Beholders for Sale

Absolute Beauty?

To say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, gives the beholder waaay too much credit.

Remember the girl you envied in high school for her awesome “claw”-the towering, teased out bangs that hung somehow both above and over her forehead like a bear’s paw waiting to open up her scalp? Still like that look? What about the mullet? Was it really EVER a party in the back? How about super heavy eyebrows? If this could just return, not only could salons glue on expensive lashes as they do today, but costly fur-extensions above your eyes! But we decided somewhere in the 90s that, No, that’s just hideous. What about parachute pants, orange tans, or monochromatic suits and matching makeup?

Obviously, we cannot be trusted to judge what’s beautiful, because our own tastes not only shift, but can be shaped by a constant barrage of media images. Kate Moss’s body would not have ever been seen as lovely three hundred, maybe even a hundred-fifty years ago. Ditto for a young Arnold Scwarzenegger’s, believe it or not. Rubens’ chicks anyone? Those sexy dumplings. . .Want one now?

Not only that, our own emotions make us ripe for ignorance. A guy whom I had long thought was modelesque, once I figured out after a few dates how utterly dull he was, suddenly all I could see was that crusty yuck that always seemed to be collected on the edge of his pink-rimmed eyes. And don’t tell me that’s never happened to you, where how you felt shaped what you saw, (more so when you were young.) Luckily, for me, my husband loves me in a way that his desire overlooks my own crusty eyes, and Rubenesque tummy.

When I was young, I could NOT see what the rest of womankind saw in George Clooney; his acting on ER annoyed me so much, those times when he’d tilt his head down at an angle, so he could look at a woman through his lashes, with a mild sneer on his lips, the way he tossed his gelled hair (hat was actually untossable.) So. Heavy. Handed. Uggh. But. . .as his acting improved, and he stopped vamping, his beauty came into focus. I still prefer Benicio Del Toro, but again, can you really trust my fickle taste?

The scientists can do all the studies they want about the power of facial symmetry, but I’d say our tastes are so subjective to things beyond arithmetic, whom/what we call beautiful/attractive is a powerful commodity that plenty of industries (make-up, celebrities, art, fashion, home decor, cars, etc. ) want to control, and then own. That alone proves that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but in the hands of whatever industry wants a piece of our “taste.” So let’s not call our view subjective; let’s call it producjective.

When a Parent Backs Off

I have two sons, with almost eight years between them. On most days, watching us from a secret Big Brother-like camera, our interactions and love are enviable. Some days you might consider calling DEFACs, or whatever family services acronym works near you. Both of my sons are gifted, based on their IQs. Both sons, to varying degrees have ADHD; my youngest, whose ADD is bad enough to warrant meds. also suffers from dysgraphia, the outie to dyslexia’s innie, and a mild memory issue. These keep him locked in special education, rather than soaring in “gifted” classes.

All things school came easily to me. Sure, I whined over the real life value of torturous calculus, but once I stopped weeping, I did it. For my youngest, this is not the case, and it makes it hard for me to relate. The current structures of the American school system frustrate him even more than you could understand. He faces ridiculous tests that, being a teacher myself, I know often cover irrelevant information, or worse the test writers phrase questions in such a way that the original intent of the objective is lost.

(For example, “Objective: students will apply a variety of sentence patterns in their writing.” Resulting Multiple Choice Test Question: “Read the following sentence, then choose the correct pattern that correlates with these sentences” is different from being able to actually create varied sentences. Thus, kids are drilled on recognizing these pattern types. Worse this question carries as much weight as recognizing poor verb usage, because each objective gets a question on the multiple choice test. I think the average American should be able to use verbs, but not label a sentence’s pattern as SVDOIO, right? Do most people even KNOW what I just wrote?)

Besides pointless testing that determines his future, every year my son meets teachers who, because of pay for performance rules that measure their failure rate, seem less interested in breaking his code and reaching him than in covering their asses. From the moment they meet him they begin collecting evidence of why it isn’t their fault he is failing, and send me messages, which go straight into their files: “Your son is very smart but he did not do his work. Your son sat and stared off into space. Your son took an hour to do what took everyone else ten minutes.”. Then they dust off their hands and say to themselves, they’ve done all they can do.

Because there is controversy over the existence of ADHD, some teachers just shrug it off, and gossip among themselves about my parenting, thinking if I just took his video games away, that boy would learn to work. Duh. Why didn’t I think of that?

Apparently, I put my child into the stigma saturated hellhole called Special Ed, because I want him to have more time on his Play Station, playing Destiny. I’m trying to cover up his “poor work ethic” by damaging his reputation with riding “the short bus.”. I prefer him to be called “dumb” by his mainstreamed peers, rather than cracking the whip.

I go through this the first few months every school year until his teachers realize I mean business, and I expect them to do their jobs, explaining, “The fact that he stares off in to space and cannot easily put his words on a page is WHY he is in special Ed. You cannot simply say he isn’t working and then wash your hands of him. That’s like saying about your deaf students, they can’t hear my lessons. You’ll have to solve that at home.” They squirm and get pissed off and often decide to pit themselves against me, sending me little CYA notes almost everyday.

Apparently, in order to allow a child to fail, teachers just have to say, I assigned XYZ, and he didn’t do it.

But here’s the thing about special education. It is supposed to be SPECIAL. If you recognize that my child is “super smart” and YOU are the expert, then you need to figure out how to get knowledge into his head, and then glean evidence that he knows it in some other way.

When we were kids, teachers could do just that: shape a lesson in a special way for a special kid. Can you imagine Annie Sullivan trying to teach Helen Keller in today’s schools? Would she have said, “Ma’am, your child seemed to stare off into space when I assigned that reading passage. She fails because she didn’t complete her work.”. The girl went off to Princeton because she had a woman who cracked her code.

SO, each year, I get riled up; it takes me months to get teachers on board with the whole it is your JOB thing. I understand their frustration; I struggle during his homework time. ( I mean WHY does a kid who can do the word problem in his head have to explain his process in WORDS? Why can’t he just write the answer in numbers? And why does it take my kid two hours, filled with tears and hair loss.) I get the teachers’ frustration But they are his teachers not I. If I were,I could adjust his lessons; if I were, I’d have a special degree in his disability, right?

I was particularly riled up this past week, facing the, “your kid’s lazy” crap from a fresh batch of teachers. I have a number of “Twelve Steppers” in my life who advise me; from an anti-codependent stand point, trying to change his teachers is too controlling of me. I’m supposed to “let go and let God.” I hear, your son is old enough now, he can suffer his own consequences.

I heard the same advice when my oldest was in the ninth grade and not working up to his potential. But what if he flunks? Well, summer school. Well, what if he doesn’t get into a good college because of that! Well, he’ll figure it out on his own.

I yelled, punished, rewarded, all things a parent does to try and get their kid in line. But I eventually took the advice and let go. He got himself through, improving as time went on. He began improving. No, he did not go the Harvard, though he had the IQ. He goes to a community school by choice to save money, and lives at home still, and we have a calm, loving friendship now. The twelve steppers say it is because I backed off.

But I just don’t think that advice will work with my youngest. To say that he has to live with the consequences of his actions assumes he has a choice here. His disability doesn’t allow him many choices. He cannot choose to spell that word right or even notice it is wrong. He cannot choose to ignore the misbehaving kids in the next row (and special Ed classes lump learning and behavior problems together. There are plenty of actions he struggles to ignore.) So does that make me codependent because I am trying to control his education?

Really?

Sorry. I’d rather continue to mother him properly and be labelled a control freak than let him slip through the giant cracks in our education system. Too many of his teachers would be relieved to just ignore him.

The End of the B Movie! (aka The End of Quality)

Hollywood has always created both masterpieces and schlock. I have never felt that every movie produced needed to be the best possible work ever, though, if you’re going to do it, why not do your best, right? But, fine, there is a niche for cheap crap, or even expensive crap in the theaters; we used to call these B films. And rightfully, everyone involved knew it was a B film before selling or buying it.

Somehow it feels as if the movie industry has no concern, no recognition anymore for this boundary, trying to pass off B flicks as quality, oscar worthy films; it is destroying the joy of crap, for crap’s sake, and the thrill of masterpiece theater. Sure, in the past, a movie might really want to be great and it flopped, but at least you could tell someone was trying. But now there is a laziness, where, you can almost hear the director thinking, “Ah, who cares. It’s got a star. . .why worry about the quality. No one will notice.” (Think LONE RANGER for instance.) Enter ELYSIUM . .old news, but perfect to illustrate my point.

This movie in the ads, looked stellar: Can’t! Wait! Matt Damon? Jody Foster? It MUST be awesome! However the only redeemable element about this mess is how it gave the boys and me loads to discuss (read:criticize) in terms of its many distracting plot wrecks. We bonded as a family over our displeasure. It was neither a good film, or fun B Flick. And, spoiler alert, aside from being extremely derivative, and predictable, and self-righteous, here’s what we else couldn’t ignore in the film:

1. In almost two centuries into the future, The Wealthy escape to a segregated paradise in space because Earth is a polluted, starving hellhole-not just Delhi-Bad, but escape-the-planet bad. But. . .Where is the starvation? If so, how are there tons of people in every nook and cranny, but no dead bodies piling up as history proves there would be? Why does the granny peasant have a cart filled with fat swine, fresh pork on the hoof and no one is paying one lick of attention to her? No one is trying to knock the eighty year old over for the meat. (and how is granny moving the cart?) People are smeared with sweat and grime. . .implying hovels and outhouses, but there is clean running water coming from the taps. . .implying there is still an infrastructure.
2. There are still hospitals on Earth with doctors and nurses. So doctors-the wealthy class in our age- are not going to move to Elysium? Oh, they would be obsolete there. So wait, they don’t make any money on earth? Huh? Do they still have medical schools in this hellhole? Who pays for this? Structure that the plot doesn’t support.
3. the world is in chaos. But there are still many jobs that look suspiciously like the ones now-production, computing, doctoring? So is the real problem smog then? Where are the face masks? Where are the inevitable skin diseases? Oh, wait there’s a kid on crutches. I guess smog causes leg troubles.
They still have personal cars, perhaps souped up jalopies from the present age. But one guy who has an underground network of computers also has a handful of personal spaceships. So either he’s the equivalent of a modern day billionaire with a handful of Rolls Royces, in which case, why isn’t HE on Elysium? Or spaceships are accessible; if so, then why the heck are cars even still around? (And where is the gas secured in all this chaos?)
4. A group of spaceships attempts to smuggle people (dirty, broken, crazed people) into Elysium. Okaaaay? Why? The place looks sort of small. Even with the new “citizen” tattoos, where are these stowaways going to live, work, eat? Or are they hoping to quickly break into a rich house, climb into the tanning-slash-healing bed, get fixed, then hop a ride back home to Earth? It’s a little like someone trying to break into Buckingham Palace to live, and hoping no one will notice.
5. Matt, Our hero, is offered and rejects an amazing variety of life enhancing pills in the beginning, sort of like SOMA from Brave New World. But there is still yearning and distress on Earth? WTF? Are we supposed to assume Elysium is really like a resort that one aspires to instead of a separate society?
6. Our Hero, having been imprisoned many times, at some point decided to go straight, so he could save money to get to Elysium. So in this broken world, a job is more stable and financially rewarding than crime and black market? Isn’t that a little bit of why the wealthy are trying to secure their way of life in the first place: to get away from crime/criminals? How is Our Hero different from them then. . .Is he more kind because he hugs his “criminal friend”? Again, the stability of Earth doesn’t fit the movie’s premise.
7. BIG ISSUE: Robots do many human jobs, like acting as parole officers, flying planes to and from Elysium, being police officers who have legs and hands and minds that are humanoid, BUT our hero has a job screwing nuts, bolts, and pushing buttons on a dangerous radiation-filled assembly line. Weren’t humans replaced by machines on assembly lines back in Ford’s day? Yet they’ve got very human robots who could easily screw in a bolt? Or the rich schmo from Elysium who has to travel to the factory, he can’t give directions from home? From space, Jody can lock down all air travel, and summon a sleeper-agent on Earth, but this guy can’t get a production company in line from space, with or without robots?
8. There is a machine that can revamp not only human tissue, but human (and viral) DNA in mere seconds. But so far these fear-filled wealth mongerors have not come up with an effective form of birth control? What about some handy population control machines? Hey, lady, come walk over here by this sensor. Stand still a minute. Op, there you go. No more babies, for you, little lady! They can’t swing that since that is what ruined earth to begin with? And the wealthy I know are more philanthropic than anyone else I know. Why exactly are these folks so greedy with their magic machine?
9. Power hungry lady-Jody-is willing to risk it all, stage a coup, and murder the president of Elysium. Machines can graft, repair bone and flesh in mere seconds. She gets a fatal wound. Nurse can save her to put her in machine later, and Power woman says, “no, thank-you” and dies? Huh? But why? (I think Jody, the actress, had just had enough and literally said, I’d rather die. . .)
10. WORST of all. . .Premise of film is Rich vs. Poor, Elysium vs, Earth, equality vs. Inequality, Jody vs. Matt. All rising action is along those lines. Final show down is between, not Jody and Matt, but Matt and angry, crazy dude, who was seemingly not right in the head earlier, for reasons unrelated to premise. He’s extra pissed because Matt blew off his face, not because Elysium is elitist, not because he was poor. . .so Matt has to take down not “the power”, but crazy dude. That could have been set in any movie, any time, for any reason- which thereby negates the whole flipping premise. Sure, crazy dude mentions early on that he wants Matt’s brain chip to wield some power, but that never comes up again. Not only does this climactic scene destroy the plot arc the writer tried to set up, it gives us good reason to want an Elysium of our own: to get away from crazy, dudes like him.

And here’s why it annoys me enough to write. How hard would it be to fix these many flaws?

Show people truly starving. Don’t give Matt a real job, or give everyone hellish jobs, like slaves. Do have computer geek but get rid of smuggling ships, or at least show us a few folks who have been able to successfully sneak on. Or not. We can learn about lifesaving machines in some other way. Get rid of any semblance of a regular, albeit dirty, world on Earth. Explain how population control is too expensive for the rich to install;. Elysium is easier. Let computer geek try to steal chip AND ship from rich guy to put Matt on Elysium. Kill off Kruger. Go ahead and save his life in machine. Have Jody kill him in surprise twist. Have Jody strap on (smirk) and get into a fist fight with Matt. Who among us wouldn’t love that scene!

How hard was that? But NO. . .The creators disrespect their audience so much that they cannot be bothered to write a tight, plausible script; They don’t care even when the bullshit is obvious in just about every single scene. I read a horribly written book once where a cop (secretly) shoots and kills a bad guy in the front yard of a mansion, to rescue freaked out damsel in distress. He and the love interest then go inside and have a light lunch. They just go about their business, onto the next plot development. No one else ever notices dead guy. No one ever asks. The dead body just never comes up again. It is still on the front lawn I suppose. Hollywood is more often than not, phoning it in, just like that crappy novel, but expecting us to applaud anyway.

What were Jody and Matt thinking? (The heavy handed social-political statement was so intrusive that even THAT can’t explain why they signed on to this film). Shame on them; but then. . .look at the ratings. . .it’s as if viewers don’t even recognize a B Flick anymore.

So are we then to blame for this overt laziness?