Of By For

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Of By For is a documentary about the American political system. I enjoyed the film and recommend watching it…..but…..Yes, there’s a but…

Frankly, the interview conducted, the things said, and the history illustrated is BOTH important and frequently covered. I found myself thinking that I’ve seen another version of this movie a dozen times  before and I can’t remember the names of any of the other films.

Then Dan Rather spoke.

Dan Rather made some very heartfelt comments about the loss of a spine within the American press. He commented on the loss of checks and balances that the press is, theoretically, supposed to provide and the fact that ‘reality television’ can be done without consequence while true hard journalism comes with the potential of facing a lot of very hard, expensive and potentially career ending consequences – even with the journalistic work is good, professional, ethical and legal.

This reminded me of Puerto Rico’s “most trusted journalist” as covered on the Daily Show: La Comay on SuperXclusivo. Perhaps we need more puppets asking questions and fewer journalists acting like puppets.

Of By For resources:

Poverty, Inc.

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I finally got the opportunity to watch the documentary Poverty Inc. It’s well worth watching and covers a lot of details that are extremely important to consider when providing assistance internationally.

As I was watching it, I kept thinking the same systemic concerns, complaints and problems occur here in the United States. The manifestation is different, but the way money, business, non-profit work and political/social forces operate are the same. Honestly, I think a Poverty Inc USA-version is both possible and warranted. Maybe someday that will happen.

The danger I see in this film is the assumption that no help at all is better than anything being provided for free. That is not the argument made by this film, either purposely or as a result of the evidence provided. The point made…extremely well…is that non profits make money off of catastrophes and continue making money as long as the catastrophes continue, which directly and drastically hinders the efforts of people trying to overcome terrible events.

Help is ethically, morally and politically necessary. However, turning people into your permanent fundraising poster child by hindering their ability to move into (or return to) a state of financial and political self-sufficiency is not help – it’s business.

This would make an excellent starting point of an in-depth discussion or class on poverty, economics, business and politics.

Details about the movie:

Gold Diggers Survive

I have a love-hate relationship with this song: Fancy from the album Rumor Has It by Reba McEntire.

Fancy was a big hit in 1990. During that year, I was a poverty survivor working insane hours at multiple jobs while going to college. The lyrics do not tell my story (per se) but they touched on something within my own experience.

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“She said here’s your chance Fancy don’t let me down
Here’s your one chance Fancy don’t let me down
Lord forgive me for what I do, but if you want out
Well it’s up to you
Now don’t let me down you better start movin’ uptown”

Every time I hear this song play, I want to turn it into a personal theme song or a Poverty Survivor anthem because of lyrics like this:

“I knew what I had to do but I made myself this solemn vow
That I’s gonna be a lady someday
Though I don’t know when or how
I couldn’t see spending the rest of my life
With my head hung down in shame you know
I might have been born just plain white trash
But Fancy was my name”

Good strong words, but they are taken out of context. Context is important. This song tells the story of a young woman who is handed over to a pimp because her mother was poor, sick and desperate to find a way for her daughter to survive:

“Then I saw the tears wellin’ up in her troubled eyes
When she started to speak
She looked at our pitiful shack
And then she looked at me and took a ragged breath
She said your Pa’s run off and I’m real sick
And the baby’s gonna starve to death.”

But, in the end, Fancy not only gets out of a life of prostitution, she becomes extremely wealthy and famous. How? She finds several rich men who like what she has to offer.

“It wasn’t very long after a benevolent man
Took me off the street
And one week later I was pourin’ his tea
In a five room hotel suite”

“I charmed a king, a congressman
And an occasional aristocrat
Then I got me a Georgia mansion
And an elegant New York townhouse flat
I ain’t done bad”

The story describes a young woman who is physically attractive and blessed with a personality that is both subservient enough to ‘pour tea’ and outgoing/entertaining/manipulative enough to ‘charm a king, a congressman and an occasional aristocrat.’ She literally serves, entertains and flatters her way into the right bedrooms and, therefore, is able to both survive and thrive.

This is complete fiction. Under the ownership of a pimp, human trafficker or abusive boyfriend (taking a cut off of her earnings), it would have required the intervention of the police and/or an act of God to get her off the streets.

This is destructive fiction. This is one of the fatal contradictions inherent in the definition of Deserving Poor utilized here in the United States – a common fable passed around by Hollywood, television, romance novels and politicians. It’s disturbing just how many people actually believe it is factual, common and proof that women who don’t land rich husbands ‘deserve’ the punishment of poverty. Specifically: if you want to get out of poverty, you must land the right man. Girls who ‘work it’ are the ones who succeed – the rest are just lazy and worthless. Worse…those who get pregnant, raped or otherwise suffer less than ideal consequences are ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’ who deserve nothing better than prostitution and single-parenting-on-welfare.

Street Feminism. If you’ve ever wondered why feminism is not popular among poor women, take a good hard look at what it takes to survive and what is expected of the Deserving Poor. These lyrics and this music video provide an excellent illustration of the reality of poverty for women – a reality which feminism, in its current manifestation, does nothing to address. Sadly, many upper-class feminists actively (aggressively) support this fantasy and the Deserving Poor fiction that goes with it – through their actions. Your theories and opinions are nothing if your actions contradict those words. Why does this happen? Because class and classism overshadows solidarity and negatively affects the feminist community.

Which brings me to the next point…

Real life in the United States. Entirely too many people (particularly children, teenagers, and young adults) are desperately poor and/or homeless in the United States. They need reasonable and easily accessible options, not fairy tales that essentially glorify an ideal that, in reality, guarantees a life of sexual slavery.

“Now in this world there’s a lot of self-righteous hypocrites
That would call me bad
And criticize Mama for turning me out
No matter how little we had”

This is a bit of truth. Self-righteous hypocrites calling poverty survivors ‘bad’ (and many other things that are far worse) because they have the audacity to survive poverty. So many things about this story are wrong….just plain wrong….because they accurately portray reality for entirely too many people (including the complications stemming from popular misconceptions). This last bit of nastiness is no exception.

Poverty survivors have a right to live. They do not owe anyone an explanation, excuse or apology for refusing to die (no matter how inconvenient that reality may be to select groups of people). Those who are lucky enough to leave poverty deserve respect, not nasty attempts at degradation, public humiliation, and slander. Slander which can, and often does, negatively affects social standing and employment – thereby sending survivors right back into poverty.

Yeah, this song strikes a chord. It grabs hold of my anger and frustration about the lack of real change in the areas of poverty and homelessness and plays those emotions like an instrument.

To her credit, Reba McEntire’s video for Fancy ends with the main character opening a home for runaways. It’s an excellent video. I just wish the lyrical story were more realistic.

Vacation Film Viewing

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While on vacation, I attended a workshop presented by Mick Caouette of South Hill Films. The workshop consisted of viewing and discussing twp South Hills Films documentaries:

Both films were extremely well-done and a pleasure to watch.

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Mr. Civil Rights provided some fascinating insight into the strategies utilized by the legal team that established the NAACP and achieved both the integration of the school system and the elimination of Jim Crow.

Hubert H Humphrey went into the behind-the-scenes dramas that occurred while Humphrey was vice president. During his time as Vice President, this Vietnam War era politician was vilified for being pro-war. According to the details presented by this film, he was not pro-war, and the undisclosed political maneuverings were significantly more complicated and (frankly) vicious than most people realize.

Big Bird on the Chain Gang

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Music is weird. It can transport a person’s mind back to a time long-since past. It can lead the imagination into dangerously (sadly) hopeful places in the never-to-be-realized future. It transforms a moment so completely, an individual can (potentially) forget the important truths about the present reality. Fun, powerful, and necessary – music is power, magic, human strengths and human weaknesses all rolled into one.

When selecting quotes for this blog, I approach the selections from the perspective of printed poetry. Quotations are posted because of their strength without music. Which brings me to this selection; while I like both the song and the words, they are not something I would normally quote here on this blog.

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However, every single time I hear this song I think of a friend I used to have – a really close non-romantic friend who is no longer around. I miss this old friendship and find myself dipping into a momentary sadness every time I hear this song – or see/hear Big Bird.

Yes, that’s right, Big Bird. I would like to say Big Bird was this individual’s favorite character but, honestly, it’s only because the personality and the voice of the Sesame Street character has an uncanny resemblance to my old friend.

While I was sifting through quotes and images, it occurred to me that the nature of music and the nature of both memory and human relationships are equally strange.

So, here is my example of a combination of seemingly incongruous items that perfectly represent someone who once held a very important part of my life and still retains a non-romantic, yet deeply heart felt, portion of my memory. I rather suspect that this memory-experience is a common one among human beings everywhere. I encourage anyone with a similar story to share in the comments below.

Quotes:

“Threw sand in our eyes and descended like flies
and put us back on the train, yeah (ho-ah)
O-oh, (ho-ah) back on the chain gang

The powers that be
That force us to live like we do
Bring me to my knees
When I see what they’ve done to you

Well, I’ll die as I stand here today
Knowing that deep in my heart
They’ll fall to ruin one day
For making us part…”

Back On The Chain Gang by The Pretenders

Zombies Are Better In Print

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This was an excellent novel. In fact, two books that I had requested through my local library came available while I was in the midst of reading this one – both had exceptionally long waiting lists and I needed to get through them both before the return date. Yet, I simply could not stop reading this book. Could. Not. Put. Down.

While the story is about zombies, the focus is on a viral outbreak that causes a world war. It reads like a science fiction war novel, not a horror story. There are plenty of exciting story lines, nail-biting adventures and descriptions of creepy undead, but the undead make up the background for the human stories that occur within the midst of a new-to-the-human-race mortal danger.

The structure is based around the idea that the fictional ‘author’ traveled the world interviewing people and gathering data about the zombies, the battles and the human element. The result is a collection of first-person accounts of a massively destructive biological event that was eventually put down through offensive attacks on millions (billions) of humans-turned-zombies.

The fact that the virus is spread through human negligence (officials refusing to believe data), fear (refugees and panic), criminal activities (illicit organ transplants) and predatory commerce (selling fake cures with FDA approval) is disturbingly logical. Nuclear attacks between countries and civil wars within nations are launched because communications system fail, key individuals are lost and the difficult fact that human nature tends toward both control and revenge (even when human extinction is a potential consequence).

The most frightening thing about this novel is the description of very real human reactions – and we do not come across as a particularly logical, kind or resilient species. In the end, the human race wins the war well enough to return to some semblance of a life, but…well…you’ll have to read the book. Suffice it to say that the zombies are not gone, just under control.

If you saw the movie, then be forewarned – the book describes a very different plot, new selection of characters and a drastically different take on the zombie-as-monster. Hollywood pretty much took the bones of the narrative (UN employee searching for an the source of the zombie plague by traveling around the world and interviewing people) and created a brand new version of the story.

Bottom line – it’s a good book (REALLY good book) and I highly recommend it.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Top 3 Movies: Poverty and the ‘Noble Savage’

The ‘Noble Savage’ is a fictional character that portrays an innocent outsider untouched by the corruption of civilization.

In Hollywood, this generally produces a storyline that goes something like this: a respectable (usually white, well educated and rich) man loses his way in unknown territory and stumbles across a local (the savage) who helps him find his way home, usually after saving the respectable man’s physical life and assisting him in establishing a spiritual one. Then, upon returning home, the respectable man participates in the demise of the local and his or her entire family or village. Usually, the participation is accidental or the result of naiveté, which conveniently eliminates the potential long-term relationship between the respectable man and his new friend. It also presents an excellent opportunity for the Hollywood ‘Nooooooo!’ (done with great drama, tears, and a fall to the knees).

Here are my selections for the top three movies using homeless people or people in poverty in a classic ‘Noble Savage’ storyline:

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1) A Christmas Carol Is it possible to forget that moment when Scrooge is heartbroken over the possible death of Tiny Tim? Of course, between the help of otherworldly spirits and the benevolent poor surrounding the old man, Scrooge the miser finds his way home and becomes a very happy man.

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2) Down and Out in Beverly Hills A homeless man is taken in by super-wealthy Beverly Hills family and proceeds to fix all of the heartbreak, disappointment and self-destructive habits of his new benefactors. This movie does not have a ‘Noooooo!’ moment, but it does have a horrible scene where the homeless man insists that he is a ‘good homeless’ person because he likes being out on the street – most of the rest of them hate it and are, therefore, ‘bad’ homeless.

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3) The Fisher King I must admit that I actually like this movie because of the relationships between the main characters, but it remains in the top three for the following reasons:

  1. The two lead males are both respectable men who have lost their way (and their minds) due to a horrible tragedy.
  2. Both lead males interact with homeless people while lost and use those new relationships to find their way home.
  3. One character snubs a homeless ‘friend’ after regaining his rightful status as super-wealthy-powerful-famous-man and is unable to find this friend when he has a change of heart (say it with me: Nooooooo!).
  4. The other leading man is returned home (regains sanity) through the help of his new respectable friend and a woman who has fallen in love with him (another standard Hollywood scenario), thereby leaving behind the people he knew while homeless.

Those are my picks – what are yours?

(C) Adora Myers 2014