granted, underestimate him, and until only recently, didn’t see him as a threat to their campaign. Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and all the rest completely ignored Carson, and almost certainly wrote him off as not standing a chance. Jeb Bush has been the most unfortunate beneficiary of Ben Carson’s soaring popularity, being cast aside and left for dead in the unseemly single digits. His father and his brother were both Presidents!!! He was the heir apparent, and now he’s airing his dirty laundry and venting his anger at being attacked and humiliated by the upstart savage billionaire sitting comfortably at the top of the polls. Once upon a time, I actually resigned myself to the fact that if I had to live with a Republican elected to President, I would either want it to be Governor Kasich from Ohio or Jeb Bush. A BUSH! That’s inconceivable to me, but it’s true. Of all the candidates, Jeb’s actually one of the most moderate and sensible ones. As much as it pains me to say, I could live with another Bush White House. Having said that, it’s pretty bad when Jeb Bush is the most centrist and moderate candidate in a race of 17 candidates. This crop of Republicans makes Westboro Baptist Church look reasonable and open minded. They are ultra conservative, mostly deeply devout Evangelicals, committed to bringing down Hillary Clinton anyway that can, hoping to defraud Bernie Sanders as a socialist commie and enemy of capitalism, itching to defund Planned Parenthood, desperate to take down Donald Trump but completely helpless and ineffectual, proud of their NRA ratings and doing whatever it takes to prevent ANY gun control measures, promising to dismantle Obamacare, all vehemently against the Iran deal, and generally ready to attack Obama for two terms of gridlock, obstruction, and overreach. The Republicans seem to be on a mission from God to erase and reverse every one of Obama’s accomplishments and the eight years he ran this country into the ground.

Ben Carson is no different. In some ways, it seems like Ben Carson is harder on Obama than everyone else. It’s hard not to think it has something to do with him being a black man in another party. It’s perfectly understandable Carson wants to set himself apart, and firmly establish the narrative that even if he were to become only the second black man elected to President of the United States, he is nothing like the man that came before. In a country that still tends to see in binary, we forget that just because two people may share the same skin color, similar cultural legacies, and both rose quickly through the political ranks in pursuit of the highest job in the world, the similarities end there. We still assume all blacks are Democrats, and all doctors are white. We still live in that world. I despise his politics, lazy mind, and fallacies dressed as facts, but I do still admire Ben Carson for his contribution to medicine and his courage to stand with a party that doesn’t have a great track record with race, and embrace a party that wouldn’t all embrace him, and for fighting against the stereotype of the black liberal and being whoever he wanted to be. To do all that, and skyrocket through the hierarchy of rank and file Republicans, defy all low expectations of you, take the GOP by storm, leaving men with dynastic names like Bush in the dust, and to end up here, in nearly a statistical dead heat with the lead candidate! That’s impressive, and truly a fairy tale story.

Having said all that, just because I admire how far he’s come in such a short time, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do just about anything in my power to ensure he’s not elected (within reason and the boundaries of law). It’s that important that we protect America from a man like this. He has crazy and outlandish ideas, and dangerous solutions for making America great again. He may seem calm and collected, but Dr. Ben Carson is a loose canon, and we must not let him loose on America. Nobody in their right mind wants a bigoted blowhard like Donald Trump, but I guarantee, you wouldn’t want Ben Carson either. Both men would be terrible for this country, and could seriously damage America’s standing and safety in the world. Maybe instead of opening this country up with a scalpel and cutting away what he sees as disease (Planned Parenthood, Gay Marriage, ObamaCare, Gun Control), perhaps he should go back to operating on brains. If he’s lucky, he may even get to perform the first successful brain transplant…on himself!!!

Shakespeare vs. Mozart: Who Impacted Society More?

Jon Ferreira’s Answer to the Quroa Question: “I believe that Mozart gave humanity infinitely more than Shakespeare. Is Shakespeare’s fame an accurate reflection of his merits? He has many more Google results.”

Shakespeare & Language
I think that most of the other people who responded to this question did a good job demonstrating just how much Shakespeare has contributed to our society — primarily in the way of vocabulary and language. Shakespeare’s timing contributed a great deal to his legend, due to the fact that he was writing at a liminal period in the history of the English language, specifically in the malleable and fluid early years of Modern English. His invention of words, coining of phrases we still use today, clever use of dialogue and soliloquoy, extensive literary and Biblical allusions, masterful use of meter and verse, and brilliant employment of figurative language and metaphor, are just a few of the many ways Shakespeare innovated the English language, and passed down a legacy we have inherited and continue to use today. There can be no doubt that no other writer has shaped language as impactfully as William Shakespeare. His works have also inspired countless writers since. We still use his language and expressions today.

The Threads of Genius: Mozart vs. Shakespeare
As great as Mozart was, his genius is understandably more limited and less ubiquitous than Shakespeare. You could say that Mozart changed music, and influenced every composer after him, but finding the traces of Mozart in all the various genres of music today is more challenging, and certainly his influence on classical, baroque, etc. is easier to chart a trajectory. Finding remnants of Mozart in rap, for instance, might be a little harder to do. Mozart was a necessary stepping stone, which fundamentally changed music and furthered the art form, but it has splintered and evolved and changed so dramatically in the years since. He was unquestionably a musical genius, and unparalleled in the field, but his influence is necessarily less impactful and felt in our everyday lives, as Shakespeare’s demonstrably is. For example, Shakespeare phrases and words are still uttered by humans every day all across the world. The impact he had on language is unmistakable, and far easier to see the legacy. If anything, Shakespeare doesn’t get enough credit for all that he did. He truly does deserve the high praise and adoration he gets. Mozart may be unparalleled in music, but even though music is important to a lot of people today, we don’t need it to live and communicate. Mozart touched the arts, but Shakespeare has cast his shadow everywhere — through our language, science, art, psychology, and much more. His fingerprints are EVERYWHERE!

Literature Before Shakespeare
The Renaissance was a time when human enlightenment reached new heights not seen since the classical Greeks and Romans. In literature, England had seen Geoffrey Chaucer — often considered the father of English literature, and he had gone far to give voice to his characters and create colorful archetypal roles. The major works of the time are Edmund Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’ and Philip Sidney’s ‘Astrophil’. The real Renaissance was born in Italy though, and grew out of the productive and verdant period of the late Middle Ages. Before Shakespeare, Italy had its own literary genius in Dante Alighieri, author of the masterpiece, The Divine Comedy (1308-1320). In the late Middle Ages, the overwhelming majority of poetry was written in Latin, and therefore accessible only to affluent and educated audiences. However, Dante defended using the vernacular, and he himself would even write in the Tuscan dialect for works such as The New Life (1295) and the aforementioned Divine Comedy; this choice, although highly unorthodox, set a hugely important precedent that later Italian writers such as Petrarch and Boccaccio would follow. As a result, Dante played an instrumental role in establishing the national language of Italy. Dante’s significance also extends past his home country; his depictions of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven have provided inspiration for a large body of Western art, and are cited as an influence on the works of John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Lord Alfred Tennyson, among many others. In addition, the first use of the interlocking three-line rhyme scheme, or the terza rima, is attributed to him. So Shakespeare was not the first person to revolutionize his country’s language and innovate freely, but he was unique in how he portrayed his characters. His characters were unusually human and frail, and preternaturally self-introspective. We take it for granted today, but many scholars argue that Shakespeare didn’t just capture the human condition better than any other writer, but that he actually shaped and crafted it. What we take for granted today, might actually have been the Bard’s invention.

Style & Substance: Writing a Character From the Inside Out
Although many people new or unfamiliar with Shakespeare might think his language fancy and unapproachable today, for its time, it was actually quite accessible. It was still elegant, lyrical, and ornate, but it was also muscular and digestible. Before Shakespeare, literature was very florid and characters were written from the outside. Often the poetry or the use of the third person made characters distant and stylized. They spoke very self-consciously, and it often came across as impersonal and obtuse. In the ancient Greek and Roman plays, the characters were much more expressive and emotive, but they were often tied to their own hubris and the will of the gods, that their introspection was minimal as well. Chaucer’s characters were colorful and well sketched, but they were never like real people that you could touch or feel. Their thoughts were prosaic, and did not reach to great depths.

Shakespeare changed all that.

How Shakespeare Shaped Our Psyche & Conscience
Shakespeare changed and shaped the modern psyche more than any other writer in history. His characters spoke eloquently, but also naturally. They asked questions all of us human beings ask, and contemplate mysteries and life’s riddles much in the same way we do. Shakespeare created introspective characters that contemplated their place in the universe, and struggled with their very existence. They were still animals, as we still are today, and caught up in carnal and primitive games of ambition, jealousy, anger, lust, love, etc. but also governed by insightful and rational brains, capable of great honor or deplorable acts of carnage and sin. The Renaissance was an age still ruled by the all powerful Church, superstitions about nature and necromancy, vested in the concept of fate and fortune, and wedded to unenlightened views of medicine, particularly the concept of the Humorism, a system of medicine detailing the makeup and workings of the human body, positing that an excess or deficiency of any of four distinct bodily fluids in a person—known as humors or humours—directly influences their temperament and health. The four humors of Hippocratic medicine are black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood, and each corresponds to one of the traditional four temperaments. Conversely, as these rather primitive superstition, witchcraft and devout Christian belief intermingled, there was also the emergence of a new and rational thought. It was not quite the Age of Enlightenment yet, but humanity was beginning to reason more, and science was beginning to shape human behavior. Shakespeare captured all of this.

Shakespeare characters were not only one dimensional characters on a page or pretty poetry to read, but were three dimensional, and asked hard questions of themselves and each other. They contemplated their place in the universe, and were wracked with guilt and shame, as they were forced to see themselves as they truly were, and forced to face the consequences of their actions. The characters were all deeply virtuous and noble in their own small ways (even the “bad guys”) and they were all deeply flawed and petty in other ways (even the “good guys”). Perhaps for the first time in history, Shakespeare had created flawed and inconsistent characters who were capable of good and bad deeds, and who resembled us like never before.

Shakespeare’s characters were all capable of great insights and triumphs, no matter what their station in life. Often the lower class servants were the most wise and empathetic. Kings were allowed to fall, and peasants to rise. Shakespeare was concerned with the human condition, and was truly egalitarian in how he handed out brains, compassion, mercy, empathy, nobility, etc. The good and the bad, the smart and the dumb, the lazy and the ambitious, the comic and the tragic, could all be found spread out throughout his casts, in the high court and low valleys. Shakespeare also employed high brow humor and low brow humor to diversify his cast, and to appeal to a wide audience. That is why Shakespeare was unquestionably the most popular playwright not only today, but in his day….he was accessible to everyone. Shakespeare’s demographic was the breadth of humanity.

There’s a reason why Freud was inspired by Shakespeare to use themes and tropes as the basis for some of his psychoanalytical research. Shakespeare’s plays explore the full range of human emotion and practically every philosophical and Epistemological argument and question a human could ask in a lifetime. Nobody does it better than Shakespeare, and many scholars believe that he asked questions and raised points in ways never explored before. He gave his characters a voice, and subsequently, gave us a voice too. Hamlet became not only every troubled youth and goth/ intellectual kid out there, but a young man grieving a father, a confused boyfriend manipulating his girlfriend, a son angry and hurt by a thoughtless mother, a loyal friend to one and a deadly viper to others. Hamlet was us, and despite all his flaws, we cannot help but love him, and claim him as our own. Even his “evil” characters like Macbeth, Richard III, and Iago are infinitely charming and funny, and can’t help but ensnare us in their traps. Shakespeare wrote human beings, with all their flaws and foibles, strengths and triumphs, highs and lows, humor and stoicism, and every other trait that makes a man.

Shakespeare is more than deserving of his reputation. Not only did he practically invent and innovate a good portion of our language, he defined what it was to be human, and gave voice to our questions, thoughts, and emotions in a way that had never been done before. He helped shape our modern psyche.