the fracturing of us

When I was taking the Justice at Work: History of Labor, Civil Rights, and Immigration Law, I often found myself thinking, “What was it like, to live in that transformative historical moment? What is it like, to live through them and look back on them with the hindsight of history and realize you were just a cipher on the wall?”

Because so many of us are ciphers, watching as events play out around us. My mom once told me about living in Washington D.C. during the 1960 riots, and I remember being awed by the story: My mom was a witness to history!

As an adult, I realize that I hadn’t got that quite right. My mom was a bystander. She didn’t participate or protest the riots; she didn’t even stay in town to observe for historical record. She left the dangerous area.

And that is so common. I e-mailed my dad to ask about what it was like to attend segregated schools and start his career in a workforce divided along sexist and racist lines — a reality I cannot envision  — and my dad’s response was basically, “Well, [upper northwest state] was pretty white back then … our schools weren’t so much segregated as there were no black people.” He said the first time he saw a black person was as a teenager, when a black family on vacation stopped at a gas station in their little town.

That … blew my mind. I try to imagine such a monochromatic world, and I can’t.

It’s weird, too, to think about all the people who weren’t railing against change, but weren’t fighting for it, either. All the people who stood silent on the sidelines (like my parents), waiting for the chips to fall where they may.

I wonder how they justify it. Did all the people who stayed silent during Hitler’s rise to power regret that choice, in the future? Did the Americans who turned a blind eye to American concentration camps later feel ashamed? Do bystanders from the Civil Rights era struggle to explain their inaction to their children and grandchildren; to justify it to themselves?

I wonder, in 20 years, how I will feel about myself when I look back on this era. I wonder if I will feel ashamed of my choices, or if I will feel confident that I did everything within my power to check bigotry, hatred, and fascism; to speak out against it.

I hear people justify the decision not to vote — pointing to the ridiculous unfairness of the two-party system, or saying there is no viable candidate in their preferred party so they “don’t know who to vote for.” Like it’s impossible to cross party lines and vote for the other party if your own party isn’t putting forth candidates you agree with, and I wonder how the non-voters who dislike Trump and refuse to support democratic candidates will feel in 20 years if Trump is elected? Will they think inaction was enough? Will they regret not taking the opportunity to put their name down in opposition?

It’s weird to look around us and realize we are making history. This era will be in textbooks as a watershed moment in America’s history — but which way will we turn? Where are we going?

How will the bystanders feel?


Monday movie night: How to be Single (review)

John and I saw that new Rebel Wilson film, How to be Single, last night. I don’t recommend it. It was really uneven. My main complaints were:

  1. Although it had romantic relationships, it chose to focus solely on unpaired couples, which made for an uneven film.
  2. The strange devaluation of platonic relationships vs romantic, in terms of perceived effect on individual development
  3. Uneven tone (Was it an introspective self discovery? A comedy? A rom-com?)
  4. The IVF storyline irritated me.
  5. Lack of chemistry between characters

For point one, all romantic relationship portions– aside from the meet-cute and the break-up– were ignored in order to focus on the singleton adventures. A novel idea, but it meant we started the film with certain single characters, and then their storylines were pushed to the background/ the character no longer developed once they were paired. It made for a uneven film with several undeveloped characters who seemed pointless in the larger story.

There was a point near the end when I was thinking, How did David (introduced halfway through the film) become a main character and Lucy slid into the background?

Then I realized that all the paired relationships were intentionally pushed into background noise, including Alice (the protagonists) with the neat little title screen of, “three months later”.

Which leads into point two. At first blush, this appears to be a celebration of platonic (friends/family) love over romantic, but on closer examination, the attitudes toward platonic relationships are kind of insulting.

There was a monologue/ voiceover at the beginning where Alice talked about how we “define ourselves by our relationships,” and we need to “learn who we are as individuals,” and I thought, but you still have relationships … they aren’t romantic, but they’re relationships.

Nobody ever says, “I need to learn who I am as an individual, so I’m going to live on a deserted island for a few years.”

I admit, I’m pretty tired of the “truism” that to be a fully realized person you “must” experience being happily single. Plenty of people have practiced serial monogamy, or had one long-term romantic, committed relationship from their early 20s, yet are still individuals. A romantic relationship alone does not prevent the formation of an individual personality … it’s unhealthy relationships (platonic or romantic) that are the problem.

I mean, Alice talks about needing to find out who she is without a relationship, and then continues to define herself through her relationship with her sister and friends … why does she devalue the effect of friends and family on her personality while overemphasizing the effect of romance? In a weird way, despite the entire film being an alleged celebration of singleness, this either/or dynamic seemed to overemphasize the impact of romantic relationships while devaluing platonic relationships.

You’re probably seeing where point three comes in, with the previous points outlined. It was just very uneven in tone and jumpy in timeline, and it was difficult to find the personality of the film.

For the last two points … basically Meg, the older sister of Alice, decides to have an IVF baby on her own. Pretty cool, but the writers/filmmakers chose not to follow through on the independent mother by choice plot, and instead concocted a mildly unbelievable romance for her so she ended up in a nuclear family by the end of the film.

I wish the filmmakers had followed through with the single-mom-IVF plot instead of shoe-horning in the only romantic relationship to get actual screen time. To make it worse, Meg and her guy lacked chemistry.

Also, it occurs to me that I’ve seen the trope of heartbreaker/party girl played a few times recently by the likes of Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson lately. It’s … cool? I guess?  That they’re represented as sexual beings who reject potential mates and run around breaking hearts … but I also find it interesting/ weird that it still always seems to be the fat girl who’s single (albeit as a happy, horny party girl who’s single by choice instead of the previous trope of sad, shy, plain wallflower who’s single bc she lacks any takers), while the stereotypically attractive girls continue to form romantic ties. It’d be nice to see the fat girl in a happy relationship, instead of always being the wild or sad “foil” to the protagonist.