Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Drinking with Voltaire

I watched "The Artist" last night and thought it was just OK. I got it from a friend who is a member of the Screen Actor's Guild. While the movie was entertaining, I don't think it warranted being the best picture.

When I told Miguel I was getting it and wanted him to watch it with me, you'd have thought I'd asked him to boil his flesh.

"No, no, no," he said. "No way. It's a silent film."

"But it's supposed to be good," I countered. "If it's a good film it doesn't matter if it's silent."

"I'd rather watch "Leave it to Beaver," he said about the series we've been viewing of late.

But, surprisingly, he agreed to give it a try and lasted about three-quarters through the movie before I heard him snoring on the couch near me. As for me, as I said, it was just OK. I know it received rave reviews. Rotten Tomatoes scored it 97%. Best Actor. Best Director. Best Film. Frankly, I don't understand all the fuss.

Which got me thinking about the Academy Awards and my views. First, I know awards are often by their very nature quite subjective. One man's meat, as it were, is another man' poison, to quote Voltaire. And just because one small group of people award a film doesn't elevate it to the status of masterpiece.

For the record, I haven't liked many of Academy Award-winning films. Nearly walked out of "The Last Emperor'. Didn't like "The Unforgiven" or "Out of Africa". What does that all mean? Not very much other than that my tastes are--surprise--different from the voters at the academy.

Verna and I shared a love of Jerry Lewis movies, and even though he is a hero in France, many Americans just don't get why is so popular outside of his service to MDA, and even that has come under fire.

But there is a part of me that relishes in being different. Not for the sake of just being different, but in knowing that I hold to my views even if they are not popular. I also understand that being discerning about cinematic preferences is not the same as having varied political opinions, cultural views, or leading a particular lifestyle.

When I worked at a very liberal political comunity organization in Connecticut in the 1980s, my co-workers razzed me because I liked Journey. They were more into the Grateful Dead and other "progressive" rock.

When I was about 13 I shared with some middle school classmates that I planned at some point in my life to walk across America. One asked, "What would you eat?"

I answered, "Cheerios," and like getting caught up in some weird Twilight Zone-Telephone game, my answer was morphed into a solo box of cheerios. So I was teased mercilessly, "I heard you were going to walk across the country," someone would guffaw, "and exist on a box of Cheerios."

As a teenager, especially, most of us want to fit in with crowd, and I certainly did, but I did draw the line. I never wanted to compromise my core beliefs, political or personal. I didn't drink until it was legal and my lawbreaking at that point involved some speeding and jaywalking.

But I was happiest when I was part of a group. I understand that many kids don't want to stand out. Miguel told me it's uncool to wear running shoes to school. Definitely no Converse. So he started wearing Vans. But then he began complaining about their lack of arch support, so now he dons some flashy black Reebok running shoes and his feet have never felt better.

Miguel was one of the people who lobbied me to abandon my fannypack, shop for more modern jeans and shirts, and untuck my shirts from my pants as long as I am not at work. I had no problem with any of those "changes" for they weren't really about my core self. As much as the fannypack was convenient to stuff so much into, it's not as if truly defined me. OK, not that much.

So if Miguel doesn't want to wear certain sneakers or prefers his hair shaggy, I can let it go. Of course if his pants start sagging, I do impose my parental authority. But I also want him to see that there are times when it's OK to be different and to stand up for your beliefs.

I was arrested once for protesting draft registration. I spent three lonely and cold hours in a Hartford, CT, cell. But I feel (and still do) that I did the right thing. I worked for the Connecticut State Legislature in the mid-80s and was basically a go-fer. But part of my responsibilities included assisting the Clerks to the State House of Representatives. Before each session the assembly members recited the Pleadge of Allegiance. As a small and almost silent protest against the pledge and the words "liberty and justice for all," which my 25 year-old self felt America didn't live up to, I refused to even mumble any of the words or even place my hand over my heart.

One day, the assistant to the State Speaker of the House, a squat man with huge forearms, who, it was rumored, had served in the CIA when they helped overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran in the early 1950s, came over to me shortly after the pledge.

"Why didn't you say the pledge of allegiance?" he barked.

"I don't believe in it," I said.

"Are you a Communist?" he squawked, red faced and inches away from me.

"I shouldn't have to answer that."

I wasn't a Communist, but I felt his question was beyond inappropriate.

"Are you a Communist?" he demanded again.

"That's not the point."

I started to fear for my safety. He was built tank like and appeared as if he could squash me like a bug or crack my bones with a simple snap and feast on my remains. He charged away in disgust. I later learned he'd barged into my boss's office and demanded I be escorted from the State Capitol by security.

A few weeks later, at the session ending party, where legislators and staff and lobbyists mingle as friends and the alcohol flows and flows, a conservatively and nattily attired representative approached me. We'd never spoken and he'd always come across as officious, serious, and to the right of center politically.

He sidled over to me and said, "You did the right thing with the whole pledge business. It's a matter of freedom of speech. Good for you."

I was stunned.

On the flip side, my personal protests, which seemed like good ideas at the time and I was too self-absorbed in being morally or ethically right to reflect, don't always hold up over the passage of time. I used to refuse to stand for the National Anthem even if I was at a sporting event with my patriotic father. Looking back, I am sorry (and have told my father so) that I neglected to honor his feelings in order to press an insignificant political point.

Or how I insisted on wearing tattered and patched jeans to synagogue even if I was called up to lead services or recite other prayers. And I never, ever stopped to ponder how embarrassed my parents had to have been when they and others witnessed such disrespectful behavior.

So this isn't really about liking or not liking movies. It's about being yourself and when and where to choose how best to express your individuality and stand up for your essential values and beliefs.

And maybe I did learn something from "The Artist". Sometimes it is far better to be silent. And when it's not, I hope I will be mindful enough to know.

No comments:

Post a Comment