JELYM or Avatar Review Part 2

I was originally going to post this review weeks ago, back when Avatar was new and newsworthy and my opinion of it perhaps slightly more germane to any readers of this blog (if any of you are still hanging around).  Since then, I’ve changed more diapers than I have gotten hours of sleep, started adjusting to using a CPAP machine at night and have generally just not been in a position to write much here.  One thing I have learned, though, in my growing up lately is that commitment counts, and I made a commitment to myself to start this blog and to keep up with it.  Sometimes following through is more important than creating something timely and brilliant.  Inertia is both close friend and dear enemy to efforts like a blog.  The more I write, the easier it gets to keep writing.  Where I get bogged down is trying to produce a masterpiece every time my fingers touch the keys.  As I learned while cooking dinner tonight…What I was in the middle of saying before I was rudely cut off by my blog host was that some times you just have to put some food on a plate that is tasty and nourishing and leave the fancy garnish for another night.  Now that I have to recollect my thoughts on this entry yet again this is even more true.

Watching Avatar felt very much like being the main character in The Princess and the Pea.  No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t get comfortable.  At first I thought it was the 3D glasses or sitting too close to an IMAX screen.  Then I thought it was because the plot kept jumping from convention to convention without any of the in-between stuff that makes for good storytelling.  (Unless, of course, you too have fallen deeply and meaningfully in love with someone by engaging in a series of training montages.)  As I walked out of the theatre I realized what it was: I felt like I had just sat through a big budget “youth group movie”.

What’s a youth group movie, you ask?  A youth group movie is the kind of a movie that you throw against a wall and if it don’t bounce back you go hungry (bow bow bow)…Sorry, having an obscure reference moment…okay we’re back.  A youth group movie refers to the straight-to-video pablum that I was fed as a churchgoing teenager.  Imagine a religiously-themed ABC after school special without the good writing or big budget (though I think they both often have Kirk Cameron in them – ooo burn!) and you’ll get the idea.  According to the YGM’s that I watched, kissing gets you pregnant, having a beer will make you kill people with your car, smoking will make you a junkie and staying out of church will make you a wife beating SOB with no job.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not mocking these films because I am anti-Christian or anything.  What drove me mad about them, even as a teen, was that sex, substance use and abuse and domestic violence are issues that are far too important to be given such awful treatment.  The choices we make about these issues in our lives will deeply affect who we become and will also determine what kind of effect we will ultimately have on the world around us.  It’s disgraceful to offer platitudes, glossy generalizations and stereotypes when purporting to educate people on these issues.

This is exactly the same kind of treatment that James Cameron gives to the issues of environmental responsibility and the modern corporate version of Manifest Destiny.  Here are the lessons I learned from watching Avatar:

1) It’s totally fine to lie to and betray someone that you declare love for as long as you feel really bad when the consequences of your betrayal destroy their home, their family and their way of life.

2) When unjustly persecuted by people who embrace violence against the innocent the best solution is to become more effectively violent.  This will show them the error of their ways and certainly will not lead to any sort of escalation like, say, being bombed to subatomic particles from outer space.

3) Everything is nature is connected.  Except for the people who are not connected to nature.  Those people will try to blow nature to smithereens until nature gets pissed off and sends cavalry units in against heavy artillery.

4) Fear is a powerful motivator.

5) Everything is better when you’re a ‘Toon.

In most cases I would find this kind of funny and would shrug it off.  I don’t generally look to films of this sort to educate me or calibrate my moral compass.  The thing is, I have a daughter now and suddenly the future of this world means something different.  It’s not enough that it’s here long enough for me, I want her to be able to live a long and fruitful life as well.  There now exists for me an “and so on” that wasn’t there a few months ago.  So these issues carry weight with me and I want them to be discussed intelligently in the public forum because I ultimately want wise decisions to be made.

Sarah Palin’s recent talks at Tea Party events and the like (side note: that no one attending these events was in any way risking their life for the sake of obtaining independence is a testament both to the efficacy of the work of our founders and the laughable use of that moniker for this current political fad) and the popularity of commentators like Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, Sean Hannity and such demonstrate that we are increasingly seeking people out who will aggressively agree with us and who will help us circle the wagons against the threat of The Other Guys.  When public discourse is a) moderated primarily by entertainers who have more incentive to spew invective than to offer reasonable propositions and promote healthy compromise; b) reduced by the Sound Byte Brigade to slogans, talking points and catch phrases; and c) approached from the viewpoint that all answers are obvious and only great fools (like anyone who doesn’t see things our way) can’t see the righteousness of our beliefs, then we will never be able to solve the problems we face together.

Banal fantasies like “military types like killing things for money” and “Mother Nature’s gonna get ya” only serve to encourage people to tune out on what you might have to say.  I remember a conversation I had several years ago with a friend of mine on why various Christian evangelizing techniques were so completely ineffective.  Mostly it’s because the vast majority of people I know don’t want to read a pamphlet with strangers.  It’s also because in those pamphlets and tactics and techniques the heart of the message is lost.  I suggested replacing the class with one phrase, “Jesus effing loves you, man.”  (JELYM for short).  Be honest, if all someone did to try to convince you of their belief was say something simple like that, you’d listen more than you would to, say, Kirk Cameron reading the 10 Commandments on a street corner (ooo burn again! – I actually saw him encouraging that exact thing on late night TV once).

Right now we’re facing crushing public debt, a growing divide between rich and poor – especially as it relates to health care, terrorist groups who truly do hate us, ongoing war efforts and serious environmental concerns.  We must deal with these problems sooner rather than later and we must do so maturely with the best interests of all in mind.  It frustrates me to see our legislators (I will not sully the word “leader” by associating it with Congress) focusing on outmaneuvering their opponents rather than reaching useful consensus.  Particularly when the heart of the issues is lost amidst the bellicose tumult and podium pounding.  You see, I think that most people would agree that giving public money away in large sums to people who just squandered the last large sum of money they were given is a bad idea.  I think most people would agree that taking steps to ensure the longevity of our ecosystem is a good idea.  I think that most people would prefer not fighting to fighting if we can help it and that if we can find a way to make sure that everyone has access to medical treatment then we should try to do that.  And I think that most people would accept the notion that spending more money than you have without consideration of the consequences is a very, very bad idea.  Granted, we will certainly differ on methodologies and priorities but if we agree on the heart of the matter then we can focus our debate on finding the best way to achieve a common goal rather than on how to best malign our opponents.  We have got to acknowledge that despite our differences we are ultimately all in this together.  My daughter is counting on it.

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Anyone for Tea?

I posted this comment as something of a tangent (what?!) to a comment thread on an article about John Edwards and Sarah Palin:

@Mary (Washington State) – I think that there is some differentiation required between the people who are marketing (inciting, fomenting, profiting-from) the Tea Party movement and the people who are drawn to the message. I certainly do not agree with nor support the blindly oppositional rhetoric that the extremist poster children for the TP espouse, just as I do not support the equally unhelpful vitriol from extreme leftist propagandists. What I believe people are responding to is not a desire for anarchy or division, as TN60 proposes, but rather the profound sense that their government leaders care more about the raw exercise of power than about the people they are meant to serve. I think that this is a feeling shared by people on both sides of the political fence and these feelings are cynically used by people in both parties to make money, with the potential side advantage of garnering votes.

What people want is to remove the layer upon layer of insulation that exists between them and their leaders. Congress has become something of a cross between an exclusive private club and an elected noble class. They enjoy healthcare and retirement benefits most Americans can only dream of. They get to vote themselves pay raises! If they ever leave office, most of them have catered to the demands of enough special interest lobbies that they need not fear finding a job with a ridiculously high salary (which they don’t actually need thanks to their sweet pension plan that they gave themselves). Despite the slew of well-turned phrases streaming from the Capitol every day, the only thing most people are certain that Congress accomplishes is padding the wallets of their contributing lobbyists and making things harder for the rest of us.

As the rich get richer and the middle class get poorer (though I think if we are honest with ourselves it is not truly poverty we face but rather an inability to keep up with the lifestyle displayed in glorious color 24/7) the ethnic majority is finally feeling what it is like to be disenfranchised. People who have been raised with nary a care in the world are suddenly having a hard time making their mortgage payment. Middle class conservatives who profited from the Reagan years and had begun to feel like they were insiders to the world of the wealthy with their stock brokers and E*Trade accounts suddenly watched their 401K’s go up in a puff of smoke. The clay feet of the heroes of their corporate pantheon were suddenly and devastatingly shattered, leaving them with no one to worship. People who had supported a party that proclaimed the evils of a welfare state suddenly found themselves needing a helping hand.

What makes the Tea Party folks unique is not their tactics or rhetoric, it is their constituency. For the first time middle class white conservatives are feeling the same way that much of the constituency of the Democrat party has for decades. Let’s be frank, the Democrats have had their fair share of snake oil salesmen selling a bill of goods to people who feel “out of the loop” over the years (this is no means meant as a defense of Republican party ethics, they have simply used other methods to bilk the congregation) and public rallies where charismatic speakers decry the abuses of the empowered elite are not new to our political landscape. What is new is the branch of the populous to whom that message appeals.

If we can set aside our ingrained prejudices, I think we will find that most of us want the same thing: a financially responsible government led by people more concerned with the welfare of the nation than the balance of their bank account.

Forthright Leadership

This next post was in response to the question of whether or not Americans would be able to handle the bare truth of what’s needed to fix our federal debt.

Provide for the common defense. Promote the general welfare. Preserve the blessings of liberty.

Notice that “placate the constituencies” is not on that list. From a leadership standpoint, the role of public servants is to take action and make decisions in the best interest of the common good regardless of the cost in reduced approval rating numbers. When public servants begin to make legislative decisions based on their popularity they corrupt their role by placing the emphasis upon themselves rather than those whose trust they ought to guard.

Being responsible with public money, spending only what we have and making the necessary sacrifices to do so (many of which might adversely affect the services rendered to Congress more so than those rendered to the public anyway) is the only policy that makes sense in the long run. To wring our hands in fear of the response of the masses makes us no less cowardly than the parent who endangers their family’s future by charging up a storm every Christmas in order to make sure the kids don’t have a temper tantrum.

Anyone unwilling to do the right thing for the sake of pandering in order to maintain their position of power is no leader, regardless of their job title.

The Pledge

Occasionally I will take some time to jot down my thoughts in comments to other blogs or news sites.  Since I have this forum as well I figured I may as well copy those writings here to have a repository for the knick knacks that clutter up my attic.  Rather than waste a lot of space with the full posts to which I have replied, I’ll give a brief topic summary and a link to the original.

On the Pledge of Allegiance:

Taking a slight left at Albuquerque, while we’re talking about changing the Pledge of Allegiance why not change some of the other language as well?  Rather than pledging our unswerving loyalty to a flag and a Government, why don’t we pledge our allegiance to one another instead?  Enforcing a pledge of loyalty from its citizenry is a sign of insecurity in any government.  I would rather that Congress, the President and all public servants start their day with a Pledge of Allegiance to the individuals they are honored to serve than my daughter start her day blindly backing an often corrupt State.  I propose the following alternative pledge and encourage anyone required to start their day with their hand over their heart to give it a try:

I pledge commitment to my fellow man who walks with me in the journey of life and to the potential that we might reach, one nation formed of friends with liberty and justice for all.  (So say we all. grin.)
Perhaps our children might then be able to discuss their political views without shouting at each other.  Just a thought.