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Why We Build the Wall

I entered the 2016 election with much the same feeling as the 2012 election – there’s no way we would actually vote in Donald Trump of all people, right? A man I and likely most of my generation knew through reality TV, who we had previously collectively laughed at for his orange complexion and awful hair, who made George W. Bush look intelligent and grounded?

But I made sure to vote anyway – unlike Romney, Trump felt like a true threat. Even if the polls suggested he had little chance of winning, and again my vote in Illinois would mean nothing either way, politics no longer stood in the background. More than likely, I was galvanized by the 2014 election – my first job out of college was represented by a public union, and we were essentially public enemy #1 in Bruce Rauner’s Illinois. I couldn’t vote him out until 2018, but I had learned other races matter.

Trump winning is still this surreal moment – just like my high school, I somehow believed we as a country had moved past such blatant displays of hatred. But an entire swath of our country voted in a man who spoke to nothing but underlying fears of the other. How can so many people – the people who by all measures have the power in our country – be living lives guided by terror?

You invited me back to your office that next morning – you could recognize my despair, knowing that I was young, openly gay, and therefore more than likely sharing your political leaning. You told me we’d get through it. I was terrified – I was in the midst of planning my wedding, and had only just gained that right. How much could Trump and a Republican Congress take from us?

You spoke of how we survived Bush and survived Reagan – but did we? Did people like me truly ‘survive’ Reagan? White women like you, yes. But nearly an entire generation of gay men were wiped out by a virus that Reagan actively ignored.

Not only was I gay, but I was finally coming to terms with the fact that I probably didn’t identify as a man. I didn’t identify as a woman, either, so I wouldn’t really be affected by these bathroom debates, but where would the line stop? Most people don’t accept that non-binary people like me even exist – I had every right to believe Trump and his Congress would attempt to delegitimize us further, not just socially but through legislation.

People like me, we’re simply one of the many building blocks for the wall. Trump knows he can call upon us to strike up new fears – that his wall won’t be built until his followers are convinced they’re being attacked from every angle. These people are blinded to the actual sources of the instability in their lives, living as though they’re dying of a preventable disease and happy with articles that claim the blood they cough will go away once they spit enough out.

So, yes – you will survive. As much as you didn’t want it, Trump’s America is designed to harm people like you the least – and I can count myself lucky I’m still high enough on the pecking order that I probably will, too.

R-Money

You were pissed at me for not bothering to vote.

I tried to talk it down – after all, this was Illinois. Obama couldn’t lose here, and if he somehow did, we certainly weren’t going to be the swing state.

I came into that night with relatively little fear – who in the world liked Mitt Romney? You pointed to other things, such as local elections. I’m afraid to admit I’ve always been a bit more ignorant than I like to admit. None of it mattered – things would work out fine.

I feel like I can better recognize your frustration now – me, a white (at-the-time-identifying-as) man, telling a black woman there was nothing I was afraid of. I carried the privilege of not having to care. You appealed to my queer identity, but the polls were already closed. There was nothing we could change at that point.

We sat around watching the numbers come in, but I was quickly bored as the predictable result occurred. This election carried as little meaning to me as that mock election back in 2000; the safe, familiar thing was happening, and my side was winning. It would have been nice to see Democrats regain power in Congress – but it’s not like I really appreciated anything beside the presidency even at the beginning of my adulthood.

Man – it was really nice not having to care.

Hope

It’s not the glee at finally being rid of Bush or anyone like him that I remember about the day after the election, nor was it celebrating that the same America who elected George W. Bush twice was now welcoming its first black president.

No, what I sadly recall is overhearing an upperclassman talk about wanting to take his father’s shotgun to the White House as we sat in our computer class. The murmurs in the hallway featuring words I would never repeat here, in a town I never realized was like this.

I remember sitting beside you as you spoke of lynching before Pre-Calculus began. I had known you for several years at that point, and I was unaware something so vile sat inside your heart. That not only did you carry so much hatred toward those of differing beliefs, but that it was expressed through a desire for racial violence – all of this coming from one of the most bullied girls in our school.

To think I used to pity you.

I had been ignorant enough to believe this type of vitriol was limited to the south – that everyone was equally shocked back when our eighth grade history teacher spoke of the time her grandmother casually mentioned baking for her father’s Klan meetings over dinner. Soon after the election, another history teacher who had a particular focus on the Civil Rights movement informed us that even our own town of Mt. Zion had a history with lynching.

His name was Samuel Bush, and he was accused of assaulting a white Mt. Zion woman and taken to the jail over in Decatur. The Deputy Sheriff and Chief of Police tried to talk down the mob of nearly one thousand people that had gathered, an act for which the latter was assaulted. Sam Bush was dragged naked through the streets, offered a last word as a noose was already so tight around his neck that it had to be loosened for him to speak. “I hope to see you again in heaven,” he told the crowd of people gathered to murder him.

Our town is the type of place where you imagine the same families hanging around for well over a century; was your great-great-grandfather one of the men who gathered to hang Samuel Bush at the corner of Wood and Water? Which, now that I’m looking at a map of Decatur, I realize is a corner right outside the building where my step-father and aunt work.

I never realized this was so close to home.

Mt. Zion was so white-washed that I never really had to think about race until Obama became president. I assumed everyone had accepted the whole ‘racism is bad’ thing – the worst I thought was maybe some misguided beliefs through our lack of really experiencing diversity. But to you and your kind, Obama was a very real threat.

A bit later, that same teacher brought in a cousin of Emmett Till as a speaker. He told our school of that horrid night, of being there at one of the most nauseating atrocities in American history. I’d like to think this got through to people like you, that hearing a first-hand account of such horror would wake you up.

But more than likely, his story fell on deaf ears.

Critical Failures

Even as a child, I never understood how George W. Bush won a second term. Perhaps the explanation was as simple as my likely reason for going against Gore, that John Kerry was so frightfully boring that Bush managed to come off as the more charismatic of the two.

Whatever the case, it became so hard to believe in this country. How could it come down to those two choices, how could we choose the same person who dragged us into such horrifying conflicts with no apparent end? Bush fumbled everything he touched, and his nonsense vocabulary was by this point familiar. If this man represented the country as a whole, it was scary to think what this country was.

But at the end of the day, this was a minor annoyance in my daily life. It didn’t affect me directly in any meaningful way, and Bush being president was a familiar experience. Surviving another four years would be easy enough.

And if nothing else, I never got the sense Bush was intentionally trying to sabotage our country – the lack of intent behind harm somehow seems honorable these days.

Ignorant Pleasures

I voted for George W. Bush back in 2000.

My second grade class, for whatever reason, held a mock vote for that election. I can’t remember why I chose Bush – I don’t know if I knew anything about either him or Gore at that age. Perhaps I caught enough of the morning news before school to see how boring Al Gore was – you know, the important stuff. But the choice was more than likely entirely random.

There was something satisfying about his win – again, not because I was invested in what he stood for, or even understood what a president really did, but because it was my team. I didn’t see his verbal flubs, hear about any hanging chads – it was nothing but a popularity contest.

It’s easy to treat elections like a game when you don’t know enough to know it affects you. George H. Bush won – I won.

Review: Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Alita: Battle Angel is a tale of an abandoned cyborg returned to life without her memories, finding herself in a ruined world beneath a floating city. It’s got all the features of a major studio blockbuster – big action sequences, a vibrant future noir world, an obligatory romance.

After months of staring this trailer down, I feel like I have to look it in the eye. It’s the most jarring detail, something painfully discomforting to look at. But where it turned me away from the film in the trailers, it works in the full context – it’s an intentional invocation of the uncanny valley, immediately marking Alita as out of place.

Alita: Battle Angel comes off as a film not certain of what it wants to be – it’s everything and nothing at once. Throughout the opening act, it sets itself up as if it’s going to be this classic dystopian tale with deep lore – and it really wants us to learn this lore, as the entire opening feels like nothing but exposition. But this doesn’t go anywhere – the dialogue is largely amateur, the elements of the world stale. There’s no attempt at any meaningful philosophical pondering, so why waste our time acting like there’s some grander concept at play?

Tacked onto this is a familiar love story, a young woman new to the world falling for the first young man who introduces her to it. There’s no meaningful chemistry between the two, but despite this failure, the film at least uses these moments to explore Alita as a character outside of the initial wonder and the later warrior.

After wasting our time with themes it doesn’t actually want to explore, Alita picks up the pace during the action sequences. This film is really dumb, and it’s at its best whenever it embraces that fact. It’s brutally violent and visually chaotic – that is what Rodriguez knows how to do. It’s a shame so many action directors feel a need to justify these battles – this film could have trimmed quite a bit of fat and been a much more engaging experience if it just dropped some of the political intrigue.

The one redeeming element of the narrative is Alita herself – this is a character who finds her own story, has passion and energy. These elements aren’t limited to her seeking out fights – her curiosity seems genuine, and her evolution as she begins to understand the world is largely successful. She’s alien in the right ways, making extreme gestures that are believably not as extreme from her cyborg perspective. All of this adds up to an ideal action protagonist, someone who carries the plot instead of being pushed along.

The worst part about this movie is that it ends – specifically, that it ends way before it actually ends. This is apparently going to be a story in multiple parts, as the conflict the movie keeps building toward doesn’t actually happen within the film. I felt blindsided by the credit roll – was their goal to leave the audience as immediately underwhelmed as possible? The film doesn’t do enough to leave me wanting to dive back into the narrative of this world – I just wanted a cool closing action sequence.

But the fact I wanted that means there’s some success – this is a movie that got better as it went on, to the point I must have been invested by the end. Between the lead character and the visual design, a sequel could turn out a lot better since it gets to skip over the set-up.

All in all, Alita: Battle Angel perfectly encapsulates the styles of both Rodriguez and James Cameron. There’s chaotic violence, a bold new world…and a consistently fumbled plot. If you can tolerate the sometimes maddening narrative, you’ll be rewarded with some truly fun action sequences.

3 Stars Out of 5

Review: Fyre (2019)

The failure of the Fyre Festival was one of those spectacular social media events, a cavalcade of schadenfreude as we collectively laughed as rich kids overreacted to a bad vacation. It was symbolic of issues within social media, an event carried entirely by hype and no outside oversight, sold through ‘influencers,’ with no one questioning who was running it and if they had ever done something similar before. Fyre dives into the background details, pinpointing the people involved and why it went wrong.

Being a documentary about recent events that are still tangled in legal issues and interviewing people who may or may not be culpable, Fyre is a film that needs to be met with heavy scrutiny – who is making this and what are they trying to say? If you went purely off this documentary as presented, everything seems to fall on CEO Billy McFarland, that rich white frat bro-type seemingly designed to be hated. He obviously is a central negative force – but an event this big has several people involved, and no one seemed to do anything meaningful to prevent the disaster from being fully realized. There was no excuse to allow people to actually arrive at the festival grounds.

What Fyre fails to meaningfully establish is that this was a scam created by rich people targeting rich people. The documentary casually introduces attendees, and they are never questioned. Who are these people that are willing to drop thousands of dollars on a festival without first making sure it was the real thing – especially one occurring in 2017 with Blink-182 as a headliner? These aren’t sympathetic figures, but Fyre is happy to drop successful venture capitalists in front of us and act like they’re everyday victims.

As long as you go in with a critical mind, Fyre does a pretty good job establishing what allowed this to happen – even if some people might be covering their own tails, there are solid elements being discussed, like how they managed such expert marketing and the struggles of attempting to put together a big event in such a short time. There were promises of something that had never been done before, with no one thinking to ask why it hadn’t been done before. This was a concept being sold as a finished product. There’s quite a bit of fun in seeing people who can usually buy their way out of every problem running into something that no amount of money can fix.

The film is at its strongest when it exposes the actual victims at the heart of the matter – as in people who were actually harmed by the festival. Interviews with the locals who did the actual ground work are depressing, people promised something meaningful for their community and then abandoned without pay. This would be a stronger documentary if they gave this subject more time – but Fyre seems to want to run off the more absurd elements.

The Fyre Festival is certainly an event worthy of a cinematic exploration, but this film is coming at a time where it allows certain people to save face – it’s hard to view it as a meaningful statement until the dust settles. It’s certainly a fun subject matter presented fashionably, but the film itself is teaching us not to trust presentations simply because they have a slick presentation. A fuller truth will be revealed in time – but this is a fair summary as we have it today.

3 Stars Out of 5