Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Archivist

When a graduate student named Roberta approaches Matthias about a collection of letters in his possession, he must reflect on his rocky marriage and determine the most honorable course of action. ''I was too afraid of her, of her fierceness -- of everything she was capable of seeing and feeling -- to love her sufficiently,” he tells Roberta. Unlike his passionate, jazz-addicted wife, Judith, who took her own life, Matthias is an ordinary man in his 60s who loves books and helping people find books. Despite his outward simplicity, he is concealing some dirt under the carpet. Roberta is the vacuum he needs to find closure and come clean about his cowardice and failings. Roberta is a near replica of Judith. Both characters are Jewish, determined at conducting their research and they both depend on Matthias to give them what they need.

Roberta explains to Matthias why she so desperately wants to read the letters between T.S. Eliot and his girlfriend, Emily Hale. Roberta’s parents were German Jews who converted to Christianity after they fled Nazi Germany. Roberta suspects the letters will contain information pertaining to conversion that will help her comprehend her parents’ decision.

The author, Martha Cooley, engineered "The Archivist" brilliantly. Everything is essential and intentional. Lonely journal entries by Judith in the middle of the book are sandwiched between scenes of Matthias and Roberta going out and getting to know each other. I believe this is to show the dark past that Mathias, in good conscience, cannot ignore. He cannot get over having forsaken his troubled wife. Discussing T.S. Eliot’s poetry and personal life is like holding up a mirror to his own experiences, but he has the benefit of T.S. Eliot’s mistakes to help him avoid making the same ones again.

I love this book for the complex characters, deep layers, and the subtle messages. I feel wiser after reading it, as if I’ve lived the characters’ lives and have gained a deeper understanding of relationships and what goes into making difficult decisions.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Another Wave of the Women's Movement

Racecar driver Danica Patrick recently said, “I don’t quite understand why when you’re referring to a girl, a female athlete in particular, that you have to use the word sexy. Is there any other word you can use to describe me?”

Fox sports commentator Ross Shimabuku responded with “Oh, I got a few words, starts with a ‘B,’ and it’s not ‘beautiful.’”

We only need to look at a picture of Danika Patrick to confirm that “Yes, she is sexy,” but Shimabuku completely missed the point. She simply demands respect for her contribution to racecar driving without men obsessing over her sex appeal. Is that too much to ask? Respect? Apparently, many people seem to think so, or there wouldn’t be so much blatant sexism in the media today.

Forty years ago, tennis player Billie Jean King objected to being called a “lesbian tennis player,” saying no one would focus on the sexuality of a heterosexual athlete. In 1973, she defeated tennis champion Bobby Riggs, who had been boasting, “Man is supreme, man is supreme.” Bobby Riggs was justly humiliated and feminists rejoiced.

And we all lived happily ever after, right? Far from it. Billie Jean King was open about her sexuality, but she didn’t want it to define her as a person. Danika Patrick is open about being sexy. She has posed for a number of sexy photo shoots and appeared in a provocative Go Daddy Super Bowl commercial. But what is wrong with the world today if women can’t proudly show off their bodies without being objectified and having every other aspect about them erased?

Women are still being demeaned in sports, as Danika Patrick proved. We are being subjected to verbal abuse from radio talk show hosts, TV personalities and politicians. It’s high time we made them eat their own words.

Rush Limbaugh, who said he loves the Women’s Movement when he’s walking behind it, recently called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” for testifying at a congressional hearing on the importance of free contraception for women. To show how low we’ve sunk, presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum did not condemn the attacks or point out the flaws in Limbaugh’s demented and ignorant accusations. These pathetic politicians have shot their own feet. Perhaps someone should remind them that this is not the 17th century. Women have the right to vote and women’s votes will make a difference in the election.

If these men want to be president, they need to lose the 17th century attitude and come to grips that, according to Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, 99% of American women use birth control. Practicing birth control reduces the risk of osteoporosis and ovarian cancer. And it gives women control so that we do not just reproduce like barnyard animals. It’s mind-blowing that we are disputing this issue and that this has become a topic in the presidential debate.

History is going to portray these scoundrels who try to take away women’s rights as hindrances to progress, but women need to stand up NOW and declare they have had it with sexism.

If backward, anti-feminist extremists want a war between the sexes, then bring it. If they threaten to take away our rights and limit us in any way, they will be hit with another wave of the women’s movement, bigger than before. We will give them a force of nature that cannot be held back.

Oh, what’s that, Rick Santorum? Seeing women in combat is emotionally distressing for you? Well, you should have thought of that before you picked a fight.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Jafar Panahi

What would you do if you were banned from writing for 20 years?

Jafar Panahi, an Iranian filmmaker, was banned in December 2010 from writing screenplays, making and directing films, leaving Iran and giving interviews. When I saw Panahi's film "Offside," about girls who dress up as boys in order to sneak into an all-male soccer game, I did not know anything about the personal life of Jafar Panahi, who directed and co-wrote the film. I just knew that I had seen something amazing that allowed me to step out of my skin and be absorbed into another world. Films like Panahi’s compel audiences to acquire compassion. His style, which borders on documentary footage, gives viewers worldwide a look into his country and at the people who are more like us than the media would have us believe.The characters in Panahi’s films are motivated by the most basic wishes. By exposing the vulnerability of average people, Panahi removes the scary mask from our media-influenced perceptions.

I recently watched an interview with the writer Jonathan Safran Foer, who said his impulse to write was similar to a beaver’s instinct to build dams. Destroy a dam and beavers will rebuild it overnight, but if you take away the timber so the beaver has nothing to chew on, its teeth will grow continuously and it will die.

Panahi has been imprisoned and has gone on hunger strikes to protest his mistreatment. A hunger strike is such a desperate act, but one I completely understand. When your basic needs are not met and when you refuse to live your life being bullied, whether you’re an artist or a political prisoner, or both, a logical solution is to starve yourself. “Hunger hurts, but starving works,” as Fiona Apple would say. It worked for suffragettes, and it gained recognition for Irish activists. Maybe similar protests could work for Iran.

The Iranian government is doing its people and the rest of the world a disservice by depriving us of more films by this great artist. An honest voice that enables sympathy and respect is essential for establishing more peaceful relations between our countries.