Killing Me Softly

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Since I saw Black Panther and identified with [Erik] Killmonger, folks have flung their two cents at me. I kid you not. I received a bunch of vague, neutralist (pseudo-pacifist?) and somewhat sanctimonious platitudes (on my status and via PM) after I posted “Killmonger was right” on social media. I appreciate the discussions the #TeamKillmonger tag has generated and the folks gracious enough to have a dialogue with me; but damn, some people really jumped on me!

erik2-1I don’t exaggerate. As James Colwell would say, “I deal in truth.” I deal in truth, not hyperbole. The truth of the matter is that I just made a statement. I don’t live in a bubble and I don’t expect uncritical reverence, but I didn’t solicit alternate takes. I’d like to think folks who know me and share my personal space would understand my sensibilities which are informed by my personhood: my positionality, praxis, and pessimism. What I like about Black Panther is that its narrative invokes positionality and praxis which resonate via Black indigenity and diaspora. Pessimism plays into why I’m here for Killmonger, which was little to no surprise to the folks who are (and have been) truly here for me.

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I’m a sociologist whose studied interpersonality, criminality, gender, and economics. Through psychoanalytic theory and individuology, I specialize in psychic life. I used to relay how unnerved I was when my studies on Max Weber would coalesce into moonlight erotica career, because Max would star in some very steamy dreams.

I also used to sputter about the surrealism and mind-blown moments I’d find thanks to Max and some of the more cosmic existentialists. These people would speak truth to power quite literally in that they noted every aspect of life as we know it is contrived. Like, we know life because we contrive it. We wouldn’t be able to know anything if we couldn’t break things down for our convenience. The arrogant genius is inferior to the teacher since being able to relay anything—no matter how big—to anyone is truly ingenious, because we are all capable of understanding. The trick is making someone understand.

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For the most part, I understand the world to be a very dark place. It’s capitalist, colonialist, sexist, racist amongst other awful things which are resultant and contingent upon ethnocentrism and empiricism that marauded as enlightenment. History has spawned wars, genocides, and insurmountable violences committed in the interests of elites, oligarchs, imperialists, colonizers—some of whom were kleptocrats. Marginalized peoples were enslaved, exploited, raped, murdered, assimilated, sterilized in accordance to eugenics; exhibited as spectacles in live zoos, if not stuffed and mounted (or preserved) as corpses. Some had actual bounties.

tumblr_nbgicrtEG01qeh4t2o3_r1_400And, you peace the hell out if you’re inclined to tell me that’s in the past and everything’s ‘fine’ now.

History is important because ideally, lessons are learnt from past mistakes which shouldn’t be repeated. In terms of survival and the overall species, I think history’s important for affirming what can and can’t make the cut. Or rather, identifying and playing up to, if not eliminating the sword which cuts.

I don’t like violence; but as far as activism goes, I dislike nonviolence and peaceful protest. If there’s one thing history has taught me, it’s that life as most would think appears to be operant upon pain and profit. Prowess is what strings together all of the -isms that come into play, and brutality is what gets you the biggest bang for your buck.

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That’s the constant, how it’s always been. That’s my takeaway from life as I know it. Revolutionaries don’t negotiate their validity, their humanity to their oppressors. They’re great teachers who can educate. However, the wealthiest in looks, likeness, and livelihood can afford to be blissfully ignorant; and if they are educated, they become willfully ignorant since the luxury of life as they’ve known it prior has bought off any semblance of conscience.

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Not so much when you overtake their estates and march them to a dungeon with some creative devices, or when square off against them in cold blood. After a few blows or rounds on the rack, wealth kind of seems irrelevant and folks are suddenly amenable to change, if not accountability or reconsideration. You could always argue that anybody would abide anything if under duress—and I’d agree with you. The only point of contention is that what might be “duress” to you would be “retribution” or “reckoning” to me; people like me. Call me ignoble, but I don’t have a problem with any of the 1% getting a five finger discount. I mean, when they do, there tends to be a revolution. They’re inclined to change when a substantial portion of the 99% decide to show out. Or, if one of their own is directly affected by something that afflicts another percentage.

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Which is another aspect that folks [should] know I ride for: collectivity. You know I’m for it because I am repulsed by the lack thereof. I don’t mean extremism without a lack of nuance. I mean how fractured and disjointed I find this “community” that won’t think twice to drag its own in assuming the mantle of a clique or celebrity, or make it rain for the hucksters whom hijack narratives; this “community” whose loyalties can be bought indefinite times over with a meme or bop from figures who could care less about the justice they allege to seek. Another key thing history has taught me is that the solidarity of marginalized peoples is always undermined by tokens or double-agents: insiders who sell their own out. These folks who peep game, but refuse to recognize it. They mistake a crumb of gratification for triumph. They seldom play to win, if they play at all.

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There’s power in numbers, but the 1% maintains power despite the 99%. That’s the real, timeless tragedy. People can come together to effect change in meaningful ways not just amongst each other in a small scale, but on a global scale. No technology or wealth can undermine the unified might and cause of sheer numbers. This is why nuclear warfare has become such an agonized prospect since it is the inversion of this principle: it subverts the interests of many being outweighed by the whims of select authorities. It only takes a handful of people to legitimize a strike that would decimate tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people. That shouldn’t be how things are. It sounds expensive to change.

Perhaps, that change could be cheapened by a five finger discount?

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For the folks who still follow me and still don’t get it: let me tell you why I dig characters like Killmonger (onscreen and in comics). It’s mostly nihilism and misanthropy. Call me wrong or whatever you’d like, but I’ve seen and felt enough to cultivate a cynical worldview; and maybe Weber and Freud had a hand in my disdain for pretension. I don’t think the world is a playground; and I dislike how the humanities, social sciences, and the advent of personal essays have rendered everything to be some intellectual or selfish exercise. There are things that just aren’t “debatable” or negotiable, like humanity or human rights—and no, Tami, neither should be contingent on the expense of an enslaved or underclass.

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There’s talk of how Killmonger was deliberately slated as some chauvinist since he’d laid hands on women throughout the movie, and I can’t argue that. However, I could argue that as a scholar also in film studies that text takes on meaning independent of its creators; which is why so many are reading this chauvinism as “not chauvinism, but business as usual” wherein Killmonger would’ve targeted and taken down any- and everyone he deemed an obstacle, regardless of gender. I’ve read enough history (particularly, of male revolutionaries) to know that often isn’t the case.

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Even as my own dissenters didn’t bring this up, my likeness with Killmonger was never about that. It was about inferno. The stuff people make go viral; the stuff people make define them and life as we know it; how they consciously choose to fight for crumbs while that 1% (many of whom they idolize) feasts. For all of their “deep,” “revolutionary” play-by-play’s which decry unadulterated rage: can you honestly blame anybody for wanting to burn the damn table instead of wanting a seat? Is the table worth sitting at? Is there even a table, or is it just a contrivance?

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I can acknowledge Killmonger is flawed and trash in major ways, but he is still my favourite character in Black Panther. In the scheme of redemption, everyone else seemed too secondary or ineffective to me. I won’t spoil anything, but I will say to be diminutive means nothing if you are largely passive. I hoped Killmonger would see a more dignified, cathartic ending than he did; and maybe someday, he will should Marvel decide to bring him back.

 

FYI: Killmonger isn’t ranked as high as Alistair SmytheBlack Adam, Eddie Brock, Mister Freeze, Gorilla Grodd, Magneto, Morbius, Doctor Octopus, and the dozens more on my favourite villains list; which I find is growing more than my favourite heroes.

No Wonder in Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman was the last Justice Leaguer I met when I was a kid. I spent most of my afternoons watching TVO, Fox Kids, and YTV: the latter of which featured debuts and reruns of the iconic DCAU Batman and Superman series. Between the stellar superheroines (even antiheroines) in X-Men and Spider-Man, I wasn’t exactly thinking too hard about the absence of women when it came to action and adventure; but I also wasn’t keen on the difference between DC and Marvel, the latter of which seems to have an endless erection for Wolverine despite its notoriously vast and diverse galleries of narratives.

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I met Wonder Woman in the early 00s when the Justice League animated series came out, and became more acquainted with her through cult coverage in documentaries or comic conventions. She seemed like a powerful character: a literal Amazon whose allies and nemeses were themed through Greek mythology, which appealed to me since I liked to read those classics in middle school. Her star-spangled costume with its trademark tripartite of red, white, and blue iconized her in the vein of Captain America: appealing to Americana and fashioning the heroism ascribed to the Allies whom ultimately won WWII whilst championing the USA. She was also strong and intent. Despite the chauvinism that marks faculty and fandom that surround a lot of canon, compared to her male cohorts, Diana was ironically less flushed or furious than forthright. What struck me about her story was how I felt it could parallel the X-Men [my favourite series tbh]. Her narrative was driven less by justice than discovery. Sure, she fought for ‘justice,’ but she was driven by a sense of urgency and reckoning that was yielded from an irresolute identity and past. She left Themyscira to war past and despite a realm of reservation, forged friendships, cultivated mortal enemies, and discovered the dynamics of being beyond duty.

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I’m sure there would’ve been an abundance of insight into that development and likely legendary enemies or allies added to her roster had she’d been picked up with her own DCAU series—but she wasn’t. Neither were a bunch of my beloved favourites, even if they did manage to earn the odd DCAU movie special or motion comic. Which is why the recent Wonder Woman movie was so ground breaking. Not only did it grant Diana her deserved debut to the big screen, it also reaffirmed the revelatory ethos she stood for and dignified her as a feminist icon: a beacon of light and strength amidst the otherwise all-male Justice League and spotlighted narratives. Wonder Woman was never a feminist idol of mine, although I did think she was a feminist and likewise represented feminism. I was keener to Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Zatanna when it came to DC; while Storm, Rogue, Jean Grey, Black Cat, and Calypso were my faves for Marvel. Wonder Woman was great, but I felt a bit conservative in how she emblematized Americana and idealism whereas my picks were pronounced through power, prowess, and prerogative.

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That doesn’t make Wonder Woman a ‘bad’ feminist or superheroine by comparison. It just means that I hold respect and space for Diana in a different way. Admittedly, I looked at her with new respect when the Injustice games came out. She not only mobilized the misguided Amazon army to rise above an autocratic regime against her evil twin, but she inclined people to discern between independence and interpersonality as well as pride. Her feminism was explicit rather than just implied according to her prior incarnates. She spoke directly of how men can convolute women: how misogyny drove the adoption the autocracy of Superman, and how any allegiance to him was self-destructive as well as superficial against the ethos and hubris of real warriors. And, she did actually say this stuff. Not word for word or quite as abstract, but there’s a portion where she declares these principles during the story mode. It was then my heart took a dive as she proceeded to emphasize ideas the clank of her sword against her shield, then knocked her evil twin out cold, and led the charge of her warrior sisters against Aquaman’s army. This Diana got me thinking. I could get into this side of Wonder Woman.

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Then, some years later, Wonder Woman was announced. Knowing that it was going to be run and adjunct to the lackluster series of films which comprise the latest DC hero franchise, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. For me, the recent movies—Man of Steel and Batman v Superman—bastardized any original character or canon which kind of undercut the source material. Not to mention we saw Superman and Batman on the big screen many times. Given the span of time, the frequency and continuance of their reboots was becoming more of a nuisance than a running gag; a lot like Wolverine. So, a Wonder Woman narrative which shared a similar budget and campaign was refreshing, if not surprising. It wasn’t just going to be great to see an alternate take; it was going to be epic because it hadn’t been done before. Yet, I still found myself mildly unimpressed with the promos and previews—and eventually, the actual movie. Diana was reduced to romance and rebellion rather than strength, urgency, and undertaking. Themyscira read like an afterthought to her fascination with the outside world. She embarks to eviscerate not because she can, but because of clumsy attraction. This Wonder Woman was nothing like the champions I’d read into or watched onscreen over the years, and she was the polar opposite of the star Injustice had made me fall in love with. I still don’t have the spoons to do a film review, but all I can say is that she was like a caricature: a witless warrior whose quest wasn’t to innovate or liberate, but to become one of the guys.

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Which is accentuated by Gal Gadot. She was briefly scandalized for being a Zionist, but people could’ve cared less once Wonder Woman broke. The movie captivated critics and was acclaimed by audiences as revolutionary. Folks fancied that it was a text which transmuted the mainstreamed misogyny and signal boosted ‘feminism’ as a matter of representation. Little girls and teens could now assumedly identify with this genre because it had afforded them a leading woman. As if Wonder Woman’s regalia hadn’t already afforded them that before this film. As if everything would’ve been undermined had it featured another actress.

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Consequently, Gadot was iconized akin to Wonder Woman by fans whom thereupon imposed their ideologies. She became an avatar of ‘girl power’ in light of her casting, and further assumed the role when she refused to work with Brett Ratner whose sexual harassment was exposed in the wake of callouts which followed Harvey Weinstein. I honestly don’t think much of celebrities when it comes to activism or advocacy, especially the declaredly ‘feminist’ ones whose social justice is operant upon their social capital. For me, Gadot’s Zionism and cult of celebrity discredited any likeness to Wonder Woman and feminism as I knew it. Because, the personal is political. Politics inform and reflect our worldviews, and their principles signify encoded values we abide and legitimate. Zionism is not merely problematic nor can it be divorced from someone’s personality; and given historical horrors and current events, I don’t think it should be taken lightly, especially when its assumed by a prominent celebrity who is cast as some symbol of feminism or revolution. I also just don’t think it’s wise or realistic to levy that much likeness upon one person or one text. The personae of Wonder Woman and similar heroines related as feminist are vast in and of themselves. Gadot and Wonder Woman are simply singular instances, however informed they purport to be by the whole.

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Which is why when this story broke, I was unmoved by the shock and outrage it has elicited from Wonder Woman and Gadot fans. Regardless of the script, Gadot’s correlation to Zionism spoke to a degree of amorality and antipathy which was evident in her deliverance of the role. I could also note that she seldom spoke of feminism or politics beyond that in real-time—which made all these assumptions of her feminist fervor all the more ludicrous, if not unfounded.

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When it comes to the hype of Hollywood and celebrity, prospects aren’t so much limited as they are sustained. If something is made, it’s bought. Its dislike doesn’t discount its dollars. Which is why Wonder Woman and others like her can be commodified and commercialized through any means. If their stories are ever dignified, they’re applauded. Their mere existence is seen as radical even if there is nothing particularly innovative in how they are delivered or conceived, even in considering their constituents or market objectives. I don’t know if Wonder Woman will ever get the diverse, continued cinematic treatment equivalent to her comic counterparts. What I do know is that I’m not the only one displeased by this one as it stands; nor am I the only one who discerns between the face of the character onscreen and whom or what that face belongs to IRL. Diana might not have had the profound, perspective feature film I’d hoped for; but she has had a good run and I won’t let Gadot or any other casting discredit that.

Get Out, the Sunken Place, Slavery, and the History of J. Marion Sims

by Adiza Sanchez-Rahim ❦

 

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There’s plenty to be dissected within Jordan Peele’s social thriller, Get Out. I’ve personally read a handful of incredibly insightful pieces since watching the film—twice!

While each character had their own unique story, Georgina, played by brilliant fellow Juilliard alum, Betty Gabriel, is the most haunting character. With very few lines, Betty’s artistry conveys to the audience a deeper subtext—a tragic story of unspoken and untold Black pain, specifically that of Black women. Peele gives us a front row seat to Black horror in American history in a way that hasn’t really been done before, at least not within the film genre of a psychological thriller.

In more ways than one, Georgina is representative of the enslavement of Black women throughout history, but even more specifically, the Black women who were used as the human guinea pigs of  J. Marion Sims. As defined by Jordan Peele, “The Sunken Place means we’re marginalized. No matter how hard we scream, the system silences us.” In essence, both generations of women are trapped within the Sunken Place, shackled in either body or mind.

J. Marion Sims was a physician who was born in South Carolina in 1813. He is lauded as the father of modern gynecology. Aside from owning his own clinic in Montgomery, Alabama, he was also a plantation physician. From 1845-1849, Sims conducted a series of experimental surgeries on enslaved women sans anesthesia. He sought to perfect a technique to repair a condition called vesicovaginal fistula (abnormal fistulous tract). This basically means that there’s an opening between the vagina and the bladder, or rectum and usually occurs after traumatic childbirth. Having these fistulas meant one couldn’t bear children, nor could they continue working, which ultimately lowered these women’s value to their slave masters. During his experiments, Sims would use sutures in order to close up the opening.

One can’t quite imagine just how painful this operation must’ve been without anesthesia. There was a belief at the time that Black people didn’t feel pain in the same way that White people did, especially Black women. Sims did treat white women; although, he always treated them with anesthesia.

 

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Sims not only performed these experiments without anesthesia, he would invite other physicians to watch while he conducted surgeries on naked Black women. So, while we consider the physical pain these women experienced, we can’t forget about their loss of dignity and sexually exploited bodies.

Much like Georgina to the Armitage family, these women’s bodies were property to Sims. They could not consent to anything. I stress this point because we still have to remind white people that as a slave, you’re not afforded the privilege of self-determination. This means that you don’t do what you want; you do what you’re told.

People love to romanticize everything about slavery. So much so that enslaved women have now become “mistresses” to the white masters who raped them. Recently, the Washington Post published an article referring to Sally Hemings (an enslaved woman owned by Jefferson), as his mistress. In what reality can one engage in a consensual relationship when you’re the enslaved party? Hemings was born as Jefferson’s party and he started raping her when she was 14 and he just north of 40. Even by today’s standards, this is predatory grooming and statutory rape. For a person who legally could not say “No,” it is an even deeper level of violation. So, no: Hemings was not Jefferson’s mistress. She was a victim of rape.

Today, Sims is memorialized in statues in South Carolina, Alabama, and New York. When I think about these statues and the memorials to Sims, what I see is what’s not shown. Where does it say that this technique was perfected on the bodies of enslaved Black women? The medical advancements that all women are still benefiting from today, were obtained at great human cost. How many Georgina’s did it take for Sims to accomplish his great medical breakthrough?

Yet, our society refuses to even entertain the discussion. People would rather forget about Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsy. The character of Georgina acts as a staunch reminder of the generational trauma that we as Black women carry with us from the days of slavery. We carry it within our DNA. If we toss away these images, these women’s stories will be lost. I want to hear their stories. As Viola Davis said, “Exhume those bodies, exhume those stories.” It is our responsibility to make sure their names aren’t forgotten. We do not know what Georgina’s name was prior to her entering the Armitage house and becoming the slave of Grandma Armitage. Like Andre, later known as Logan, her name was most likely changed. Her body was stolen and her identity erased.

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There’s plenty to be said for how Black bodies have been conceptualized by the medical profession throughout history. Jordan Peele makes direct reference to this dynamic, along with the lack of agency Black people have had over our own bodies for millennia. It shines a light on the longtime legacy of Black female bodies repeatedly violated, and how we’ve been forced to carry the burdens of others.

While many would find it easy to say, “That’s all in the past,” I invoke the words of William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Accursed Arithmetic and Caustic Caucasoids

Love, Math, and Sex

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Roughly four days after I saw Jordan Peele’s critically acclaimed Get Out and combed through the many think pieces—mostly on interracial [POC + yt] relationships and white supremacy—that it yielded, I found my newfound attraction to Turkish star, George Corraface, led me to Charlotte Silvera’s drama, C’est la tangente que je préfère (also known as Love, Sex, and Math for its English title). The film centers the timeless trope of fresh innocence crowning, concealing, and catalyzing naïve predatory proclivities. The film not only centers the trope, but transmutes it as a motif and narrative device rather than a mere element of character.

However, to read the film as a simple story about masks, musings, and manipulate is to ignore its contemptuous commentary on the eroticism of erraticism, capitalism, and critical race relations. Silvera showcases the hubris of happenstance, subverts its, and illustrates the ignorance of uncritical, unevidenced idealism.

Julie Delarme plays Sabine, a 15-year-old math whiz from France, whose catharsis is defined by her relationship to Jiri, a Praguian (and Turkish) national and director, played by George Corraface. When Sabine isn’t charging her classmates for tutoring, lifting tips from waiters, or irking her impoverished parents, she esteems existentialism through incorrigible ideations of arithmetic.

Initially, Silvera invites us to observe Sabine’s daily life in scenes that are signifiers of youth: classes, courtyards, and clusters of companions. The amicable ambiance changes on a crowded [street] car ride when she firsts spots Jiri seated in the back. It is through her contrast of him and her friends that we see she internalizes in isolation. She dispirits her youth while her friends and elders respective celebrate or envy it.

The sight of Jiri as well as the revelation of her inarticulate intrigue and aloof attraction to him incline her to adopt reductionist, reactionary attitude onward. She rationalizes chance encounters with him afterward as a mathematical likeness of probability and resolves that a third chance encounter evidences some connection, that serves as grounds for her to pursue him erotically albeit aromantically. Through her musings on his adulthood, his “finished” development—as opposed to the ongoing, unsteady growth of her peers and stubborn stagnance the fickle elders that prod her—she associates him with strength and sensuality.

But, her parents’ indigence and iniquity compels her capitalism and materialism despite any romanticism. Any tenderness is overturned by transactional thinking wherein there is only significance in a sale or monetary value. Her first date and sexual encounter with Jiri (with anyone) concludes with her snatching banknotes from his dresser, saying that nothing is for free; and subsequently insists he solicit her sexually in which money will mark a mutually beneficial arrangement.

The carnality of coincidence, of love being likened to luck, sex, and sentimentality, is desensitized as Sabine commands cold, hard capital. She uses math as a device to distance herself intellectually and impersonally from everyone around her, including those her own age. Math is a means of protection and mobility, sparing her from interacting interpersonally with her own peers and affording her a path to academic sponsorship above her current [status] class. Likewise, her interest in math wanes as her love for Jiri flourishes.

And, so does her perception of positionality start to bloom. A misread altercation with Jiri leads her to believe he’s cheated on her, which sets her on a dark downward spiral. She gravitates to her parents pessimistically through self-harm and self-deprecation. This side of her is representative of basic hostility since she alienates and aggresses everyone around her, including her parents, with visibly unfounded anger or annoyance.

This Sabine illustrates how a propensity for profit does not translate to prowess or principle. She cultivates cash, not consciousness or a capacity to discern complexities. Her aversion arises from not only her understanding of Jiri’s betrayal, but also of a betrayal of math because she discovers that hard sciences are not solutions to hard problems. Her ingenious insights of math and intermittent outbursts reflect the absence of reasoning and thus reckoning in capitalism.

To spite Jiri, Sabine reports him to the authorities, alleging that he sexually abused her (i.e. corruption of a minor) although we know she concealed her age from him from an earlier exchange [and there’s no justification for him indulging her after finding out]. It is not only this falsehood that unnerves me, but her sense of entitlement. Reflective glances coupled with this venture of vengeance evidence that she understands her position as well as the weight of her report.

Distinctions of race and realization are shown through sharp contrasts in skin tone and temperament; distinctions that parallel my own positionality as a Black woman and film scholar whose lens is perpetually as well as personally darkened (no pun intended) by: critical race theory, blood memory, and knowledge as well as lineage connected to a not so distant colonial past.

For me, Sabine’s spiteful, fabricated report of Jiri reminds me of the infamous tragic case of Emmett Tillan African American boy who was murdered on the accusation that he’d whistled at a white womanan accusation that came from a white woman. An accusation that was admittedly false decades after his death and the acquittal of his murderers.

Along with Sabine, we later find out that Jiri never cheated on her, but was merely having dinner with a [female] colleague; and even then, she neither feels or admits to any wrongdoing regarding that report. The absorbent fee for withdrawing the charge is her only concern upon their reconciliation. It is through this we see that more than she ‘loves’ him, she dehumanizes him as a trinket that will tether her own catharsis. This is much like how white supremacy and eurocentrism demote the needs of Others as inferior or inconsequential in addition to completely devaluing them, only to regulate our existences if we dare want to exist.

C’est la tangente que je préfère disillusions its audience of any notion that romance is manifest in materialism and asserts the reality of race and rationalism surpassing rapport. It cautions us to think through behaviours and motifs as intent rather than innocent or instinctive. Silvera puts forth that not only are romance and rationalism no match for the crude caveat of capitalism, but are made moot against the ire of whiteness and antagonisms that augment worldviews. For, the ignorance of youth is not exception to the knowledge of whiteness.

Off With Her Head!

The Reviled Royals of Versailles

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Life is a curious construct. Regardless of the colorblind Pollyanna people like to preach, we are discerned by positionality and praxis. Nothing conveys that better than media. Social media compounds this curiosity as it inclines individualism in its technologies. People pander through performative portals with not a sense of purpose, but profit as they negotiate using consumptive and innately corrupt currencies. The user objective is to platform more than resonate, and one’s capacity to succeed is determinant on their power.

Success isn’t about passion, pride, or principle. It’s about privilege. You create [sometimes, coercive] connections and exploit their esteems, even if it’s disingenuous. This is definitive of celebrities, elites, as well as the one percent. They attain acclaim through a friend of a friend. Their lives change thanks to a key contact. They’re plucked out of poverty and obscurity by idols or execs. The rest is history.

 

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Of course, the reality of superficial stardom makes for a stale narrative. Tales of luck or hard work downplay privilege in favour of selling passion and perseverance. The rhetoric is not simply remarkably romanticized, but also earnestly accepted because people strive to sympathize. Rather than argue against adversities and fight for a feast of fortune, people instead settle for scraps and uncritically revere hyper visible personalities. The knowledge that all the world’s a stage means that personage is a matter of patronage. Surveillance and surveying our social capital creates a compulsion for complacency. It becomes easier to idle insights, trivialize time, and force laughter as we fare against humorless hubris. Learning to lie is simpler than dignifying or tempering our truths.

After I did my first thesis, I started to see how conformity was connected to comfort. I read into Max Weber’s theories of rationality and authority, and hadn’t understood his focus on religion until then. Because, he wasn’t exactly interested in religion per se as he was religiosity. Most of his famous contributions revolve around the rationales and ways in which people worship. What struck me about Weber was that he noted that nothing was above conformity or more specifically, social engineering—which is why religions, theologies, and divinities can be sold to further man-made values. Anything can be sold. Nothing is sacred.

But, people like the think they’re special. Few can admit, let alone face their flaws. Everything has to be extraordinary or outstanding otherwise, hardly anyone avails the average. People are eager to glamorize excess and the salaried sloths whom lead lives of leisure, more than they are to thank everyday heroes. This is why people happily conform to a hive mind: because, obliging orthodoxy makes easier to reconcile the reality of life as an insect.

This was all I could think of as I watched The Queen of Versailles, a documentary chronicling the dissolution of a corporate empire and its blissfully ignorant home. The film follows the Siegels, the family whom own Westgate Resorts, a once booming business that the economic decline now renders a not so lucrative conglomerate of timeshares. I found the family like a caricature and the more I watched, the more I wondered if I was watching a documentary or a classist comedy sketch. Between David Siegel fulfilling the typecast elder patriarch with a penchant for cleavage and profit; and his wife, Jackie, whose divorce from reality overshadows their marriage; along with their bratty camp of kids: we’re afforded glimpses into the poignant perspectives of their hired help whom are simply resigned to the reality of the Siegel’s overindulgence.

The documentary was originally intended to cover the construction of Versailles, a palace property the Siegels were in the process of building and planned to move into, but the film ended up covering the family’s—and their business’—debility as the economic decline plummets their profits. David copes by closing himself off in his study, rummaging through stacks of papers, perhaps hoping to find something salvageable in the figure’s margins. The decline doesn’t deter Jackie although her smile cracks in accordance to the fissures in her family, notably when their shrinking budget forces them to halve their housekeeping staff. The younger children prance about as usual with the odd tantrum for toys, while the two oldest appear acutely albeit apathetically aware of the altered dynamic.

The documentary was originally intended to cover the construction of Versailles, a palace property the Siegels were in the process of building and planned to move into, but the film ended up covering the family’s—and their business’—debility as the economic decline plummets their profits. David copes by closing himself off in his study, rummaging through stacks of papers, perhaps hoping to find something salvageable in the figure’s margins. The decline doesn’t deter Jackie although her smile cracks in accordance to the fissures in her family, notably when their shrinking budget forces them to halve their housekeeping staff. The younger children prance about as usual with the odd tantrum for toys, while the two oldest appear acutely albeit apathetically aware of the altered dynamic.

Despite the avaricious abstracts, the characters in The Queen of Versailles have no catharsis. Jackie merely pines to perfect her plastered smile as faraway friends, acquaintances, and associates seldom call; while the more David’s tasked, the testier he grows. The children don’t make do, but continue to gorge themselves with gourmandise. And, most of the staff has either left to pursue their own professional ventures or manage their already modest livings in resignation to the Siegels’ surfeit. The dismal economy only prompts them to anchor themselves downward amidst an opulent ocean rather than rafting together, counting their blessings, or pragmatizing what’s left of their assets. Financial strains not only afflict, but define them.

Stripped of their security and surplus, they continue to treasure tenets instead of one another. All the more reliant upon the illusion of inimitability, Jackie remains airy and artless as her kids float around. She refuses to be grounded, localized or normalized. She lives to peddle and pacify her pedestal, musing on how seemingly callous her ‘friends’ are whom remain distanced or otherwise disengaged as her castle crumbles. Meanwhile, David begrudges his family as their overindulgence translates into overdependence; as they heedlessly spend instead of save. He stews in isolation to the chagrin of his wife and curious cohorts, and chastises his children for prodding into his private time. The only company he can tolerate is that of Jackie’s small show dogs, whose feces litters and moulds into miscellaneous points of the mansion since the lessened housekeepers cannot tidy up after them and the Siegels are apparently unable to clean for themselves.

However vacuous the Siegels seem, their umbrage and updates prevent viewers from gleaning any sincere satisfaction. They manage to retain and revalue their riches instead of dwelling on their depletionand the suicide (?) of their eldest daughter casts them in a sympathetic light as adrift advocates against bullying and for suicide prevention. The Siegel empire is salvageable enough to afford each child a sizeable inheritance and indefinite income, while the help still scurry behind the scenes, unappreciated as usual. Their immoderation remains idolized instead of critically considered. The Siegels’ story makes us coldly cognizant of just the inequalities in the capital world, where a sustainable and fair redistribution of wealth remains to be seen because we are blinded by the decadent bourgeoisie. One can’t help pondering the poverties of our world as the camera pans over the ruins of their still, far from unfinished Versailles palace.

The Queen of Versailles illustrates how waning wealth enrages the elites whom are already entitled, but parses how they are nonetheless upheld by meandering masses and paying personnel. The stuffiness is cyclical as craven consumers vie to live vicariously through fettering figures like Jackie or David, or even one of their bored and bratty children whom need only ask to receive. People figuratively and literally buy into the furnished façades of those like the Siegels despite the hollow, haughty and hawkish, personalities that lurk behind the mask.

Narratives like this are why I feel ambivalent about viral callouts, drags, etc. They’re often resultant of people getting fired and otherwise forced into being accountable, but they’re also relatively one dimensional. People guilted don’t become enlightened, just embarrassed and further vindicated in their hate as the wrath it yields from the masses or bandwagons that dug them down. Odds are their employers and the like will drop them to disassociate, but they’ll get a good reference nonetheless—and on to the next one.

Given the religiosity with which we hail personalities, I don’t think people really get how easy it is to recover from a social media demise; how not seriously these things are taken in the long run as nothing seldom changes. It’s never truly “one less racist,” “one less classist,” or “one less sexist,” etc. because these people lead lucrative lives beyond their profiles, and are upheld by a wide selection of peers (who likely share their views) as well general institutions.

This is why that biracial Black woman can go viral after taping, then sharing her ex’s rant full of n-bombs; and nonetheless, engage in antiblackness herself as she reaps social capitalThis is why tons of Black men espousing violent misogynoir can maintain a platform of followers and bounce back after deactivation. And, this is why businesses/corporations/companies manage to thrive and retain idealistic clientele despite low ratings. Because, it’s one thing to cancel someone or something, but it’s another to make sure they stay canceled.

Moreover, I always find myself wondering just whom and what gets to go viral. There are countless instances of discrimination that are shared online each day, countless trash cans, but only a select few are widely shared or acknowledged. I wonder what it takes to get that visibility or community wherein I can actually count on people to either share or shut down in solidarity, instead of just my being a nobody whose qualms or ventures go unnoticed.

Y’all are out here trending celebs and quirky catchphrases, and making it rain for hucksters or suits, while your disinterest or distraction is figuratively and literally starving those about that life; albeit you don’t think twice to reference or reap the benefits of their sacrifice.

While leadership matters, it ultimately doesn’t take a mayorIt takes a village. And, all these mansions and bridges being built for “the cool kids” and Spiegels of the world while those of us live in shanties makes for a crap village.

Which is why nothing can or will ever come of this “community.”

Of Parlance and Pastimes

Pisces

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Online and in real life, legions of romance fans claim that stylized stereotypes mainstreamed in popular media are all in good fun and totally harmless; and that dissenters are either imagining or exaggerating their cons. The same could be said for more of the intellectual perspectives regarding interpersonal idealism. Hyung-Tae Kim’s Pisces assumes a refreshing, riveting point of view that marries real and surreal.

Pisces centralizes Aeryun, played by Lee Mi-Yeon, a rental video store owner who loves movies. She is quiet albeit charismatic with her customers, often suggesting movies according to their personalities that further tailor tastes in film and culture. Dongsuk, played by Choi Woo-Jae [also known as the man of my dreams], is relieved by her recommendations as well as their many mutual interests in music, film, and fish. However, this seemingly ideal setup breeds inelegance, not intimacy. Any prospects of pleasure or realm of romance concerning Aeryun and Dongsuk shatter as their friendship falters.

The film portrays Aeryun’s descent from amity to infatuation, to obsession. Its resonance plays upon how often we are sold the stalking sensualist as noble or noteworthy, which realities of rape culture reflect are not fictionalized. Pisces bares the truth of this trope for the projection and paranoia it is. Its slow pace prolongs every painstaking, pathological detail which mirrors how these relationships work in real time.

Unlike the popular romance or drama setup, Dongsuk isn’t interested when Aeryun articulates his affection. Their shared interests and token chemistry aren’t enough to ensure a hookup or happy ending. Piscespresents the erratic, ‘endearing’ pursuit past refusal as ignoble and invasive. There is nothing adorable, persuasive, let alone rational about someone who doesn’t—or ‘can’t’—take no for an answer; and Hyung-Tae’s forthright literality of that personality appeals to viewers’ sensibilities as opposed to their sentimentalities.

While Aeryun represents furtive fixation, Dongsuk conveys common, abysmal ambitions that seldom come to fruition. He has a specific, grand sense of self that wilts against the greater society which constrains lower castes to servile livelihoods. Moreover, he is immodest albeit inconspicuous; something his gatekeepers sense and reference in their rejections. The audience sees this through his maladaptive dependency and drunken stupors of self-deprecation, notably when he staggers into Aeryun’s shop afterhours with slurred regrets over a failed contract.

In comparison, Aeryun is humble. Compared to Dongsuk, she has simpler ambitions as well as a smaller, stringent, and selective circle of friends. She is reserved, but resolute in addition to introverted; while he is gregarious. His charms and magnetism make him an unwitting extrovert; but his casual attitude eclipses those assets. He has dreams, but lacks foresight and resolution which prevents him from appreciating as well as acknowledging deeper meanings. In that way, he epitomizes the film’s greatest irony: dismissing the extol and extent of Aeryun’s feelings for him and life as they know it, whilst sympathizing with the profound principles in the movies he rents from her.

The PSYCH film scholar in me also takes note of how film itself is metaphorized as well as transmuted. For the audience, everything is evident to us in its entirety as onlookers. Everything is also identifiable, in the sense that we internalize the scenes in accordance to our worldviews and personal experiences—which is why we are not truly objective. The characters cultivate their own truths founded upon tropes of lies. This itself is a statement on the conscious and unconscious performativity through which we live vicariously and uncritically revere. Life is less lived than institutionalized, and the knowledge our mortality and humanity is of no consequence as we abide inequitable hegemonic orders. Pisces breaks the fourth wall somewhat, because it depicts characters who muse upon modal means that justify largely dead ends even as observers. Their capacity to watch films and sympathize with other likenesses don’t negate their imperfections nor prevent their mistakes.

The saying “You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink” comes to mind as Pisces proposes we are privy to see senseless scenarios and abject antics play out over and over in film and elsewhere, yet we are ultimately unable to heed cautionary tales. Whether that inability comes from willful ignorance, rueful romanticism, or simply flaws attributed to human nature is a question Hyung-Tae—and Aeryun, and Dongsuk—leave open.