Art & Culture

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The Cost of Saints & Sinners: How Hitler & FDR Came To Us As Saviors, But Only Hitler Left a Scourge

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Believe it or not, I actually see more parallels between FDR and Hitler than I do with Hitler and other superficially similar despots and tyrants. I think to understand the analogy, you must seem them as two sides of the same coin. They rose to power from the ashes of World War I and the Great Depression, stepping into a power vacuum that needed to be filled by a strong and decisive leader, with a steady hand. It may seem an unlikely story, with their radically divergent backgrounds and life stories, but necessity is the mother of invention, and these two men reinvented themselves, and gave the country what it thought it wanted. But only one delivered on most of his promises.

Hitler grew up relatively poor, and after his father died at 13, was raised by a single mother. Young Adolf was a very bad student, and did not do well in school. He was painfully average and unremarkable, and for many years, was lost and directionless. He eventually decided to be an artist, but between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, young Adolf neither worked to earn his keep, nor formally studied, but had gained an interest in politics and history. During this time he unsuccessfully applied for admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He had grown up without a disciplined hand to guide him, and had lived a life so unremarkable, it was the perfect breeding ground for hate, resentment, unchecked ego, and ruthless ambition. Hitler was going to be somebody, whatever it took! He was a self-made man and had carefully crafted every aspect of himself, and his fingerprints can be seen all over the Nazi Party aesthetic and fastidious attention to detail. They are perhaps, the most carefully worded message the world has ever seen. All brilliantly branded by Adolf Hitler himself.

On the other side of the ocean, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born a scion of a very wealthy and powerful American family, fawned over and cultivated…bred…for success and future positions of power. He attended the elite institutions of Groton School and Harvard College. In 1905, he married Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom he had six children. He entered politics in 1910, serving in the New York State Senate, and then as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson. In 1920, Roosevelt ran for vice president alongside presidential candidate James M. Cox but the Cox/Roosevelt ticket lost to the Republican ticket of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Roosevelt was stricken with polio in 1921, which cost him the use of his legs and put his political career on hold for several years. Roosevelt attempted to recover from this illness, and founded a treatment center for polio patients in Warm Springs, Georgia. After returning to political life by placing Alfred E. Smith’s name into nomination at the 1924 Democratic National Convention, Roosevelt was asked by Smith to run for Governor of New York in the 1928 election. Roosevelt served as a reform governor from 1929 to 1932, and promoted the enactment of programs to combat the Great Depression that occurred during his governorship. From birth, Roosevelt had been bred to lead and succeed, but also was taught that the wealthy have an obligation to help those less fortunate, and should always be committed to making everyone’s life easier and more comfortable. This last detail is perhaps the most important in understanding the psyches of these two men. To borrow the famous trope, one was the devil on the shoulder of his country, with the sweet voice of an angel. Although far from flawless, the other was closer to an angel on his country’s shoulder, as he labored tirelessly on their behalf. One was motivated solely by personal vengeance and ego, the other by a genuine commitment to improving the conditions of his country and providing relief. (and no doubt, some vanity and legacy building as well).

Where the two men come together, is in the circumstance of despair, which made both of their respective countries desperate and willing to listen to anyone who could promise to end their nation’s agony. Hitler and FDR inherited desperate countries in the midst of cataclysmic financial despair, and at a time when former leaders were seen as weak and ineffectual and also to blame for their country’s turmoil (America: Herbert Hoover + Germany: Paul von Hindenburg). There was an historic power vacuum and it set the stage for a perfect storm scenario, allowing a strong and decisive leader to step in and save the nation. America needed a savior, just as Germany needed a Führer.

Working on both sides of the ocean, both enjoyed considerable and unprecedented power, virtually unchecked or questioned. Both countries needed a Messiah or a Moses to deliver them from their despair. They both had countries at their disposal, and both could have hypothetically gone either way. They had the power, the skill, the ironclad will, the confidence, the charisma, and most importantly, the keys to the city and mandate of the people. But that’s where their paths would split, as one man chose the path of evil and destruction, and the other chose good will and charity to provide comfort and relief to his country’s tired, poor, and huddled masses. Hitler set to the business of sowing the seeds of hatred, and convincing a country it could be powerful once again, if only it rid itself of the “Jewish Problem,” Hitler saw a defeated and vulnerable country with no self-esteem, and exploited it by flattering their vanity and praising them for the virtue of their heritage, and persuaded them to embrace their racial and cultural superiority. Finally, he convinced them to hunt down and punish their Jewish and minority neighbors, massacre them in camps, and even fight another World War all for the glory of country and racial superiority. All this was conceived and executed in less than ten years, and resulted in the deaths of millions and another catastrophic collapse of Germany.

If Hitler represents the devil on each of our shoulders, FDR is our angel, truly delivering us from despair. Both rose to power from out of the ashes of the first World War. Germany lost, and was plunged into financial ruin and widespread poveryy and misery. The country was literally hungry for a solution…any solution…the Final Solution. America had won the war, and their fates couldn’t have been any more different. Unlike Germany’s dire conditions, the United States spent the next decade enjoying unprecedented wealth and lavish indulgence, using peacetime as a celebratory Bacchanalian festival of pleasure and good times. The ‘roaring twenties’ came to a tragic and abrupt end on October 24, 1929 when the Stock Market crashed cataclysmically, and the country was thoroughly unprepared for the consequences, and found itself unable to recover. The free and unregulated ’20s had stripped away safety measures and failsafes, and provided a means for Black Tuesday to occur. The Great Crash, or the Stock Market Crash of 1929 was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States, when taking into consideration the full extent and duration of its fallout. The country was plunged into economic despair, and Americans were desperate, with an unemployment rate at an unimaginable 33% and people unable to feed their families. The country was vulnerable and looking for answers. The country was so crippled and hungry, it might have done just about anything to make itself stronger. Germany was in the same place. Germans had been so desperate, they allowed themselves to be deceived by an evil and unscrupulous con man, who was so good at being bad, he convinced them to kill the innocent and help him conquer the world. Could we have done such things had FDR been a Hitler, and motivated by personal vengeance and retribution towards Jews? Could America have punished its minorities? It did. FDR managed to convince America it needed to inter its Japanese population for the safety of the American people. And we listened. We allowed it to happen, Although a gross injustice, America was spared further shame, as FDR tried hard to work in our best interests, and use whatever tools at his disposal. To solve the country’s woes, it was going to take unprecedented moves, and swift, decisive action. It was going to take a leader with enough courage to think outside the box, and deliver something so audacious, it might actually work. And he did. We call it The New Deal. Roosevelt defeated incumbent Republican president Herbert Hoover in November 1932, at the depth of the Great Depression.

Energized by his personal victory over polio, FDR used his persistent optimism and activism to renew the national spirit. In his first hundred days in office, which began March 4, 1933, Roosevelt spearheaded major legislation and issued a profusion of executive orders that instituted the New Deal—a variety of programs designed to produce relief (government jobs for the unemployed), recovery (economic growth), and reform (through regulation of Wall Street, banks and transportation). He created numerous programs to support the unemployed and farmers, and to encourage labor union growth while more closely regulating business and high finance. The repeal of Prohibition added to his popularity, helping him win reelection by a landslide in 1936. The economy improved rapidly from 1933 to 1937, and although it worsened and fluctuated afterwards, the relief was delivered, and the medicine had mostly done its work. The country was on the mend, and strong enough to breathe on its own. Then Pearl Harbor. Perhaps no one had made the connection between the two men’s similar power-grabs and sweeping reforms and legislation, but now there was no ignoring the fact that these two leaders of strong and powerful nations were now at odds, and there would only be one victor. After World War I, America had become very isolationist and pacifist, and was very wary of engaging in any conflict. The stories coming over from Europe were sad and regretable, but not urgent enough to compel the country to take up arms and join England and the rest of the Allies in opposing this madman, Adolf Hitler. And then came the “date that will live in infamy.” Some conspiracy nuts actually point to FDR and suggest he orchestrated Pearl Harbor to give Americans the motivation to join the war. The economy had slumped, and the President knew he needed more than another jobs package. Although he never shared it with us, Roosevelt knew that although lethal and repugnant, war was also very profitable. It might just be what the country needed. It was a war fought ideologically, to protect our freedoms and that of our neighbors, but also fought economically, to make America rich again and ensure our continued success.
Hitler and Roosevelt would clash on the field of battle by proxy, yet neither of them would live to see the end of the war. Yet before they died, they each effectively saw who won. FDR died unexpectedly, but the narrative and legacy were continued by his successor, Harry Truman. The end was in sight for Roosevelt, and it was now just a matter of endgame. Germany was broken and all but defeated, and had retreated back into the depths of Germany. Hitler was isolated and cut off in his bunker, as the Americans approached from the West and the Russians came in from the East. The war was won in all but over in Europe, but still stubbornly raged in the Pacific. Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly on April 12, 1945, just two weeks before Hitler took his own life.  FDR knew he had won. Or at least set the stage for Truman to win. Truman was left with having to make one of the hardest decisions any President can ever make: using a catastrophic weapon of mass destruction to annihilate nearly 200,000 innocent people in order to end the war and save countless other innocent lives. It was a no-win situation, and only time will decide if it was the right decision. Either way, it achieved its intended goal, and the war was ostensibly over. If Truman’s difficult choice to end life so catastrophically was hard, perhaps Hitler’s decision to end his own life was easy. Adolf Hitler was a fierce man of conviction and unwavering pride, and he would not suffer such indignity at the hands of mixed-bred and impure weaklings. There was no room for defeat, and he would never be anyone’s prisoner. Functioning as Dictator of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler had effectively started World War II with its invasion of its neighbor, Poland, to the East. His invasion of France, England, Scandanavia, Northern Africa, and elsewhere ensured that his will was world domination, and he was willing to fight any country who stood in his way. Back at home, and in surrounding countries, Hitler had build a vast and extensive network or labor and death facilities, called ‘Concentration Camps” where his troops enacted ‘The Final Solution’ — the mass extermination of European Jewry and other undesirable races and minorities. The Nazis were responsible for exterminating at least six million Jews, and at least 6-8 million other non-Jewish minorities. There had never been any systematic slaughter of this magnitude in the world before Adolf Hitler, nor since, and that is the greatest worst legacy any man could ever have. His Holocaust would never be forgotten, nor would he. Perhaps that’s all he ever wanted: our attention.

Bernie Sanders: The New Hope or the No Hope? How I Bet Against Bernie & Pissed Off My Party

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Bernie Sanders is an incredible man. I recently took one of those quizzes on Facebook, which try and match you to the candidate who most closely aligns with your opinions and shares your same values. I got Bernie Sanders at 98%!!! That’s higher than anyone else I know. I look at his views and proposals and really see someone I can relate to. He does indeed share my hopes and dreams for this country. I think Bernie Sanders is right for America. I just don’t think America is right for Bernie Sanders. Because Bernie might be right for this country, but far too left for its people. Bernie Sanders calls himself a Democratic Socialist. He might as well have said he was an ISIS Communist. America simply does not trust anything with Socialist in the title. I’m not saying I agree with this notion. On the contrary, I actually like a good deal of socialism, and think it would solve many of this country’s urgent problems. However, my views are not the opinions of mainstream America. Although we’ve had a momentous week, with Marriage Equality passing and the Affordable Care Act being upheld and protected, don’t think we are anywhere close to being a progressive nation. As many of us were thrilled and relieved to have won equality for gays and lesbians last Friday, nearly 50% of this country was in shock and disbelief, as they felt their core values had been betrayed and the sanctity of marriage had been dealt a crushing blow. THAT’S the country we live in. It is deeply divided, and that is why it is absolutely imperative that we run candidates who can appeal to both parties, or more specifically, those in the middle…the swing voters and independents, who vote both ways, and need to be convinced that we have their best interests at heart in our party. Many of them lean a certain way, but are still undecided and hesitant. They need gentle coaxing, and need to be convinced. This can only happen with a candidate whose message and platform is more aligned with the middle, and is a moderate progressive, with Main Street America values, and a willingness to work with the opposite party. He can’t be an extremist or firebrand, who invites the scorn and criticism from the Right and the distrust of middle America. He can’t be Bernie Sanders.

As I’ve said, I like Bernie Sanders, and I think he shares my values and has a clear idea of what America should look like. I share this vision. However, we have different ideas about how to achieve these goals. Bernie wants to barnstorm the nation, overtake Hillary, and win with a clear and overwhelming mandate from the people. In office, he hopes to enact unprecedented sweeping change, and start making America a country which serves all its citizens, not just a few privileged whites at the top. I love the idea of Bernie, I just can’t see that happening. If a relatively moderate President like Barack Obama can’t get most of his legislation passed, and has faced unprecedented opposition and bitter personal enmity from a Republican held Congress, Sanders would really have no shot of getting anything done. His far left extremist views are scorned and ridiculed by the Right, and they would defy his rule even more than they have Obamas. 

When I say that I’ll vote for Hillary if she makes the ticket, even though I seriously like Bernie Sanders and agree with his policies, I am not “selling out” or “settling,” but simply hedging my bets, and aligning myself with a winner. The end game is everything, and I’m in it, to win it. That sometimes means you can’t wait around for Mr. Right, but rather, take home Mr. Right now. Because he — or she, as the case may be — is there right now, and has the best shot of winning. What some may call ‘settling’ I call ‘compromising’ and hedging your bets. Why? Because we had to “settle” for George W. Bush for eight years, two wars, thousands of lives, billions of dollars, irreparable damage to the environment, the appointment of two SCOTUS justices, the squandered good will of the world, and countless legislative damage and attacks on women, minorities, and LGBT rights. All because a large enough number of liberals decided to vote their conscience, and cast a vote for Ralph Nader. Sure, Sanders isn’t a third party candidate, so he’s not going to steal votes from Hillary, but we still have to treat him with skepticism. Is it jaded and less than ideal? Yes. But it’s also realistic and pragmatic.

In order to beat the Republicans, we have to start thinking like them. And taking a page out of their playbook. Do you think the majority of Republicans wanted Mitt Romney as their next Commander in Chief? Probably not. But you’d never know it, because those people know how to win and organize, and get out the vote. They come together, because they smartly know this is bigger than one man or one woman. This is the future of the party and the country. They supported Mitt because he was Republican enough to get ‘er done! Liberals shoot themselves in the foot over and over while they dream of electing the next Martin Luther King, Jr. but refuse to understand that we must throw our support behind who’s most electable. So yeah, in the REAL world, it’s always about choosing the lesser of two evils, if you want to phrase it that way. I’d prefer to say the one with the broader appeal and the more competitive edge. We have to keep in mind that we’re not just nominating a candidate that satisfies all us lefty liberal socialists, and embodies every single one of our hopes and values. Of course, that should always be the aim. Realistically, we’re just trying to get one of our guys in the White House, and once there, can let down their hair and get on with the liberal agenda. At this point, we’re putting forward a candidate not just for us, but for that guy in Ohio who has never voted Republican before, but just doesn’t feel comfortable with Bernie’s views on gun control and what he calls the “socialist agenda.” He doesn’t know if he’s on our team yet, but we know he’s not on the Right’s. He’s ostensibly a Democrat, but spooks easily. Sanders doesn’t live on Main Street, U.S.A. Many are alienated by the stereotypical and much maligned lefty liberal. Sanders embodies this image: a well educated rich elite liberal, New York Jew and Vermont transplant, peacenik-hippie, drives a Volvo, self-described Democratic-Socialist, fervent environmentalist, aggressive in taxing the wealthy, anti-business, outspoken social activist, anti-gun, pro-union and co-ops. and the list goes on. While all of these things sound good to me, they tend to alienate the mainstream, and we lose voter confidence. We need to win the hearts and minds of these swing and undecided voters. Whether you choose to accept it or not, Bernie Sanders is not in the mainstream of American culture, as much as I wish we lived in that country. We have to accept that change comes from within, and the only way to get IN the door is to be at least a little bit moderate and attractive to middle of the road voters. I’m not suggesting a candidate adopt the Republican platform, and give up on the core beliefs and values cherished by liberals everywhere. I’m simply saying that whether I like her or not, Hillary is more of an electable centrist and a far stronger and viable candidate than Bernie Sanders. At least right now. If he keeps barnstorming the country and gaining support, his momentum could carry him all the way to the generals. If that were to happen, I still don’t think he’d beat a more moderate and appealing Republican like Jeb Bush. The only person I could see beating Jeb right now, is Hillary. I don’t have to love HER, but I have to love the party enough that I compromised and accepted a second choice winner over a first choice loser. I don’t think it’s cowardly or dishonest to compromise. That’s what life and politics are about. We simply cannot afford a Bush III Presidency. If that means Bernie takes one for the team, then so be it. Roe v. Wade lives to see another day. And gay marriage continues to be the law of the land. We’re running a marathon here, not a sprint, and we’ve got to prepare for the long game. Or else the Right beats us every time!

I didn’t make the rules of the world, but I acknowledge they exist. I can vote my conscience and feel good about my vote, but gutted about the fact that I just voted a third Bush into office. My problem with some liberals is that they plan for a world that they’d like to live in, whereas Republicans acquire what they need to exploit and profit from the world that we’re actually in. Liberals dream of the ideal America, where everyone is included and valued, whereas Republicans live in their ideal America, and do whatever it takes to preserve it and ensure it doesn’t change. They even takes steps to turn back the clock, and take away hard-won freedoms, and reverse the progressive course of history and our evolving nation. They make no apologies, and they rule with an iron fist. Because Republicans feel they are governed and guided by a higher power, that ensure their victory, and they make decisive decisions based on a black and white absolutist interpretation of right and wrong, and how the hierarchy of this nation and world should work. There’s a pecking order in the GOP, and it’s a survival of the fittest, dog eat dog world. Ironic, considering their views on Evolution. The point is, where Democrats apologize and feel bad about stepping on feet and speaking up for what they need and believe, Republicans will step all over us, and not feel remorse or regret for their actions. They know they’re doing God’s work. We think we’re doing the work of the people. Don’t get me wrong. We need dreamers and visionaries like Dr. King and RFK. They had a vision of a better tomorrow for blacks and whites, women and men, and everyone under the sun. That kind of prophetic forward thinking fueled the Civil Rights movement and the recent Marriage Equality victory. That’s the heart and soul of the Democratic party, and I would never suggest we leave those ideals behind. All great change begins with a dream. But we also need practical thinkers, who can compete with Republicans, and bring the fight to them. We need team players, and if that means insider career politicians, then so be it. 

This party could use more pragmatism, and short and long-term strategy. We could learn a lot from the Republicans. As much as I would like to see him do it, I personally don’t think Bernie Sanders is likely to storm the White House and enact sweeping change across America. His politics are simply not digestible to many Americans. The ones we need. The middle. We still share this nation with another 50% who vehemently oppose most of what we stand for, and the future we envision for our children. And as they have proven, they will do WHATEVER it takes to maintain the status quo and ensure their conservative agenda. They’re a machine over there, and they stay on message. The Republican Party is a dependable brand, and a known quantity. Voters know what they’re getting. And those people…we don’t need their votes. They’re gonna vote for the Right no matter who we run. 

It’s all of those others, who are good, decent, hard working Americans, who see the virtues and pitfalls in both sides, and simply need to be convinced. Is this strategizing and compartmentalizing good for American politics? Probably not. But nobody sitting on the front steps of the Capitol ever crafted and passed legislation, and no one outside the front gate of the White House ever signed it into law. Like it or not, you have to first sit down in the chair, before you can stand up for what you belief in. You have to win it, to begin it.

The dilemma is this. Pragmatists like me are considered by many in my party as jaded, a slave to a broken system, and mercenaries willing to sell out their values to play in this game of political bloodsport. Without the infusion of new voices and fresh hope, there is no possibility for change and a more peaceful and loving society. While this theory sounds legitimate in the abstract, in the practical world, things aren’t quite so black and white. We live in a world of shades of grey, and where strategy, deals, and compromise wins elections. Look no further than another Vermonter — Howard Dean to prove that. He had this same kind of momentum and was a firebrand out on the trail. He preached a message of hope and social justice, and many of the same things Bernie’s articulating and inspiring people with today. Howard Dean was decidedly an outsider, and refused to play the game of Washington. He fashioned himself the liberal crusader, who was going to storm Washington and use intellect and the might of the right to change a broken system. Then came the Dean Scream, and his campaign was effectively dead in the water. I don’t expect Bernie will make the same mistake, but the parallels still remain. The analogy is this: it’s relatively easy to inspire and whip up the base into liking you. Of course his fundraisers and campaign rallies are overflowing with devoted Bernie acolytes. What would you expect? Those are the people who are supposed to love and respect him. He is the embodiment of all our ideals. He is the poster boy for liberal integrity and social justice. Sadly, those aren’t the people he needs to convince. It’s the rest of America.

Very few extremists of note have ever won an election in this country. Many of you argue with me, and insist that Bernie is not an extremist, and actually is quite mainstream. You are sadly deluded. Maybe to you he is mainstream, because you drive a Saab and work as a professor at Middlebury, in Vermont, live in a 19th Century restored Victorian farmhouse, are active in the local green party, belong to a co-opt, act in your town’s local community theatre, and in the 1960s, you worked on RFK’s campaign and attended Woodstock. Sure, in your world, Bernie shares all YOUR middle of the road values. The reality, my friend, is that you live in a progressive cultural bubble of liberal hegemony, and Main Street, America does not take a left through Vermont. Sanders actually refers to himself as a Democratic Socialist. As I said earlier, to many in this country, he might as well have said he was an ISIS Communist. It’s not fair, and it’s not rational, but it’s reality. And this is a campaign of reality. Real lives are at stake. Rights of minorities and the health of every American. And as much as I’d like to live in the land of tomorrow, I think we enact change from within today. Hell, we just passed Marriage Equality and Affordable Healthcare. And who did that? It wasn’t some crusading liberal outsider with an eye to radical social revolution. It was very real justices who were appointed by a very real winning mainstream politician. That person began as a candidate, winning the hearts and minds of middle America, where Joe the Plummer lives, not Andy Warhol. It doesn’t mean radical artists and great visionaries aren’t welcome in the party. We need those people. But Americans want to vote for and elect someone who looks like them, and shares their same values.

The reality of America is that most people fall somewhere in the middle. They distrust ALL politicians, but especially the loud and bombastic zealots from the extreme left and extreme right. Now, I’m not saying Sanders is zealous or radical liberal, but he is a self-described Democratic Socialist, and he favors policy proposals similar to those of mainstream social democratic governments in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia. That may not sound unreasonable or undesirable to us bleeding heart liberals, but to the average or slightly conservative American, he might as well have said he’d like to take away all of America’s guns or make Islam the national religion. To many people, socialism is a scourge to society, and spreads like the cancer of Communism — an even worse and more maligned term in this country. The opinion of many Americans is that socialists are anti-capitalism, and rely on taxing the well-earned money of hard-working Americans, in order to subsidize the poor, indolent, lazy, minorities, and otherwise unproductive leeches of society.  They have falsely learned to distrust socialized healthcare, maternity and paternity leave, free education, patronage of the arts and museums, comprehensive welfare and government subsidies, and other social programs. They listen to scare tactics about how single-payer free and socialized healthcare is dangerous and kills thousands of innocent sick people every year, with its long lines and substandard quality and facilities. We have actually come to believe this preposterous propaganda. The point is, whether we like it or not, the truth is, the majority of Americans believe some version of this lie. Socialism is a dirty and obscene word in this country, and that makes Bernie Sanders a dirty and obscene candidate. He believes in the fair distribution of wealth, corporate accountability, is a pacifist, argues passionately for social justice and for rights still divisive and threatening to many, can appear very anti-business, believes in far-reaching regulations, wants to completely overhaul campaign financing, seeks to heavily tax the rich,  and many more controversial issues for voters. You can only deny the truth for so long. Bernie may be storming rallies and fundraisers now, and he may have already captured your heart, mind, and vote, but this is a flash in the pan and unsustainable.

Liberals are such dreamers, and get so excited for moral crusaders and radical revolutionaries, we forget to vote for the candidate who can actually win us the White House. The one who actually signs bills, and actually appoints justices, and actually has their finger on the button and starts wars. We need to think in actual terms, in the real world, and who we can actually elect. Dreamers are great because they inspire and motivate the liberal base, but they’re rarely the ones who win elections. Even the unrealistic and improbable win of Barack Obama wasn’t as radical and unprecedented as we may think. Obama was relatively moderate, and had certainly called for change and made progressive moves, but he was still palatable for mainstream America. He was like the nice boy your daughter brought home for dinner. He was polite, well spoken, intelligent, funny, talented, and respectful of all your family values, even when he didn’t always agree. He had dignity and integrity, and Americans realized that. They saw a rags to riches story of one man overcoming impossible odds and an improbable ascent to the highest office in the land. His story was our story, and Obama embodied the American Dream. The color of his skin was more of an asset than a liability. We voted him in for his merit, but also because we collectively thought it was time, and a black man deserved to be President. Obama whispered quiet change, but spoke loudly for an America everyone could enjoy. He advocated justice, but ruffled relatively few feathers. He was acceptable to middle America, and for a brief time, Obama lived on Main Street, U.S.A.

Bernie Sanders is no Barack Obama, Most people think of Sanders as an elite educated New York Jew, who moved to Vermont and ran for office. They see him as a social activist, and do not see themselves in him. The Sanders we’re seeing selling out stadiums and overflowing campaign rallies is energizing the base and whooping up a frenzy in the left wing liberal demographic. But again, that’s NOT AMERICA. Sanders will face just as much distrust and scorn as Howard Dean did before him, and Ralph Nader did before that, and generations of far left extreme candidates, who keep the party honest and inspired, but ultimately cannot hope to win the highest seat in the land. Change comes from within, and in baby steps. The Republicans are pragmatists, and do what is ultimately best for the party, even if that means sacrificing a man who most embodies their message. Democrats need to start being just as ruthless with their candidates. As painful as it is for me to say, it is always about more than just one man. And I say that with the knowlege that the Civil Rights party most certainly would not have been the same without MLK and the 1968 Presidential Race would looked completely different without RFK. We likely would not have had Nixon, more Vietnam, and certainly not Watergate. Individuals CAN change the world. But most of them did it from within, as much as without. MLK used mild civil disobedience, but he met with the President and opposing leaders, and he used peaceful protest and civil law to achieve his goals. No war. No revolution. Just peace and ideas. More recently, gay and lesbian Americans have been working tirelessly for over two decades (at least!), in an effort to win rights and change legislation barring them from marriage, inheritance, and discrimination in the workplace. They have achieved remarkable hate crime legislation and other protections, but the crowning achievement came last Friday, when they won Marriage Equality with a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in their favor. It was a momentous and historic day. Yet it didn’t come about through radical change, or violent revolution. It came about slowly (actually, quite rapidly, compared to gender and racial equality). and it was achieved through measured legislative change and lobbying. It came about through winning the hearts and minds of the American public. Because some house wife started to watch Ellen, and “really liked her, even if she is gay.” They wore down our “traditional family values” as generations of black Americans had worn us down to prepare for Obama. He stands on the shoulders of giants, as do gays everywhere, stand on the shoulders of men like Harvey Milk. CHANGE COMES FROM WITHIN, AND IN SMALL GAINS.

As much as we’d all like to immediately live in one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, it doesn’t work like that. Dream big, change small. It’s better than NOT getting elected, and not only being unable to make changes for the better, but have to suffer the Right making changes for the worse, and rolling back the rights and liberties we’ve won. We simply can’t afford another eight years of Bush III. That’s the reality. If Bernie can promise me that, then I’d love to vote for the man. And I likely will vote for him in the primary. But when it counts, I’m going to vote for who I think can win and protect and fight for my values and way of life. Voting my conscience is about more than just voting for one good man. It’s about voting for anyone who can ensure my way of life and the values I hold dear. My “conscience” sleeps just fine knowing my vote counted, and I put one of our guys in the only chair that matters.

If #LoveWins & #HateLoses, I Dare You To #LovetheLoser

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“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.” —Galileo Galilei

I saw this quote, and I thought it applied to the recent victory for marriage equality. Not the long journey to get to that point, nor the win itself, but these next few days….these next few years….these next few decades. These are the ever important next few delicate steps. It’s not how you handle defeat, so much as how you handle victory. How will we conduct ourselves? The answer to that question might very well hold the fate of relations between the Left and the Right in this country, and for generations to come. We must walk proudly, but tread lightly. Naturally, these are happy times for equality and social justice, but I think it’s important to remember that while it may be a milestone for what the LGBT community has won, it’s also a time when the whole other half of the country grapples with all they have lost. So what? They’re bigots and they deserve to lose. To the victor go the spoils. While I completely agree with the sentiment, I am wary of where it may lead.

Of course those who oppose gay marriage are on the wrong side of history, and bigotry is savage and unacceptable in any civilized society. No one has the right to legislate another person’s body, dictate who they should love, or deny them the right to marry whomever they please. Those are innate and inalienable rights, and those who disagree, deserve to be called to task. They’re in for a fight! It’s not that I’m suggesting we don’t hold these bigots accountable, but only that we look to the way in which we do it. Calling them ignorant slobs and white trash gun nuts and religious zealots is not exactly the most tactful way to win the hearts and minds of a group as wide and diverse as we are. Some may foolishly oppose Evolution, others may fly Confederate flags, and still others may try and pray your gay away, but they are human beings, and deserve our respect and attention. To give someone your undivided and open-minded attention is one of the greatest gifts a human being can endow another with. I”m not suggesting we agree or validate their opinions, or even that we not argue our side of the issue. Of course. I’m just saying that the Right isn’t the only hateful and hostile side in this debate. We on the Left do a disservice to ourselves and this country when we sweepingly dismiss nearly half the country as idiots, and speak to them as if they unquestionably were. That’s one out of every two Americans. Is THAT bitter enmity acceptable in a civilized society?

I used to teach high school in the inner city to poor, at-risk black students, and I can’t even describe the kind of severe learning deficits these kids possessed, and the kind of unthinkable classroom behavior I dealt with day in and day out. If you were to walk into my classroom, and see kids climbing the walls, braiding each other’s hair, throwing sunflower seed shells on the floor, and very little learning being done, you would likely question my abilities as a teacher. But if you saw these ninth graders barely reading at a fifth grade level, and kids that knew nothing of basic grammar, you might begin to shift the blame on them. After all, every class you had seen that day was the same, and every kid struggled to succeed. Perhaps you might choose to make generalizations about race, and conclude that black kids are less intelligent than whites, and have far greater intellectual deficits. If so, you wouldn’t be alone. I knew many teachers in my time in education that came to the same conclusion, and that attitude was evident in the way they taught and disciplined their students of color. For the rest of us moral crusaders and bleeding heart liberals, we held onto the truth that it was no wonder these kids lagged behind. Most came from difficult single working mother families with few positive male role models, and even less exposure to adults with degrees and diplomas. They also attended horrible underfunded schools with overworked and overtaxed teachers like me, who were trying to undue a system that had failed them, in the course of a single school year. That’s an impossible task, as we all know. My point is, until you’ve walked in another person’s shoes, you don’t know their true journey. Sure, what’s there to know about hatred and bigotry? Who cares? Evolve and be civilized! But I could have thought those very same things about those kids. I could have determined they were dumb, and effectively given up on them, That’s what many of their teachers before had done, and what society did long ago. But I got to know them as people, and I grew to love them. And I saw how much innate intellect these kids really had. They might not have been built for standardized tests, but they sure could fall into the rhythm and meaning of Shakespeare’s verse better than any white classroom I ever had! They were instinctively smart, but it came across as street smarts only. And attitude.  But these weren’t street thugs, they were fragile and innocent kids who had gotten a rough break in life, and grew up undereducated and instilled with beliefs that might sometimes conflict with the goals of education and social equality for those unlike them. But that’s why it was even more imperative that I model good behavior, and try to impart the value and worth of an education, and the greater odds of success in life with a degree and a career. Not just a job. Many who oppose gay marriage come from similar backgrounds, deeply rooted in Church and traditional family values, and for many, the rich legacy of being a white southerner. Or a black southerner. The face of the person we call “bigot” may not be what we imagine. If every bigot learns to hate, then every bigot can unlearn it too. Lest we be judged…

Just as you and I learned to love and embrace diversity, bigots learned to hate and distrust those who were different. Or at least mildly disapprove of such behaviors. For progressives, such ignorance and intolerance is revolting and an indignity suffered at the hands of oppressors for too long. And yet, if we learned how to love, surely they can too. They are our friends and neighbors, teachers and politicians, coworkers and family members. They are us. If we truly believe in the value and importance of education in unlocking doors of tolerance and acceptance, we must give it as well as accept it. Now is not the time to gloat and rub their noses in their own fetid defeat, no matter how satisfying and justified we might be in doing so. We must be better than them, and model the kind of behavior we want our children to learn and adopt. In this time of pent-up anger and resentment, and all the vitriol being hurled at us from the Right, it would be easy to match their anger and use the same old scorched earth battle tactics employed by them for decades. Drop a nuke, obliterate the enemy, and throw a party. And we would all be perfectly justified in doing so. But we can’t preach the values of #LoveWins and then turn around and only apply it to gay marriage. LOVE wins. If love is a blind and boundless mercenary of the human heart, it would stand to reason that it has the capacity to work its way into even the most tightly guarded of places, and as you might guess, those are the places that need it the most. If we wish to emerge from the shadows, we can’t wait for the sun to rise, we must shine a light into the darkness ourselves. Martin Luther King, Jr. once famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Bigots aren’t cured of bigotry by divine intervention, but by human intervention. They are cured by love and the human decency they didn’t have the capacity to extend themselves.

No one has a monopoly on love, and we can’t hoard it to ourselves just because it has been cruelly withheld from us. If we truly believe in educating the ignorant, and honestly believe that love conquers all, then we must allow it to conquer US. It’s easy to love those who look like us and share our hopes, dreams, and beliefs. That’s what bigots have been doing for centuries. BUT SO HAVE WE. It’s much harder to love your enemy, and take steps and make inroads into their heart, even if you despise everything that’s in their head. We learned through teachers and adults who modeled tolerance, and passed on a legacy of acceptance and social justice. Now we must really put those egalitarian ideals to the test, and see if we can tolerate those who harbor even the vilest of beliefs. I’m not saying I’m about to go have a beer with Paul LePage or Rick Santorum any time soon, but rather, I’m going to try and hold myself to a higher standard then they ever granted us, and try and remind myself that we aren’t just talking about a small minority of haters and bigots. Over 40% of this country opposes gay marriage. That’s nearly half the country. Try and remember that when we elected Barack Obama, he opposed gay marriage. And if you remember Hillary’s interview on Fresh Air, Terry Gross grilled her to admit that she in fact once firmly opposed same sex marriage too. Admittedly, the jump is far closer for a liberal than a conservative, but it goes to show that as a people, we are all growing and evolving. Some of us are just doing it more rapidly. The point is, we can’t simply choose to ignore half the country and label them bigots and backwards yokels. These are our neighbors, and we must all live together. If Washington gridlock and vicious partisanship continues at this rate, there will be blood in the aisles before too long, my friends. We must find a way.

Love and tolerance are learned and modeled, and ignorance isn’t cured in a bubble. It happens through repeated exposure, glimpsing the humanity and shared bonds in someone ostensibly unlike you, and being treated with the kindness and respect you might have denied many countless others. It’s about being the better human being. And above all else, it’s about sharing love and unconditional kindness to those who least deserve it and whose beliefs may violate everything you stand for. Remember the words of MLK: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Let’s take this incredible moment in history to spread love, not hate, and be the change we want to see in the world.

Love the Sinner: Modeling Tolerance for Those Who Hate & Celebrating Victory For Those Who Love

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In a way, marriage equality is kind of like winning the lottery, but then realizing the cash prize is all your own money already. It’s like having a fortune you were born with and entitled to, but somehow deprived of and kept away from by generations of short-sighted and powerful men clinging desperately to your birthright, in fear that they’ll lose theirs. Marriage equality is not a threat to the institution of marriage. It’s a threat to the people in power. Power that has been hoarded over like a vast inheritance since time immemorial, and is suddenly being distributed to those who not only need it the most, but those who innately possessed it all along. Those at the top are scared, because for one of the first times in history, those at the bottom are not only hungry, but patient. They’re clever and capable enough to use the system against itself, in order to right past wrongs and ensure we all live in a society that serves every citizen, regardless of gender, orientation, faith, skin color, wealth, and all the other characteristics that make us unique and different, yet unmistakably alike. But this journey is one fraught with peril, for we must be vigilant that the oppressed doesn’t become the oppressor, and that love trumps vengeance every time. If ever there were a moral imperative, that would be it.

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I can’t help but think of the great Dickens’ story, Oliver Twist. As we all know, Oliver is a poor orphaned boy who doesn’t know his parentage, and is one day sent to a miserable workhouse to toil his days away. One day, the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots; the loser must ask for another portion of gruel. The task falls to Oliver, who at the next meal tremblingly comes up forward, bowl in hand, and begs Mr. Bumble for gruel with his famous request: “Please, sir, I want some more,” to which Bumble increduously replies, “More?!?” In the end, we of course find out that Oliver had money all along, and had a rich inheritance denied to him all those years. In that time, he had been abused and beggared by society, and cast aside and worked to the bone by the rich and powerful. Even Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and other poor castoffs took advantage and exploited poor Oliver. And yet, throughout the course of the novel, Oliver is always generous and kind, and even when he earns his much overdue inheritance, his kindly benefactor Brownlow asks Oliver to give half his meager inheritance to his no-good half-brother Monks because he wants to give him a second chance. Oliver, being prone to giving second chances, is more than happy to comply, and he shares it with the dissolute man.

Since time began, minorities such as gay people and blacks have suffered lives like Oliver Twist, and had to live in the shadows, and slave away quietly while others got rich and lived loud and proud. They were oppressed and exploited, and always made to feel like an unwelcome outside. During the Civil War blacks and whites both fought for the preservation of the Union, but knew they were fighting for something greater. They were fighting to emancipate a group of human beings who had been enslaved, beaten, killed, and mistreated for centuries, all in the name of PROFIT! Slavery was a rich legacy in the South, and that war opened a wound that has never healed, and has recently started to fester and ooze. But that fight was won by and for the African Americans in this country, and we are all the better for it. Of course, we all know that hard and bloody conflict wasn’t enough to deliver equal rights and protection to black men and women, even when ensured these rights by laws and Constitutional Amendments. And thus, nearly a century later, blacks once again raised the banner, and peaceably demonstrated and marched to win the rights they were supposedly born with, but had never properly enjoyed. Again, they were met with violence and terror, yet they persevered and stayed strong. Their efforts, like the efforts of their ancestors before them, were successful in earning them their long overdue rights. Today, we are seeing another movement on the rise, and its another cry from the black community, who have suffered at the hands of whites again. Contrary to the condemnation of many on the Right, the African American community is not whining and moaning, nor are they too lazy and unmotivated to work and make a living for themselves. This is a group of people who have supposedly been granted equal rights and are protected by American law, yet are still victimized by the sheer color of their skin. They are denied employment racially profiled, discriminated against in the workplace, denied loans, given subprime predatory loans,unfairly assaulted and terrorized by law enforcement more than any other group, met with violence by overzealous gun owners, subjected to poor and inadequate educations, and many other small and large offenses. In short, they are forced to live in a society and under a government that wasn’t built for them. Even the very language we use is loaded, and full of implicit and explicit racism. It’s around every corner. It’s called Institutional Racism, and it permeates our global culture. Having dark skin is a liability in this world, and there’s seemingly nothing anyone can do about it. Except there is.

In the book, Oliver Twist lived an impoverished life of squalor and deprivation. At every turn, he was taken advantage of and denied his rights. Literally, this poor boy was denied his inheritance and natural birthright. Such is the case for minorities, women, and LGBT Americans, and more globally, citizens of the world. There are millions of proverbial orphans out there, in search of their homeland, and it’s often the land beneath their feet. But they are not truly home, because they are unwelcome there, and met with hostility. Poor Oliver had a fortune all along! He was born with it. So are all these people throughout the world. MORE?!? Yes, more!!! Naturally, the analogy I’m drawing is that Oliver was just asking for the bare minimum. What was due him. He was just looking to survive. He just wanted what he thought he deserved. So too are oppressed and persecuted Americans and global citizens everywhere. A meager bowl of gruel. No more than anyone else gets for free.

What Bumble saw was not just a meager bowl of gruel, but a valuable chess piece that he was withholding from Oliver, as he played the classic Master-Slave paradigm and deprived the boy of not only his meal, but his humanity. Yesterday was a victory for equality and social justice, but we it should be obvious that we still have a long way to go. The fact that the LGBT community has been fighting this battle for centuries, all to win a right that men and women have enjoyed since time began, should tell us how far we still have left to go. They broke even! They fought to win back their own inalienable right we were all born with. I am not saying this to minimize their effort and the sweet satisfaction that comes with earning their rich reward, but just to demonstrate how deeply rooted this bigotry and intolerance really is. Everyone who fought and died and shed their blood and tears for this cause is a hero, and I am so humbled by their struggle. I have tried to help in my own small way, but it’s never enough. I just hope we take this time to celebrate how far we’ve come and all that we’ve accomplished, but remember…the rights they earned were theirs already!!! Now let’s start capturing the rights and rewards the powerful and intolerant have been enjoying since the dawn of time.

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As we move forward though, I only hope that we can strive to keep the civil in civil rights. This was a major victory for those who have struggled, fought, died, and surrendered so much all for being who they are, and to try and win the right to love whomever they choose. There’s understandably a lot of anger and resentment out there. And I am not gay, and would never presume to know what it’s been like for all these brave men and women everywhere. But as a human being — which we all presumably are, first and foremost — I can only hope that we aspire to be better than our “masters” and have the integrity to not gloat or taunt the opposition, but celebrate proudly and respectfully. Would they do that for you? NO. But that should be the very reason we do that for them! Winning a decisive victory like the LGBT community won yesterday is a special moment, but it shouldn’t be about flipping the tables, subjugating the bigots, or punishing the plantation owners. Just the opposite. I feel that those of us who support marriage equality should conduct ourselves with dignity, compassion, mercy, empathy, and a heart big enough to forgive past injustices. I’m not asking anyone to forget, just consider forgiving. Otherwise, that’s a lot of hatred and anger to carry around and constrict you, when you’ve just won your liberty! We don’t ever want to become like them, but we will if we allow hate and retribution to dominate and guide our words and actions. Rather, if we can lead by example and model civilized and open-minded behavior, eventually time, attrition, and exposure to diversity and tolerance will eventually turn hearts and minds. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.” You can’t win the hearts and minds of a people you’ve just decimated and dehumanized. The debacle of the Reconstruction proved that. We’re still reeling from the reckless and thoughtless treatment of the South after the Civil War. We won no hearts and minds then.

It’s important to remember that we’ve got allies out there in those bigoted masses. Think about how appallingly racist the South was at one time. Yes, I’m aware there’s still an alarming number of racists still there. But I’m talking about the average citizen in my own mother’s lifetime that actively and vocally supported segregation and even violence against blacks. It makes me think back to my time in Pittsburgh, when I saw a provocative and compelling traveling art exhibit called “No Sanctuary” with dozens of photographs depicting actual lynchings in the South. The horrifying bodies were hanging grotesque and lifeless, but the real horror was in those that looked on. Every picture chronicled a shameful moment when a huge crowd of white folks gathered to see the black man hanging. There were women and children, fathers and husbands, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The town grocer was there. The used car salesman. The elementary school teacher. And those kids. Big eyes and smiles, as they learned what it meant to hate. Unlike inalienable rights, Intolerance isn’t something we’re born with. It’s something we learn. For many bigoted Americans, they are still clinging to their legacy, and they’re terrified what would happen if they were to lose it. It’s the only life they know. To them, THAT is their birthright. It’s all they know. They think that that is their genetic inheritance. They are “Just as God made them.” This is actually not the case. They are solely the product of their environment. Sure, some are more prone to anger and violence, others have less brain capacity, some others still are less able to comprehend nuance and grey areas. But we are kidding ourselves if we actually believe that all bigots and right-wingers are slow and unintelligent people. They are certainly as diverse and varied as any of us, they just tend to be more vocal in their beliefs and condemnations, and adhere strictly to their principles and faithful devotion. But that describes many on the Left. It’s convenient to point figures at churches and houses of worship, but even these are as diverse as the spectrum is wide. Just as many of them want to save us, we must desire to save them. The difference is, we must do it with love, and not hate. We must find ourselves in them, and at least make the effort to convert the stubbornly bigoted to the path of peace and equality. They must understand that it’s not about taking away their rights and enslaving them, but building a safe and supportive community together. I know that I sound pie-in-the-sky and probably unrealistic, but they are our neighbors, and unless this country breaks up into separate sovereign and ideological territories, we all have to live together. They think they are born that way, and gays choose it. It’s important to change that misconception, first and foremost. They can only learn through repeated contact, not through isolation and exclusion. The Left can be just as partisan, uncompromising, and resort to just as much base demagoguery as the Right. We must somehow find a way to reach across the aisle — both literally and figuratively.

Unlike the misguided beliefs of those who deny the theory of Evolution, and cling to the idea that they were born in God’s perfect image — gay men and women rightly declare that they too were born the way they are, and that genetics determined their identity, as much as environment. Even transgender people clarify that the bodies they were born with aren’t necessarily how they see themselves and how they necessarily identify. Biological Gender (sex) includes physical attributes such as external genitalia, sex chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, and internal reproductive structures. At birth, it is used to assign sex, that is, to identify individuals as male or female. Gender on the other hand is far more complicated. It is the complex interrelationship between an individual’s sex (gender biology), one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither (gender identity) as well as one’s outward presentations and behaviors (gender expression) related to that perception, including their gender role. Together, the intersection of these three dimensions produces one’s authentic sense of gender, both in how people experience their own gender as well as how others perceive it. They rightfully insist that they be allowed to self identify on birth certificates, for example, with or without sex reassignment surgery. Ultimately, we are who we think we are, and how we see ourselves. How can anyone deny another person the right to be who they are? Especially considering such declarations harm absolutely no one. And yet, many still see it as a threat to traditional family values, and the cherished beliefs they were raised on. Unlike the learned hatred of many in this country, gay and transgender people inherited a genetic legacy, and that should be enough for them to proudly and openly live it.

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As I approach the conclusion, I just want to implore people everywhere to celebrate and savor this momentous occasion, but never forget that the fight still goes on. Rights are violated and denied everywhere in this country, every day of the year. There’s a considerable number of those bigots and intolerant folks around this country, in every city, town, and state. But remember, they are also our own friends and neighbors. They are sometimes our very own families. They are us. That lottery I spoke of is something we all are born with, it’s just that many of us have been robbed and deprived of ever enjoying our rich inheritance. It’s alarming that there are still so many people who wish to deny any human being their guaranteed birthright. Although a hypocritical and conflicted man himself, Thomas Jefferson was nonetheless visited by a muse the day he wrote the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Right now, we are still fighting to get to the same starting line and ensure we all are afforded those same rights Jefferson eloquently penned.

Women and minorities face obstacles seen and unseen, written into the very fabric of our nation. Our world. White men wrote the rules at one time, and we are still living by them today. When you listen to Fox News or hear soundbites from candidates like Rick Santorum, it’s easy to lose hope, and give up on the human race. The obstacles still seem insurmountable, and the protracted war un-winnable. And yet, think of those lynching pictures I witnessed, with the shocking faces of the curious, amused and entertained spectators looking on as a human being hung lifeless and desecrated. Then think of all those white people that gathered with signs to block a little black girl from integrating at an all white school. Think of the KKK, with its once swelling active membership. And then think about today. Sure there’s still bigotry, but I’d bet that over half those people who peered our from those pictures evolved in some small way over their lifetimes, and learned to at least tolerate the rights and liberties of their once maligned black neighbors. Some likely came to support and befriend African Americans. How do I know this? Because history has proven that the entrenched racial hatred which once permeated the South, and the majority of those who once oppressed blacks and supported segregation. eventually came to change their opinions, as their views on race grew and evolved. Sure, there’s still racism, but considering it’s been less than fifty years, that’s incredible progress. And yet, still not enough.

We must remember those faces of hatred and bile and remember that even some of them managed to change, and see the humanity in their fellow man. As we move forward, let’s try and remember the humanity of those who have and still would oppress us, and be better than they ever were, and kinder then they might deserve. They may be our foe now, but tomorrow they might be our ally. Hatred is learned, and though challenging, it can be unlearned. When we use the hashtag #LoveWins, we must try not to fiercely hold onto that love, but extend it to those who would not likely extend it to us. That’s the true definition of love. And only through love can any of us truly hope to live.

We must never give up hope. I always take comfort in the wise words of those who came before me, so I’d like to share a few meaningful quotes:

“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.” —Galileo Galilei

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” —Nelson Mandela

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

“Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right.” —Isaac Asimov

“I believe each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruits of his labor, so far as it in no way interferes with any other man’s rights.” —Abraham Lincoln

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” —Barack Obama

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Holmes Away From Holmes: How Downey’s Sherlock Is Not Doyle’s

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There’s No Case Like Holmes

In full disclosure, I have been an obsessed Sherlock Holmes fan for over 30 years, and in addition to my many traditional and annotated editions of the stories, I also collect Sherlock Holmes memorabilia of all varieties, as well as a very large collection of over 75 Sherlock Holmes movies and television shows, all featuring dozens of different actors portraying Holmes. So it’s kinda my thing…

Past Holmes: Sherlock on Stage, Television, & Screen

Having said that, I think any fan of Sherlock Holmes will tell you that 95% of all portrayals on stage, television, and film over the last 128 years have been resounding failures! Having been depicted on screen 254 times, Guinness World Records announced that Sherlock Holmes had been awarded a world record for the most portrayed literary human character in film & TV. He even beat out Hamlet! Since his creation in 1887, Sherlock Holmes has been played by over 75 actors including Sir Christopher Lee, Charlton Heston, Peter O’Toole, Christopher Plummer, Peter Cook, Roger Moore, John Cleese, Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. As it turns out, Sherlock Holmes is an elusive and confounding character to play. He’s so mercurial and frighteningly intelligent, most actors are either intimidated by him and fail or are brash and overconfident and fail. For most fans there are only three actors that are worthy of praise:

  1. Basil Rathbone — Starred in a series of 14 films released between 1939 and 1946. Although Rathbone could be aloof, he also had a strong sense of duty and was a consummate gentleman. He was probably the most spry and active Holmes, and undoubtedly the most conventionally nice.
  2. Jeremy Brett — Considered by most people to be the best portrayal of Sherlock Holmes ever. He is so devastatingly good, and so true to the stories. He looks like the Paget drawings from the Strand, and effortlessly embodied the great detective. Brett played the fictional detective in four Granada TV series from 1984 to 1994 in all 41 episodes.
  3. Benedict Cumberbatch — Stars on the hit BBC tv show, Sherlock, an updated series set in modern day London, with stories inspired by the books, but then twisted and updated. Still, the show is remarkably true to the spirit of the Doyle stories. Cumberbatch is brilliant as the misanthropic, Spectrum–Savant, and socially awkward Holmes.

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Great Expectations: Holmes Is Where My Heart Is 

So….when Sherlock Holmes (2009) was announced, there was no Sherlock yet, nor was there Elementary. Needless to say, it had been a long dry spell without any Holmes, which no Holmes fan should have to endure. (careful what you wish for) The last Jeremy Brett show had aired 15 years prior. When I heard about the movie, I was legitimately excited. First, I had always enjoyed the movies of Guy Ritchie. I thought they were hip, edgy, postmodern, and gritty. I clearly didn’t really think this one through. In retrospect, they couldn’t have chosen a worse director than Ritchie. For some reason, I did not anticipate Ritchie’s obvious indifference to the source material and singular focus on unrelenting action. But more on that later. Secondly, I am a huge fan of Jude Law, and thought he might anchor the film nicely, with his quiet and sober presence. I considered that he might be a smart and clever companion, not the tired and dull-witted Watson we’ve seen so often. Finally, I was thrilled at the casting of Robert Downey Jr. Ever since I saw him in 1992’s Chaplin, I have been smitten with the actor, and closely followed his progress, through all his drug and legal problems. His Chaplin was staggeringly good. Incredible. I loved his work in numerous films since then, particularly Iron Man. What I liked about the choice, was Downey Jr. has range and the ability to escape into a role, like he did in Chaplin. He’s also a considerably intelligent man, and I thought this would help him connect with the genius of Holmes. Finally, I thought maybe their shared drug addiction history might bind the two together even more. Once again, I completely misread and failed to recognize the actor Downey Jr. has become, in recent years. He’s not so much disappearing into roles anymore, but the roles are disappearing into him. This was a grave miscalculation on my part.

Firstly, I want to say that as action films, the two Sherlock Holmes movies are really quite decent, and are easy to watch and be entertained. However, as a faithful portrayal of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and the film’s ability to capture the spirit of the books, the movies fail in nearly every conceivable way. Here’s why:

Lotta Action, Little Deduction

Downey Jr. played Holmes as a scrappy street fighter whose default reflex was to rely on his fists nearly more than his wits. In the canon, Holmes is described as sinewy and wiry, “an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman”, and there are several references in the canon to Holmes employing the first two of these skills. He is trained in Baritsu (Bartitsu), an eclectic martial art and self-defense method originally developed in England during the late Victorian Era. Keeping all this in mind, one of Holmes’ greatest strengths was his ability to outwit, outmaneuver, and anticipate his opponent’s moves, and typically avoid brawls altogether. In the few instances of physical violence, Holmes is swift and economical in delivery. Guy Ritchie’s stylized use of the camera to dissect Holmes’ foes for weak spots was viscerally thrilling, but in reality, it was a sensational modern gimmick that bore little resemblance to Conan Doyle’s creation. Violence is the last option, not the first. The movies are full of over-the-top action sequences and gratuitous explosions. There’s hardly any deduction going on amidst all the bombs and bullets flying. The original canon was NOTHING like that!

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Downey’s Charm Trumps Sherlock’s Mind

Earlier I stated that I thought RDJ was an intelligent man, and I stand by that assertion, but for some reason, Downey Jr. decided to abandon his natural born intellect, and play Holmes as an intellectual lightweight, who relied very heavily on his wit, charm, and mischievous inquisitiveness, rather than probing deductive mind. In other words, RDJ fell back on his own personality strengths. You must have noticed by now that this is RDJ’s bag of tricks. In all his films over the last decade or so, Downey Jr. has used these sneaky traits brilliantly. As Tony Stark in the Iron Man and Avengers films, these personality traits worked perfectly for a tech genius smartass like Stark. If only he had brought Stark’s intellect with him to Holmes, and left the levity behind. That’s not to say Holmes is dour and humorless, but it’s certainly not his default. Downey’s Holmes was a very light and playful take on the character, and it was often difficult to take him seriously. He didn’t possess the gravitas and devastating intellect that a true genius possesses. He was simply not convincing as an unrivaled master of criminal deduction. At the end of the day, the Holmes of the stories may hold his own at fisticuffs, but with the exception of Moriarty, there is no other mind in London, and perhaps in the whole world, that rivals his powers of observation and native deductive reasoning. In short, Holmes may possess charm and wit when he needs it, but his locus and singular defining trait is inarguably his mind. Robert Downey Jr. barely convinced me he had one.

Although I almost always like Downey Jr’s acting in other films, he often relies too heavily on his charm and rascally wit. He is a rogue. Holmes is not. If Downey Jr. had properly prepared for the role, he would have immersed himself in the things that make Holmes tick: identifying 140 cigarette and cigar brands by their ash alone, disguises and deception, chemistry, regional soil samples, the use of dogs for tracking, mixing a seven percent solution of cocaine and heroin, and all the other forensic tools of the period. Holmes stored nothing in his mind that wasn’t useful for solving crimes. In fact, Watson discovered early on that Holmes had no idea the Earth revolved around the sun. It simply didn’t warrant his attention. Holmes without a case was always a delicate tinderbox. Downey Jr. needed to burn more with a singleminded determination to unravel riddles, almost at any cost. This instinct was rarely altruistic or moralistic, but always driven by a mind made for puzzles.

In essence, had he relied less on his innate Downey charm and more on cultivating an impregnable computational mind, he would have gone a long way towards depicting Sherlock as written.

Violating the Honor & Good Name of Irene Adler

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I don’t feel like there’s even enough space on a page to devote to how viscerally angry I was at the inclusion and depiction of Irene Adler in these films. There was absolutely no reason to write her into the script. They could have left her simmering as “The Woman” now only a picture locked away in Holmes’ drawer. His taciturn and woeful longing stand vigil to her memory, and Adler is more powerful as an idea…a memory from Holmes’ past. She will always be the woman who duped and outsmarted him, and such a thing rarely happens, and from a woman no less! Whether it’s deep love or professional admiration, it doesn’t matter. We know that Irene Adler is off limits, and locked away from view. Apparently, Guy Ritchie and company didn’t read a single story, or worse, decided to egregiously violate the sanctity of the original books. No one in their right mind would have Adler as some sort of action star buddy with simmering sexual tension and practically a laugh track behind their oh-so-clever banter. We get it. She’s a firecracker, and a formidable frenemy for Holmes. Except she’s not. Firstly, I cannot stand Rachel McAdams as an actress, so that colored my first impression. Part of that opinion comes from the assessment that she sort of looks like a rat, and speaks in high and tedious little girl’s voice. In short, I couldn’t take her seriously selling makeup at Macy’s, much less as Holmes’ intellectual equal and capable sparring partner. She was mousy and ineffectual, and I am still livid that they called her Irene Adler. They could have just made up another character, but they didn’t. Instead, they desecrate a beloved character from the canon.

Strengths of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes Films

Although there isn’t much to like about these films if you’re a true Sherlock Holmes fan, there are a few things they do have going for them. As I have said before, the action sequences are very well choreographed and directed. The action is very engaging, and worth watching for.

Secondly, the relationship between Holmes and Watson is very strong. I would not be surprised to learn that Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are quite close, because they have a very easy and comfortable chemistry on screen. They are very comfortable joking and teasing each other, and it is obvious these two actor, and by extension, characters, like each other. I don’t necessarily think Holmes would act as silly and mischievous with Watson as Downey Jr. does, but putting that aside, the two are very easy to watch. Given the fact that I did not enjoy RDJ’s portrayal of Holmes, I cannot help but wonder if Jude Law might have been a better choice for the role. He is such an excellent actor, and he has the intellect and more quiet and focused demeanor. It’s interesting to think about how things might have been.

Finally, the second movie, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is in many ways, superior to the first film. This is partly due to the fact that it has top-notch performances by three of my favorite actors. One fine performance was delivered by Stephen Fry, in the role of Mycroft Holmes. Fry not only looks the part, but was convincing as Holmes’ older and purportedly smarter brother. Of course, with a Holmes as dumbed down as Downey played him, even Kim Kardashian could have beat him at Chess The next great performance was by one of my favorites actresses today, Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, known for the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movies. Finally, as disappointed as most Sherlock Holmes fans probably were with the casting and performance of Downey Jr. as Holmes, they should have been delighted with the exquisite performance of the inimitable Jared Harris as Holmes’ iconic arch-nemesis, James Moriarty. I thought he delivered a tour-de-force performance, and really saved an otherwise disappointing film.

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The Final Problem

In conclusion, as disappointed I was with his interpretation of Holmes, I’m not convinced Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t right for the role. He’s an incredibly gifted actor, and with the right discipline and guidance, he could have endowed the character with less action and jokes, and more cold calculating deduction. A little Downey goes a long way. If he could have dug deep, and pulled out the acting chops he used in Chaplin, he could have created a stunning Holmes. But I suspect no one has kicked Downey Jr’s ass in a long time, and he’s been allowed to skate by on his good looks and roguish charm. In this case, I lay the blame almost exclusively at the feet of director Guy Ritchie. He gave Downey Jr. free reign, and evidently didn’t have the vision or understanding of the source material to help RDJ shape the character more finely and faithfully. I cannot help but think the reason for this was he simply was not a devoted fan of Sherlock Holmes, and perhaps didn’t know what he wanted Holmes to be, other than in possession of Downey’s own irresistible charm. Ritchie was not the right choice to direct a period Victorian film about the beloved character of Sherlock Holmes. However, he was the right choice for an action-packed steam-punk movie about a wise-cracking amateur detective, his trusty sidekick, and a tough and sassy female love interest that was called anything but Sherlock Holmes. Where we could have used a director like Kenneth Brannagh, we instead got Michael Bay. Ugh.

What great performances were accomplished with few words?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter The Silence of the Lambs (1991) . — Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar using fewer words than any other actor in the history of the Academy Awards. But when he spoke, you listened!

Marlon Brandon as Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972) — The notoriously taciturn Brando probably comes in second to Hopkins delivering his Oscar winning performance with minimal words and screen time.

Paul Newman as Lucas “Luke” Jackson in Cool Hand Luke (1967)  — Paul Newman’s Best Actor-nominated Luke may be cool, but Newman simmers in the heat of the chain gang, where it’s actually George Kennedy that does most of the talking in this film (he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar)

Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) — Although time will tell if this is worth considering one of the great performance, at least for the time being, Hardy delivers a truly underrated performance in what will go down as the least number of lines ever delivered by a leading character (despite the title role, he arguably isn’t the protagonist though!)

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave (2013) — Ejiofor’s Oscar-nominated performance simmers, as he delivers a subtle and understated performance as a free man wronged, and sold into slavery. Although Norhup is articulate and speaks eloquently, we also see him do a lot of listening throughout the film.

Jim Caviezel (Private Witt) and Cast of The Thin Red Line (1998) — It can be said that there is no protagonist in this deeply philosophical film, in keeping with the tradition of most of Terrence Malick’s beautifully photographed contemplative films. There’s very little talking, but much in the way of evocative visuals and stunning cinematography. When characters do speak, it is like poetry, and their words are deep and profound.

Daniel Day Lewis as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007)  — Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar for playing the misanthropic and taciturn oil tycoon. Famously, the whole opening sequence of the movie is over fifteen minutes of absolutely no dialogue, as we meet Daniel, a man of few words, but one consumed by money and an unhealthy drive to find oil.

Klaus Kinski as Brian Sweeney ‘Fitzcarraldo’ Fitzgerald in Fitzcarraldo (1982) — Fitzcarraldo is a mad genius, who loves to listen to opera as he oversees the indigenous natives as they do the unthinkable — lift a 320-ton steamship over a steep and intimidating hill. Kinski doesn’t say much (unlike his last turn in Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God). This understated performance is about one man’s quiet vision,

Boris Karloff as The Monster in Frankenstein (1931) — Although question why I would list a monster that can barely speak, this monster actually does have some lines. Furthermore, Karloff delivers a brilliant performance, managing to successfully capture the angry and scary side of the monster, while also the gentle, delicate, subtle, and poignant soul of the creature. Hands down, this is one of the most brilliant portrayals of one of Hollywood’s maligned and misunderstood movie monsters, and heads and shoulders above every other actor’s portrayal of this popular character.

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien (1979) — Even before she lost her whole crew, Ripley didn’t say much. This woman of few words is all about surviving, and killing the fearsome alien preying on her and her crew. Weaver delivers a brave and tough as nails performance, truly proving to Hollywood that a woman can not only carry a movie herself, but do so while playing an action hero

Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (2007) — Anton is frightening perhaps because he does say so little. Bardem creates an unnerving and nightmare-inducing taciturn monster, worthy of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar he earned.

What great performances were accomplished with few words?

Who’s better: Tarantino or the Coen Brothers?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

Who’s Better: the Coen Brothers or Tarantino?
The Coen Brothers, without question…

Tarantino’s Distinct Style & Strengths

Tarantino has a definite style, there can be no question. But I would argue his style is predominantly referential, derivative, and securely rooted in films of the ’70s. Tarantino is more straightforward in his filmmaking, paying direct tribute to the ’60s and ’70s directors (and genres) that formed and shaped him as a young director. His films all seen to have a neo-’70s Disco era blaxploitation film motif, with period music, period costuming, and a production quality that has that gritty ’70s feel. He liberally uses music, slow-motion, and stylized dramatic action and the kind of movie violence found in the Dirty Harry films to tell the sordid tales of grungy and morally questionable characters. His dialogue is highly stylized (who talks like that? Royale with Cheese…) and quite clever. Tarantino has the power to wow you with much more style than substance. You’ll have a good ride, but you might be left hungry afterwards. In the last decade, Tarantino has begun to direct revisionist revenge dramas, set in past historical periods, but featuring characters who are still unmistakably Tarantno creations. This postmodern displacement allows traditionally victimized and oppressed cultures to exact revenge on their oppressors. The two films are Inglorious Basterds, which tells the tale of an elite Jewish squad of commandos who attempt to assassinate Hitler during World War II. Django Unchained tells the story of a wrathful slave who teams up with a German mercenary to kill as many slaveholders and masters as they can. Both are ultraviolet and quite stylized. Both are quite good.

The Unparalleled Coen Artistry

On the other hand, the Coen Brothers have an unrivaled and penetrating style, that has undoubtedly been influenced by the films of Chaplin/Keaton, film noir, 1930s screwball comedy, avant-garde theatre (Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee, Ionesco), 1950s TV Comedy (Sid Caesar, Jack Benny),  Blake Edwards, The Marx Brothers, etc. The Coen Brothers have many influences, and pay several subtle homages, but there’s nothing derivative about their work: it is a unique and unmistakable vision. The Coen Brothers are straight up auteurs, and devastatingly effective storytellers.

Strange Visions: The Off Kilter World of the Coen’s
Their movies are vast landscapes of peculiarity, filled with odd and eccentric characters who don’t  belong anywhere else but in their surreal landscape. There is a vague feeling of dread. Like an existential omelet, which everyone seems to be eating. Dialogue is sparse, but so incredibly effective. Characters speak with their own distinct voices, not sexy witticisms made up by the director and screenwriter, as is the case with Tarantino. In a Tarantino film, you get the vague sense that every character has the voice of Tarantino himself, and all speak using a sort of smart and sarcastic, referential dialogue. Conversely, the Coen Brothers’ dialogue is unquestionably motivated by the character, is unique to their peculiar personalities, and no one else in the film could speak as they do.

Coen films often involve a crazy sequence of events, predicated upon mistaken identity, duplicity, deception, greed, revenge, or just plain, good natured agreeability (The Dude abides…). Perhaps no other filmmaker besides Wes Anderson, creates a canvas of such end of the road Godot-like limbos (Fargo, No Country for Old Men, ’70s era bowling alley), and populates it with such colorful characters (The Dude, Jesus, Anton Chigurh, Jerry Lundegaard, Tom Reagan, Barton Fink, Pete Hogwallop).

Coen Brothers films are so expertly paced. They never hurry perfection, but know how to methodically unravel a riddle, and let the audience come along with them for the ride. The locations are evocative, the accents pitch perfect, the costumes indicative of time and character, the music so deliciously underscoring the film (think of that Fargo musical motif, as Fran makes the long drive down that highway for the umpteenth time. The music swells.). And think of the acting. People have won a handful of Oscars for this work. These characters are so fastidiously drawn, you can’t even tell they’re acting. Their actions and words are completely and utterly motivated by character.

The world of the Coen Brothers is a quirky, dimly lit waiting room to who knows where? The kind of place where the bathrooms have those awful loops of fabric you’re expected to pull down, and wipe your hands where everyone has that’s come before you. The place is filled with a disproportionately high number of weird and eccentric characters. It’s like Darwin’s waiting room in most Coen films. Yet somehow, it’s easy to fall in love with these odd characters (who didn’t shed a tear when Donny died?)

That 70s Show
Tarantino is an incredibly gifted filmmaker, who makes unforgettable films filled with really ‘cool’ people who always say the most edgy and clever things. The action is intense and the sex appeal of every character is palpable. He tells a great story, and transports you to a time that feels unmistakably ’70s, yet undoubtedly modern and fresh. Tarantino is one of our most visionary directors, and expertly overwhelms us with style. Often though, this comes at the expense of substance.

Making the Strange Familiar and the Familiar Strange
The Coen Brothers are on an entirely different level as filmmakers. These are artists, who create entirely cohesively conceived worlds that look so familiar, yet are so oddball, and a place where everyone is that crazy uncle we all have. The films are always darkly comic, and exist in a haze of existential malaise. This is art. These are auteurs. There is no mistaking a Picasso. The Coen Brothers have the bizarre and surreal vision of directors Terry Gilliam and David Lynch, but their films often have well constructed plots, clever sequences, and sharp and witty dialogue. Unlike the darker and more avant garde work of Lynch or Gilliam, the Coen Brothers are firmly rooted in their ’30s screwball comedy roots, in the style of classic directors like Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks. Theirs is a an unparalleled vision, like no other in Hollywood. Their films are quirky and silly, while also dark and menacing. The Coen Brothers have produced and directed some of the greatest films in the modern era. Tarantino is great, but the Coen’s are two of the greatest!

Who’s better: Tarantino or the Coen Brothers?

Apocalypse of the Heart: How ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Finds Beauty in the Bosom of the Beast

**Contains Some Mild & Vague Spoilers**

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Introduction

In full disclosure, I should probably tell you upfront that I loved this film, unequivocally, and cannot sing its praises enough. However, rest assured that in this review, I will not blindly or vaguely worship at its altar, nor insist you see the film without a reasoned argument why. I had a very visceral and cerebral responses to this film, but not only did I enjoy the storytelling and artistry, I am just as thrilled about what kind of impact and importance a film like this can/will have on the Hollywood landscape. In general, I enthusiastically endorse this film and encourage you all to see it, and here’s why…

The Story

One of the most striking things about Mad Max: Fury Road is the simplicity of the story. Although, I should probably clarify that by saying, “…the deceptive simplicity of the story.” There’s actually a lot more going on than meets the eye. The story begins sometime following a nuclear war, where a good majority of earth’s population died in an instant, and since then, the world has become a desert wasteland and civilization has collapsed. Global warming or other contributing factors have left a dry planet, with little to no resources and fossil fuels left. Max (Tom Hardy), a survivor, is captured by the War Boys, led by the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), and taken to Joe’s Citadel. Designated a universal blood donor, Max is imprisoned and used as a “blood bag” for the sick War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) drives her armoured war rig to collect gasoline. When Furiosa drives off-route, Joe realizes that his five wives—women selected for breeding—are gone. Joe leads his army in pursuit of Furiosa, calling on the aid of nearby Gas Town and the Bullet Farm.

Nux joins the army with Max strapped to his car to continue supplying blood. A battle ensues between the rig and Joe’s forces. Furiosa drives into a sand storm, evading her pursuers, except Nux, who attempts to sacrifice himself to destroy the rig. Max escapes and restrains Nux, but the car is destroyed. After the storm, Max sees Furiosa repairing her rig with the wives: Angharad, Capable, Cheedo, Toast, and the Dag. Max steals the rig, but its kill switch disables the truck. Max reluctantly agrees to let Furiosa and the wives accompany him and Nux returns to Joe.

I will essentially stop there, so as not to give anything else away, but it’s such a seemingly thin and predictable plot, it wouldn’t really matter anyway. Max accompanies Furiosa and the young wives through various biker gang territory, and at times, must contend with rogue gangs, and Joe and the War Boys, still in hot pursuit. Needlesstosay, this movie has few moments of contemplative down time. There is almost continuous action through the entire film. According to the film’s director, George Miller, the film’s storyboard was made even before the screenplay. The reason behind that was because Miller envisioned the film as a continuous chase, with little dialogue and focusing on the visuals. The storyboard was made with the collaboration of five artists and had about 3,500 panels. Anyway, Max and the women are continually fighting off marauders, in one of the most impressive chase scenes and multi-vehicle action sequences ever made. Perhaps one of the most impressive facts about the movie is that over 80% of the effects seen in the film are real practical effects, stunts, make-up and sets. CGI was used sparingly mainly to enhance the Namibian landscape, remove stunt rigging and for Charlize Theron’s left hand which in the film is a prosthetic arm.

What you should know is that Furiosa is not blindly driving into the desert, but heading for a special destination…the place she was born, and lived as a young child until she was kidnapped and brought to the Citadel. A daughter of Mary Jabassa, she is one of the Vuvalini of Many Mothers. Her initiating Mother was Katie (or K.T.) Concannon. Her clan was Swaddle Dog. She was kidnapped at least 7000 days (around 20 years) from The Green Place before meeting the Vuvalini again. Presumably she was attacked and kidnapped along with her mother by Immortan Joe. Her mother died three days after the abduction. Understandably, her memory is hazy and vague, but she has fond memories of the place she calls ‘The Green Place.’ You can imagine that in a barren wasteland, where everything is the dull color of sand, the sight of color and vegetation must be like spotting an oasis across the hot sand. You only hope it’s not a mirage. Once she, Max, and the brides arrive, she is happy to find the women of her clan again, but they have grave news. Furiosa is distraught to learn that the swampland they passed through earlier in the rig was actually the Green Place, now inhospitable. The group agrees to ride motorbikes across the immense salt flats in the hope of finding somewhere to live. Max chooses to stay behind, but after seeing visions of his dead daughter, he persuades them to return to the Citadel, which has ample water and greenery that Joe keeps for himself, and trap Joe and his army in the bikers’ canyon.

As I said, there is very little downtime, and after a brief stop in the valley she mistook for the Green Place, she and the crew depart, in the hopes they can defeat Joe, and take back the Citadel. Remember, I warned you: there is not much to this plot. They just came through a harrowing trip down “Fury Road” to find sanctuary, and now they are rebuffed, and must turn back again and face almost certain death. It’s important to remember that these people live deplorable lives as slaves, blood banks, and breeding incubators for producing more loyal and savage warriors. Max has lost his wife and child, several years before, and is only going through the motions of living, when really he is fundamentally dead inside. These people have nothing to lose, and so their rash and inadvisable decisions don’t seem quite as dire as they would if it was you and me making them. Perhaps I failed to mention, but by this time, the faithful War Boy Nux has become enchanted with one of Joe’s brides, and has slowly come over to their side.

The group begins the journey back to the Citadel. They are attacked by Joe and Furiosa is gravely wounded. Without going into detail, another whole chase sequence ensues, and there are many thrilling moments. The battle does not look good for Max and Furiosa, but luck turns their way, while people switch cars and trucks, and fights take place in and outside moving vehicles, Through a series of events, Max, Furiosa, and the wives are able to escape in Joe’s car. Max transfuses his blood to Furiosa to help her survive her injuries.

(WARNING: ENDING SPOILER) Back at the Citadel, Joe’s citizens are surprisingly overjoyed at the sight of Joe’s corpse. Furiosa and the wives are raised up on a lift by the child War Boys, and shortly thereafter, the water Joe had withheld from his poor and destitute castoffs was finally released down upon the overjoyed and thirsty masses. As she is symbolically raised up, Max stays behind and on the ground. He and Furiosa share a glance before Max disappears into the crowd.

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Meaning Without Words

Although almost unanimously praised by critics and audiences alike, there have been criticisms of the movie’s ostensibly flimsy plot and stingy character development. People were troubled by watching two hours of nearly non-stop action, with little in the way of plot development to guide them along. As much as we tell ourselves we love action movies, we still want to see dialogue and familiar humans forming realistic relationships on screen. We love the action and CGI of The Avengers, but that movie wouldn’t be half as good without the squabbling and one-upsmanship between Tony Stark and Cap, or the budding romance between Bruce/ Hulk and Black Widow. One of the refreshing plot points in The Avengers: Age of Ultron was actually being introduced to Hawkeye’s wife and kids, and seeing how normal and domestic a life he had outside The Avengers. We want to see our characters talk, share jokes, rib each other, profess love, brag, and all the other things us humans do. It makes their heroic acts of bravery and feats of strength look even more impressive, knowing that their like you and me without the cape.

Mad Max: Fury Road was never going to be that kind of film, heavy with exposition and rich in florid narrative. But I would argue that the plot is deceptively simple. There is far more happening than meets the eye, and what comes out of the mouth. Tom Hardy’s nearly dead eyes are the mirror that reflect the ghosts of his dead wife and young child, the last casualties of this post-apocalyptic hell that he actually cared about. His face is a rough hewn stone, at first cold and war-weary, but throughout the course of the film, his countenance changes and becomes slowly more expressive and invested in those around him. The looks between him and Furiosa tell a thousand stories, all more interesting than the last. They speak volumes of text, that would fill a thousand pages in a script. They don’t need words. They have both lost so much, and their broken and calloused bodies speak for them. Think of the actors in this film as grizzled and sedated silent film stars, like Chaplin’s mournful Little Tramp. Except unlike those stars of a bygone era, Miller purposefully robbed these characters of their voices, perhaps left speechless in the face of near utter annihilation. Remember, over two-thirds of the planet was decimated and wiped out by nuclear war, some in an instant, and some unlucky enough to linger on and die a slow death. In the years since this tragedy, all these people have known is death and barbarism. What are they even living for anymore? Those that survived are merely empty shells, desensitized to their own grotesque savagery. This is no longer a society governed by etiquette, values, laws, religion, science, the written word, language or even speech. This is a world where brute force and animal savagery are the currency they swap. This is Darwinian Barbarism, and survival of the cruelist. The strongest live to fight another day and take their place atop the highest ground, and the weak are made corpses or made slaves, and there is no in between. There is no value for human life. This is the apocalypse, and whatever strides we once made as a civilization are now erased, and mankind has been shaken to its core, and undergone de-evolution, returning once again to our primitive natures. Language is an ornamentation in a world of brute force, and this story would have been disingenuous and broken its own rules of the world had it pursued verbosity and a more robust dialogue.

A Singular Vision

The brilliance of the world Miller creates is that this story had to be writ large, but not told by conventional means. He actually chose form over content, and the form and structure of the narrative are far more important than the words they use. He catered his delivery of the story to what this post-apocalyptic world called for. He was devastatingly precise and consistent with the rules of this world, and he rarely broke them. This is a story that doesn’t look like much on a page. Apparently, it didn’t look like much to some of the actors and crew, out in the Namibian desert, as they battled intense heat and tedious scene setups and carefully choreographed action sequences. In a Cannes press conference for the movie, Tom Hardy apologized to George Miller for the reportedly complicated relationship between the star and the director during filming. He stated: “There was no way, I mean, I have to apologize to you because I got frustrated. There was no way George could have explained what he could see in the sand when we were out there. Because of the due diligence that was required to make everything safe and so simple, what I saw was a relentless barrage of complexities, simplified for this fairly linear story. I knew he was brilliant, but I didn’t know how brilliant until I saw it. So, my first reaction was ‘Oh my god, I owe George an apology for being so myopic.'” The brilliant visionary director, George Miller, had all the pieces in his head, but the cast and crew could perhaps only catch glimpses of the big picture he was creating. Needless to say, this film is a piece of art, and could not have been told by conventional means.

Who’s Story Is It?

This is a tricky question to ask, because an argument can be made for both Furiosa and Max. Miller has created a reluctant anti-hero in Max, who we naturally assume is our protagonist, since he is the title character. It’s not any use to compare the amount of lines each character has. Furiosa has significantly more lines than Max. This isn’t Hamlet. We can’t identify the protagonist based on their verbiage. In evaluating a Protagonist, it’s important to look at a few key elements. What character initiates the first step towards moving the action of the story forward? They would be responsible for launching what’s called the inciting incident. We could look at the beginning of the film, and hastily say it is Max because he is the first person we see, and he is trying to escape from the War Boys. He clearly has an objective (to escape and not get caught) and he clearly kickstarts the action by trying to outrun them. The problem is, on closer inspection, this action doesn’t really hold up, because it doesn’t have a great objective and a thu-line that connects with each subsequent action in the film. His escape from the War Boys is not going to be the story we see over the next two hours. Sure, it’s a peripheral and tangential subplot, but this story is greater than that.

So we must turn our attention to Furiosa. Whereas Max’s purpose and direction in the beginning was cloudy and vague (escape! where?), hers was always single-mindedly to escape her prison, save the tyrannical Immortan Joe’s five wives from their grim fate of breeding new War Boys, and find her way back to the idyllic Green Place, from her childhood. This movie could be considered some kind of a Dantesque or Kafkaesque road trip, since the main action of the movie was driving that rig to the Green Place in pursuit of a better life. That IS a superobjective, and Furiosa (and crew) faced lethal obstacles along the way, just as any protagonist must, and her character used a variety of tactics to achieve her goal, from recruiting Max and Nux, to flirtation to bribery to trust to eliciting pity to every form of violence, cunning, and deception she could. Hers is a very traditional character arc, as she initiated the action (veering off course while driving the rig), hiding the wives (part of the superobjective: get them to safety), and pursue the goal relentlessly, at grave personal risk to herself. Her goal was to return to her birthplace, the mythic promised land of her youth. It might as well be the story of Moses and Exodus. She is on a mission, and every other subplot in the movie pale in comparison to her imperative. When she arrives at Green Place, she is understandably distraught, but she solicits help and listens to Max’s plan to return to the Citadel. This is insanity. They just came from there. THOSE ARE HIGH STAKES, in a movie already filled with deadly decisions. She has nothing to lose, and everything to gain. This is her Manifest Destiny. I can’t come to any other conclusion than to declare that Charlize Theron is the indisputable protagonist of this movie. Throughout the film, Max has made half-decisions, and been relatively rudderless. He resisted their feminine wiles at first, but he slowly was melted by time and their earnest thirst for freedom. He succumbs to their humanity, and decides he has some unwritten obligation to help them. In this regard, Max becomes a strong candidate for protagonist, because he has a very steep trajectory, from hardened widow and emotional zombie to risking his life and allowing himself to feel again — no matter how minor. But we can’t escape the fact that Max is mostly acted upon, and his decisions are offshoots of Furiosa’s. He becomes her de facto body guard and confidant, and they share an unspoken connection throughout. In that regard, Max actually plays the archetypal friend role, like Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, who goes so far as to fight and die in proxy for Romeo. Max makes Furiosa a better woman, and empowers her to achieve her ultimate objective: find HOME. Not only that, he literally saves her life, by giving her a blood transfusion, symbolically giving her his lifeblood, and ensuring she lives to transplant the idea of Green Place back to the Citadel, and bring new life where there hasn’t been for years. “Home” therefore, is wherever Furiosa brings it. Not accidentally, the very first thing she does when she returns to the Citadel, and goes up on the lift is to share the water, and a torrent of water pours down on the poor wretched souls beneath. This symbolic gesture of watering her garden and providing  lifeblood of her own is not lost on me, and it goes a long way towards hinting at what kind of leader she’ll be. In a movie of heat and intense flame, she baptizes the desperate with water, a metaphorical absolution and promise of good things to come. The plot may read as that simple on the page, but it’s what’s in between the lines, and all the compelling artistic choices Miller made elsewhere in the film, which gives it depth and meaning. This is more than a screenplay and well-ploted story, and it’s certainly not an examples of realism, this is a moving painting, a performance piece, a steam-punk/S&M/metal fashion and art design, breathtaking cinematography, incredibly believable real special effects and fight sequences, expressive make-up design, a commentary on global warming and our inclination towards self-destruction, and a character study in body language, non-verbal communication, and the broken signals we send when we ourselves are broken, and can barely speak for ourselves. It is a study of endurance, and having the courage to take one more breath, and fight another day in the face of unthinkable cruelty and savagery. In the final assessment, what is it that makes these people go on? That shred of humanity left inside each of them, and the ability to sometimes recognize it in others. That connection….the human condition….is what makes all of us get out of bed and face our own uncertain days.

Mad Max: Fury Road is such a visually sumptuous movie with a sophisticated concept and stunning artistry, and should remind us all that an action film can be both a high-octane thrill ride AND a smart and creative work of art. Furthermore, truly visionary films like this remind us that a blockbuster movie can come in the shape of art, and can earn money at the box office. As artists and film goers, we need to stand behind brave and daring films like this, and insist that this isn’t the exception, but can be the rule. This film deserves to be seen by everyone, and is accessible enough to satisfy both the pure action movie fan and those with more cerebral and sophisticated tastes. All films should aspire to such high standards. 

 

Do you believe the quality of movies is decreasing because producers choose profit over art?

The Birth of Hollywood: Reel Profits

You’re working under the false assumption that studios were once in the business of making art and now they’re in the business of making profit. That’s not the case at all. Hollywood was founded by very shrewd businessmen who had the vision to recognize the opportunity to build an emerging industry from the ground up. They took a big risk, setting up shop in the California desert and constructing a community built around a business with no guarantee of success. Men like Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Carl Laemmle, Jesse L. Lasky, Harry Cohn, Jack Warner, and Adolph Zukor built Hollywood, and nearly right from the start, the studios codified a system to most cheaply and efficiently produce movies and put out the most product in the shortest amount of time. They were factories and this model was inspired by Henry Ford’s innovative assembly line method of building automobiles. These businessmen were most concerned with profit, and they built studios like machines, with a film passing down a virtual conveyer belt, from department to department, each adding and shaping the film io conform to studio standards. Artistic considerations were a nice added bonus, but always an afterthought, when assessing a film’s cost and marketability. The films had to make a profit, and the easiest way to do so was to rigidly adopt a recipe with proven success and the ability to be reproduced ad infinitum.

The Studio Assembly Line

All films started with writers, and the studios had a stable of its own writers –some of them famous fiction writers, who no doubt added quality and esteem to a script. In those days, Hollywood ransacked all of literature for story ideas, and were far less reverential with adherence to the source material than we are today. Great works of literature were rewritten and edited to fit into the studio formula, and to make the films more exciting for an audience. Writers also wrote original screenplays, which tended to be more artistically viable. Even still, the writers were rolling off pages in what might be considered a film nursery. These writers churned out scripts to be produced, from the small low cost B-movie to the grand epic costume drama. The studio business model was then, and still is, to pour considerable money into large and lavish productions (what we would call a blockbuster today), practically sparing no expense, and providing directors with a wide array of resources and some artistic latitude. This function of this model is to produce a large budget film, which would be heavily marketed and be a huge commercial success, filling the coffers, and not only funding the next large picture, but providing the revenue to fund all of the small B-pictures, which no one film is expected to bring in huge profit, but since there are many small films, with small budgets and few stars, they can stagger their releases, and always have revenue coming in, and altogether, the films made a profit. The big guy funds the little guy, and both bring in money in different ways. Again, the films vary in quality, and many of the B-films are poor;y produced, made on the cheap, and shot very rapidly.

It’s important to point out that the studios weren’t any less greedy back then, but arguably better at choosing their talent. Although many of the writers were hacks who dashed off tired old scripts one after the other, However, there were also quality writers who produced great scripts that seemed to find their way into the hands of quality directors.

Like today, successful directors were allowed more creative freedom, such as John Ford and Howard Hawkes. However, for the most part, both men managed to direct artistically pleasing pictures, while staying within the confines of the system. Ford was more difficult to contain, but his films were quite popular and he wielded more power. Frank Capra was the quintessential studio director, and his films were often simple and straightforward, formulaic, and sentimental, while championing the everyman and scoring high with audiences. Nearly all of these films were produced with deadlines and budgets capped and enforced. Many of these directors were under contract, and shot an agreed upon number of guaranteed films per year. They were studio men, and they knew the system, and most worked within its perameters. These men captured lightening in a bottle. The 1930s and ’40s paired some marvelous scripts with talented directors. In addition to the men above, there was George Cukor, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Preston Sturges, and William Wyler, to name a few. This Golden Age of cinema was spoiled by riches, and some of the greatest artists in the profession belonged to this age. Many of the films these directors helmed managed to work from solid scripts, and were directed artistically and responsibly, while also conforming with the studio expectations and model of success. The bottom line was always profit, but the studios recognized that a work could be artistic and high quality AND be marketable and lucrative. If this happily aligned, than the studio was satisfied. Ultimately though, profit was their motive. Most of these directors were not editing their own work, and the studio was still crafting the films to their rigid standards. Somehow the acting and directing were good enough to withstand the handiwork of others. High quality movies made it through, and it may seem they were more plentiful, but the poor quality and shabbily constructed films were numerous and aren’t in our sight. Profit was king, and if art emerged too, than that was just icing on the cake.

All’s Well That Ends Welles: The Rebuke of a Rebel’s Career
If profit was supreme, and artistry tolerated, Orson Welles was filmmaking’s grand martyr, sacrificed at the altar of profit and punished for not playing by the studio’s rules. Learning to play by the rules was a hard lesson for a genius and innovative visionary like Orson Welles to accept, and he spent his life feuding with studio heads, It didn’t start out that way. Welles had been a wunderkind prodigy of the stage and radio back east, and Hollywood aggressively courted him and signed him to direct his first feature with RKO. Because of Hollywood’s efforts to woo him from the theaters of New York, he received an almost unprecedented amount of creative control from RKO Studios in his first contract. He was free to choose the cast as well as to write, direct, produce, edit, and act in the film he created. Citizen Kane was Orson’s first Hollywood film, and in the years since, has come to be generally considered the best film ever made. It still tops the AFI 100 Best Films list. Not bad for a first time filmmaker. Despite only being his first picture, this would end up being the last one Orson had complete artistic control over. Although it was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, it only won one Oscar, for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz. The film was seen as being based on the life and career of William Randolph Hearst, the famous newspaper tycoon, and he did his best to prevent its release, which hindered its immediate commercial success. Almost instantly, the film was universally praised for its brilliance, sophistication and innovation and it has since justified its production costs many times over. Unfortunately, the film was not an immediate commercial success, and the studio was burned by its failure. Welles’ budget has been $500,000—a significant amount for an unproven filmmaker, and an amount that Welles managed to exceed by nearly $200,000. From then on, Welles was damaged goods, and not to be trusted. They would never give him complete artistic control again.

Welles’ second feature film, The Magnificent Ambersons, was unacceptable to studio execs, and was taken away from Welles, only to be savagely cut, reordered, and edited to their liking. Welles hardly recognized the film they released. Over the course of the next four decades, Welles alternated between clashing and reconciling with studio heads, and continued to direct commercial projects of uneven quality and economic flops. He also was eager to accept lucrative acting roles, in order to raise money to ultimately finance his own films. He had many in development. Few came to fruition though. Welles’ genius was rebuked by a system that refused to cede artistry to proven commercial success, and films they could market. The world was undoubtedly robbed of more masterpieces like Kane. Welles was a mercurial artist, filled with pride and arrogance, and undoubtedly difficult to control. However, he was appallingly treated by a studio system that cared more about profit, and producing films that all had the same look and aestheyic, and were hastily made for as little as possible, and pieced together and vetted, before being released to the public. An artist like Welles couldn’t bear to have a slew of other peoples’ fingerprints all over his work, and he fought the system from within, and met with resistance the rest of his life.

Fall of the Golden Age & Rise of the Auteur Director: Gritty Realism of the 1970s

Welles was one of the first auteur directors, with sometimes unlimited creative control. He would usher in a new generation of directors, who became the sole crafter of the work, and visionary lead artist. Some of these men included Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, and Terrenc Malick. The ’70s were a vibrant era for cinema, and perhaps the most permissive. In the wake of the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam and Watergate, and the collapse of the Golden Age of film and big studio pictures, the ’70s told intimate, gritty, violent, sexy, and socially minded films filled with method actors like DeNiro, Pacino, Hoffman, and Caan. The movies were sometimes self-indulgent, but also engaging and artistically vigorous. The studios seemed to take the decade off, as the hippy baby boomers ran the studios, and created movies with characters that looked like them, and topical issues of the day. The films of the ’70s are the most risky, interesting, provocative, artistic, and ostensibly, the least marketable films Hollywood has ever produced. They were not glamorous, but somehow succeeded at the box office.

The Birth of the Modern Blockbuster

As the ’70s drew to an end, one film would single-handedly return Hollywood to its senses, and bring back profit margins and the pursuit of hitting box office gold. When Stephen Spielberg released Jaws, no one knew what they had on their hands. The film met with rave reviews and became a cultural sensation, scaring an entire generation from getting in the water. The film was such a huge box office success, it cemented Spielberg as an A-list director, spawned a franchise of sequels, and most importantly, ushered in a new era of filmmaking…the summer blockbuster. Just two years later, the George Lucas brainchild, Star Wars, would add a new spin on the science fiction genre and breaking all box office records, taking in obscene amounts of money and convincing the studios that this blockbuster model was a solid and profitable one. Lucas and Spielberg would go on to strike gold at the box office — Lucas with his Star Wars franchise and Spielberg with an almost improbable run of beloved hit movies. From the late ’70s on, the blockbuster has been a perennial hit and fixture on the Hollywood horizon. Studios still pour massive amounts of money into making these films, and they almost always managed to make all the money back and a handsome profit. With the recent release and considerable success of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, it is obvious to see Hollywood is sticking to its reliable model.

Bottom Line is Top Priority: Hollywood’s Picks Profit Over Progress

Apart from the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s when the industry was abandoning the old classic film style and embracing gritty realism and method acting, and thus focusing less on profit, Hollywood film studios have always led with profit first, and attending to the bottom line. If they hired well (and they did), blessedly had more access to better talent (especially directors), and guided their crew to work fast and efficiently and according to a formula that worked, they would often be rewarded with a film that was both profitable and high quality art. That still happens today, but perhaps less frequently. None the less, studios have always been consumed by profit, they just went through periods where the artists managed to mask it in artistry better. Orson Welles is proof that studios chose to violate artistry for the sake of profit, and always viewed the film as their property, with the right to change whatever they wanted, so long as it make the film more marketable and successful. Welles fought desperately for the sake of art and the right to shape his own work, but was ultimately a casualty in the battle to elevate art over profit.

Do you believe the quality of movies is decreasing because producers aim for what will bring the most revenue instead of what will make a…

Was Hamlet intelligent?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

Hamlet was a student at Wittenberg, and is home on leave for the funeral of his father and subsequent marriage of his mother and uncle. We get the impression that Hamlet is presumably, a very strong student, a promising mind. and a very capable scholar with a bright future ahead of him.

Antic Disposition
We can deduce that Hamlet is intelligent based on his level of subterfuge and ability to manipulate those around him. As soon as he meets with the ghost and learns of his uncle’s crime, Hamlet sets about on a path to discover the truth, and if need be, act swiftly and with justice. His clever plan for eliciting the truth is to ‘put on an antic disposition’ by which he will act ‘strange or odd’ and play at being mad. In the guise of madness, he may have more latitude to test theories and push people, since they will be less likely to act against him, and instead give him a wide berth. A valid question audiences must ask themselves is if Hamlet is simply just acting mad, or whether he really is. If he’s only acting, he is very convincing. It’s likely a mixture of both.

Mad Encounters
In his mad state, Hamlet gets to work pestering, assaulting, and provoking various people around him in an effort to get at the truth. Hamlet sets various traps for Polonius–verbally outwitting the meddlesome and obsequious lapdog. Hamlet purposely ensnares Ophelia in mind games meant to confuse and disorient her –not likely out of outright cruelty, but for the sake of his uncle and Polonius, who are eavesdropping nearby. Hamlet wants the court to know how mad he really is, and especially his uncle. He is particularly cruel and rough with Ophelia. When his school friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive at the request of the king, they are greeted with derision and mockery by Hamlet. Ultimately, their complicity and plotting with Claudius to spy on Hamlet end up killing them, as Hamlet turns the tables on their betrayal. Hamlet assaults his mother in her bed chambers and continues his charade of an antic disposition, but he is also clearly in pain as he confronts her incestuous marriage, and condemns her betrayal of his father and lecherous union with his uncle. Hamlet is purposefully rough with her, leading Polonius to betray himself behind an arras, and inviting his own death at the hands of Hamlet (who thinks it’s Claudius hiding). Throughout the play, Hamlet uses deception to trick the people around him into working for him and giving him clues to unravel his mystery. This clever maneuvering is part of what make Hamlet intelligent.

The greatest indicator that Hamlet is in fact, supremely intelligent — if not a genius — is the complexity and depth of his thoughts. During the encounters above, Hamlet displayed a clever wit and ability to make puns, use figurative language, and construct riddles to further confuse the other person. His madness disorients them, and his arguments alarm them. In his conversation with Claudius and R& G he used calm and rational language, while tricking them into his linguistic traps and forcing them to betray more than they intended. Conversely, in his arguments with Gertrude and Ophelia, Hamlet abandons reason for pure unbridled emotion. He pleads, he yells, he chides, he scorns, he bargains, he condemns, and he becomes cruel and physical. Earlier when Hamlet commented on his mother’s hasty marriage, he said: ‘Frailty, thy name is woman!’ It’s clear to see from this sentiment, combined with the cruel use of rough and physical violence and his willingness to use caustic verbal abuse, that Hamlet has deep-seated anger and aggression towards women, and a very low opinion of them.

Hamlet’s Speeches
As clever as his dialogue can be, it is in his speeches (monologues and soliloquies) where Hamlet allows us to glimpse his active mind, the profundity of his thoughts, and the haunting poetry of his soul.

The first examples of his probing mind comes in the ‘To be, or not to be…’ speech, when towards the end Hamlet wonders:

“For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin?
‘ Who would these Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,”

In his clever linguistic style, Hamlet asks rhetorical questions, that he will then answer. He is engaging in a Socratic dialogue and using a dialectic to have a conversation with himself, and present both sides of an argument. This compare and contrast (this vs that) device is one employed throughout Hamlet and all of Shakespeare. He asks who would choose to suffer in a life of misery when he can put an end to things by taking his own life. He then answers why not, speaking of a fear of not knowing what’s after death. He make an analogy to a traveller traveling abroad to an unexplored and undiscovered country, which no one has ever returned. The very though cripples the will to kill oneself, and convinces that person to endure whatever ills they know about, rather than travel somewhere that could be worse. Artfully, Hamlet ends with the famous line: ‘Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all.’ This means that our gut feeling and inner voice will ask questions regarding the safety and wisdom of jumping into something, which inevitably only serves to frighten us into resistance. This is the most famous speech in any play, and may be the most recognizable piece of text in the English language. It is lyrical and captures the sensitive heart of the young prince, while also speaking in expressive metaphor and simile. He contemplates profound questions of human existance and life after death. His sentiment is something we’ve all undoubtedly thought about at one time. His humanity is self-evident.

Other brief examples of shrewd insight include the line, ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Hamlet shows maturity and his characteristic rational mind to reason that events, people, objects, etc. have no inherent value — they are neither good nor bad — and it’s all how you look at it. Context therefore plays a vital role in assigning worth and value judgments. The glass is both half full and half empty, depending on how we look at it.

Hamlet’s Quiet Acceptance
In a moment of transcendence, Hamlet reasons, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” suggesting that man’s life on Earth and his relation to the universe and understanding of Heaven are concepts too large and unfathomable for a mere mortal to comprehend. Hamlet seems to take comfort in surrendering to God and nature to determine whatever path he must take and whatever fate befalls him. At this late point in the play, Hamlet has accepted what he must do, and has adopted a sort of mystical Zen attitude above his uncertain future.

Another example of Hamlet’s progressive and enlightened calming and accepting demeanor can be seen in the following speech:

“We defy augury. There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.”

Hamlet makes a profound and mature observation that God determines all things, even the death of a small sparrow. He continues, saying that everything will work out as it is destined. If something is supposed to happen now, it will. If it’s supposed to happen later, it won’t happen now. What’s important is to be prepared. Since nobody knows anything about what he leaves behind, then what does it mean to leave early? Let it be. The speech is an elegant commitment to the Elizabethan idea of fate and everyone’s proximity to fortune. Hamlet upholds the idea that it is silly and unproductive to worry about fate, since it going to play out as it must. Perhaps the most profound sentiment in this short speech comes at the end, when Hamlet cleverly points out that nobody knows what happens after they die, so if they die early, how can they miss what they don’t know is going to happen. It’s clever rhetorical ideas like this that demonstrate Hamlet’s dry wit, clever debating skills, fierce intellect, and ability to turn a phrase and use language on many different levels.

Goodnight Sweet Prince
One of the reasons the character of Hamlet has been so enduring and resilient through the ages is the dialectical and contradictory nature of his personality. Hamlet is at once both noble and brave and depraved and cowardly. Perhaps we can all see ourselves in Hamlet’s debilitating funk and Sisyphean procrastinating time loop, where he is struck dumb in his tracks, paralyzed with fear and unable to move forward or step back. Although he wants to believe in the ghost is his dad, he has a rational mind, and he simply doesn’t know if he can trust his senses. He is skeptical, and for good reason. The ghost is asking him to commit the heinous crime of regicide by avenging his father’s death. If he is wrong, he will have made a grievous error, and will pay with his life. Hamlet is about as indecisive as they come. This is a very good indicator of a large brain capacity. Hamlet is a cool and calculating rational mind, but since arriving from Wittenberg, he has been subjected to a wealth of emotions: grief, anger, betrayal, indecision, doubt, incredulity, rage, and many more. He is now ruled by mercurial forces, and he is unbalanced. His rational mind is battling his unbalanced emotions. On top of that, it is pretty clear he is suffering from at least a mild mental illness.

Hamlet is one of the most compelling characters because he is us. Many scholars consider the influence of Hamlet’s character on mankind as being a major contributor in shaping the modern human psyche, with his sophisticated inner life, thorough introspection, ego, humility, emotional regulation, and other factors that make us uniquely human. Hamlet asked questions we’ve likely asked at one point in our lives. He is faced with a terrible choice, and we must watch it rip him apart inside. He is a good young man, and shouldn’t have been put into this situation, but the Elizabethans loved their revenge tragedies, and Hamlet had a duty to avenge his father’s death. That’s an unbearable thing to ask a young sensitive intellectual student, who otherwise wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Like Sherlock Holmes, Hamlet is one of the most probing, inquisitive, sensitive, profound, cerebral, meticulous, enigmatic, and clever minds in all of Western literature. His enduring legacy is that he struggles so hard to be a good man and do the right thing, but we must helplessly watch as he completely unravels and plays at an even deadlier game. Hamlet makes numerous mistakes throughout the play, and at points, his hysterically emotional and erratic behavior leads directly to tragedy and bloodshed –he singlehandedly kills an entire family — Polonius, Ophelia (Hamlet was a major contributing factor, along with her father’s death), and her brother Laertes. Hamlet’s cruel and abusive treatment of Ophelia and Gertrude is hard to watch, and hard to reconcile with the sweet and sensitive young scholar we know is hurting profoundly inside. And yet, Hamlet is our everyman (albeit royal, smarter, and wealthier than most of us!). We are allowed to empathize with his grief and anger at his uncle, who brought his world down upon him. He’s a kid who misses his dad, and is estranged from a mother who dishonored the memory of his father by committing a revolting act of impropriety, and crawling into the bed of her brother in law. It might as well be incest, as far as Hamlet is concerned. Part of the strength of the play is that we see all of Hamlet’s objectionable behavior described above, but have to accept them as the inevitable flaws of a deeply troubled young man. We know too much of the rational thinker and sensitive man to disown our protagonist now. By the end of the play, we are vindicated, when  we see a Hamlet who has passed through the fire and come out the other side, brave, resolute, and possessing a steady calmness and quiet acceptance. He knows what he must do, and puts his faith in God and Providence to deliver him to his fate–a destiny he has no control over anyway. With steely resolve, we witness the cerebral schoolboy transform into an elegant instrument of revenge, and though mortally injured, he manages to fatally wound Laertes and run his uncle through with his sword. He must also witness his mother die in the fray, In an instant, two entire families are extinguished, and Fortinbras is left picking up the pieces. As Hamlet lay dying he utters his final words: ‘The rest is silence.’ Appropriate last words for a character who has the most lines of any character in the canon with 1495. He practically speaks for the entire span of the show. He’s finally achieved his purpose, answered his questions, and accepts the inevitable silence of his own death. After Hamlet passes, Horatio sends him off with: ‘Now cracks a noble heart.—Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!—’ Hamlet’s flight towards Heaven gently parallels the fall of the sparrow — both agents of Providence.Hamlet is the sparrow, of course, and where he once fell, now he is lifted to his salvation.

Was Hamlet intelligent?