Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ordinary People, HueManIsm, Natural Disasters, and Life in Beautiful Ohio

portrait of the three stars of the Best Picture for 1980, Ordinary People is from here
Minor revisions done on 3 Sept. 2010.

This is a story about two movies, a secular and a religious philosophy, a few disasters, and a call to consciousness.

The first movie I'll get to momentarily. The second movie is Beautiful Ohio. I won't spoil the films for you; each holds secrets. What I'll discuss is another element in each film that is secretive while also so glaring as to require sunglasses, but I doubt the people in the film--knowing they do represent people in life--realise just how glaringly white male supremacist they are being. This secret is not "the point" of the movie, exactly. Most movies about white middle class U.S. heteropatriarchal families do not usually have much to say, critically, on the subject of being the way they are that is in denial that they are a certain way. The whiteness is usually unidentified as a racial issue, for example, and the heterosexuality is presented as normal and natural. So too capitalism's suburban sprawl is seen as just how it is--an inevitable and sort of good progression from life lived far more rurally and more condensed into major cities.

My mind flashes to another film in this genre: Light-Hue-Man-Ism cinema, let's call it. This one was well-represents the genre and it is called Ordinary People. Both films take place in the 1970s, in very white and very suburban areas of the U.S. Both feature non-lesbian, non-gay marriages as normal, legal, and good things. Both stories revolve around two sons. Both posit being educated in the ways of the dominant Western World as unambiguously "good" and "moral" and "right". Both were directed by white het men who came to prominence as actors: Robert Redford and Chad Lowe. Chad's film got considerably less fanfare, and won no Oscars but Chad did win for Debut Director at the Sarasota Film Festival, and one of the actors, Michelle Trachtenberg won there for Breakthrough Performer. All the major lead and supporting actors in Ordinary People won one award or another--whether an Oscar, a BAFTA, or a Golden Globe, but it also won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture of 1980.

Who are these Ordinary People? They are white, heterosexual, middle to upper middle class U.S. citizens who are not immigrants and whose parents were not likely immigrants either. Probably not the grandparents either. They likely are the en-lightened offspring of slavers or genocidal land-thieves. The premise of the movie--a film I quite like, by the way--is that even ordinary people carry unreachable pain and deep wounding: relatively wealthy, socially dominant white people suffer, often silently. (Yes, their suffering is the stuff of Art in the West, whereas the suffering of poor people of color is not, unless to be exploited to make money for rich white men. There are different kinds of silencing. The pain of white people isn't silent, really. The pain of people of color, in the West, most certainly is silenced.) What isn't quite articulated by the film is how class and race along with sexuality, gender, and geographical history create constellations of isolation and insecurity--huge psychic spaces filled with insecurity and secrets. The audience member is made to contemplate--ah, yes: the well-to-do white people do, indeed, suffer? And I reply: how could they not? They are human, after all. And their ways of being human invite particular kinds of suffering just as destroying ecosystems invites certain kinds of "natural" disasters.

So the simple humanistic answer to why they suffer is: "Of course they suffer. They suffer because they are human." But a more profeminist, pro-Indigenist perspective might note WHY they suffer as they do.

To approach an answer we must ask: what kinds of humans are they? Despite the title, they certainly aren't generic people--people without a race or class location. They aren't people without a geographical zone which they inhabit but was stolen from other people who were either displaced or mass murdered. They aren't people without religions and new, practically infantile cultures that value "progress" for white men and whatever for everyone else.

These Ordinary People are people living inside several white men's ideas, turned with great force and will into "civilisation". They are living with what some white men have posited as the good society. "Great" white male philosophers, with thousands upon thousands of slaves and other exploited labor--including, notably, their wives, have constructed a social reality to reflect and amplify their white male supremacist values which are called humanistic: pro-human. But most humans don't benefit from the systems created, and genocide and slavery are necessary to manufacture the society, so exactly whose humanity is humanism designed to support? I'd argue ultimately, no one's at all. But, it won't devastate richer white people living in the First (Last) World, as much as it will poorer people of color living in the Third (Original) World.

Humanism, acted out, is especially dangerous to women because it posits "man" as its center and frame of reference. And while "man" is seen to be universal, and inclusive of all genders, it never really is that; what "mankind" always is, if it values patriarchal ways of being, is unkind to women. These two films portray women in various ways--perhaps most notably as middle-aged mothers who are not apparently sexual, and as young objects of heterosexual male desire who are not mothers. White male writers really do have a rather difficult time of imagining women as anything else: neither mother nor potential girlfriend of a guy. White men are written into cinema as virtually everything one can be, including impersonators of non-trans women:

image is from here
The supposedly generic "man", at the end of the day and the beginning of another, is usually quite white and chronologically grown up. His ethnically and culturally specific ways of being are promulgated and promoted as "universal" and "natural" or, if not natural, then how a sky-god willed "man" to be. If not from god then according to white man-made laws, or customs--but always using ceaseless force--whether seen or unseen, both public and private, individualised and class-inflicted. The bulk of the force is directed by men against other men, against women, and against children.

Humanism, as a philosophy, is intended to support these beliefs: white het men speak for everyone; they speak for everyone better than anyone else; they think and feel things that are "just human", not raced, not gendered, not classed if he's middle class; his sexual orientation doesn't have to be introduced or explained to the viewing audience; and even when he is particularised to a certain time, in a certain place, among certain conditions, such stories rarely investigate the premises of his race, gender, and sexuality as unnatural regardless of the fact that those aspects of his being are continually constructed, unstable, and a source of insecurity shored up through racist heteropatriarchal practices.

These entirely non-generic humans, in fact, live on land that has been devastated for many of the same reasons that land has been devastated in Haiti and Pakistan, and across the U.S., including along the Louisiana coast, five years ago and also within the last several months.

Five years ago we remember an event called "Katrina" but the story isn't really about a hurricane and it's sure not about a woman, or even Mother Earth-Gone-Wild. It's about how very white and very grown men called civil engineers, politicians, and ecocidalists conspired, in order to make gobs of money, to destroy an ecosystem--the wetlands, and also build into New Orleans a straight pathway into the city for any hurricane to enter. It's about the way class and race and geography intersect, to place vulnerable people in vulnerable areas of land that has been destroyed to varying degrees by developers who don't give a shit about Indigenous people, Indigenous Ways, or the land, water, and air. What they care about is profit, money, financial riches. In Pakistan, trees--hundreds of acres, too many to count, have been ripped off the Earth, leaving soil to be loose, ungrounded, so to speak. When water comes rushing in or pouring down, mud can slide and kill people. The French industrialists cut down most of Haiti's trees, so that soil eroded and land was more vulnerable to high velocity winds. Various forms of colonisation, invasion, and globalisation have kept Haitian people largely materially impoverished. Dwelling structures for human living were weak and large storms could tear them apart easily. France could have offered reparations, including by repairing housing, making it significantly more storm-sturdy. It just wasn't a priority for the white French elite. For Haitians to call for reparations is to hear this phrase in decidedly Parisian French in response: Parler à la main, or Speak to the hand.

None of these "natural disasters": most recently in Pakistan, and also in the Gulf of Mexico--in 2005 and in 2010, and also in Haiti earlier this year, were reportedly victimised by wind and rain and mud. They were made victims due to some white grown men deciding that destroying ecosystems and relocating people there was a good thing to do. There, where the ecosystems once functioned well to deal with storms. There, where Indigenous people once lived in far greater numbers, but with the land--within not without the ecosystem. Within the ecosystem, not without the ecosystem. We cannot live without nature's ecosystems. I know, it's hard news to hear. But it's the truth.

European philosophers, the many incarnations of the Great White Men, are posited variously as geniuses or fools but they are all paid attention to--seen as having something important to say, about the human condition. What humanism fails to note is how humans are part of ecosystems--whether imperial, colonial, genocidal, and corporate land-barons like it or not. We are part of them even when we think we are not. When we destroy them, the destruction visits the place that once was a functional ecosystem. Death and destruction to lots of people is what is inevitably going to happen when you pretend, as so many Great White Men do, that we can control the Earth and make "it" ours. European white men, quite uniquely, but not alone, have organised societies in the last many hundred years as if the Earth is THEIRS, as if IT belongs to THEM, rather than us belonging to the land, sea, and air. This is also a form of misogyny, as "man" insists on mistreating the Earth as some thing to be conquered, dominated, controlled, and violated.

Small scale farmers of many colors had and still have a kind of respect for the land that white agribusiness-men scoff at and call old-fashioned and passé. What will be passé in the not-too-distant future, are all societies based on the premise that humans control the Earth. This is to say: the Earth will win. Why? Because humans cannot live without healthy air, clean water, trees, and soil-covered land. And Great White Men, with their Great Philosophies, and their Great Science, and their Great Religions will not be leaving this lowly Earth, possibly for some skyward heavenly eternal paradise as some white politically conservative Christian Evangelicals proclaim.
Let's see what some Great White Christian (presumably heterosexual) Men have predicted about this event called The Rapture (which references something called "The Second Coming of Christ"--which of course presumes he made an appearance some time in the past). From Wikipedia:
  • 1844 - William Miller predicted Christ would return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844, then revised his prediction, claiming to have miscalculated Scripture, to October 22, 1844. The realization that the predictions were incorrect resulted in a Great Disappointment. Miller's theology gave rise to the Advent movement. The Baha'is believe that Christ did return as Miller predicted in 1844, with the advent of The Báb, and numerous Miller-like prophetic predictions from many religions are given in William Sears book, Thief in The Night.
  • 1977 - William M. Branham predicted in 1962 that the Rapture could take place by 1977.
  • 1981 - Chuck Smith predicted that Jesus would probably return by 1981.
  • 1988 - Publication of 88 Reasons why the Rapture is in 1988, by Edgar C. Whisenant.
  • 1989 - Publication of The final shout: Rapture report 1989, by Edgar Whisenant. More predictions by this author appeared for 1992, 1995, and other years.
  • 1994 - Pastor John Hinkle of Christ Church in Los Angeles predicted June 9, 1994. Radio evangelist Harold Camping predicted September 27, 1994.
  • 2011 - Harold Camping's revised prediction has May 21, 2011 as the date of the rapture.
  • 2012 - The Mayan Long Count calendar ends a 5125-year cycle on December 21, 2012. Some Christians such as Jack Van Impe have associated [read: exploitively appropriated] this event with the Second Coming of Christ.
  • 2060 - Sir Isaac Newton proposed, based upon his calculations using figures from the book of Daniel, that the Apocalypse could happen no earlier than 2060.
I'm going out on a limb--a bit, fat, thick limb attached to a gigantic tree, whose trunk is eight times the width of that limb and whose root system branches out far and deep, that White Christian Religious and Secular Humanist Het Men are generally wrong about most things. Don't tell them that or they'll wig out. Seriously--they'll get all freaky on your ass. But, well, they are wrong a whole lot. About a whole lot of things: like how to live, what constitutes ethical behavior, how civilisations should be organised relative to the land and sea and air they occupy, generally with the help of generals and a giant military, and also plenty of slaves.

Of the many philosophies sold in the U.S. that appears, on the surface, to be good, moral, and just, secular humanism ranks highly among people who consider themselves good liberals. The fact that secular humanism or religious monotheism are necessarily devastatingly deadly, for humans and the Earth, I think is a point one ought not miss. Again, I'm out on a limb here.

But while here I'll add that it's about time we started re-invigorating older Indigenous, Gaia-centered, and woman-centered philosophies that understood we belong to the Earth, not the other way around.  Because the Christian and Scientific white dudes are really fucking shit up. A lot. And they're planning to invest a shitload of bucks to do it some more.

The light hued people really love their philosophers--religious and secular, theological and scientific, whether they know it or not. But some "well-educated" white folks really demonstrate this adoration. In the film Beautiful Ohio, a young white male "genius" is held as very "special" but not "special" as in having special needs; not disabled, in other words. And all those humanistic white male philosophers--not so much the religious ones, in this film--are treated and regarded as saints. Math, itself, is a pathway to bliss and wonder. (Never mind the Earth and its surroundings.) Watch the film and notice how reverently those Great White  Men are spoken of, quoted, and re-quoted ad nauseam. And watch for the surprises in the film, too. I won't spoil it for you. I liked this movie also. I'm kind of a sucker for movies about dominant society's ethnically paler people with a very strange way of living on Earth.

image of the two brothers in Beautiful Ohio is from here

image of cover of DVD, Beautiful Ohio, is from here