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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/06/02 -- Vol. 21, No. 23
Table of Contents
There Are Two Kinds of Tolerance (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In an editorial at http://www.ucimc.org/newswire/display_printable/8432/index.php, Salman Rushdie asks why moderate Moslems do not do more speaking out against the Miss World riots in Nigeria, the religious court sentences of stoning to death in the same country, Egypt's broadcast of a TV series that endorses the historical anti-Jewish forgery "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," and several other actions, each seeming more outrageous than the last. I was struck by how many non-Moslems also do not protest. This got me thinking about inter-ethnic relations, and who does speak up for people in other ethnic groups, at least as I see it from a Jewish perspective.
What I think I have seen in my lifetime is that Jews came out of the Holocaust with a determination to create a better world where such occurrences as what they had suffered could not happen again. They decided that they had to be an active voice for any oppressed people and to set a positive example in the hopes that other people would follow suit.
They fought for Civil Rights to help blacks. Jews were extremely active in freedom marches and civil rights protests. The "Mississippi Burning" murders are held as an example of intolerance to blacks. Murdered were one black and two Jews. Jews were pivotal in the founding of the NAACP. They worked to be an example and a light for other people.
During the 1960s the tide of public opinion started to shift. There was a popular belief that we needed a tolerant world to find peace. We needed to include all oppressed people. Emblematic was the New York City Police Department who found themselves underrepresented in blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Jews. They set up programs to increase their numbers of blacks, Latinos, and Asians. Why not Jews? Well, they said, just because a group was underrepresented, it does not mean they are discriminated against. This argument had previously been used as an excuse for not hiring any of the four groups, now it was being used only against Jews. Jews could have complained at the time, but these jobs did not seem important to them and they felt they really didn't need to. By and large they were making it on their own. Many were successful and those where were not were frequently helped by the Jewish community. The attitude was don't whine and complain because we really could do what we needed ourselves and we would hold the help of other groups in reserve for some time when we would really need it.
By the time I started working in the Bell system they were instituting affirmative action programs for groups that had been discriminated against. There were special programs to recruit Asians, Hispanics, and Afro-Americans. No effort was made to recruit Jews because it was assumed they could make it on their own. As one of my Chinese supervisors explained it, Jews didn't get any affirmative action because they had never been discriminated against in the Bell System the way Chinese were. At least one incident comes to mind. In the name of promoting tolerance, they approvingly played a videotape of a black speaker who blithely slipped anti-Jewish comments into his talk.
The affirmative action department resolutely refused to have any program even to acknowledge that there had been discrimination against Jews at the same time there was against other groups. There was, of course. There were no Jews whatsoever hired before the 1920s and very few before the 1940s. Richard Feynman said he would have worked for Bell given the opportunity but he knew that being Jewish it never would have been offered to him. (Personal note: for several years I and my wife wrote paragraphs about Jewish heritage and published them on company bulletin boards. It was not much, but something was done.) However, for the most part Jews did not care a lot about the injustice because they were getting by without special help. And the world in general seemed to be moving in the direction of tolerance.
Meanwhile in Crown Heights, Brooklyn anti-Jewish riots turned fatal and in the name of liberalism the Mayor of New York decides to do nothing and let the riots burn themselves out.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries that attitude of tolerance is a powerful force. It is just frequently being misused. People seem to believe that we have to be tolerant of dictatorships that allow schoolgirls to burn to death rather than flee from fire without headscarves and abayas. We should tolerate Egyptian government television's broadcast of their series based on the Protocols of Zion. We should be tolerant of fundamentalist Moslem anti-Jewish, anti-American, and anti- everything-but-Moslem hatred in the Middle East and elsewhere.
For years a few voices have pointed out the hatred, particularly anti-Jewish hatred, that was brewing in the Arab press and also strongly in Arab grade schools. Official state newspapers resurrect anti-Jewish blood libels from the Middle Ages and add new libels of their own. Four-year-old children are taught the religious requirement to hate Jews. The reaction of the world was that was just a localized disagreement. "We probably don't have to get involved. And after all, isn't it just some Jews complaining about it? We have to overlook this supposed hatred if we are to achieve World Peace." (There is a striking similarity to attitudes in the 1930s.) Now that same hatred that has festered and been ignored is choosing new targets. It is striking out in India, in Bali, in the United States, in Nigeria, and in Holland. And I strongly suspect it is going to hit a lot more places. Because when it does strike out the attitude of much of the world is that it is pardonable rage. "It is mostly the world's fault, and the fault of America, and the fault of Israel. Let's just ignore it this time. Like we did last time. It is just a minor culture disagreement." And some people who never got around to tolerating the Jews are now claiming that this Middle Eastern hatred should be tolerated.
Somehow the public indignity and outrage at injustices done other groups is rarely applied to injustice to the Jews. There is an acknowledgement that the Holocaust happened, and even that has to be fought for against those who would deny even that. But outrage against the anti-Jewish hatred is weak and small and comes mostly from Jews themselves.
I think that the support of tolerance and trying to create a world of mutual respect among cultures was the right thing to do. But the world missed the point that the hatred of intolerance should extend to hatred of anti-Jewish bigotry as well. The truth is that though Jews have been strong supporters of liberal causes, they too often have been exempted from receiving the same consideration they advocated for others. Now the left wing is even singling out Jews for "special attention." Even tolerance and acceptance can be used as a weapon in the right hands, particularly if those hands are determined. [-mrl]
CAPSULE: The tumultuous life of Frida Kahlo is chronicled in the second feature film of Julie Taymor. Kahlo, a celebrated artist and also the wife of one of the great mural artists of the century, Diego Rivera, led a tempestuous life of pain and genius. This film is a visual feast though too often the viewer yearns for the focus of the film to be more on Rivera. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)
The names Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are tightly linked in the history of 20th century art. Kahlo was known for paintings that were profound and greatly introspective. Rivera was a great muralist and was known for cubism as well as his extreme left-wing politics. FRIDA details the life of Kahlo and her turbulent relationship with Rivera.
Kahlo was the daughter of a German-Jewish father and a Mexican mother. Her father instilled in her a lust for life and a personal force that she directs at everything that she does. She is ever a free spirit. While Kahlo (played by Salma Hayek) is still in college she first sees and is fascinated by Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). At this point Rivera is already a famous artist. He is also already a womanizer. Then Kahlo is in a traffic accident that leaves her unable to walk for an extended period and in great pain for the rest of her life. She is confined to a bed and turns to art, drawing the only subject around of any real interest, the woman she sees in the mirror. She does the first of her many self-portraits. Self-portraiture would remain a large part of her work. She also teaches herself to walk again. Rivera, on a return visit to her school, is impressed with her talent as an artist and with her energy.
FRIDA covers their affair, their marriage, and their careers together. Each has affairs, though Diego goes in for dalliances a lot more than Frida is willing to tolerate. The film includes their travels to New York and the famous Rockefeller Plaza mural incident. (This may already be familiar to viewers from the PBS documentary and/or the film CRADLE WILL ROCK.) When Leon Trotsky (Geoffrey Rush) flees Stalin and travels to Mexico Rivera and Kahlo play host to him and become involved in his fate.
Sadly, the story of the two great artists does not really break much new ground. The relationship between Rivera and Kahlo is strongly reminiscent of that between John Reed and Louise Bryant in REDS. Director Julie Taymor is not always sympathetic to Kahlo, who has her own affairs but is hypocritically enraged by Rivera's philandering. Kahlo allows herself to be hurt by it. Also, one feels through the entire film that as interesting as Kahlo was, the real story to be told would have been that of Rivera. It is generally the verdict of history that Rivera was the better of the two artists and the film frequently leaves us wanting to know more of him.
Taymor herself is a great visual stylist. This is her third film, following the hour-long FOOL'S FIRE and the film TITUS. She also staged "The Lion King" for Broadway. She spices this biography with some terrific surreal hallucinations and mental images. When Rivera visits New York, Kahlo whimsically visualizes it in terms of the film KING KONG. Taymor's narrative is punctuated with paintings that come to life and images on a Mexican skeleton theme. Some of the visions are brought to life with an assist from the marvelous and morbid Brothers Quay.
Any work by Julie Taymor is worth seeing. While this story follows a predictable arc, it is visually stunning. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: America Ferrera plays Ana, a Mexican-American woman who has hard choices to make after she graduates high school. She desperately wants to go to college, but her family cannot afford it and she must take a sweat shop job. A pleasant and positive film. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
Ana is just graduating high school, but already she seems more mature than her mother, who fakes illnesses to manipulate her family and to get her own way. Ana is a promising high school student who, so her teacher thinks, might get into Columbia University. But Ana's traditional Mexican-American family cannot afford to send her away to school. Her father, who loves her a great deal, still refuses to see the family broken up even that much. Ana is unhappily slated for a job in her older sister's dress factory, really just a sweat shop. The work is hard and uncomfortable and hot, but Ana will get to know the other workers, will form bonds, and will learn about life. She will also get a view of her sister's life that she has not seen before. Over the summer Ana will come of age in more ways than one and will learn to value herself and to assert herself.
This is a somewhat predictable and familiar story of a young person rejecting the future chosen by parents. We have seen it played in different ways in films from THE JAZZ SINGER to OCTOBER SKY. Here the story is set in the barrio of Los Angeles. The view of life in the barrio, perhaps somewhat romanticized, and the portrait of Ana's mother Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros of MI FAMILIA) is where this film stands out. Carmen is almost a barrio equivalent of Tevye from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. She has a strange and very personal relationship with God, leavened with a good deal of the superstitious. Carmen is convinced that she already knows how far her daughter will succeed in life and what life has in store for her. Ana is short and plump and Carmen knows her daughter will end as one of the chubby women who work in the steaming sweatshop. She loves her daughter and wants to spare her the disappointment that she is sure will follow her daughter's high ambitions. In some ways she is cruel to her daughter now to be kind in the long run and spare here the pain that will come with what Carmen sees as Ana's inevitable failure. She herself has gotten no further than to work in her daughter's factory and she cannot imagine that her daughter has any more potential than she had. Ana does not want to be pigeon-holed as a common laborer to be exploited by the chic Beverly Hills boutiques. She is sure she has much better than that in her.
There are not enough films about the Hispanic community, and this one is certainly entertaining. The story just lacks a lot in originality. REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES is a likable low-budget film with a lot of heart. It was made for HBO films, probably with an eye to being shown on cable. The film is mostly in English, but there is much that is in Spanish with English subtitles. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. (Is it really possible to decide mid-summer that one wants to go to Columbia University in the fall and still get the application in on time?) [-mrl]
CAPSULE: Three women who do not feel they have control of their destinies. They find that they are more empowered than they realized through some mystical force they all share. A very good cast tries hard to help along a movie-of-the-week story. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)
In three nearly unconnected stories occurring simultaneously, three women break out of their dominated tracks and learn they are empowered to live and control their own lives. BETWEEN STRANGERS has a good cast, good direction, but a story that would be cliched for a TV-movie. Director/writer Edoardo Ponti debuts with a small production with several name actors in the Toronto-filmed production.
We have here the story of three desperate women, each confined in a discouraging life. Sophia Loren who is, incidentally, the mother of the director, plays Olivia. She works in a convenience store but has powerful artistic urges she finds it difficult to control. This need to express herself is mocked by her wheelchair bound husband John (Pete Postlethwaite with an American accent) who has no trouble whatsoever expressing himself. John manipulates Olivia through his disability and his dependency on her.
Natalia (Mira Sorvino) is an accomplished photojournalist. She has just had a photograph on the cover of "Time" magazine. Not bad, but as her domineering father Alexander (Klaus Maria Brandauer) points out, at her age he had already had several "Time" covers. And there is something about this cover that is mysterious to Natalia herself. But Alexander wants her to forget these questions and continue on the path he has chosen for her.
Cellist Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger) is dominated by the demands of her position in an orchestra. She also has deep fears when her abusive father (Malcolm McDowell) is released unexpectedly early from prison and seeks her out. She fears he will once more inflict himself into her life.
These women are tied together with a vision of a little girl. The girl has about the same role as the monolith has in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Perhaps that puts this film into the realm of Magical Realism. There is also another plot element not explained and so it too seems to be Magical Realism. If so that may be about the only plot element that would distinguish this film from several other similar empowerment films. This one probably got such a distinguished cast more for who the director was than for excitement for the story.
The film was well-attended at the Toronto Fest, probably because of the distinguished cast and for the fact it was filmed and set in Toronto. It was probably good as a starting point for Edoardo Ponti to film his own script, but he should get better material next time. I rate BETWEEN STRANGERS a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I recently read RULED BRITANNIA by Harry Turtledove, and have a few comments on that. RULED BRITANNIA is set in an alternate "Elizabethan" England, where the Spanish Armada won, and features such well-known characters as Shakespeare and Marlowe.
But first, a quote from a Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel article:
'And, [Robert Schmunk] said, sometimes writers in the genre have a flawed sense of history. [Harry] Turtledove cited an example of this in an alternate Civil War novel in which the South had won the war and Jefferson Davis was campaigning for re-election as its president. "As soon as I saw that," Turtledove said, "I didn't want to read it. The Confederate constitution called for one six-year term and he was not eligible for re-election. If the author didn't know that, he doesn't know what he's talking about. So why read it?"'
This from a man who just wrote a book set in 1597 in which a character refers to a "dentist."
The word did not come into use in the English language until 1759.
Okay, I'm being picky.
But for that matter, the concept of sexual orientation (as in Marlowe's protestations that God made him that way so it wasn't his doing that he liked boys) is also much more modern.
"Football," however, does pre-date the era. So far as I can tell, "maricon" and "cojones" also were indeed terms used in the Castillian of the era. (One must be careful these days, as the Spanish heard in this country is much more Mexican or other Latin American Spanish. For example, the use of the verb "chingar" in Phillipian England would be completely wrong.)
The plays, while they all map to real plays by Shakespeare (except for KING PHILIP and BOUDICCA, of course), seem to have been written at completely different times. For example, ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL was written sometime after 1600, not before 1597 as here, while LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST was written in 1593 and not in progress in 1597. (However, there is evidence that Shakespeare did write a play entitled LOVE'S LABOUR'S WON sometime before 1598, so maybe it was actually under its real title in RULED BRITANNIA.) HAMLET also came much later, and while the date is about right for THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, it's unlikely that play (and the Falstaff character in it) would even exist, as it was specifically written because Queen Elizabeth liked Falstaff in the Henriad and requested more of him. But in RULED BRITANNIA, there was no Henriad.
(Yeah, I know SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE abused history as well. Turtledove is no Stoppard.)
There also seems to be some rule of Conservation of Eye-Stabbing in Deptford, since in our world that was how and where Marlowe died, while in RULED BRITANNIA, it was someone else. (Though Marlowe also dies in pretty much the same way after all.)
I found the use in conversation of all the lines from Shakespeare annoying after a while, but not surprising given the sorts of jokes Turtledove goes in for.
I hate Dogberry in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, and Strawberry is no improvement. (I wish one could get a Dogberry-free MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING the way one can get a Jar-Jar-Binks-free STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE.)
I'm not convinced a play about rising up against invaders and *failing* would be all that rousing to the populace.
I also don't think Turtledove understands the issue over Henry VIII's divorce. Henry didn't claim he could have the divorce because he wanted it (though that was the fact), but he at least put forth an argument to justify it on Church grounds--namely, that her previous marriage to his brother made a marriage between the two of them forbidden (Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21). (Of course, this conflicts with Deuteronomy 25:5, which is why there were so many opinions.) And in fact, he was not asking for a divorce per se, but an annulment. The Anglican Church did not then (and does not now) countenance divorce; Henry VIII was a one-time deal. So Shakespeare could not ask for a "bill of divorcement" just on the grounds that he "repented the marriage" and "Romish doctrines were now overthrown." (Well, he could ask, but his chances of getting it were nil.) It's only now that the Anglican Church is considering allowing anulments the way the Catholic Church does, so if anything they are *more* strict.
And as part of a bizarre synchronicty affecting only me, not only had I just finished reading Lisa Goldstein's THE ALCHEMIST'S DOOR in which John Dee and Edward Kelley are major characters when I picked up RULED BRITANNIA and who should be being led to his death in the first scene but Edward Kelley? But wait, it gets better. I then went to the library and picked up a flyer for the 17th Biennial Shakespeare Colloquium. I opened it to discover the theme was "The Alchemy of the Spirit of the Spirit" and one of the lectures was "Prospero, John Dee, and the Magic of the Book"!! My reading of Frances Sherwood's THE BOOK OF SPLENDOR was intentional, so doesn't count toward this synchronicity. What does count is one more detail, courtesy of the Venerable Bede, whose ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY I just read shortly after. The argument that Bede cites the church as applying is that because in marriage man and woman become "one flesh", when your brother marries a woman she becomes your sister, and hence is forbidden to you. (I'm not saying I agree, mind you. Sounds a bit forced to me.) I can also say that Ted Chiang's new story, "Liking What You See: A Documentary," is up to Chiang's usual standards. It reminded me a bit of Greg Egan's "Reasons to be Cheerful" and a bit of Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," while also being quite distinct from either of them. Chiang takes on "lookism," but doesn't decide for the reader which side he or she should be on. Rather he presents positives and negatives for both sides, and leaves the matter as ambiguous as, say, the matter of faith in his "Hell Is the Absence of God." [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: Europe was created by history. America was created by philosophy. -- Margaret Thatcher
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