Saturday, February 17, 2018

Walkabout & the Colored Man’s Burden by Xavier Eang Lee

Robert E. Howard wrote in his novel King Kull, “The more I see of what you call civilization, the more highly I think of what you call savagery.”  During the era of European colonization, western empires driven by greed sent out to stake claim of land, resources, and people not there for the taking.  The first British settlers of Australia were criminals and rejects who had the same western mentality of taking without giving.  The Aboriginal people of Australia were treated below the line of second-class citizens.  There was no mercy from white Europeans who wanted the land.   

The time known as the Stolen Generations was a period in Australian history in which many Aboriginal children were abducted and forced to leave all traces of their “savage” life behind.  This phenomenon of cultural genocide can be observed throughout the world, including Canada, when in the 1970s the Canadian government forced the Inuit people of the Artic Circle onto reservations equipped with unfit homes and schools. Far too often Native atrocities are neglected and overlooked due to the ignorance of the majority.  Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 film, Walkabout, brings to light the way of the Aborigine and the white man through artistic comparisons, using flashbacks and cut scenes to provoke an uninformed audience of the social injustices in Australia. 

The opening sequence starts with images of stone walls that then fade to a brick wall, signifying the difference between natural and man-made borders.  The camera then moves to a typical 1970s day in Sydney, Australia. Throughout the scene the screen switches back and forth between following the father, daughter, and son.  The father, portrayed by John Meillon, is dressed in formal attire and walks through crowds of people dressed similarly.  Everyone is rushing around systematically, creating a hectic environment associated with major cities like London or New York.  Jenny Agutter, as the daughter dressed in a school uniform, sits in class surrounded by other girls practicing their French vowel pronunciations.  Also in a uniform the son, Luc Roeg, plays outside with other boys, watching as army men march by. Roeg chose to introduce these characters alongside many similar looking people to give the impression of them being just another white Australian family. The didgeridoo, a traditional Aboriginal instrument, mostly plays in the background throughout the entire scene, with the exception of when the screen switches to the daughter in the classroom.  In this part the viewers only hear the sound of student practicing their pronunciations.  Roeg may be alluding to the Stolen Generations when Aboriginal children were forced to speak English, hinting the end of Native tradition.  This whole scene is painted with western civilization from the cars, clothing, and the ethnicity of people in the city---this is until John Meillon’s character brings both kids into the outback to murder them, changing the setting to a barren wasteland.  

After firing multiple failed shots at his son, the father sets fire to the car and shoots himself.  With their father dead and the car in flames, the siblings scurry away into the Outback armed with little food or water.  After wandering for days and on the brink of death, the pair come across this beautiful oasis with a small watering hole and a large tree inhabited with birds and edible fruit.  Getting comfortable, they stay for what seems to be multiple days.  The described scene opens with shots of green and yellow parakeets flying around playing, as the daughter sings.  The beginning of this scene brings to mind the story of Snow White, a common fairytale, singing with the forest animals as they clean her house.  Agutter soaks her feet while her brother, Luc Roeg, plays in the water and asks, “We’re lost, aren’t we?” She replies, “No, of course not,” with a look of uncertainty written all over her face.  The camera switches to show a bird drowning, unable to escape the water, then the next shot is of a grub worm picking at the fruit. 

The next morning, they wake to the water dried up and the tree covered in snakes.  Most humans today are not living sustainably.  No doubt in the years to come, many resources that are relied on will become scarce and the environment will fall into disrepair.  This culture of taking from the Earth and not giving back is killing humanity, and a detriment to the future generations For the kids in the film, the resources given to them were a blessing but overuse depleted it all.  The drowning bird and the grub both foreshadow the death of the tree and show that something is wrong, but they chose to ignore it.  This may sound familiar because it runs parallel with today’s environmental crisis. Many people choose to ignore the clear warning signs, not demanding a change.  Stuck again without food or water, the children stay, hoping the water will come back. The water never comes back, but in the distance they see a dark figure moving toward them hypnotically.  

The boy sits up and whispers, “Dad,” which wakes his sister.  They watch in amazement as the man hunts a large lizard.  The Aboriginal, portrayed by David Gulpilil, speaking in a tribal language, approaches with the lizard in hand, pointing at the moist ground where the watering hole once was.  He determined that they are white and after no response from the children, he walks away only to be chased after by the kids shouting in English begging for water, further confusing him.  Until the boy gestures to drink instantly it clicks in the hunter’s mind.  He then teaches them to drink from the moist dirt.

After they travel together, the hunter successfully chases, kills and butchers a kangaroo.  With each swing of his sharp rock, the screen continuously switches to a white butcher aproned in all white chopping meat with a large cleaver.  The switching between visuals shows the connection between the two ways of butchering. Although they are essentially doing 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. The group continues to travel until they come across something which changes the dynamic of the hunter and the girl’s relationship.  

Eventually the trio come across a house. The daughter runs to it, hoping there will be people inside, but she is sadly surprised to see that it is abandoned.  Wandering around, she takes in the familiar sights of photos hung on the walls and the interior of a man-made structure.  The hunter approaches her speaking and the camera then switches back and forth between their faces.  As he talks and she listens, her eyes continuously dart over to a piece of a broken mirror on the floor reflecting a rainbow onto his face.  Her struggle of focus between him and the mirror symbolizes her internal battle between the modern (the mirror) and the savage  (the rainbow on his face).  She asks him to fetch water, switching his role from the provider to the servant.  The man who saved her life in the wild has been reduced to a water boy in her civilization.  As he takes the bucket from her he also repeats, “Water,” which is the first time in the entire film he speaks any English, alluding to the assimilation forced upon many native Australians.  This scene is the turning point in which their relationship changes.  The two kids, especially the girl, wish to return to their original lives.   

While the Aborigine is hunting an ox going in for the kill, white men in a large car drive by startling him.  He then watches with a blank expression as these men shoot an ox without hesitation or struggle.  The shot is fired and it echoes throughout the Outback as the screen switches to animals fleeing the area.  The sound of the shot continues to repeat as the film emphasizes that this animal is dead.  After the animal falls, a man gets out of the car and slits its throat.  Roeg adds this traumatic scene to show the Walkabouter’s death of innocence.  Hunting for sport is an outrage to most Natives and most uncommon in their society whereas the idea of only taking what is needed is often ignored in today’s society. 

This film brings to light Native atrocities by comparing cultures through intense visuals captured by Roeg. Culture is essential to human existence.   No one deserves to have their culture die.  Far too often are the voices of the Native people unheard.  From Africa to India, from South America to the Far East, the silencing of indigenous voices is indeed the "Colored Man's Burden." More films need to capture the idea of Walkabout, which inspires individuals to join the movement.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Art of the Real Hustle by Victoria Wetmore

Author Victoria Wetmore with Hammad Imran

Imagine yourself as a fish thrown into a new pond for the first time. You’re unfamiliar with your surroundings, things begin to feel uncomfortable, and you’re not sure where you can and cannot swim. College is the same type of atmosphere, Hofstra included. Starting a new life at college is difficult, but it is that type of ablution that exposes us to unusual places and opportunities, both academically and recreationally. When Hofstra University’s academics become demanding, it isn’t a bad idea to seek recreational activities, such as club billiards, to lessen one’s stress, create new friendships and offer unexpected opportunities that once seemed impossible.

No matter what major that one declares, there is a certain workload that comes along with each one. When work becomes difficult and our brains become exhausted, there is this period of time where relaxation is required in order to function properly again. Some individuals will choose to watch television shows or a movie, and others choose food as a way to reboot after working hard. Personally, I take a trip out of my dorm room, into the Student Center, and down the stairs to the game room. In this space, I am able to play pool with my friends and fellow classmates. There is something about the sound produced from the contact of each ball, and the sound of breaking the rack up that is soothing and satisfying to me. This environment is a little loud, but nothing to be scared of diving into. Kelsey Picciano states, “Homeostasis, the tendency of a system or a person to maintain internal stability and resist change, can get easily upset, especially in the change from high school to college” (Picciano, par. 1). Being in the game room may be something different and scary, but doing something with others tends to make someone happier. If that happens to be playing games, then this is the place to be. Not into billiards? Take a look around the rest of the room and one will find a wide variety of gaming consoles, air hockey, ping pong, pinball, and even foosball. No matter what one’s preference is, I would still recommend billiards to anyone that walks through the automatic doors. Everybody downstairs is cordial and willing to help teach someone the basics, like the concept of angles or lining up different shots, in order to keep playing. Most of the time, members from the Hofstra Billiards Club are playing games and honing their skills for competitions, so do not hesitate to ask them to teach you something. This beneficial relaxation activity is how I get through assignments that prove to be stressful, while creating new bonds at the same time.

When I first came to Hofstra, I knew that I was having issues making new friends and didn’t feel as though I fit in with the rest of my peers. However, the moment I was approached in the game room by one of the players from the billiards club, I was introduced to a whole new world of friendship. Immediately, I felt uncomfortable being the only female in the room. Then I realized that I had to drop my protective walls and comprehend the opportunity I was given when I agreed to join this club. I had become immersed in so many different ethnicities that I was missing a chance to interact with people from all over the world because I felt insecure. The moment my anxiety subsided, I was able to make conversations with students from Pakistan, Kenya, and more of the Middle East. I also have the opportunity to talk to commuters, and others from the same state as I. Not only are there various ethnicities to learn, but one becomes accustomed to this world of billiards that differs from normal life. Billiards can teach someone both ways of making friends and various cognitive life tools. For example, pool is a problem-solving sport that allows one to look at the lay of the table and read what the next shot should be. Parallel to life, one must learn how to look at what they have and figure out what to do and where to go next. “Learning of the upmost importance occurs within our one-on-one experience, and it is the heart-to-heart, eye-to-eye conversations with our equals that provide us with life lessons that will extend further beyond our schooling years” (Picciano, par. 6).

I had the opportunity to get the personal scoop on the coach of Hofstra’s Billiards Club. Hammad Imran is not only the coach of the school’s team, but he is the captain for the American Pool Association (APA) team at Hofstra; a team that competes against other adult teams in Nassau County on Sunday nights. He is in the process of completing his Masters in Science and Finance here at Hofstra University. Hammad brings his talents, garnered from over five years of play, to the other students downstairs. If pool skills isn’t what one wants to learn from him, go on over to the ping pong table---after all, he is ranked number one in the area. From talking to him, Hammad explains billiards as, “an opportunity to play competitively with a variety of different players on and off campus” (Irman). That’s the best part, too! One does not have to be nervous when playing for the first time because there are so many players of different levels. Translated, that means that someone who is super good does not have to play a beginner. Even if one is to play someone of a higher level, they have a chance to learn something they did not know before. Again, everyone is amenable and caring downstairs, almost like a little family, and is willing to show and teach some tricks and shots that will help mold others into better players.    

Now, this idea of talking to anyone does not just apply to ethnicity, but also to gender. The game room happens to be a man-led territory. For women at Hofstra, it is a good way to immerse oneself into this community of men that share a common interest. This is also a beneficial way to break out of one’s comfort zone if one has an issue talking to people of the opposite sex. One can also see the game room as a way to stay in one's happy place and keep one's internal homeostasis intact. For someone like me, I am completely fine spending my time with a group of guys because that's what my household is like and mostly what my friend group back home consists of. On a campus where every other place puts anxiety on my comfort level, it is nice to know that I have a place to escape to that I am accepted in, even if I am the only girl down there. Don’t get me wrong; guys feel the stress of trying to fit in, too, but they just do a better job of hiding it. So, let it be known that the other men down in the game room are super cool and willing to open up and hang out. It is a healthy environment for friendship. I promise.

With friendship and techniques comes unexpected opportunities. Developing fresh and useful skills for the future is something a lot of college kids are worried about. In essence, billiards becomes the perfect trifecta for improving one’s health, meeting brand-new people, and learning something exciting to apply to something else. The act of dialogue that can occur when playing pool with someone builds communication skills that can be utilized in the future. Even when one lines up a shot, the critical thinking section of the brain fires up. Also, playing billiards against someone else can help us pick up on visual cues and read the body language of others around them. These skills become assets for students for when they are in job interviews or meeting with important people. Instead of pool following Paulo Freire’s “Banking Concept of Education,” in which, “ the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat” (Freire, par. 5), one can receive, understand, and employ these critical thinking abilities, learned through playing pool, and apply them to situations in the future. People should know that they can physically learn, live, and experience things instead of robotically spewing back information.

In just seven weeks of being consumed by this environment, I have already done something I never thought I would do. At the age of eighteen, I am in bars on Sunday nights for fun. It is fair to add that I am on the APA Hofstra Billiards Team captained by Hammad, and they allow me to compete against the other adults in the area. I may not win every game I play, but I get the opportunity to not only put my newfound prowess to the test, but also meet many characters from around here. One of my favorite people I have met so far is a man named Jesse who is actually an alumni of Hofstra. Throughout the games, he talked to our group about possibly starting an alumni tournament at the university, which I thought would be a cool way to integrate the graduates and the current students in a friendly game. So, no, I guess I am not doing something everyone else does, but instead, I am gaining maturity and tools for the future.

By now, I have probably played pool for a combination of thirty hours since starting this assignment. I have learned to expand my little fish fins and swim to this territory of comfort to learn some techniques from my friends. I encourage other students to explore the game room a little more, and find something they like to do. Like I said, a lot of interesting people are down there and are willing to pull anyone into this fun and electric environment of crazy antics and inside jokes that keeps us laughing for hours. Even if one may think they aren’t good at something, don’t worry! Picciano told us not to worry about that and just embrace it. Learning how to deal with stress, making new friends, and building skills/ opening new doors is the true meaning to growing up, so don’t worry about it and just have fun while you can.

Works Cited

Corbett, Bob. “PAULO FREIRE: CHAPTER 2 OF PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED.” Philosophy of Education -- Chapter 2: Pedagogy of the Oppressed,

Irman, Hammad. Personal Interview. 11 Oct. 2017.

Weber, Deanna. “Leaping out of the Cave and into the Light,” Taking Giant Steps. N.p., 20 Oct. 2017. Web.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

“The Kids Are the Didgeridoo: A Musical Study of Society in WALKABOUT” by Brittany McGowan

Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout is a story not only of survival but a story of cultural solidarity, clashing societies, and lack of knowledge. His film is full of extreme symbolism and representation moving from the music to the characters to the societies they are from.

The film opens up with a montage of the two main wealthy, privileged, white, British children going about their daily routine: toys and mindless vocal lessons held up by the long, unsettling blare of the didgeridoo. The low, loud hum sets the wild tone of the overall film and foreshadows the coming events the children will experience. A common practice in film, the opening music establishes the feel of the film as a whole: unsettling. The native Australian instrument does not, however, match up with the film imagery of the opening montage, which then foreshadows the cultural differences between the two children and the Aboriginal boy later in the film. The montage would match up better with music that establishes the everyday hustle-and-bustle of privileged children rather than the ominous hum of the Outback. The didgeridoo is out of its habitat.

When the children go on their picnic, they bring a radio. The radio is playing modern music in the middle of the desert. The music, although matching with the picnic, does not match the barren desert surroundings. As the children head deeper into the Outback, choral music plays as the camera zooms out to a wide shot of the dry landscape. Much like the didgeridoo and the opening sequence, the calm choral music featuring the voices of children mentioning finding the light does not match up with the gravity of the situation that the siblings have gotten themselves into. A few minutes later in the film, the children climb to the top of a mountain to try and see where they are. At this point, uplifting orchestral music begins. The score initially matches up with the shots of the view, but after some thought, the audience remembers again that these young children are lost in the Australian wilderness with nothing except for some toys, a radio, limited food leftover from the failed attempt at a picnic, and their uniforms. Uplifting orchestral music might be enhancing the beauty of the view, but it is fighting the dangers in the story.

The music in the film has a habit of not corresponding with its scenery or situation that it should be enhancing. In a way, the music represents the children. The grumble of the didgeridoo is extremely out of place in the urban environment it was introduced in. In the wilderness, the choral and orchestral scores do not match up with the dangers of the wilderness, thus showing cultural separations. The children, with the radio, have their own music, appearing very out of place. In the desert, the children are out of their natural urban environment with their lack of survival skills and dress shoes. The music turns the story completely over from the opening montage to the rest of the film. The children become just as out of place as the didgeridoo in the city. The music represents one of the many cultural and societal differences in the film.

The didgeridoo is the oldest wind instrument known to mankind. “Researchers have suggested it may be the world's oldest musical instrument, over 40,000 years old” (“Didgeridoo Facts”). Throwing this instrument in to support footage of then-modern society immediately shows how drastic the differences in the film will be. Once the situation is flipped, with orchestra, choral, and modern radio music supporting the native Australian desert, the music supports the children, enhancing how out of place they are. The children go through their journey with no survival skills. They are modern people paired with an ancient civilization. “Australia’s Aboriginal civilization is the oldest on the planet, dating back some 50,000 years” (Klein). This film takes the two most societal extremes and makes them work together. Unfortunately, these two societies and habitats do not know how to work together. The teenage girl, who takes a leadership position trekking across the desert, has hardly any survival skills and no knowledge of how to attempt to communicate with the Native.

The older sister, not really having made any drastic survival errors since the decision to run deeper into the desert (which got the two into the mess that is the rest of the film), makes her first mistake. As the two children are sitting down, taking a break, the young boy mentions that he is hungry. His sister tells him that he should eat salt. She claims to have gotten that idea from her uncle, who ate salt in the army. The mistake is that salt is a solute. Now, the girl’s uniform indicates that the school she goes to is private and expensive. Generally, these schools have a good academic standing. Such schools would also teach their students that eating salt will cause them to become dehydrated, even though it should be common sense. Most children know that if they were to pour salt on a snail or slug it would cause the creature to shrivel up and die because the salt extracts the moisture. The young boy, of course, eats the salt. In the next scene, the boy appears to be rendered unconscious; most likely due to a combination of the lack of food, overexposure to intense sunlight, and lack of water with too much salt. This is the first real indication that her prestigious education has taught her not much that is of use.

Within the next few minutes of the film, the girl makes crucial errors. After the two find a watering hole, they decide to bathe in it and attempt to clean their clothes. It is implied that they do this before filling up their water bottle, since in the next scene, the boy complains about not filling up the water bottle. The girl also snaps at her brother, telling him to try and find his blazer because “We don’t want people thinking we’re a couple of tramps” (Roeg 23:14), even though, at this point in the film, there is no one to be found. A few minutes later, the girl tells her brother not to walk through the mud that was once their precious watering hole because it might ruin his good shoes. Apparently walking through the desert in dress shoes is not enough to ruin them.     

Education is the first notice (since the musical symbolism) in the film that separates the children. Right after they approach the Aboriginal boy, the girl asks him where they are. The boy yells at his sister to ask the stranger for water. She continues to get more and more frustrated when she realizes that the Native cannot understand her language and makes no attempt to try and build a connection so that he can understand her needs. It is not until the brother pipes up and motions for water that the Aboriginal boy understands and helps them. The girl’s education clearly has not taught her basic communication. It has separated her from her surroundings, engulfing her in a cultural and societal bubble. Privatized education, or just western-civilization-style education in general, leaves out basic common sense and survival. It would be more understandable to leave out survival skills if she was still in England, but now, being in Australia, with desert surrounding most points of advanced civilization, survival is key. Her logic is barely present. Education and knowledge are two entirely different things. The girl has her education, but she has no legitimate knowledge that can help her in situations outside of her comfort zone. She is more concerned about her social status than she is about survival.

Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important or worth finishing; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even. The habits taught in large-scale organizations are deadly (Gatto).

We are all a victim of failed education. We are taught what the government wants us to know, but not what we necessarily need to know. “We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing” (Emerson). Once we are thrown out of the environment we know, all we can rely on is our past education and experience. Yes, the children’s actions were not thought through because in the world of film, actions are done up exponentially so to be obvious and prove a point. Once we are thrown out of our environment, we become the children. We become the didgeridoo of our own story.

Works Cited

Gatto, John Taylor. "Quotes About Education System (114 quotes)." Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web.  02 Mar. 2017.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Quotes About Education System (114 quotes)." Goodreads. N.p., n.d.  Web. 02 Mar. 2017.

Klein, Christopher. "DNA Study Finds Aboriginal Australians World's Oldest Civilization." A&E Television Networks, 23 Sept. 2016. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.

"Didgeridoo Facts, Didgeridoo History & Aboriginal Music Knowledgebase | Didgeridoo Breath Australia." Didgeridoo Facts, Didgeridoo History & Aboriginal Music Knowledgebase | Didgeridoo Breath Australia. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.

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

Friday, February 9, 2018

“An Eye to WALKABOUT: Little Mother” by Chelsea Miller

Nothing in the world is like a mother’s love, except the love of a motherly big sister. When I watched the film, Walkabout, directed by Nicolas Roeg, I originally thought the teenage girl was the little boy’s mother because of the way she looked out for him. I later discovered that she was in fact the older sister when we discussed the film as a class. Throughout the film, the girl is forced to act as a mother to her little brother and makes seemingly nonsensical decisions which I relate to on a personal level. Many people misread the sister because her actions don’t seem to make sense, but as a motherly sister there is a method to her madness.
In the beginning of the film, when the father starts shooting at the little boy, the sister’s first instinct was not to hide, but to protect her little brother (Roeg, 0:9:44). She risked her life to protect him, which was the first sign of her motherly attitude towards the boy. It is likely that the girl began developing her motherly instinct toward her brother because of her father. From what little was seen of the father, it seemed that he was unstable and potentially abusive which may have caused the daughter to grow up faster and feel the need to protect the little boy. Similar to the girl, I am very motherly and protective of my siblings because my parents did not play as big of a role as they should have, although the situation was not as extreme. Of course having a motherly nature does not mean that we always make the best decisions.
Often we put the security of our siblings before practicality and common sense. The sister engendered many questionable decisions which made surviving and getting home much more challenging but made sense to her at the time. For instance, instead of  following the car tracks back home, the older sister took her brother into the middle of nowhere without gathering proper supplies from the picnic spread. There was an important reason she went in the opposite direction from where they came from. She was protecting her brother from the horrific sight by walking away from the car wreckage and their dead father, rather than towards it. 
In our class discussion and in the essays written by my peers, many people think the girl is only to prove how stupid western civilization has become and fail to see the deeper meaning behind her actions. They see her making bad decisions like not stocking up on supplies and label her as dumb and brainwashed by civilization. I felt the same way, until I took a second look at her actions. It is important to try to understand what she is going through; she is feeling overwhelmed but is still doing the best she can. After all she is still just a kid who just saw her father kill himself, and now she has to care for her little brother while trying to get back home when she doesn’t even know where they are.  When she goes to grab food from the picnic, she doesn’t take everything which seems really stupid (Roeg, 0:11:26). You would think that grabbing everything useful is the only logical thing to do in that situation, right? Well, not exactly. When the sister was grabbing stuff, she knew she had to be really quick because she didn’t have a lot of time. Even though the sister had told her brother to stay put while she packed the supplies, she knew it was only a matter of time before her brother would get curious and try to see what was going on and stumble across the wreckage. So, in order to preserve her brother’s innocence, the girl sacrificed taking time to think about what she was taking with her.
While caring about appearances may seem stupid and useless when trying to survive, it is actually very important. Maintaining a proper appearance was a way of coping with the situation, acting as if everything was normal to ensure the little brother did not have to also deal with worrying about being lost. The girl wanted the small child to keep his shirt on for this reason, as well as protect his skin from getting a sunburn. Similarly, I had to keep my two siblings from being scared every time my parents started screaming at each other, when I was just as scared as they were, if not more. I did not want my siblings to think that our parents might get divorced like I feared. Both the girl and I had to keep a stiff upper lip and keep the truth from our younger siblings, and often the easiest way to do that is by acting as if nothing is wrong.
As motherly older sisters, we will go to great lengths to keep our siblings safe and worry free. Sometimes that means lying to their faces to preserve their innocence, assuring them that everything is fine when it is definitely not fine. The sister and I have both lied to our siblings many times so that they would not worry about the troubling circumstances while we dealt with the stress on our own. In the film, when the little boy asked why they were leaving their father who the girl who had just seen commit suicide, the girl told her brother that their father said “to go on ahead” and he would catch up to them (Roeg, 0:11:58). She also had to reassure the child that they were not lost, even though it was clear the indeed were. Lying is not something protective sisters enjoy doing, but we’ll do it if it will put our loved ones at ease.

To keep her brother from worrying, the girl also tried to make being in the outback seem like an adventure, turning boring things like walking into a game. While the boy went on the pretend adventure, the mini-mom could not relax because she was responsible for keeping an eye on him and had to find a way back to civilization while also dealing with lot of stress. It wasn’t until after they met the aborigine boy, who relieved her of some of the burden, that she was able to let her guard down and enjoy herself alongside her brother. After the death of the aborigine boy and  their return to civilization, the sister reverted back to the uptight motherly mentality which she had before.
Like mothers, older sisters may not be perfect, but they do their best to look out for the younger children. Many things they do can seem impractical or counterproductive, but there’s almost always a reason behind the strange actions. That reason is almost always to ensure the physical and mental well being of tiny people are the most important things, and motherly people will go to great lengths to ensure it. It is unfortunate when children are forced to grow up early to take on a parenting role, their innocence and youth taken from them too soon and replaced with the burden of responsibility. Under the right circumstances, those burdens can be lessened, allowing them to once again be carefree. The parental mentality is something one can never truly escape, returning the moment those burdens resurface. At the end of the film, it shows the girl, who has now grown up, looking back and regretting that she did not loosen up and enjoy herself more when she was younger because she was so focused on being a replacement mother to her little brother. A big sister’s love is so strong that she will forsake her youth and innocence to protect  her siblings.

Works Cited

Walkabout. Dir. Nicolas Roeg. Twentieth Century Fox, 1971

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Putting Masculinity on the Chopping Block" by Benny Gottwald

In raising me, my father gave me a simple privilege and spared me a tremendous task: he always allowed me to cry and never ordered me to be a man.

“Everybody gets sad or scared sometimes,” he would tell me consolingly. He had no impulse to shout nor scold, let alone demand that I be stoic and unassailable. Instead, my father taught me to channel my negative energy, not to ignore it; to interpret my emotions, not to block them out; to express myself because I finally understand my feelings, not because I have been captive to them. On the other hand, I also recognize the rarity of my father’s method—a style of parenting liberated from the code of masculinity, seeking a higher plateau of emotional literacy and universal principle—and I see that many fathers continue to steer their sons towards old-school machismo. From generation to generation, the male code of conduct, along with its misogynistic and emotional handicaps, continues to intertwine itself within the status quo. For the sake of every man—relentlessly driven by society to be the alpha male, to hide his sensitivity, to never appear vulnerable—masculinity needs a new perspective.

Film director Jamie Uys offers such a perspective in his 1980 film, The Gods Must Be Crazy. While masculinity is just one of the many undertones of the film’s shifty and enthralling plot, Uys’ depiction of the social climate of 1980’s South Africa imposes a much needed juxtaposition upon the concept of the male. The classic film begins, as veteran film critic Roger Ebert observes, “. . . with a Coke bottle falling from the heavens” (Ebert par. 1). Tossed out of plane and into the undergrowth of the Kalahari Desert, the ubiquitous byproduct of the civilized world becomes both a tool and an object of jealousy when a Xhosa-speaking Bushman, Xi, discovers it and brings it to his tribe. Convinced that the object is a gift from their gods, Xi and his family quickly find many uses for the bottle: as a tool for curing snakeskin, as a mallet, even as a musical instrument. “But the gods had been careless,” the film’s voiceover describes, “They had sent only one. Now, for the first time in their lives, here was a thing which could not be shared. . . unfamiliar emotions began to stir, a feeling of wanting to own, of not wanting to share. Other new things came: anger, jealousy, hate and violence” (Uys 10:25). Seeing this tension build, Xi, played by indigenous actor N!xau, resolves to walk for days on end, to what the Bushmen call “the end of the Earth,” in order to throw the bottle into the sea (Uys 15:02).

As Xi’s journey unfolds, Uys playfully ensures that it is joined by three other characters, each with their own progressing storyline: the communist gang leader, Sam Boga, on the run after orchestrating a botched assassination attempt; a female journalist, Kate Thompson, who decides to journey into Botswana to become a school teacher; and a nervous, self-conscious microbiologist, Andrew Steyn, collecting animal droppings in the Kalahari for the sake of science. Viewers of Uys’ film bear witness to the complex social and political terrain of South Africa during the Apartheid, yet they also see masculinity’s chokehold on the society. Topics like self-expression, manliness, and the treatment of women are all commented on. The characters in The Gods Must Be Crazy, especially the male ones, embody differing takes on how men should act, and how they should behave around women. The issues they create, and the manner in which those issues are resolved, critique and expose masculinity, putting it exactly where it should be: on the chopping block.

Tony Porter was one of the first men to give such a crucial critique of masculinity. In his 2010 Ted talk, A Call to Men, he brought to the chopping block what he called “the collective socialization of men,” otherwise known as the “man box.” He began his talk with his story: “Growing up as a boy, we were taught that men had to be tough, had to be strong, had to be courageous, dominating — no pain, no emotions, with the exception of anger — and definitely no fear; that men are in charge, which means women are not” (Porter 0:11). As he elucidates the social climate of his birthplace, Porter in turn describes the societal context of the male code—the ramifications of which also apply to 1980’s South Africa and, by extension, the setting of Jamie Uys’ film.
Of the characters in The Gods Must Be Crazy, Andrew Steyn contrasts most blatantly against the physical and emotional backdrop of his surroundings. While he is incredibly knowledgeable of the Kalahari environment, his scientific acumen is not matched with a strong sense of self or of others. One day, while Andrew is at his campground—his aide and companion, Mpudi, hard at work fixing their Land Rover—a Christian reverend from a nearby town arrives. He tells Steyn that a new schoolteacher is coming to Botswana and implores Steyn to drive through the African desert to pick her up. Being a capable person who understands of the lay of the land, Andrew is only reluctant for one reason: “Reverend,” he says, “I’m very awkward around women.” When the reverend replies, “Aren’t we all,” Steyn elaborates, “No, it’s not like that. When I’m in the presence of a lady, my brain switches off or something. I turn into a complete idiot” (Uys 29:10). While Steyn eventually acquiesces, Uys brings his awkwardness around Kate to the forefront of their interactions. His inability to purport himself normally complicates their every encounter in some way; it creates sexual tension, and even portrays Andrew as clumsy and dumb. In reality, he is merely trying to accommodate Kate in an environment that she is not accustomed to. Nonetheless, the viewer sees his efforts as being inexperienced incidents of amateur courtship.
In and of themselves, the hijinks that occur between Andrew and Kate offer an interesting take on masculinity and the social dynamic of masculine and feminine interaction. However, this is not the entirety of Uys’ depiction of manhood; he further complicates the scenario with another male character. When the difficult Kalahari landscape takes its toll on Andrew’s Land Rover, he and Kate are forced to camp out for a night. The delay concerns the reverend, who sends Jack Hind to retrieve Kate. Jack is presented in many ways as the antithesis of Andrew—a tan, suave, enterprising safari guide who drives a double-decker tour bus with a built-in bar and speaker system. He arrives the next day to retrieve Kate, and his presence immediately changes the power structure of the film’s characters. Viewers who have been shown Andrew’s immense capacity for intelligence, curiosity, and skill have their attention redirected in an unwelcoming way.
Jack seems to have everything he wants, and carries himself accordingly. Uys shows him taking Kate by the arm as he guides her out of Andrew’s car, asking her if she would care to “travel in style for a change,” pouring her a drink, all in an overtly macho fashion. He speaks and acts as if he is fresh, flawless, and fearless—all of these being traits considered optimal in a man. However, Uys doesn’t spare him an ego either; his sense of unswallowable pride dominates his character. This egoism can be heard best in the rodomontade he utters to Kate when they part ways from Andrew and Mpudi: “By the way, I am Jack Hind. The Reverend's worried. He got to me on the short-wave, so I offered to look for you and that was very sweet of me” (Uys 59:41).
The inflation of Jack’s esteem and the deflation of Andrew’s owe themselves to the same concept: the code of masculinity, the “man box.” Not only do cultural norms of machismo dictate how men see themselves and interact with other men, they stereotype the way in which men treat women too. However, when the circumstances of masculinity are liberated from the gender norms that conceal them, one recognizes the fact that no distinction needs to be made between how the genders are individually treated. Instead, it is best to regard people simply as human beings, with the categories of gender relieved of their influences. The misapprehension that men must talk differently and act differently in the presence of other men versus the presence of women is a mere figment of culture—the sort of culture which Tony Porter asserts should be done away with. In his TED Talk, he also commented on the detrimental associations made by gender:
I can remember speaking to a 12-year-old boy, a football player, and I asked him, I said, "How would you feel if, in front of all the players, your coach told you were playing like a girl?" Now I expected him to say something like, I'd be sad; I'd be mad; I'd be angry, or something like that. No, the boy said to me, "It would destroy me." And I said to myself, "God, if it would destroy him to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls? [Porter 4:42]

There is no way to answer Porter’s question kindly. The unfortunate truth is that the socialization of men can represent harmful and misogynistic values, such as the ones that surface during one conversation between Andrew and Mpudi. As Andrew mentally rehearses his plan to apologize to Kate for his awkwardness, the two discuss the ‘right way’ to act around women. Mpudi mentions his seven wives, and an illuminating dialogue ensues:

Mpudi: You've gotta smile, man, and tell her she looks good. 

Steyn: How come suddenly you're an expert on women? 

Mpudi: I got seven wives. How many you got? 

Steyn: So why aren't you at home with your seven wives? 

Mpudi: I know how to marry them. Nobody knows how to live with them. 

Steyn: So, what did you marry them for? 

Mpudi: Someday I have to tell you the facts of life. [Uys 1:03:51]

While Mpudi’s beliefs (and the beliefs of his culture at large) may see these norms as ‘facts of life,’ the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir saw them as the paralyzing circumstances of women in society. In her book, The Second Sex, she made an observation that incidentally combines two of Uys’ plot points—Jack Hind’s efforts to pamper Kate, and Mpudi’s marriage to seven wives—proving them to be two sides of the same coin:

Women have been given ‘protectors’, and if they are invested with the rights of the old-time guardians, it is in woman’s own interest. To forbid her working, to keep her at home, is to defend her against herself and to assure her happiness. We have seen what poetic veils are thrown over her monotonous burdens . . . counselling man to treat her as a slave while persuading her that she is a queen. [Beauvoir par. 10]

In both of Jack and Mpudi’s behaviors, the same harmful idea is communicated. Masculinity such as this becomes two-faced in the presence of femininity: its culture attempts to disguise dominance as benevolence. This is why masculinity must be put on the chopping block; its code has normalized values that debilitate not only men, but women as well.

Where then, in The Gods Must Be Crazy, can one find values that encourage masculinity’s much-needed revisions? By the end of the film, when the villainous Sam Boga is finally caught, when Xi finally hurls the evil Coke bottle into the sea, there is one character who Uys’ eventually depicts as being aware of what makes a man good: Kate. It becomes evident as the film ends, when there is one more thing that Andrew must do; he drives to the school where Kate now teaches, and tries one more time to explain himself to her. As per usual, he appears skittish and clumsy, but at his core he shows those same values that my father imparted to me; he has a strong will to clearly and honestly express himself, he willingly abides in situations where he does not have the power, and is not afraid to expose his flaws for the better. Kate sees through his nervous mien, and recognizes these traits. She comes to wholeheartedly appreciate his humanity alone, and abandons any want of machismo. As the story ends, Andrew is the one she kisses.

What makes a man good can be deceptive; gender norms distort the true definition of masculinity. While Jack looks and acts like a seemingly great man, the ideas that make him so are much less beneficial to society. He radiates a sense of masculinity riddled with concealment, bravado, and excessive stoicism. Kate could have chosen Jack in the end, but that would have made the story end much differently. In that case, while the villain would have finally been caught, the kind of man that really needed defeating would have won; luckily, that was not Uys’ idea, and The Gods Must Be Crazy is not that film. Instead, Uys ties the knot on the last scene with a farewell to machismo; he shows his audience how easily masculinity can be cut in two when one is brave enough to put it on the chopping block.
Benny and his dad

Works Cited

Beauvoir, Simone De. "The Second Sex, Conclusion." N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

The Gods Must Be Crazy. Dir. Jamie Uys. Perf. Marius Weyers, Sandra Prinsloo, and N!xau. New Realm, 1980.

Ebert, Roger. "The Gods Must Be Crazy Movie Review (1981)." N.p., 01 Jan. 1981. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Porter, Tony. "A Call to Men." TEDX. TedX Women 2010, Washington DC. 30 Mar. 2017. Lecture.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

#FirstWorldProblems: Looking at THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY by Maggy Pollicino

“I hate when my phone charger won’t reach my bed”
“When I go to the bathroom and I forget my phone”
 “I hate it when my neighbors block their WiFi”
“When my mint gum makes my ice water taste too cold”
(“First World Problems Anthem)

How nice it must be to enjoy a nice glass of water, and have it taste cold, no less.  How nice it must be to have gum that comes in a brightly colored package made from ink that also makes crayons, school books, and coloring pages in the aisles preceding the checkout counter where the gum was purchased.  How nice it must be that the gum was probably placed next to a small red refrigerator containing the gloriously tasting bubbly cancer water that consumers can conveniently purchase in singles, six, and twelve packs for even more guzzling fun at a fraction of the price.  How nice it must be to be able to hear that satisfying *spritz* of carbonation and have the bottle additionally act as a cooling mechanism for foreheads suffering under the beating sun adjacent to the brightly lined swimming pool.  How nice it must to have the opportunity to casually throw that bottle out of a plane during a thrilling adventure through the sky, littering the ground below, without any consequences.  How nice it must be to be rid of that bottle since it was taking up the cup holder space where the next bottle will rest. 

How nice indeed it would be to be rid of that bottle, thought Xi, the protagonist of The Gods Must Be Crazy, a film directed by Jamie Uys (Baden, par. 1).  As a Bushman living the Kalahari Desert, the most advanced technology that Xi has ever experienced is two sticks coming together to make fire---up until this strange thing fell from the sky.  One would think that this thing, or as modern civilization calls it, a Coca Cola bottle, would be a great addition to his family’s life style.  It is hard and sturdy; it can act as a rolling pin; it can be used to store water or dried meat; they could even break it and use the sharp edges to more easily cut meat and wood.  But with all of the good that comes with the bottle, there is also evil that infiltrates Xi’s family.  Not only was it prone for fingers to get stuck in (Uys 9:44), but since there was only one, it could not be shared, so it brought about selfishness, envy, anger, hate, and even violence (Uys, 10:44-11:18).  Probably the most interesting feeling the bottle brought was the feeling of need for something the Bushmen never needed before.

A need for something they never needed before, even when the circumstances have not changed?  What an oxymoron! This is the reality of many modern civilizations. When a thing appears, or is invented for convenience, after a couple of generations, people cannot fathom getting by without it.  There is just absolutely no way that a person can function with a hairline crack in their iPhone, especially when the new edition has just come out.  It is preposterous to suggest that somebody should hang their clothes out on a fence to dry when the machine has broken down.  Oh dear, there is no WiFi or 4G LTE; without Google Maps getting lost is a definite.  A real map?  Made of paper and everything?  But if Siri is not there to tell one when to turn, then the map is useless.  This is the mind set of many modern civilizations.  While helpful in everyday life with communication, convenience, and creativity, the excessive use of ‘stuff’ has become the true first world problem. 

The trend #FirstWorldProblems was obviously meant to be a joke.  But what is the point of the joke?  Perhaps it is to make people feel better about themselves for not caring about the children and adults in Haiti who recited some of these ‘first world problems’ in the video “First World Problems Anthem.” The true problem is that new generations are not taking these as jokes anymore, but rather, conceiving them as real problems.  Children are so privileged now that the biggest problem in their lives is peeing without Fruit Ninja when there are some children who have never seen a piece of fresh fruit in their lives. What is worse is that the children are so privileged that they do not understand what is wrong with that picture. They do not understand how this dependence on ‘stuff’ impacts them, because they have never known a weekend without their cell phones.  They have never finished a magnificent 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a wild animal when they had to stay home from school because of a fever, or created blaring music with pots and pans to the beat of the thunder claps on a rainy day, and they certainly have never considered that these seemingly harmless tools are unconsciously making them unhappy. They cannot conceive living without this ‘stuff.’

Xi’s family however, knows that there is no way that they can live with ‘stuff’ without being unhappy.  The Bushman tribe sees that this simple tool, although helpful, also tore apart their family and their values.  Now, the rise of ‘stuff,’ specifically technology like smart phones and social media, is very beneficial in some ways.  Society can spread news and keep in touch with loved ones on the other side of the world.  That is nothing short of amazing. One woman says “…technology does keep me in touch with people I wouldn't necessarily have the time to meet with face-to-face on a regular basis” (Cafferty, par. 13) which is generally true for most people, as well.  But the same woman also says “I think that we need to have good technology etiquette while in public” (Cafferty, par. 13).  It seems that humans have lost the ability to effectively interact with other humans in person, with the exception of a few in close circles.

It has become a challenge amongst the species to not look at one’s phone for longer than five minutes instead of filling a silence with substantial conversation.  Children can hardly think of games to play with each other that do not involve iPads, let alone that involve being outside and getting their hands dirty.  It seems that the most substantial conversations some children are capable of is telling another how much they love another’s possessions, and how they wished their parents would buy them more gifts.  The Bushman children in the film have never had a case of the ‘gimmes’ because they have always shared and appreciated what Mother Nature has given them.  They are not bored to tears without a virtual bird to fling at a pig because “their games are cute and inventive” (Uys, 4:33).  It is clear to most people that technology, while extremely convenient and helpful, also has certain detrimental factors to the human race.   But being an extremely self-oriented species who refused to adapt himself to his environment, and instead he built his environment to suit him” (Uys, 6:15), what many people fail to notice is that the true first world problem is that all of this ‘stuff’ is killing the ‘first world’ that they live in.

The Story of Stuff is a twenty-minute film that was released in 2007 by humans who are green with love for Nature in attempt to educate other humans who are green with envy.  The initiative was to educate people about where this ‘stuff’ that they hold so near and dear comes from; how it is made, who is involved in making them, and the impact this ‘stuff’ has on the environment pre, during, and post-production.  Annie Leonard, writer and narrator of the film tells her audience that the system of production is in crisis because “…it is a linear system and we live on a finite planet and you cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely” (par. 3).  Leonard explains the first step in this system of production: extraction.  Extraction of what?  Natural resources of course, but perhaps exploitation is a more fitting word.  Just one example would be an electronic device.  The inside of almost any battery powered item comes from the mountains that were blown to bits causing groundwater contamination, damage to the foundations of surrounding houses, and impacting local climates (Pachiolli, par. 15).  People justify the mountain blasting by having a mindset of ‘But this helps the world to go paperless, the trees will be saved!’ What many people do not realize is that there are thousands of non-paper products that come from trees.  Just a few of these things that humans use every day are toilet seats, rubber, and our own clothing (wisconsincountyforests par. 1, 3).

It is not just trees however, that industry exploits; in the last thirty years alone, the world has consumed one third of Earth’s natural resources (Leonard, par. 11).  One third in thirty years.  The first humans began to evolve from apes between four and eight million years ago (Wikipedia, par.9), modern humans evolved 200,000 years ago, and civilization came about between six and seven thousand years ago (Howell, par. 1), but somehow, our species has managed to suck up almost half of the Mother Earth’s resources in less than a lifetime.  And just in the United States alone, Leonard tells us “we have less than 4% of our original forests left. Forty percent of waterways have become undrinkable… We [The U.S.] has 5% of the world’s population but we’re consuming 30% of the world’s resources and creating 30% of the world’s waste” (par. 13, 14). Many countries, especially the United States, exploit third world countries for their resources in order to effectively take more than their share of Earth’s gifts.  The result?  Poverty, disease, famine, dirty water, no water, and of course, no natural resources.  No plants to clean the air.  No trees to prevent mudslides.  No mountains to maintain the rainforests and deserts.  Land so barren that nothing can grow.  Far less animals to balance out the ecosystem.  There are even far less animals for food, so to solve that problem, humans choose to tear down forests, killing millions of more animals, to make room for the factories that will breed millions of other animals who will be inhumanely killed for their meat and who’s skin will be tossed away or be processed with bleach, glue, and other poisons to trick pet owners into thinking that it is a great treat for a dog.  If only people were more like Xi, who humanely tranquilizes his deer, apologizes to it, and slaughters it after it is asleep so that it does not feel pain (Uys, 5:00).  He even uses the skin and carcass for water pouches, shelter, tools, and clothing.

Developed countries have been living in such an advanced way for so long that it is unrealistic to attempt to live like the Bushmen.  However, minimalizing consumerism on items that a person is capable of living without or can have access to right in their own backyard is a great way to simplify their everyday life.  Growing one’s own vegetables for example is a fantastic way to get fresh and tasty food while also purifying the air around one’s house.  Cleaning out one’s closet for donations monthly or bi-monthly is a good way to give back to the community while slowly but surely allowing one to realize that they do not need a wardrobe that is bursting at the seams to get by.  Allotting a 15-minute period each day that will be ‘technology free’ is a simple way to allow a person to relax and focus on themselves, be more productive domestically, or have a face to face conversation with someone.  This can even become a goal oriented activity for a person, working their way up to an hour or two a day of no technology. Though none of these changes appear to significantly counter the mass destruction of the planet, it is important that life style alterations are made, no matter how big or small.

In Xi’s family, “they believe the gods put only good and useful things on the Earth for them to use” (Uys, 3:09).  There is no need for them to exploit certain resources, because everything has a good use.  They do not have problems of one person having more than another because there is plenty of what Mother Nature provides for everyone.  They do not need to make new discoveries or new ways of doing things because they are perfectly content with what they have.  Nobody in their family suffers, nobody is lacking, and nobody is unsatisfied because they have the respect for one another and the Earth to be able to live fruitfully without living excessively.  There is no distinction of first and third worlds because they recognize that they are all children of the same Earth, the same gods, and that there is no need for such a separation of their brothers and sisters. Xi’s family even briefly experienced what it was like to live “excessively”, and it did not take long for them to choose to go back to their traditional lifestyle.  The Bushmen live in a harsh and dry world, but yet their Earth is bright blue and lush green.  Modern society lives in an abundant and plenty world, but yet our Earth is an oily black and barren brown. It is apparent in the film how one single piece of technology destroys a family, so how come modern societies are blind to how endless pieces of technology are destroying their very own ‘first world?’ 

Works Cited

Cafferty, Jack. "Technology Replacing Personal Interactions at What Cost?" CNN. Cable News        Network, 3 Jan. 2011. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

Howell, Elizabeth. "How Long Have Humans Been On Earth?" Universe Today. N.p., 23 Dec. 2015. Web. 01 Apr. 2017.
"Human." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Mar. 2017. Web. 01 Apr. 2017.
Leonard, Annie (director). The Story of Stuff. Free Range Studios. Dec. 2007. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Pacchioli, David. "Assesing the Human Impacts of Mountaintop Removal." N.p., n.d. Web.
"Products Made From Trees - Wisconsin County Forest Association." Wisconsin County Forests         Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Uys, Jamie (director). The Gods Must Be Crazy. Dir. Jamie Uys. New Realm, 1980. Film.