Sunday, April 16, 2017

Awakenings into Adulthood via Wim Wenders’ "Wings of Desire" by Ariel Hannanian

Life can seem very difficult at times, given the existing circumstances. Furthermore, people tend to exaggerate negative emotions, dwell on the past, and remain doubtful of the future. Wings of Desire portrays human suffering and centers around the negativity, bitterness, and attachment to selfish desires that angels are witnesses of, but Damiel looks beyond these negatives to see qualities of love, forgiveness, and cooperation. Of course, this makes him yearn to be born, and his urge to live among these flawed individuals suggests there is an innate beauty in being human. Additionally, Damiel appreciates simple miracles that everyday humans overlook. This film serves as an optimistic perspective to the uncertain future of any college student who is searching for a vocation, love relationship, or deeper meaning.

Set in post-World War II Berlin, angels Damiel and Cassiel are symbols of innocence and observers of the emotional problems people face. They go about the ruins of the city and see suicidal, depressed, and unhappy people with misplaced emotions who do not possess the even-keel optimism the angels do. As Roger Ebert agrees, “The angels in Wings of Desire are not merely guardian angels, placed on Earth to look after human beings. They are witnesses” (par 1). The angels also say what other characters never say and provide a perspective no one else can.

The fact that only children perceive the immortal angels is significant since only children retain the innocence and timelessness necessary to see beyond the obvious. Whereas adults are jaded and only perceive the bad and the usual, “the kinter” recognize the good and the unusual. The message these silent angels put across in their infinite patience is for humans to wake up from their misery prisons and enjoy sharing life! However, increased awareness of life’s responsibilities during one’s college years marks the end of our childhood innocence and a new beginning where different priorities, goals, and obligations are made. Despite having to step into these “human challenges,” Damiel still seeks his transformation from angel to human form.

While in Berlin, he encounters Peter Falk, an American actor shooting a film in the city, and sees that humans do recognizes the positives. Furthermore, Falk’s view of the world compels Damiel to take action and become a member of society. Likewise, the film uses Peter Handke’s poem “Song of Childhood” as a tool to describe Damiel’s interactions:

“When the child was a child, It played with enthusiasm, and now, has just as much excitement as then, but only when it concerns its work. When the child was a child, It was enough for it to eat an apple, … bread, And so it is even now” (Wenders 1:42).

This implies that we are all children of God and likely were content until awareness of adulthood and life’s realities came in and destroyed this homeostasis. Similarly, college is essentially a medium where we are forced into adulthood by exposure to new responsibilities as learners. So we are often in work-study-test-conquer mode and fail to appreciate simple pleasures like eating an apple. Mr. Falk, most commonly known as the TV detective “Colombo,” senses Damiel’s presence. Damiel becomes human and tastes coffee, smokes a cigarette, and bleeds after a body of armor falls on his head, but he is ecstatic at these feelings that the human race overlooks. This newly found appreciation gives the message of appreciating life also for simple miracles like love and nature, things that I may otherwise overlook.

Damiel finds a new purpose in life when he encounters a distraught trapeze artist and uses his powers to help her emotionally. He finds joy in helping others after his encounters with Falk, and this is the point when Damiel goes from passive to active. Damiel’s connection with the trapeze artist inspires him to become human. Despite all the animosity and selfishness of humans, Damiel yearns to become human because he only sees the good. While explaining his reasons to become active, Damiel states:

“To conquer a history for myself. What my timeless downward look has taught me … I want to transmute, I want to sustain a glance… a short shout, a sour smell. I’ve been outside long enough. Loving enough out of the world. Let me enter the history of the world. Or just hold an apple in my hand” (Wenders 1:14).

It is Damiel’s only dream for him to become human and exist rather than observe. The angel finds appreciation for simple human pleasures like food or pain or pleasure.

The movie cinematography did an excellent job of filming it in black and white with instances of color emerging as Damiel transitions from angel to human. His entrance into the world relates to the modern college student’s experience as our transition into the real world is to take an active role in society and not an entrance into bitterness. Damiel enters the trapeze artist Marion’s dreams and appears in person and in color when she falls in love. The fact that she meets the person literally from her dreams gives hope to the viewer of how the joining of two individuals to make both their dreams to come true: Damiel to be human and Marion to find true love. Damiel’s awakening connects to a college student’s awakening in that his transition from being innocent to becoming aware and active parallels the college transition from childhood to adulthood. 

This piece of cinematic art is a great deal more than a movie about two angels, one of whom finds a Hollywood true love. There is a rebirth of innocence when Damiel becomes human. Its message speaks to me in what my own guardian angel says to me about starting a career and a new life with my future family, hopefully. I was greatly reassured in the film’s ending in how Damiel, an angel who saw so much human suffering, still chose to join. His appreciation of humanity and the beautiful poem recited inspires us return to the wisdom of childhood and enjoy life to the fullest the way an elated child does. The angels in Wings of Desire break the social and emotional barriers we create for ourselves, and guide us toward a fuller, deeper, richer existence.

Works Cited

Ebert, Roger. “Wings of Desire Review and Film Summary” Great Movie. Roger Ebert, 12 April 1988. Web. 23 April 2016.

Wings of Desire. Dir. Wim Wenders. Perf. Bruno Ganz, Otto Sander, Solveig Dommartin. Road              Movies Film Production, 1987. SolarMovie. Web. 20 April 2016.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Like Walt Whitman before him, Allen Ginsberg has birthed a kosmos (and cottage industry) of interpretations, both in terms of life and poem. As regards contradictions, indeed, both poets contain multitudes. As regards legacies and celebrities, however, we often confuse the person with the poster. That's why I found Eliot Katz’s The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg a valuable bundle of medicine.

He caused me to re-member the man I had the good fortune to apprentice under for a summer, not the media-hyped Mad Magazine beatnik or a fellow poet/scholar's axe-to-grind or bum's rush vehicle to glory. As reviewer Jim Cohn put it, "The Allen Ginsberg that Katz has written about is so accurate a portrait of the Beat Generation poet, as a man and as a political activist, that I could not put the book down. The real Allen Ginsberg inhabits these pages; not a fiction. Katz’s Poetry and Politics should be considered a cornerstone of all future research and scholarship on the relationship between Ginsberg’s poetry and his political beliefs and actions, as well as their meaning for us now."

Like Whitman, Ginsberg was "not contain'd between my hat and boots." He "perused manifold objects." His cup runneth over. He had gargantuan energy, and Katz, a political poet in his own right, narrates the range of “radical ideas Ginsberg remained committed to: challenging American policy in such wide-ranging areas as nuclear proliferation, environmental destruction, skyrocketing homelessness, the increasing disparity of wealth during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush eras, continuing racial discrimination, CIA covert actions, the ‘drug war,’ domestic censorship of art and speech, and military adventures in such places as Panama and Iraq. Ginsberg did readings to benefit and publicize countless progressive organizations and projects and served on the advisory boards of numerous organizations, including the progressive media watch group, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), and a national student activist group that I worked with during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Student Action Union. In the years that I knew Ginsberg, he was constantly writing or calling government offices to advocate for improved social policies and urging younger writers like myself to do the same––whether on the larger political issues like war and peace, or on more targeted cultural issues like the jailing or censorship of writers (an issue around which Ginsberg worked with the PEN Freedom to Write Committee).”

Although the image the quote conjures is the opposite of a sandal-wearing, drug-taking drop-out, it was this form of witness and organized activism that Ginsberg shared with the younger generations. Hence, Beatdom Books had it right to publish this poet-son’s memoir/scholarship during the 2016 presidential elections for this level of engagement may be the next step we must take in building Whitman’s Democratic Vista.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Poet, Alternative Media Maven & Boulderite: An Interview with Joe Richey by Kirpal Gordon

Kirpal Gordon: Like many who have studied at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, you seem to gravitate as a writer-thinker-activist to Allen Ginsberg, especially the way he “erases the separation” between a political poem and a confessional/objectivist poem. You also seem inspired by Ed Sanders (less his Fugs thing; more his books like Helter Skelter) and his “take a file out on your friends” Investigative Poetics. 

Joe Richey: Ginsberg, Sanders, Dorn, Cardenal, los crónistas, the chroniclers, and inventive historical verse or documentary poems have always interested me. And most of my writing life has been involved with non-fiction, whether freelance journalism for print and broadcast media, translating documents, editing academic and small press journals, writing and editing for reference books. So I enjoy innovative non-fiction. I enjoy poetic historians like Howard Zinn and Eduardo Galeano from Uruguay. Colloquial histories like W.E. Woodward's New American History, Studs Terkel of course. History as written by poets or with poetic sensibilities at work. 

Kirpal Gordon: The third influence is harder for me to describe. Most ex-pat gringo writers riffing on local flora and fauna reveal that they are tourists whereas your bi-lingual poetic-journalistic coverage of your travels in Central and South America manages to transmit el sabor y la voz de la gente. 

Joe Richey: My wife Anne Becher and I were both travel writers for a while. She co-wrote a guidebook to Costa Rica, The New Key to Costa Rica, while I was from writing from Nicaragua. Then after we were married, we moved to Argentina to study Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the mothers of the Disappeared. We lived in Buenos Aires for a year. We traveled a great portion of Latin America by land, and collected written and graphic material from artists along the way. 

We published twelve editions of The Underground Forest - La Selva Subterránea: nine of those were bilingual Spanish and English, one special European edition included work from England, France, Spain and Portugal. Anne was fully fluent in Spanish. And she learned via the whole language methodreading, listening, speaking all being learned at the same time. I learned the slower wayreading, then listening, and finally speaking. When I could haggle and argue with Argentines, my Spanish was suficiente let's say. Anne would go on to become a Hispanic Linguist and Senior Instructor of Spanish at the University of Colorado. I maintain a panamerican Spanish, picking up phrases here and there from Puerto Ricans, Nicaraguans, Colombians, Cubans, Chileans, Mexicans.

For a while back then we were gringos tropicalizados. In Costa Rica, both Anne and I worked for Costa Rican salaries I had a visiting professor post at La Universidad Nacional Autónoma (La UNA) in Heredia. We lived on Costa Rican salaries but traveled to all corners of the country, and with one, then two kids in tow. So we were entre la gente alright, but we were still Americans. We were part of an American enclave. The numbers of Americans living in Costa Rica are enormous. You might say there's a neocolonial feel to parts of Costa Rica. Even Somerset Maugham observed in the 1940s, "Costa Ricaa sunny place for shady people." The real reason to be there is for the flora, fauna and biological diversity study. But there are some fine poets to be found there too!

Kirpal Gordon: Did your Naropa studies play a part in birthing the idea of The Underground Forest?

Joe Richey: It was really through discovering El corno emplumado, but I probably learned about El corno emplumado through Naropa studies, or through the Center for Constitutional Rights in NYC after Margaret Randall was denied citizenship under the McCarran-Walter Act.

 Kirpal Gordon:  What about Selva Editions and your interest in journalism and radio?

Joe Richey: Early interest in radio began in the transistor radio era, one small enough to listen to through a pillow or towel. Jean Shepard, E.G. Marshall's Radio Mystery Theater, Malachy McCourt on WOR 710 AM out of New York. 

Kirpal Gordon:  Where were you born and raised? What was your education like?

Joe Richey: As a boy I lived and played joyfully along the Penn-Central railroad tracks in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I had a loving mother, uncles, and aunts who were quite caring, vocal and animated. I was not unwashed. Still, compared to many kids my age I could seem to be an unfathered, unmothered kid.  My biological parents died young. By good fortune I had many mothers and many fathers. I chose ones who were more readerly than my biological parents. My parents were more aural or music oriented. Their songs, embedded in our RCA or my DNA, make me an eternal romantic. Through reading I was led from many unseemly circumstances and bad pop song musical tastes. I was also an avid reader of newspapers: the Elizabeth Daily Journal, the Newark Star Ledger, and then in high school, The New York Times, The Nation Magazine and other periodical literature. I attended an all-boy Catholic high school, and received a good foundation of academic skills which afforded me multi-class accessiblity. But like many orphans, and kids who experience early traumatic loss, there's always a sense of difference and a deep abiding alienation, which in part explains my lifelong interest in poets.

Kirpal Gordon: I have been reading your collection, / Senryu /, from Selva Editions, 2015. I especially like the relaxed way that you use this Japanese form, that is, you delight in surprise and the foibles of our human nature but you are not counting syllables (morae) or too worried about capital letters. For example, these knock me out:

at the zoo

two caged cockatoo

my parents! my childhood!

my wife ain’t dead

just in a stupor

her first colonoscopy

Birth is but a single pang.

More and more to come.

The afflictiondemocratic.

Sitting in an outdoor café

I am gunned down

by Chilean boys w/ sawed off broomsticks

Joe Richey: I studied haiku with Pat Donegan at Naropa, and have kept up the practice, exploring other Japanese forms – haibun and senryu. There is also a modern haiku movement, gendai haiku, that I follow through the work of Richard Gilbert, a haiku critic and also a Naropa grad, who teaches at the University of Kumamoto in Southern Japan.

Kirpal Gordon: I highly admire the way you marry the quotidian with the everlasting, the self and family, the deep idea with the exact detail. You are walking a line of great balance: the radio work with Alternative Radio, making culture, poetry, while being a family man.

Joe Richey: Thanks for the reminder, Kirpal. I appreciate your efforts to maintain poetic community over the years. We have a creative practice that requires a lot of solitude. And while there can be some competitiveness around academic circles, we still feel like a tribe - blessed (or afflicted) with a love for heightened use of language.

The Town I Live In

(after Lewis Allan's The House Live In)

What is Boulder to me? A name, a map, the flap I read.

A certain word – Poetry!

What’s the City of Boulder to me?

The Town I live in

Breathing room to be found

After years beyond the railroad

Buena gente all around

Carpinteros public workers

Curbside recycling on every street

Bike paths all over the city

That's Boulder County.

The hood I live in

Hispanic, white and black

folks who just came here

or from generations back

At the town hall and the soapbox —

the torch of liberty

A home for dogs and children —

That's Boulder County.

The words of old Allen Ginsberg,

Jack Collom, Edward Dorn,

Harry Smith, Anselm Hollo

Great white male poets still unborn.

Dark enchanted witches,

Wenches, wise old crones

Devour all calamity

Skin meat and bones

Our little frigate Concorde

where freedom's fight began

Our Gettysburg our Midway

and the grand old royal scam

For the House I live in,

The goodness everywhere,

a land of wealth and beauty —

enough for all to share.

A land that we call Freedom

the home of Liberty

with its promise for tomorrow

That's Boulder, Colorado

to me . . .

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Interpreting WALKABOUT and SWEPT AWAY: Saeviri Humanum Est by Isaac Hoffman

Reviewers and interpreters of the films Walkabout, by Nicolas Roeg, and Swept Away, by Lina Wertmüller, tend to paint the over-arching messages of the films as acutely monochromatic, when often there is much evidence that through the motifs of juxtaposition in the two pictures, the directors not only contrast “civilization” with “savagery” and capitalism with communism, but also compare the adverse concepts in such a manner that the viewer is forced to critically contemplate the value of each. These interpretations, though perfectly valid, often neglect the inherent reciprocity of “juxtaposition,” that the correlation of different ideas highlights both differences and similarities.

In her analysis of Walkabout, “Eyes Wide Shut,” Alexa Grabowski skillfully elaborates one such comparison in the beginning shots of the film:

People’s faces were not shown for the majority of the opening scene; they were cut off at waist level. The children even appeared to be panting like dogs while in class leading me to believe that Roeg wanted us to see them as a herd of animals rather than individuals. At that point I understood that there was going to be a hint of societal mockery throughout the film. (2)

This is an engaging interpretation, and later in her essay, Ms. Grabowski explains that to interpret this “societal mockery” as purely subversive detracts from the film’s message as a whole (4). Rather than focusing only on the contrasts between civilization and savagery, the film considers the parallels between modernity and its ancestors in tribal systems and unfortunately suggests no solution to the problems which Roeg presents.

In a similar manner, Xavier Eang Lee in his analysis, “The Colored Man’s Burden,” interprets a poignant scene in the film which juxtaposes the Aborigine boy’s gutting of a kangaroo with cuts to a professional butcher in his shop:

The switching between visuals shows the connection between the two ways of butchering. Ab’s way is messy and out in the open, while the Western butcher is chopping in a clean, white environment.  Although these two methods are different they are still essentially the same thing.  Roeg uses the constant changing between frames to show that what may seem savage or taboo from one point of view may not be so from another. (4)

This scene does not demonize Western society, but uses the assaulted sensibilities of the viewer, offended by the brutality of the butchery, to remind him/her that the most significant difference between the two worlds, civilized and savage, is that Western society demonizes the personality of the uncivilized; the concept of civility pretends that the connection between actor and action has been severed, that interaction which remains impersonal is of higher status. Notice that, much like the children in Ms. Grabowski’s scene, the face of the butcher is not in the field of view, his identity is separate from his deeds.

This insulation of doer from done is most clearly present in the young boy, who runs about playing war in the beginning of the movie, yet does not understand the implications of his own father taking shots at him. Society has severed the connection between the deed and the morality and brutality of its author, no one is personally invested in their action and this allows them to do as they please without intervention on the part of the conscience. It is this intentional severance which Roeg is highlighting in this film and he gives no real suggestions for solving the problem.

Unlike the previous analyses, the following interpretations attempt to place the film Swept Away in neat little boxes of “misogynistic” or “pseudo-feminist,” with little consideration of how the themes are used in the movie, particularly whether or not the sexism in the film—Gennarino states outright, “Women were meant to serve men” (Wertmüller 59 min.)—is presented in a negative or positive light. Though it is certainly arguable whether or not rape in film (and, in this case, it most certainly is rape) can even be comedic at all, Wertmüller’s film can be interpreted satirically, and the question simply becomes whether or not the mockery was successful and clear (the very fact that it must be debated is evidence that the parody has failed). How this satirical interpretation affects the intent of the film remains mostly unexplored.

Roger Ebert, in his review of the film, argues that the film sends two specific messages:

(1) That once the corrupt facade of capitalism is stripped away, it's the worker, with the sweat of his back, who deserves to reap the benefit of his own labor, and (2) that woman is an essentially masochistic and submissive creature who likes nothing better than being swept off her feet by a strong and lustful male. (par. 5)

While this is one possible interpretation, it assumes that Gennarino is meant to be viewed as the film’s protagonist, that he is in the “right” at all times. It seems a more nuanced approach is necessary. Perhaps Wertmüller intends to highlight the similarities between the two systems, capitalist and communist, as she points out that even when the communist is in power, he abuses his power as much as Raffaella does when she has the greatest influence. This is certainly not to say that her verbal abuse is somehow equal in magnitude to rape, as this is not the case, but if the director is satirizing Gennarino’s actions, then it is incredibly ironic that the communist, who ostensibly fights for a classless society, sets up a diminutive sexist hierarchy as soon as the reigns are his to snap.

James Berardinelli, in his opposing view of Swept Away, argues that those who criticize the film’s sexism are neglecting two pieces of evidence:

First, Raffaella actually starts the abuse with her constant berating of and lording over Gennarino on the yacht. Secondly, this "romance" is not taking place in anything resembling a civilized situation - by virtue of their circumstances, the characters have been thrown back into a setting that mimics prehistoric times, when survival (of the individual and of the species) dictated coupling. Gennarino's physical dominance of Raffaella is, in a strange way, the manner in which he proves to her that he is strong enough to be her mate. (par. 4)

About the most valuable fragments of analysis in this review are the scare-quotes around “romance,” as the film is hardly romantic and not very comedic. The critic’s first point, which has already been touched upon, argues that Raffaella somehow brought the sexual abuse upon herself through her verbal attacks on Gennarino—when he ignores her whining, she shouts, “Your refusal to answer me only shows what a peasant you were!”(Wertmüller 55 min.)—and this argument essentially justifies rape to avenge insult. Berardinelli’s second point romanticizes a primitive state of being and he falls into the trap of demonizing civility and glamorizing “prehistoric times.” The characters’ natural setting is not an excuse to defenestrate morality, but an opportunity to analyze society (which is has both advantages and disadvantages) in an objective manner; injustices can be redressed and a better amalgamated system implemented. To throw completely off the mantle of civilization is to lose its benefits along with its issues, and this principle can also be applied to capitalism, which, though quite imperfect, has some admirable qualities. This is perhaps the message of Wertmüller’s film, that critical analysis and alteration of the status quo is a better path than starting again from tabula rasa. Not to mention that to justify rape by the location in which it was committed, which Berardinelli attempts to do, is morally myopic.

These reviews prove that to focus only on either the comparisons or the contrasts between two concepts limits interpretation, and, ironically, falls into the same trap as the characters in Swept Away, who can only see each other’s differences, physical and political, and not their similarities as fellow human beings. Neither Walkabout nor Swept Away attempt to subvert civilization as it is today, but to force their audiences to think critically on societal issues with an objective morality, without romanticism or hatred of different concepts in their entirety, and by union of the most beneficial aspects of each system to create an objectively better world.

Works Cited

Berardinelli, James. Rev. of Swept Away, dir. Lina Wertmüller. ReelViews. Web.

Eang Lee, Xavier. “The Colored Man’s Burden.” 2016. Print.

Ebert, Roger. “Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August.”

            20 February 1976. Web.

 Swept Away. Dir. Lina Wertmüller. Perf. Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato. 1974. Web.

Walkabout. Dir. Nicolas Roeg. Perf. Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg, and David Gulpilil. 1971. Film.

            YouTube. 10 Jan. 2016. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

What Do You Do with Trash: A Review of WALKABOUT & THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY by Myrtchena Antoine

We live in a world where we’re always looking for answers. We’ve even made careers over finding out how the body works and how things in nature are made. Through Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout, it is clear that many things are wrong in our broken society. But what this film lacks, although very impactful and eye-opening, is an answer to the question looming over our heads: If the ways of civil society are so bad, how do we fix it? Jamie Uys’ The Gods Must Be Crazy offers a solution to this unanswered question.

His answer is simple. Get rid of it. To put it bluntly, society’s way of running things is trash. And when you have trash you don’t keep it, you simply throw it away. In a highly sarcastic and humorous way, Uys shows the difference between the day-to-day busy society versus the peaceful and unified life of the “uncivilized” Bushmen. In the opening scenes, the typical ways of the Bushmen people are shown as the narrator vocally depicts what the viewers are seeing. He describes their world as gentle; it’s without punishment, evil, or even ownership. A few scenes later, there’s a shift in the narrator’s voice as the setting changes from the Kalahari Desert to civil society a couple of miles south. With a sarcastic and mocking tone, he explains the daily life of the civilized people. The narrator describes civilization as a world where one constantly has to adapt, readapt and dis-adapt. He says, “For instance, if the day is called Monday and the number 7-3-0 comes up, you have to dis-adapt yourself to your domestic surroundings and readapt yourself to a completely different environment” (Uys, 6:40). He goes on to describe the rest of the work schedule utilizing the same tone of mockery. Just a few minutes later, the scene shifts back to the Kalahari desert where a small plane is flying overhead. The pilot, who has just finished a bottle of Coca-Cola, decides to dispose of the bottle by dropping it out the window. The landing of the bottle into the land where the Bushmen inhabit is the viewer’s first glimpse of western civilization’s negative impact on the uncivilized.

Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout gives a harsher look on how western civilization destroys the lives of those living outside of that world and even those who live in it. The film’s main focus is two British children who are left stranded in the Australian Outback. Coming from a place where everything is done for them or can be done with a press of a button, the children find it difficult surviving in such an unfamiliar place. When they come across an Aboriginal boy on a walkabout, they immediately use him to their advantage. The Aboriginal becomes their hunter and guide, but when he finally returns them to civilization, they immediately order him around and behave ungraciously. There are also scenes of the boy’s people being put to work by white males and the slaughter of animals with high-powered rifles. All these events result in the boy taking his life, not wanting to live a life where he and his indigenous culture are used by others.

It may seem impossible that something so ordinary as a Coca-Cola bottle can represent something so vast and unique as civilized society, but Uys cleverly manages to do so. The Bushmen’s first encounter with the mysterious object was filled with confusion. They wondered why such an odd object was sent down to them. Not in the habit of wasting resources, they used the bottle to do many things. The narrator described it as a “real labor saving device,” a small way of showing the ways of western culture entering their lives. Civilization started out with just small things that made labor easier, then gradually grew into the highly technological industry that society is today. The Bushmen lived a life of peace where no one owned anything--everything was shared. But with the Coca-Cola bottle entering their life, the Bushmen started to change; everyone wanted to use it. “And now for the first time in their lives, here was a thing that could not be shared because there was only one of it [...] a thing they never needed before became a necessity” (Uys, 10:28). They now became jealous, angry, and violent with one another. Seeing that this object was making everyone unhappy, the Bushmen Xi made the decision to bury “The Evil Thing.” Somehow it came back in their lives, so Xi said that he’d travel to the end of the earth to finally get rid of it.

Finally we’re presented with a solution to the question: how do we fix society? Society was built on stealing, violence, hate, and many other elements. The solution to fixing this is by throwing away the way of life that we are so used to. The best way of mending this broken society would be by starting from scratch, but that’s inherently impossible. Instead it’s more plausible to rid of things one by one until eventually there is no more. Had the children in Walkabout thrown out their way of life and adapted to the situation they were in, then maybe the film would not have ended so tragically. Perhaps they would have coexisted with the Aborigine boy and his people and arguably have had a better life than the one they went back to. The Gods Must Be Crazy sheds a light on our damp society and gives the hope that Walkabout depicted as lost.

Works Cited

Roeg, Nicolas. Walkabout. Perf. Jenny Agutter, David Gulpilil, and Luc Roeg. A Max L. Raab-

Si Litvinoff Production, 1971. Film.

Uys, Jamie. "The Gods Must Be Crazy." N.p., n.d. Web.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Plane Ticket to Forever: A Chinese-American Writer Reflects on Good Fortune by Robbi Reed

Most people go on journeys trying to discover who they are or who they aspire to be in life. For me, I have always known exactly who I am. My journey started 18 years ago, halfway across the world, in China, when my mother came to adopt me. It was my mother who gave me the foundations for a better life here in this foreign country that I now call home, a life that has allowed me to branch out and seize every opportunity presented to me. Thanks to my unique journey I have known who I am from a young age.

Many people say they have the world’s greatest mom, but very few have a mom that will travel 22 hours with 2 layover stops for them.  Alan Watts's The Book: On the Taboo against Knowing Who You Are encourages its reader to see that God as love instead of as a human figure, so when I look at my mom I see God as a state of being. Alan Watts stated, “We do not need a new religion or a new bible. We need a new experience—a new feeling of what it is to be ‘I’” (Watts, par. 4). I see her and God as one and not as two separate individuals. My mom and I have such a strong bond and she has taught me to always strive to live with a positive outlook. In kindergarten, when my peers made stupid comments about my adoption, she told me to never feel sorry for being “different.” In third grade, I got into a fight with one peer specifically and she exclaimed, “Well, at least I’m not adopted!” I remember trying to think of how that was an insult. I have never viewed adoption as the act of giving up one's child, but I have viewed it as a privilege that someone made an effort to make you a part of their life. I was lucky enough to be one of those kids. 

We learn from Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” that it is our job as humans to help one another so that we may all benefit. We are all trapped inside this competitive state of mind that we must be the best:

“Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all-they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now” (Plato, 5).

However, we rarely stop to think about helping the people around us. Learning at a young age to always pay it forward has influenced my decision to become a doctor. As Lawrence Kohlberg states in his “Stages of Moral Development,” in stage six we must realize the importance of communication between a group of people. Furthermore, we need to be able to reach out and help others so that when we are in need of help, someone will step up and do the same for us. I have learned from an early age in life that we must pay it forward because if one person suffers, we all suffer.

In Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” we see that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (King, par. 6). In my case, I used to get taunted in elementary school for not having a “typical” family. However, my mom and I decided to do something about it. Using Gandhi's famous adage, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” as our guide, we started a support group called “Forever Family” in which all “non-typical” families could come and celebrate our difference and talk out the struggles we are dealing with. Surprisingly, most of the problems have been caused by the school district. People in school were being ignorant and insensitive to many of the “not normal” families. What they failed to realize is that families come in all shapes and sizes. No one is lesser than another for being different. While growing up I have never felt “different” or “not normal,” and as I have become older, I realize how lucky I am to have friends who like and accept me for who I am. “I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing” (Anzaldua, par. 11).

Gloria Anzaldua’s message in  “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” is simple yet powerful. She talks about how she does not want to be judged for who she is; instead, she wants to be recognized for it. Everyone is so quick to judge one another before even having a conversation. After middle school, I attended a private school called Long Island Lutheran. Whenever I told people where I went to high school, their whole demeanor towards me changed. The judgement on their faces casted me off as a stuck-up, snobby, rich girl who is above attending a public school. Little did they know that this was not the case at all. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go to private school and I never took a day for granted. My mom, being a single parent, worked so hard to be able to send me there. I am blessed to have a mother who cares so much about me, that she was willing to work harder to be able to send me there. Even in high school I felt judged by many because I valued my grades over going out and partying. What I took away from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” was that one is known by the company he or she keeps and also it is never okay to exclude anyone for any reason. All people are equally worthy of love and attention, and so no one should be turned away. The people I hung out with in high school were considered to be the “nerds” of the school; my best friend was the valedictorian of our class. The way my group of friends showed off was by being in the top ten percent of our graduating class, not by drinking ten beers in two hours. Many people in our grade didn’t accept us because we didn’t have the same views on certain topics as they did. Walt Whitman said,

It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous . . . I make appointments with all,

I will not have a single person slighted or left away,

The kept woman and sponger and thief are hereby invited . . . the heavy-lipped slave is invited . . .  the venerealee is invited,

There shall be no difference between them and the rest.

This is the press of a bashful hand . . . this is the float and odor of hair,

This is the touch of my lips to yours . . . this is the murmur of yearning,

This is the far-off depth and height reflecting my own face,

This is the thoughtful merge of myself and the outlet again.” (Whitman, section 19)

I have realized that it is hard to find people who accept others for who they truly are, but once you do, it is the most amazing feeling in the world: to not be judged.

Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or Bullet” reveals “it’s freedom for everybody or it’s freedom for nobody” (X, par. 6). This means that everyone either gets treated poorly or greatly. Furthermore, we all get treated the same way no matter what. By treating everyone the same, judgement is eliminated. I do not understand making assumptions about people and prejudging them. Degrading someone else isn’t going to make one better, for as Whitman wrote in "Song of Myself," "Whoever degrades another, degrades me." In addition, one may not know the other’s situation. It has happened several times where people have come up to me and have just assumed that I speak Mandarin. They are so shocked when I open my mouth and confidently tell them in my Long Island accent that I am from New York! Moreover, people are also confused when I introduce them to my mom. It takes them a couple of seconds to realize that looks do not make people a family; love and compassion are what makes a family. However, when I show people who my sister is, they never question our relations because we are both Asian. What I have learned throughout my journey is to never make assumptions based merely upon looks.

Some people do not need to take a journey to recognize who they are. I am lucky enough to have a loving mother who is really involved in my life. I am able to tell her anything. She is the single reason why I am the I am today: a strong person who does not care what people think. Without her, I might still be half way across the world.

Works Cited

Anzaldua, Gloria. "How to Tame a Wild Tongue." (n.d.): n. pag. 1987. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

Gandhi. "A Quote by Mahatma Gandhi." Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.


King, Martin Luther, Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail. Place of Publication Not Identified:

Kohlberg, Lawrence Kohlberg. "Moral Development: Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol

Gilligan." Encyclopedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 07 Dec. 2016. <>.

Plato. The Allegory of the Cave, P. Shorey trans. From Plato: Collected Dialogues, ed.

Hamilton & Cairns. Random House, 1963. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.

Watts, Alan. "Inside Information." The Book. ABACUS ed. London: Sphere, 1973. N.

pag. Print. 03 Dec. 2016.

Whitman, Walt. "Song of Myself (1892 Version) by Walt Whitman | Poetry Foundation."

Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.

X, Malcolm. "Malcolm X: The Ballot or the Bullet." Malcolm X: The Ballot or the Bullet.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Walkabout: Where the Wild Things Are by Allison Bellesheim

“We’re lost, aren’t we?” (Roeg) is a sentiment that resonated with me, a pre-medical student interested by PTSD and trauma, in director Nicholas Roeg’s multifaceted, intricate film. Walkabout is a wonderful piece of cinematography that follows the journey of two unnamed children who are forced to adapt to the enigmatic lifestyle of the Australian Outback in order to return to their previous mundane lifestyles. Roeg explores a clear juxtaposition that demonstrates a distinct divide between civilization and uncivilized life. While humans of civilization are portrayed as structured, monotonous, and unfulfilling, humans living in nature are depicted as adventurous, uncertain, and grateful for the resources supplied. However, when the children and some other civilized people are there, without even realizing it, they take uncivilized life for granted, exploit its assets, and use it as if it were disposable. The contrast between the disparate worlds in Walkabout is explored through the theme of civilization being the enemy to nature, the characters disrupting the balance of nature, the rich use of symbolism, and the biochemistry of trauma.

Walkabout suggests that civilized humanity will always destroy nature. The young siblings are left in the desert by their suicided father and only learn to adapt when they encounter an Aboriginal boy who is on his own “walkabout.” The Aboriginal is a symbol of life in nature, as he had never been exposed to technology, white culture, or the English language. On the other hand, the two children are symbols for civilization, as they grew up in a world where they learned proper etiquette, were taught to get educated to ensure future employment, and were given food instead of having to hunt for it. In this film, it is evident that the Aboriginal boy became aware of the differences and lack of culture in civilized life. When he met the children, he saw the difference in their clothing and behaviors. The children wear matching, lifeless, dismal school uniforms while the Aboriginals wear little to no clothing. As Norman Holland says, “Clothing is a barrier, but culture is what makes clothing a barrier” (par. 12). The dreary colors of these uniforms are in direct contrast to the bright paint and the lively red colors of the rocks in the Aboriginal society, so it is evident that the children brought lifelessness into a beautiful place that reigns with brilliant colors.

In addition, technology is brought into the Outback that disrupts the quiet balance and harmony of Aboriginal life. First, the children flaunt their use of the radio to the Aboriginal boy. The fact that the radio is a piece of technology never viewed by the Aboriginal and that it is in a different language makes this object foreign and confusing to him. This technology does not belong in nature, and neither do the children. Moreover, the meteorologists with their weather balloons brought technology into an environment that solely relies on the resources provided by the plants and animals. They seem to be playing with these balloons, like children, which demonstrates that these civilized men believe they need material objects to secure their future in the Outback. They are unable and unwilling to assimilate to the culture of the uncivilized territory, and this further exposes the fraudulence of civilization. Roeg adds both the radio and the men playing with the weather balloons to show how unnecessary technology is to Aboriginal culture. The radio seems to always be sprouting unintelligible, inconsequential news, such as the argument that children should learn to, “tell a fish knife from a meat knife” (Roeg). These mind-numbing statements are reiterated throughout the film. The children cling onto the radio because it is their only tie to civilized life, but in the end, the girl must consider if she is better off living a free life in the Outback than a confined life in civilization. It is apparent that the children and the meteorologists have transported trivial news and material objects into Aboriginal society, a place that has a rich and interesting culture that does not pay attention to such insignificant ideas. There is a direct contrast between the disparate worlds and it emphasizes how unnecessary civilized society is in indigenous life, and how civilization ruins what it cannot appreciate.

Conjointly, some secondary characters play a role in disrupting the homeostasis of Aboriginal culture and expose them to civilized life. As the three children are on their journey back to civilization, the audience views a white man exploiting the Aboriginals by forcing them to construct plaster figurines of themselves for his own money-making pursuit. He mistreats “his slaves” by saying, “Move on. Go on. Quicker. Move it” (Roeg). This demonstrates how indifferent the civilized culture is to "savage" life. All civilization cares about is its lucrative immediate profit, while the Aboriginals care about culture and long term survival. It serves as a direct contrast between civilization and spiritual life and how the civilized life disturbs the balance of Aboriginal society.

The hunters also disrupt Aboriginal life. Towards the end of the movie, the Aboriginal boy is hunting a cow with a spear, but two hunters interrupt him by driving in quickly with a car and shooting many cattle with a rifle. Cars and guns are two pieces of technology that are foreign to Aboriginal culture. The Aboriginal boy stood there speechless and lugubrious when he saw the animals being treated as objects and profitable entities. The hunters also disrupted his practice of using every part of the animal for food and warmth. After nearly running the young Aboriginal over with their car and killing his food supply, the hunters took away the young Aboriginal’s will to live. He realized that no matter what, the corruptions of civilization will always win over alleged savage life. The Aboriginals are just slaves and resources to them. This, along with the girl’s rejection at the end, led to his subsequent suicide.

Throughout the movie, the three children acted as a family unit and truly learned what it was like to “live the savage life.” They loved each other and the white children were eternally grateful that the Aboriginal boy was guiding them back to civilization. In biblical terms, he was “their Jesus who redeemed them and showed them the way” (Gordon). However, when civilized life was only a day away, the girl completely rejected the Aboriginal boy. Instead of being the girl who was attracted to him and appreciative of all he did for them, she demonstrated that she never lost her conventional behavior and was the typical white, civilized girl who looked at Aboriginals as slaves or animals. She demanded, “Water. Water” (Roeg), just like he was her slave who was only there to serve her needs. She remembered all her civilized behaviors and the prejudice that exists behind the cultures. In addition, she sees that the boy is sitting on the floor seemingly very upset, but she walks past him disinterested. This total rejection leads to the suicide of the Aboriginal because he realized that “he failed the walkabout, he is not a man, and must die” (Holland, par. 24). However, the young girl is still indifferent as to the effect she had on the Aboriginal; she decides to continue on to find civilization with her brother without showing any emotion towards the boy who saved her and her brother’s life. This girl, along with the hunters, indirectly killed the Aboriginal, so it is definitely evident that civilized life has disrupted indigenous culture in an unforgettable, irreversible way. Civilization trying to mold to the conditions of nature backfired and led to the destruction of the Aboriginal boy.

There are many examples of symbolism that relates to the theme of civilization vs. life in nature. The first is the cracked rock vs. the brick wall. The cracked rock represents life in the Outback and is the first image seen by the audience in the movie. In this first scene, viewers can hear the radio, but it is quite distant and full of static. This symbolizes how distant and foreign the voices of civilization are in the Outback and how, throughout the movie, they will try to infiltrate the uncivilized world. In contrast, the brick wall marks a “chasm between the urban and the Outback” (Holland). It represents civilized society and is accompanied by images of crowds of business people, office buildings, technology, and soldiers. In fact, the crowds of business people directly contrasts with the Aboriginal boy being alone on top of a mountain towards the end of the movie. There are so many civilized people, but there is only one Aboriginal standing alone who cannot seem to overcome their presence in his life. Another symbol that supports the theme of civilization vs. life in nature is the picnic blanket that the girl places on the Outback’s dirty ground before sitting to eat with her brother. This is her attempt to “tame the unspoiled Earth” (Holland). She was so civilized and programmed to express proper etiquette at all times that she felt obliged to impose order to a place that is full of disorder, adventure, and no rules. Roeg even zooms in on different lizards and small animals that are clearly oblivious to her attempt to tame the desert and enforce her civilized behavior on it (Holland). This is Roeg’s way of showing the audience that civilization will always try to impose its control on nature, but nature will try like hell to avoid the control. There is a direct contrast between the two incongruent worlds.

Furthermore, additional examples of symbolism include the abandoned mining town and the irritated man that “welcomed” the children back to civilization. The mining town is in the middle of the Outback is a symbol for how civilized people have no regard for nature. It is apparent that man left behind scrap metal, old trucks, and garbage all jumbled together in nature. This technology is out of place and because man left it there, it illustrates that civilization destroyed yet another piece of nature. Roeg, by allowing the children to play on the machines, showed that they really do not have any aversion to this happening. In addition, the radio seemed to be the girl’s security blanked throughout the film, but the boy’s security blanket was his toys. When the wheel on the toy car came off at the beginning of the movie, he complained to his apathetic father. This directly paralleled the wheels coming off of the car in the mining town at the end of the film. This was Roeg’s way of mocking the civilized world. He exemplified that in order to feel comfortable in the naturalized world, the children needed to be playing with their toys to still feel connected to their previous world. He made this clear by allowing the young boy to play in the mining town.

In addition, the irritated man at the end of the film is a symbol of civilization as well. He is the first person that the children encounter as they journey back to civilization. This man is obviously very annoyed that the children ruined the quiet homeostatic balance of his day and he becomes irate when he notices that the little boy is touching his property. This demonstrates that civilization is preoccupied with such inconsequential things and they are only concerned about their own problems. It contrasts indigenous life because the Aboriginals have a rich culture and care about their ancestors, and the animals and resources provided to them. Inconsequential things are irrelevant to the Aboriginals. Civilized people are trained to not pay attention to other people’s problem as they require a balance in their own lives. He was not even phased when he heard that two young children were lost and were in desperate need of guidance. It is disgraceful that he was so indifferent to their issue, when they all three of them are civilized, white, and seemingly no prejudice exists between them. Here, Roeg challenges the audience with the question of who is the devil and who is Jesus in the film. The civilized, aggravated man (civilized life) is the devil and the Aboriginal boy (indigenous life) is Jesus.

Lastly, the man being undaunted after hearing about the children’s traumatic experience leads to an explanation of the biochemistry of trauma that illustrates how the young girl learns that life in the Outback is better than living a tedious, monotonous life in the civilized world. In the beginning, the girl truly despised of the Outback because she had to endure dehydration (which led to hallucination and depravity) and overexposure to heat. She did not know how she would make it out of this very unfortunate situation, and this trauma affected her biochemistry as she suffered high cortisol levels, hypervigilance, and psychological impediments. The sister desperately tried to hold onto the last vestiges of her previous life by clutching the radio and maintaining her position in the conventional stage of moral development (McLeod). She wanted to maintain homeostasis both physically and mentally, but it was difficult to challenge her innate desire to enjoy indigenous life. She began to appreciate what nature had offer and enjoyed the pure beauty of nature. She was lost physically, but mentally and emotionally, she found her inner nirvana in an uncivilized, acquiescent paradise. This is exemplified through the scene where she was swimming through the pond, just taking in the magnificence of her surroundings. However, at the end, it is evident that she contemplates living in the Outback, a place of uncertainty and adventure. Her civilized life is monotonous, dreary, and predictable—the same life that her mother and father lived in the beginning of the movie. The now older and wiser girl seems depressed and disconnected from the life that she tried to get back to before, and she is burdened by her precious memories. There is a scientific reason as to why she is depressed and detached from her new life. Trauma survivors experience swings in their biochemistry that bring upon intrusive memories. In fact, “Should these symptoms become chronic over several years, the survivor runs the paradoxical risk of then chronically under producing Cortisol…Suppressed Cortisol is usually associated with depression, numbness, joylessness, emotional flatness…and disconnection” (Naparstek, par. 11). It is apparent that she does not produce enough Cortisol. That leads to depression, and if she continues having these flashbacks, she will become unable to steer her biochemistry back into homeostasis. These memories will always be with her, and it is evident that civilization needs nature more than nature needs civilization.

In conclusion, when the young boy said, “We’re lost, aren’t we?” (Roeg), he was correct that they were lost physically, but they were never lost emotionally. Both children learned that life in the Outback is preferable over civilized life because they will never be able to experience that adventure and excitement again. The end of the movie was very depressing and tragic. The girl is hopeless and defeated, which symbolizes a loss of innocence. The theme of civilization vs. indigenous life is evident throughout the movie and Roeg uses examples of symbolism to drive home his point that civilization is an enemy to nature, but in the battle between the two incongruent worlds, civilization always wins. By the end, a character analysis of the young girl and her disturbed biochemistry allows the audience to understand her hopelessness and death of innocence that makes her yearn for civilized life.

Works Cited

Gordon, Paul Kirpal. 24 Feb. 2016. Lecture.

Holland, Norman. "Nicolas Roeg, Walkabout, 1971." A Sharper Focus. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.

McLeod, Saul. "Kohlberg - Moral Development." Simply Psychology, 2011. Web. 07 Mar.


Naparstek, Belleruth. "Trauma: The Right-Brain Connection." Trauma: The Right-Brain

Connection. NotAlone, 2012. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.

Sendak, Maurice, and Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harper & Row,

1963. Print.

Walkabout. Dir. Nicholas Roeg. Perf. Jenny Agutter, Jean-Luc Roeg, and David Gumpilil. 1971.