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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Waiting for Superman and The Help... not too different really

It had occured to me not too long ago that for someone who writes about pop culture I certainly see too much crap!!  My concert experiences have been pretty solid the past year or so, namely The National and Caveman.  However the movies and TV I have seen continues to disappoint.   Hell, I know I saw the Oscar winning best picture last year but I can't for the life of me think of what it was right now.

I am late to the Mad Men TV phenomenon and am slowly catching up on Netflix.  But does anybody really enjoy True Blood these days?  Are we all just grasping at straws thinking this is Sopranos reincarnate?  I mean really, were-panthers, witches and fairies?  Give me something I can use, please.  And I am sorry, Anna Paguin is the worst actress working today.  

This weekend I was able to get back on the winning side thanks to two very different movies.  The first, Waiting for Superman (, is a 2010 documentary about America's terribly lacking public education system.  Now, before you jump up to defend it and tell me how wonderful teachers are, let me stop you.  I agree, teachers have a most difficult job and are far too under-appreciated.  That said, the unions and bureaucracy that make it near impossible for incompetent teachers to be dismissed HAS to be changed.  The Feds oversee the States.  The States oversee the Counties.  The Counties oversee the Towns.  By the time the teacher enters the classroom student X stands very little chance.  More to the point, student X from inner cities has very little chance.  Much like the rest of the country, more affluence equates to greater success.  

The argument for higher crime in areas like South Central LA, Detroit and the Bronx leading to poor education has been turned on its head.  We can now correlate the failures of our education system to the rise in crime in these areas.  The name termed to describe troubled high schools is "Drop out Factories."  Send a kid through elementary school unprepared and within a year or so of high school they are on the streets.  Small wonder we are seeing flash mobs turning from cool dance routines to violence, right?  What chance to these inner city kids have?  The cities that gave us significant industrial advances are now known more for crime than achievement.  What do you think of when you hear Dayton, OH?  St Louis?  Detroit?  Do they make tires, beer or cars anymore?  If so, at far smaller scale and probably with poor quality.

And Asia continues to move ahead.  And India.  And everywhere.  This is a service industry nation, and we do that with such an easy ineptitude I wonder why we even bother.  We are entitled and too good to take menial postitions and/or work in fast food.  Yet, we bitch and moan when hungrier folks risk life and limb to come work here.  To further illustrate that point take a look at Alexandra Pelosi's Citizen USA which recently aired on HBO (  Her film examines folks from several countries become US citizens.  Their love of our country is unconditional and real.  They are hungry for a dream they still view as attainable.  When you see the two films side to side it is hard to discern if both films take place in America.  One is strikingly optimistic while the other realistically pessimistic.  I suppose the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  I plan on showing my daughter both films in the near future.  She needs to understand just how lucky she is (or reminded...  this as she and my wife purge her room of a mound of unwanted and unneeded clothes and toys.)

She did happen to join us for a matinee of "The Help"( this afternoon.  This is a perfect film for an inquisitive and alert child.  Also, a bit perfect for someone unaffected by race divide and/or class struggle.  Although, given our house can fit nicely in some of her friends living rooms I think she has some sense of class struggle.

The film is based on the 2009 novel by Kathryn Stockett.  It takes place in Mississippi during the early 1960s.  Long story short (and this film is long...  @ 137 minutes) young graduate (Emma Stone) returns from college and takes a writing job.  Her educated world view is significantly different than her peer group.  Blacks, in her mind, should not be segregated.  They should not be forced to ride the back of the bus.  And, to this end, should she want to interview the maids of Jackson, MS to find out their innermost thoughts it should NOT be illegal.

Well, this formula has been played out dozens of times previously and with mixed results for sure.  "The Help" works mainly because of some fine, fine performances.  Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer shine as the housemaids strong enough to take action against their captors.  Stone is a bit out of her league as the nerdy but headstrong writer.  This has as much to do with her antagonists (Bryce Dallas Howard-frenemy and Allison Janney-mother) being far more polished actresses.  

Either way the story is told very well.  And, although fictional this story is enveloped in facts.  White folks treated (and still treat) blacks as inferior.  White folk have a tough time admitting mistakes and/or wrongdoings when it comes to said injustices.  White folk fall into two camps these days...  those who wish to forget this awful time in US History and those who wish it never ended.

Good to show my 9 year old that this time in history wasn't too long ago.  I was pleasantly surprised when she realized the context during the film and recognized MLK Jr was alive.  "So this is what he was fighting for dad?"

Indeed.  And in many ways he would still be fighting it.  I can see him on Washington marching for better education in inner cities.  I can see him imploring fathers to stand by their families rather than shirking their responsibilities.  I can see him asking himself "What on Earth went wrong?"  He would still very much have a dream.  Only this time it would be many tiered and near impossible to fix.

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