The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘movies’


Well, I did it.  I broke my nearly two year long dry spell and went to see a movie this afternoon.  The last film I saw in a theater was “The King’s Speech.”  That was in November, 2010.  Today I saw, “2016: Obama’s America”.  That is to say that in our theater six other people and I saw it at the “early bird showing”.

The multi-screen theater lobby didn’t seem to be exceptionally crowded.  Well, we’re back to school and it is the day after a holiday.  Or perhaps it was the price of a ticket.  They have gone in less than two years from $5.00 to $7.50 – a fifty percent increase – while we’re told that “real” inflation has crept up by less than four percent in that same time period.  Someone’s making out like bandits.  I’m frankly surprised that we don’t have an OTMT movement (Occupy The Movie Theaters) in full swing.

As I walked to find my theater I passed the concession stand which occupied nearly the size of a small football field.  As I was early I paused to view the bill of fare which was advertised on the large overhead display.  “Hot dog – $6.00;” “Super-sized soda – $4.50;” “Large popcorn – $5.00 (butter $1.00 extra).”  No wonder there was a sign in the lobby, “All food brought in must be consumed before going to your movie theater.”  Junk food elevated to the cost of a gourmet meal.  I’m amazed that even the 1% of the wealthiest Americans can afford this sort of “entertainment.”

I passed on the concession stand and hoped that when I made the turn into the arcade of theaters that the smell of popcorn and hot dogs would dissipate.  They did.

So I found a comfortable space in the theater – being the third of the seven of us to arrive and greeted my two fellow movie-goers who had seated themselves a few rows behind me.  We were already into the announcements (not to be confused with the previews) which were, in essence, mostly advertisements.

However, I was drawn to the fact that there were, in a ten minute period, three separate requests that the patrons should turn off their cell phones.  As I had left mine home, this proved easy for me.  Yes, three separate requests.  Apparently, that is the number necessary to get the attention of those in the audience.

Among our group of seven viewers I am pleased to report that not a single cell phone rang during the course of the movie.  Apparently, repeated requests work – or the fact that we all appeared to be well past our thirties might have had something to do with it.

Then came the previews.  I will admit that one of them about parents trying to wrest control of the public schools from the hands of those in school administration piqued my interest and I may go see it if I can remember it’s name when it is released.  And Hollywood is doing the thirty-sixth remake of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” I presume with more skin evident than in it’s predecessors.  I’ll pass on that.  A few more trailers were shown but I admit that I was able to ignore them.  And then, finally – the lights dimmed and we were treated to the feature which we had paid to see.

There was a reason that I went to see “2016: Obama’s America.”  Every review I read of the film in the Main Stream Media panned it.  Naturally, I thought that sufficient enough reason to take a look.

Writer and director Dinesh D’Souza presented an interesting documentary.  He traces the President’s Marxist-leaning philosophies back to the polygamous, alcoholic father who abandoned him and his mother – almost in an effort to gain paternal recognition and acceptance from a man whom he idealized “in absentia.”

What surprised me was that one of those who had a great deal of influence on President Obama was someone I knew in New York as a child and who is now a Professor of Law at Harvard University, Roberto Mangabeira Unger.  He has also been active in Brazilian politics and ran twice for the Presidency of that country.

Interestingly, Roberto has a background that is not dissimilar to President Obama’s in that his father, who as I recall was a lawyer, died quite young and unexpectedly, leaving him and his sister to be raised by their mother.  It was either in fourth or fifth grade that she decided to return to her native Brazil and pulled her children out of the private schools they attended, leaving New York and their beautiful Park Avenue co-operative behind.  Since then Roberto has been a champion for wealth re-distribution as the only way to achieve an equitable society.  (Does this ring a bell for any of you).

D’Souza makes an interesting case for why it is that Barrack Obama makes the decisions that he makes – based on those with whom he has associated throughout his life.  There is no question – at least based on the evidence that is presented in this documentary – that the President feels comfortable with the philosophies of those with either a socialist or communist approach in their world view.  Frankly, that is more disturbing than if he were merely incompetent which was the view that I held previously.

It is always difficult, if not impossible, to make an absolute case about the psyche and motivations of a person – even if that person is us.  To accomplish that for another individual is certainly challenging – if not downright impossible.  If it were not so, psychoanalysis would not need nearly so many practitioners.

But D’Souza does advance some excellent – if rather chilling points.  To be honest, I prefer my own thesis that President Obama is simply incompetent because it is the more sanguine of the two.  If D’Souza is right, who knew that going to see a movie could reveal what a dangerous person we have chosen to seat at the helm of the American ship of state?


During the Reformation, the concept of monasticism came under serious attack from several of the reformers.  Among those were John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli.  Calvin, in particular assailed the concept of monasticism and it is in large measure due to him that we have the term “cloistered virtue.”

Christians of that time viewed the world and our place in it as a struggle to enable that which was good in us to overcome that which was evil.  That the world offered many temptations then as it does now is undeniable.  But Calvin believed that only those who confronted evil and overcame it had the potential of being one of God’s elect.  Those who sat in monasteries, far away from the world’s allures could never overcome evil because they were secluded from it.

Allow me a simple example to explain his philosophy.

We will assume that consuming alcohol is a “sinful behavior”.  There are two people involved in our discussion.   One lives on a desert island where there is no alcohol.  As a result, he never consumes any.  But he is not virtuous because he never was in a position to consume it.  The second individual never takes a drink either.  But he lives in a home within a few minutes of six alehouses.  He is virtuous because demon rum was available to him yet he rejected its temptation.

Obviously, the world has changed in the last five hundred years.  There are few uninhabited desert islands left – and virtue is something we leave to dull people who really aren’t with it.  That brings me to the subject of this post which is the horrific shooting spree in Aurora, CO.

If you read my earlier post, you realize that I do not want to talk about the young man who was the perpetrator of this tragedy.  I don’t even really want to talk about the tragedy itself.  I want to talk about why this happened – and how we can minimize the likelihood of such events from recurring in the future.

But I am going to break my own rule for a moment and discuss a specific aspect of this event because it provides a good segue into my main discussion.  That is that there was a three month old infant who was among the injured.

What kind of people are these parents to bring a newborn who needs rest and quiet to a movie theater with sonic-level audio effects when their child should be at home sleeping?  How self-absorbed are these two – and what further damage will they inflict on this child as they “rear” him?  What sort of future is in store for this infant, growing up in a home lacking positive and thoughtful parental direction?

Okay, I’ve gotten that out of my system and I apologize for what may be a rant.  But I know that my parents took far greater responsibility with me than the parents of this newborn.  I was very fortunate.  And I admit that I’m more than a little mad that there are so many people roaming planet earth who possess the genitalia but not the common sense to bring children to life and then fail to nurture them.

We should not be surprised at the incident in Colorado.  We live in and extoll a culture of violence.  We are almost inured to it through the daily reports of how people, whether a rogue individual, a cadre of extremists, a gang or a government inflicts death on others.

When I say extoll, I mean that we stand in line to buy the newest and most violent video games.  We enjoy movies in which there is violence – the more gruesome the better.  We spectate at boxing matches which have produced numerous permanent brain injuries and wonder why some of those boxers go home and physically abuse their spouses and children.

Is there an explanation for our increased embrace of violence in our culture?  Some will suggest that we have abandoned our standards of decency – and I think there is much to argue for that viewpoint.  But I think there is something even more insidious – if you can imagine something that is yet worse.

There is an historical corollary between what is happening in America today and what befell the Roman Empire as it went into decline.  As the Empire started on its way to collapse, so did the moral standards that had been its underpinning.  Depravity and orgies replaced philosophy and reason.  And the games in the Coliseum became more and more gruesome.

“Panem et circenses.”  Bread and circuses.  It was described by Juvenal as a way those in authority used to distract the common people from the collapse that was imminently to befall them.  The uneducated can easily be lead down the path that leads to destruction.  And there is no one more willing to initiate a policy of distraction than a politician who is looking to hold on to his own job.

So is there anything we can do to reverse this trend?

We can elect people to represent us who hold to high standards of ethics and actually serve as examples to the rest of us through their conduct. And we can rid ourselves of those who talk the game but prove through their actions that they are unworthy of our support.

We can refuse to buy any violent computer games and demand of those companies that create them that they stop producing them, explaining our reasons for boycotting their products.

We can stay home and read books that have guided mankind for centuries rather than sit and watch worthless drivel in our movie theaters and explain to Hollywood that unless they elevate the quality of their product we will not patronize them.

We can turn off our cable boxes and instead of exposing our children and ourselves to a constant stream of violence and infidelity, we can support each family member in a loving environment.

We can insulate ourselves and our children, at least in small measure, from some of the atrocities of this world that we have begun to think are the norm rather than the exception.  Or we can allow our exposure to continue to all that is most dehumanizing and destructive.

Do we want to raise the next person who will randomly kill tens of people?  Or do we want to sequester our kids from exposure to the sort of behavior which leads to these acts of violence?  Isn’t that what responsible parenting is all about?

I guess it’s a question of whether we believe in the validity of “cloistered virtue.”  I think you know where I stand on this issue.


When Gunther came to America he intended to make a living as he had in his native land.  He was a tailor and specialized in alterations.  He met his wife Hattie here and they were married.

Gunther and Hattie were not blessed with children but they had the deep bond of love between them.  For them that was enough.  After thirty-five years of marriage, Hattie was out doing the grocery shopping one day when a driver lost control of his car and the vehicle ran over the sidewalk killing her instantly.

Without the support of the love of his life, Gunther was a changed man.  He was no longer his former cheerful self and began drinking.  His work in the tailor shop became sloppy and long-time customers found other tailors to alter their garments.  He finally decided to sell the shop and a competitor by the name of Hans purchased the business.  Gunther disappeared from New York City.

Several years later, Hans happened to be in Nebraska visiting some of his relatives.  The kids said that Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey was in town and asked if Uncle Hans would take them.  Hans hadn’t been to the circus for a great many years and thought this would be a fun family outing.  So off they went to the Big Top.

As the children were standing in line to purchase some cotton candy with the money Uncle Hans had given them, Hans was startled to see Gunther walking across the circus campus.  So Hans told the children to wait by the cotton candy booth and said he would be right back.  He rushed off to say hello to his old associate.

When he caught up with Gunther he asked him what he had been doing for the past several years and was surprised to learn that Gunther was now employed by the circus.

“What exactly do you do,?” asked Hans.

Gunther said, “Come on – I’ll show you.”

So Hans followed Gunther to one of the tents and when they went in he saw five elephants lined up in a row.  Over each elephant there was a large pail and coming from the pail was a rubber hose.

Gunther explained, “I give enemas to the elephants before they perform.  That way we don’t have any surprises under the Big Top.  You can just imagine how disgusting it would be in front of the moms and dads and kids if one of the elephants had to relieve herself while she was doing her act.”

Gunther proceeded to demonstrate his work.

Well Hans was dumbfounded.  But when Gunther had given the last of the elephants her enema he looked at his old acquaintance and said, ‘You know, Gunther since you’ve been gone I’ve done quite well.  In fact I now own four tailor shops – and I have an opening for an experienced tailor in one of them.  Please come back to New York and make a fresh start.”

Gunther responded, “So you mean for a lousy schlemiel job in a tailor shop, you think that I’m going to give up show business?”

A couple of days ago a neighbor called and asked if I would accompany her as her guest to the movies.  (Her normal companion for these weekly excursions was on a two week vacation out of town).  I thanked her for her offer but politely declined.  But she did her best at trying to get me to go.  Apparently, she loved the movies but would only go if she was with someone.  And if I refused to go with her it would break her record of having gone to a movie a week for over 850 weeks.

I think it was that statistic that caused me to cave in.  I couldn’t think of 850 movies which Hollywood produced in the last seventeen years or so that would have been worth seeing.  I couldn’t think of fifty.  So in a moment of weakness I agreed to go with her.

I would tell you the name of the movie, but I’ve already forgotten it.  It really doesn’t matter other than to say it was a “chick flick” – by that I mean a movie crafted in such a way as to appeal to a pullet rather than a person.  With all the clucking that emanated from the moviegoers it had apparently reached its appropriate audience.

I decided to make the most of it so about ten minutes into the movie I involuntarily began a little siesta.  Sadly, my friend roused me from my slumber by giving me a sharp jab in the ribs.  That scene was repeated twice more during the term of my nearly two hour ordeal.  Sadly because of her vigilance in keeping me awake, I had to watch most of the film.

As I recall the “plot” it went something along the line of:

Boy meets girl.

Mindless twitter dialogue.

Boy and girl get naked.

Mindless twitter dialogue.

Boy and girl go to bed and presumably have sex.

Mindless twitter dialogue – and, “Was it good for you?”

Boy and girl get dressed.

Mindless twitter dialogue.

Boy and girl try to decide if they like each other so they ask their friends’ opinions.

Mindless twitter dialogue.

Their friends have different opinions.

Multiple participants in mindless twitter dialogue.

Boy and girl go to bed and presumably have sex.

Mindless twitter dialogue – and, “Was it god for you?”

I think that was the end of it – but there might have been more of the same.  You get the picture (in fact you can keep it).

I asked my neighbor if she liked the movie.  She said, “It was okay.  I’ve seen worse.”  The thought of that shocked me into a near state of panic.  I thought to myself, “Worse?  There’s worse?”  But she’s the moviegoer and I’m sure she knows.

So I asked her, “Did you expect it to be better than it was?”

She said, “No, not really.”

“Then you’ll forgive me for asking,” I said.  “Why did you want to go see it?”

She said, “You know, it’s something to do.”

I thought to myself, so is committing hara kiri and if you do it right you never have to be bothered with it again.

Well, I guess whether it’s the circus or the movies that old abbreviated phrase still applies.



As a child there was nothing that delighted me more than going to the movies with one or both of my parents.  In those days, a good movie would play for months at a time and the experience was truly something very special. 

No notices appeared on the screen advising us to turn off our cell phones (they didn’t exist).  And most of us were polite enough to be silent during the showing of the film.  Those who weren’t were actively “Sshhhushed” by those near them.

At the end of the film the audience would actively applaud the work of art that they had just viewed, rather than file out silently as though they were part of a zombie collective.

Well, that was then and this is now.

In those days films were not rated.  Somehow, our legislators had sufficient faith in the parents of this country to allow them to determine whether a film was appropriate  either for them or their children.  Alas, that was then – this is now.

Although I truly enjoy movies I seldom go to see them.  In fact, I am about to break my record of seeing one movie a year.  Here it is, the 8th of December and I have yet to see a film this year at the theater.

Last year I saw “The King’s Speech”, the year before “Avatar” and the year before that “The Changeling”.  Four years and three movies.  Not a very impressive record.  But the movies I do choose to see are exceptional.  At the least, they have a message to convey.

Rather than take personal responsibility for my lack of movie-going experience I choose, in the best tradition of today’s America, to fault someone else.  In this case it’s Hollywood and Washington.

You see, I find their ratings so confusing.  Movies that they rate “G” would have been strictly off the list of films that I would have been allowed to view as a child.  “G”, “PG”, “R”, “X”.  (Perhaps I missed one or more).  These ratings mean nothing to me – and I suspect I am not alone in this.  It’s all so fuzzy.

I would like to suggest an alternative.  Both Hollywood and Washington should get behind this as it will produce greater profits for our movie makers.  That will result in more tax revenue that the Federal Government will have available to waste.

My suggestion is that we abandon our present movie rating system in favor of a new one – the BDI (Brain Dead Index).  The creation of this system would also help relieve the ranks of the unemployed (albeit by as insignificant an amount as President Obama’s and Congressional efforts in this regard).  But at least it would be a step in the right direction.

Here’s the plan.

We find one thousand citizens across the country and test their IQ’s.  Let’s say we decide on a range between 40-120 to represent a cross-section of the population.  In order to be politically correct and realizing that we are all equal – more or less – we would naturally want three times as many people whose IQ’s measure 40 than we would those whose were 120.  (Lest you think that there may be an absence of candidates in those lower regions I suggest that we have only to check the halls of Congress).

Now that we have our candidates (whom we would pay out of the public largesse), we expose each of them to every new Hollywood release.  Each BDI panelist would have his or her own key pad to record whether they liked the movie or not.

 The total of those voting “Like” are recorded and their  IQ’s entered into the system.  The  total IQ of the respondents is then divided by the number of participants and a BDI number is derived.  (This is very scientific).

A movie that receives a rating of 62 will probably not be enjoyable to a person whose IQ is 115 – but will surely be a treasure to a person whose IQ is 51.  Do you see how simple it is?

Although I believe that this system is a major improvement over the one with which we are currently encumbered, I will admit in advance that, even if adopted, it will be short lived in its duration.

With our current focus on income and wealth re-distribution, certainly proposals to re-distribute intelligence cannot lag far behind.

When those are fully implemented, we can all enjoy the movies that Hollywood produces.

In fact, we will be obligated to do so.

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