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Recount: A Movie Review, more on Doublethink

On Sunday evening, like millions of others, I squirmed and suffered through “Recount,” HBO’s dramatization of the battle for the 2000 election, Bush v. Gore. I suffered not because the movie was dull or one-sided, and I definitely recognize that “Recount” was one-sided, though not egregiously or inaccurately or offensively so. (I’m sure my friends on the right were GREATLY offended.) Though I certainly don’t agree that there is an overall or general “liberal bias” in the media (for a great book on this subject check out Eric Alterman’s “What Liberal Media: The Truth about Bias and the News), I do agree with the great film blogger Chuck Tryon who pointed out in his post on the film on Monday that:

It’s difficult to watch the film without being acutely aware , to borrow from Leonard Cohen, that the the good guys lost.

Indeed, I found the film quite lively and even suspenseful, given the predetermined outcome. As a suspense writer, I certainly know that narrative drive and suspense can be produced with out resorting to obvious questions of “who done it, or “who’s going to get it.” (I wish ALL suspense writers knew this, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment.)

In any case, “Recount” was worth watching if only to see the performance of the amazing Laura Dern as Katherine Harris, she of the pursed mouth and “awesome cougar tits” (Check out this Wonkette link to vote on who has better tits, Laura Dern or Katherine Harris). Harris seemed plenty nutty back in the Bush v. Gore day, circa 2000, but went on in history to prove herself one of the great nuts of all time when she ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate on the “win back America for God” ticket.

Tryon goes on to say:

But while the film acknowledges many of the troubling problems that cast doubt on the legitimacy of Florida’s vote–the illegitimate purging of thousands of names from voter rolls, the divergent standards used to identify the “intent” of voters, the problem of political appointees overseeing election results, “Recount” is forced to stop short of asking some of the more troubling questions about how elections are conducted and how they are covered.

Indeed, this point gets at why I was squirming. I squirmed through “Recount” simply because as this interminable primary season grinds to an end (some kind of end, PLEASE!) I couldn’t help but wonder what we have done in the interim to address these myriad election irregularities.

One of my all time favorite literary moments is in Anna Quindlan’s novel, “One True Thing,” when the protagonist, Ellen Gulden, asks her dying mother why she stayed with her philandering father all these years, and her mother says (paraphrasing here) that she sometimes plans to leave him but every morning she gets up and puts the coffee on and begins her day. In other words: INERTIA.

No, I am not making some subtle comment on Hillary Clinton’s reasons for staying (with her philandering husband, I’m not talking here about staying the race), although inertia probably applies, but it is and has always been my contention that about 95% of life is conducted according to the dictates of inertia.

You could probably fill Yankee Stadium with all the reports that have been written just in the last few years by well meaning committees on various pressing subjects. Inertia rules the day. Is there any reason to suspect that anything at all has been done to address the election irregularities revealed by Bush v. Gore, problems like unequal protection, purged voter rolls, wildly uneven standards, elections overseen by political appointees, and so much else?

Just thinking about inertia in the face of all that as we move into general election season is enough to make me squirm.

I also found myself squirming to have to watch Republicans in action vs. Dems in action. How organized and single minded Repubs are. How able to stick to their talking points. Oh, that Baker–so poised, so sure. A brilliant performance by Tom Wilkenson.

I’m sure other smarter folk than I have pointed this out, but Democrats seem constantly undone by their own philosophy of liberalism. You can see this play out in the Democratic primary/caucus mess that has led to the Clinton/Obama situation in which we find ourselves now, the arcane and uneven rules by which in some states there is a winner-take-all and in other states proportional allocation. Democrats are so busy worrying about being fair that they often cut off their noses to spite their faces. We’re so busy allowing a broad selection of all points of view as all good liberals should (see the discussion of the word “liberal” below) that the Republicans with their authoritarian nature and single minded devotion to message run over Democrats time and time again. I’m not sure what the answer is, because I would not have us become what we rail against, but still…

And speaking of Orwellian doublethink, according to my trusty Shorter Oxford, which is hardly short, the word “liberal” means:

directed to a general broadening of the mind free in giving; generous; open handed; unprejudiced, open-minded esp. free from bigotry or unreasonable rprejedice in favor of traditional opinions or established institutions, open to the reception of new ideas; favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms; in politics favoring free trade and gradual political and social reform that tends towrd individual freedom or democracy.

I don’t think most Americans would claim to be proud of being narrow-minded, and so the reason for a general acceptance of the world “liberal” as a derogatory epithet has to lie elsewhere. Here too I think inertia plays a role. Most people are too busy or simply don’t care. It is a psychological truth that when one side yells louder and more often, absent any coherent and equal countervailing message, the louder, more frequent message is most often absorbed.

Dems, are you listening?

More on Grief in the Media

Emily Stone, a good friend of the Bruisedmuse, directed me to an interesting New Yorker piece by David Sedaris, called “Journey into Night: Business Class Emotions.” The Sedaris essay tells of a night flight to Paris, during which a flight attendant asks David if she can move another passenger to sit beside him. The attendant explains that the man has lost his mother, and his crying is disturbing the other passengers. Sedaris says it would be all right to move him, and so the attendant brings the obviously bereaved man to sit beside Sedaris. Now I like the very popular Sedaris, who is often funny and thoughtful, and I even like the piece, particularly when I put on my literary hat.

When I put on my logic hat, I can’t help but wonder why the attendant believes the crying passenger will be any less disturbing to the passengers near Sedaris than to those sitting near his previous seat, but this is a minor point.

Ah, but when I put on my grief hat, I feel compelled to make a major point. I object. I need to point out that while it was lovely of Sedaris to allow the bereaved man to sit beside him, it was less than lovely to fail to offer even a single kind word to the man. And I find it somewhat bizarre that Sedaris admits this, almost smugly, in the New Yorker, and thus ends the piece with the following words:

I felt that I should say something, but what? And how? Perhaps it would be better, less embarrassing for him, if I were to pretend that he wasn’t crying—to ignore him, basically. And so I did.

Embarrassing? Is this a male worry or what? It certainly shows how little people, even popular writers, understand grief, and how little tolerance they have for it. Grief is often an uncontrollable flood. It’s not embarrassing; it’s human. The human thing would have been to understand.

I realize that this sort of ending probably satisfies a certain literary sensibility common to The New Yorker, and I’m certainly not one of those people who has drunk the Koolaid of thinking there might have been anything Sedaris could have said that would have helped ease this stranger’s pain. But still, he might have said something! “I’m sorry” would have been fine.  And THEN he could have ignored the bereaved man.

I also want to point out that Emily Stone, a wonderful writer, good friend, and highly thoughtful person, writes a great blog called ChocolateinContext. This blog goes down creamy, smooth, dark, and rich–perfect for chocolate lovers. I’m firmly in the vanilla camp myself, but I still love ChocolateinContext. I do have a certain compassion, in the Buddhist sense, for chocolate lovers. I feel their pain.

Grief and the Media

The media has a mostly sorry record when it comes to reporting on the subject of grief. Consider how many reporters you’ve seen on television standing in front of houses where tragedy has struck, holding their microphones, babbling about closure? The word “closure” should be banned from the American vocabulary. There is no such thing. I’m a different person than I was before I lost my son, and my loss informs every day of my life, even thirteen years later. This blog is, if nothing else, testimony to that. Psychologists have proposed many ways to describe how we find a way to live with loss, but the one I find most useful is that we must find our own way to “reinvest” in a new reality without the lost one. I eventually wrote a novel and my husband and I established an educational program for toddlers with special needs called “Jumpstart,” in memory of our son. Another friend of mine, Amy Barzach, co-wrote a memoir and started “Boundless Playgrounds,” a national non-profit that builds playgrounds accessible to all children, in memory of hers. But reinvestment can be small and private too. We incorporate our losses into our lives. The only question is what kind of person we will become as we do so.

There are exceptions in the media, of course. Some years back, when I was promoting my novel, Saving Elijah, I did an interview with NPR’s Marty Moss Cone, and Marty was prepared, respectful, interested, and, ultimately, willing to hear and learn. Connie Martinson, of the television show, Connie Martinson Talks Books, was another prepared and respectful interviewer.

Yesterday morning I did a radio interview with the brilliant, compassionate Binnie Klein on WPKN (89.5FM Bridgeport & 88.7FM Montauk), about grief, specifically an article I recently wrote called Grief 101: How to Help a Bereaved Friend or Relative. The article, which is based on my own experience as a bereaved mother, and on my observations of other bereaved people, makes the point that people naturally turn away from raw emotions like grief, and that the techniques people use are actually aimed at making themselves feel better, and make the bereaved feel even worse. Most people have good intentions, of course, but haven’t a clue how to “be with” the bereaved.

I commend Binnie for being willing to talk openly and honestly with me about this subject. It was a great interview.

And I couldn’t help but be reminded of the contrast with the very last interview I did when promoting my novel. No kidding, the radio interviewer got me on the phone, on the air, and said, “We have with us Fran Dorf, who’s written a novel inspired by the loss of her son. Hmmmmm. We had someone else who lost a child on the show last week. There must be a lot of that going around.”

I got through that Jackie Gleeson moment, called my publicist, and told her I was through trying to promote my book.

Next post: How to “Be With” the bereaved.