Before Fear and “After Earth”

I’ve been watching dramas lately, which is not in character for me. When After Earth came through Netflix, I got a chance to continue my drama kick, and fulfill my never-ending desire for new sci-fi.

The movie was okay, directed by slow-drama madman M. Night Shyamalan, best known for films like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, in which the entire movie occurs only to surprise you at the very end. Still, Jaden Smith was better than the critics said, and there was at least one gem to take away from the experience.

During the film, Will Smith‘s character, a hardened war hero that knows nothing about how to raise his son, gives a speech about fear. The monologue, used to bolster his son’s confidence, is a well-presented argument on the subject.

I love the fact that, no matter what I want to blog about, I can find it on YouTube; I just can’t be afraid to look.

We sit comfortably on the couch of complacency, in a warm house, filled with routine, and we allow ourselves to be trapped there by the thought of what might go wrong.

We don’t put in for that promotion, because we are afraid of not getting it; or maybe we’re even more afraid that we will get it. We don’t apply for a loan to fix up that old restaurant off the freeway, because failure is the first thing that pops into our heads. We don’t ask out the girl in the office at work, because if she says no, we’ll still have to look at her every morning. It’s just easier to let it go, but of course, we don’t really ever let it go, do we?

Fear can block all manner of futures from getting their fair shot. Maybe that girl really wants to say yes, but now she’s blown her first and best chance. Her only option now is to step up herself, but she’s afraid of what you’ll say after she’s already rejected you once. Maybe he’d just say no, having convinced himself he’s moved on. Maybe you’d have a full and happy future together; as lovers, as friends; the overbearing fear of that word “no” has this door locked tight.

Any locked door has a key, somewhere, and most doors can simply be shut again, if we don’t like what’s behind them.

You broke free from your comfort zone and tried the new breakfast sandwich at Jack in the Box. It was terrible. You just went back the way you came in, closed that door, and now you know.

Personally, I am rarely up in time to get my ass in gear and hit the road for a fast food joint to get breakfast. Yes, this is awesome.
Personally, I am rarely up in time to get my ass in gear and hit the road for a fast food joint to get breakfast. Yes, this is awesome.

The alternative is a long road of wondering what might have been, until the day you eventually (and hopefully) forget all about it. Of course, the human mind doesn’t really work that way, and you’ll occasionally find yourself glancing back at a moment that is now too far away for you to do anything but wonder about; just like me and the Star Trek Hilton in Vegas.

And this whole time you could have just tried it out, given it a shot, then just stepped back and closed the door if you didn’t like the way it was going. Our society is built around giving people that opportunity to realize their mistakes, and recover from them. Even if that restaurant fails, you will survive.

There are definitely people in my life I’d like to read this particular blog, and I think that this argument has the ability to really make a number of people think out loud about their path in life. I took a very serious plunge recently, and if I let fear get in my way, I’ll sit on my couch until the day I just have to go out and get a job again; and always muse quietly over what could have been.

Past failures can strike down any hope we might have for embracing our future. Do we simply live in fear of making more mistakes, or of things we’ve never experienced before? Personally, I’d rather live a life full of my own errors than spend it in front of the TV, fantasizing about what I might have done differently during the commercial breaks.

History of the World, Part II

I wasn’t going to dwell on this, until I sat in line at the drive through and watched the guy behind me throw his empty soda bottle into the restaurant’s bushes. The overwhelming sense of personal entitlement in this country is what will destroy us.

Here is a trivia question: People are flooding into the United States. They are not documented upon entry into this country, they don’t speak the same language as you and me, and they are taking jobs away from people who were here first, often because they are willing to do the job for much less money. What year is it?

2015 is a good guess, but the answer is 1790.

This enormous, plentiful land that we call home has always been coveted by humanity, yet no one can claim they actually came from here. The fact is, we live in one of the few regions of the world in which every single person is an immigrant.  The only thing that has ever changed in this great space we call America is who has the power to control it.

The problem with this is that, if no one could speak any foreign language, we would be a nation of silence.
The problem with this is that, if no one could speak any foreign language, we would be a nation of silence.

Canadians speak French because that is who controlled Canada the longest. Mexicans speak Spanish, which was entirely forced upon them. In America, British colonists came over, fought and clawed for their foothold, and made English their language of choice. Even Ben Franklin spoke out against a multi-language format, in order to suppress the use of German as a national language.

So is the problem just illegal immigration, or is it racially motivated, or do people just hate wasting tax money on people that don’t contribute? According to the census, we had an estimated fifteen million Hispanics living in California in 2013. According to the Los Angeles Almanac, this included roughly 2.8 million Hispanics here illegally, 700 thousand of which live in the Los Angeles area.

This means that the other twelve million Hispanics living in this state alone, many of whom are exclusively Spanish speaking, are American citizens. American citizens, with the same government-sanctioned right to be here as anyone. Where I live, in the Central Valley, we have one of the largest Muslim communities in the United States. The forty and up generation doesn’t speak much English at all. They are American citizens. There are four million deaf people in this country, and I can guarantee that they don’t give a rat’s ass what language is coming out of your mouth.

When three Mexicans come to the US and cause trouble, it’s a huge problem and gets negative national press. When three white boys go to Mexico and cause trouble, it’s a hit single.

The United States has no official language. If you feel that English should be the only language spoken, simply because it is all you speak, the only language the people around you speak, and the only language you’ve ever done any living in, then we can agree to disagree. Most of our forefathers only spoke English, and some of them fought to see that it was all we spoke, but they still had that silly core notion of democratic equality to stick into their rules of government. These rules are what we use today to decide what is right and wrong, not any single person’s personal levels of cultural and political understanding.

While humorous, this is also not really correct, unless maybe if we call them "first" Americans.
While humorous, this is also not really correct, unless maybe if we call them “first” Americans.

This country was founded on the principle that people from all over could come together, bind their destinies to each other, and build something new and special. We all came from elsewhere, regardless of whether we walked across some ice, crammed into leaky barges, or jumped from one piece of dirt onto another. That right there tells me that, since there are really no “native” Americans, logically we should not have a native language, unless we decide on a national race, like they did back in 1790. And if you believe that this is the answer, then I’m afraid me simply can’t be friends anymore.

If we can’t find that path we were started on, the one with us coming together regardless of our differences, then we are just waiting around for some other, more solidified nation, to come over and prove our great democracy experiment a failure. But then again, maybe we shouldn’t speak any foreign languages for at least a while. I’m sure I could use the peace and quiet.

“The Butler” and the Importance of Preachy Cinema

I really only watched The Butler because I was up late, wasn’t drunk enough to watch a cheap horror film, and had finished the first season of Netflix‘s brilliant Wachowski written and directed series, Sense8

Of the choices that presented themselves, getting the opportunity to see Oprah back on the screen was a deciding factor. I was expecting a lighthearted yet hard-gazing romp through some presidencies, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the movie wasn’t really about the White House butler at all, but rather about the difficulties surround two generations of black Americans, during a time of great civil unrest.

Sensationalized and dripping with grandeur, surely, but for society as a whole, films like these can be important. What The Butler shows, above all else, is the two generations, that of Cecil Gaines’ and that of his children, during a time when the parents were content with their lot in life, but where their kids were beginning to see that equality meant more than separate drinking fountains and a subservient tone.

Dang, you mean no one wants to see a movie about a lovable manservant that brings white people coffee?
Dang, you mean no one wants to see a two hour movie about a lovable manservant that brings white people coffee?

I keep saying it: revolution never begins until at least one person stands up and shouts loudly enough that they want more.

The butler wanted things the way they were. He was a big league house servant, and saw that what he did could give his children a better life than the one he had. The political climate of the nation didn’t matter. It didn’t affect his day to day life.

His son, however, represented each and every civil rights movement from 1960 to somewhere in the mid-80s. The two never got along, until Cecil saw the truth; their entire lives were spent apart, divided by their places in history. It was really tragic and, at times, hard to watch.

In grocery management, we had a saying: silence is acceptance. Complacency can be like a cancer, spreading across the entire body of a nation, until it seems to everyone like a normal thing; even to the ones it hurts.

Stories like The Butler make sure we never forget the nuances of why history happened, and even do it in a digestible, entertaining way.

Television has done much of the same, in snatched moments. It is almost a requisite for a show of any genre to handle serious social issues, when it reaches a certain popularity and number of seasons. The wife and I spent tonight watching Glee, a guilty pleasure, and came across a fifth-season episode in which the challenges of racial bigotry, anti-gay movements, and even teenage superiority complexes, were brought to light.

Does anyone remember the episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air where Carlton started taking drugs? Maybe it was too hard to tell the difference.
Does anyone remember the episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air where Carlton started taking drugs? Maybe it was too hard to tell the difference.

I often wonder how stuff like this affects others. For me, there is no color in love, and there is no shame or problem with embracing the way you are made. Also, as an adult, I can admit easily that I knew everything when I was nineteen, even though the scope my knowledge fit with plenty of space into a bubble prize container.

Of course, TV inevitably takes things too far. On Glee, when Blaine and Kurt were having relationship troubles, and Kurt accidentally discovers gay porn on Blaine’s computer, there is a moment that is supposed to be incredibly shocking. My wife cuts right through that by exclaiming, “Oh my God! Men watch porn?”

Does Glee have a really serious message, or is their ultimate gain just ratings? Who knows what cards the producers are holding?

The moral, I guess, is that we can learn a lot from filmmakers trying to remind us of our past. We just have to make sure that what we’re having pounded into us is really worth remembering.