main: July 2009 Archives

Eddie M.jpgNow that everyone has had a chance to woof about the latest RRT (Racial Rorschach Test), let me recommend 5 minutes of comic relief: the brief but memorable skit by Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live called "White Like Me" ...
July 26, 2009 8:33 PM |
I feel uniquely qualified to comment on the recent incident in Cambridge, Massachusetts, being one of the few people around who have ties to both of the worlds that collided that morning.  I am a graduate of Harvard and former instructor there, but I also spent four years teaching in the public schools of Cambridge, which for all its phalanxes of professors is still in many ways a blue-collar city.  (And no, with very few exceptions most professors' kids do not attend the Cambridge schools.)

But rather than write an editorial here, I refer you to this excellent piece by Boston Globe writer Joan Venocchi.  They should not have given it the title they did, because it is not about "machismo," it is about prominent, entitled people venting their frustrations on police -- and two of the examples she gives are of women.  Her point is that race may be part of the mix, but in places like Cambridge, class and town-gown divisions are just as important and sometimes more so.

Gates.jpgAs for Professor Gates and his reaction to Officer Crowley, we can all relate.  The flight from China to Boston is agonizingly long, and when you get home and your front door is jammed, the last thing you need is a cop asking you to show him your ID.
It seems to me obvious that Gates lost it -- I might have, too.  But as everyone (including the average white person) knows, it is not wise to mouth off at a police officer.

Unless, of course, you're a Harvard professor.  Then you get to climb on your high horse and refuse to get off.  But as Venocchi points out, that high horse is the real issue.

The best comment I've seen so far -- much better than President Obama's -- came from William Carter, the neighbor who snapped the photo posted here.  "I know he [Gates] was tired and upset, but someone of his stature and education should be a little more understanding."


And, uh ... don't ask about the Man Who Wasn't There -- the black cop in the foreground of the photo, keeping his cool while the professor loses his.  All cops are white racists by definition, right?  
July 23, 2009 10:24 AM |
Dresden.jpgThere was a time when German film makers scorned the formulas of American movies and (horrors) TV dramas.  On the contrary, the postwar struggle to depict -- or not depict -- the horrors of the Nazi past kept obsessively clear of anything that smacked of Hollywood.

I am not sure exactly when that changed, but one milestone was the American TV miniseries Holocaust, which despite being lambasted by critics, drew a massive audience in West Germany in 1979 and opened an unprecedented public discussion of the topic.

Since then, German TV has become very adept at making American-style miniseries, borrowing every trick in the book, including the much scorned device of placing a love story center stage, with cataclysmic historical events as backdrop.  What the critics miss, though, is that a formula does not determine the quality of the result.  Artistry does.

In the right hands, the TV miniseries can do amazing things.  Case in point: the 2006 German production Dresden, now available on DVD in the US.  The cataclysmic backdrop is the firebombing of that city, said to be the most beautiful in Germany, by the British Royal Air Force in 1945 -- an act that some have compared with America's dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Predictably in a production that carefully weighs the guilt of both sides, the love story is between an English pilot shot down over Dresden a few days before the firebombing and a German nurse who helps him.  Conveniently, the pilot (John Light) is the German-speaking son of a German mother; so he and the lovely Anna (Felicitas Woll) have no trouble communicating their way into romance.

I was not one of the critics who disliked Holocaust.  Of course it did not do justice to its topic.  But surely some awareness in the popular mind is better than none.  And the same can be said of Dresden.  If your reaction to that immense act of destruction was "they deserved it," I won't argue.  But see this film anyway.  It treads a delicate path between showing the evil of the regime (the scales tip deeply toward Germany's greater guilt) and reminding us that along with a horrendous load of guilt, Germany carries a horrendous memory of suffering.  And compared with some countries in the world, the Germans work very hard at coming to terms with both.  Even at the price of borrowing formulas from the USA.

July 19, 2009 8:03 PM |
Bella.jpgTwo young Latino men in a souped-up car, laughing and preening about their good looks and nice clothes ... what do we expect to see next?  A drug deal?  A sexy woman pushed around by macho men?  Maybe a hail of gunfire and spurts of blood on the nice upholstery?

Bella (2006) steps into none of these cliches.  Instead, it drives that flashy car right into a real-life tragedy followed by a beautifully drawn process of real-life redemption.  The debut film of Mexican director Alejandro Monteverde and starring another young Mexican, Eduardo Verastegui, Bella deftly weaves together the fates of a lonely young waitress (Tammy Blanchard) unable to imagine any outcome to her unwanted pregnancy but abortion, and her co-worker (Verastegui) who tries, for reasons of his own, to expand the range of her imagining.

July 12, 2009 7:57 PM |
Iran.jpgThings are still boiling in Iran, and I cannot presume to know what's really going on under the lid.  But I can explain why some of the chitter-chatter about it seems silly to me.  This piece appeared in the Boston Globe, then was picked up by the International Herald Tribune.

The protests in Iran have been dubbed the "Twitter Revolution'' because the latest social-networking tools proved useful in organizing demonstrations and uploading eyewitness texts, images, and videos to the Internet. Indeed, the shooting death of 26-year-old Neda Agha Soltan became an icon after the "citizen journalist'' who captured it on video sent the link to a friend outside Iran, who posted it on YouTube and forwarded it to the Persian-language service of the Voice of America. Finally, at the end of what is now a turbo-boosted news cycle, the video appeared on CNN.

But what if this sudden deployment of media technology doesn't move the regime?

July 6, 2009 9:16 PM |


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